In his new novel, The World Beneath, Aaron Gwyn writes about a boy who has gone missing, a man who finds a mysterious hole in his backyard and a sheriff eager to find answers. For six years, Gwyn has been a professor at UNC-Charlotte, where he mainly teaches fiction writing courses. His debut short story collection, Dog on the Cross, was published in 2004 and nominated for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award in 2005. Like Dog on the Cross, The World Beneath is set in Gwyn's original home state of Oklahoma.
Creative Loafing: I read that The World Beneath started out as a short story. Is that right?
Aaron Gwyn: Well, it was a short story about a guy who found a hole. And that was the whole thing and it just didn't work. I threw away the hard copy of the manuscript and for some reason I ended up deleting the word document. It was actually a friend of mine, [UNCC professor] Tony Jackson, who asked me about it. He said, 'Whatever happened to that story you were writing?' and this was maybe a year after I'd written it and I said, 'Which one?' He said, 'The one about the hole.' I said 'It wasn't working. I threw it away,' and he said, 'You threw it away? It was a really good idea!' So based on his idea that I should revisit it, I started looking at the whole thing in a different way. That's when I started thinking about it potentially as a novel. The story version was so completely different and not doing what it needed to do. I just figured it was the usual thing where I'd written something that just wasn't going to fly and I just trashed it.
Did some of the characters in Dog on the Cross reappear in The World Beneath?
Absolutely. There are several characters that are referred to. The protagonist of The World Beneath, the sheriff, is a deputy to the then-sheriff in Dog on the Cross. In The World Beneath, I actually kind of go back in his biography and show the connecting points, so that if -- I'm not sure if a reader would have the inclination -- but if a reader did have the inclination, they could go hopefully through seamlessly from the last story in Dog on the Cross, where he's a deputy, right into The World Beneath, where it's 10 years later, he's moved back to this town and he's been elected sheriff. I'm hoping to continue to do that, where characters established in short stories or in the novel now will weave in and out of my fiction.
How do you describe the novel?
That's been an interesting thing, because it plays with the detective genre, but it's not quite a detective novel, and it plays with the murder mystery genre, but it's not quite a murder mystery. So it plays with some different genres and does these sort of what they would call "literary things" with them. It's this weird sort of hybrid form. It was marketed by Norton -- when they were going to book sellers -- as a literary murder mystery and that's fairly accurate, though there are certain things you expect from a literary murder mystery and every time you get to a point where you would expect one, this novel does the opposite of that. I tried to turn against the conventions, while sort of playing around with them a little bit.