hobart logo
Chaos Questions with David Joy photo

I first met David Joy in 2015 at the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University. I had emailed and had correspondence with him about a year leading up to it but meeting David was an event all its own. We shared space on a panel about publishing on the second day there, but it was the first day, about an hour after I got there, actually, that really kicked things off. 

I ran into David and author Wes Browne in the hallway of the building we were all staying in for the festival. The three of us had a shot of bourbon (I think) in a tiny circle there in the hall and then David said he wanted to show me something. He took me to some old silo-shaped structure made of rocks. It was clearly something from the 1800s. He said follow him and he laid down in the middle of the floor when he got in, asked me to join him. I did and discovered there was no top to the structure; we were just staring up into the blue sky, no clouds in site. "It's great ain't it?" he said then. It was. The whole thing was great. David got to meet Don Pollock who was one of the guest speakers there and then he also spent time chasing a bird that had gotten into the lobby of the center where the guest speakers were going to be reading the following afternoon. I think he eventually caught it with his hat and released it outside to safety.

David had been pretty nervous about meeting Don is something else that stands out for me about the festival. I had met Don about three years earlier and had adopted him (with his permission) as my literary father. He's just a down to earth dude that way. But I think now, how could David ever be nervous to meet any writer? He has more talent and vision than any of us writing about Appalachia. In fact, when I talked to Don later he said simply, "That boy is doing it better than anybody right now." Damn, I think I might have forgotten to tell David that. Well, David, he said it. And he meant it. 

SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Tomorrow whatever outfit you put on will be the only set of clothes you can wear for the rest of your life. What are you wearing tomorrow?

DAVID JOY: At 40 years old, I’m still wearing a pair of brown Dickies I bought in tenth grade so I’m kind of already living this curse. That said, I guess I’m going with a pair of brown duck Dickies, a t-shirt, a camo coat of some sort, boots, and ballcap. “Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit.”

SLC: You're in the white Bronco with O.J. speeding down the freeway. What do you say to him?

DJ: If I know he’s innocent, I’m on the phone negotiating with dispatch and contacting a lawyer. If I know he’s guilty, I’m slitting his fucking throat.

SLC: You can time travel to once place in your childhood, but the catch is that you have to stay there forever. What age do you quantum leap back to and why? Also, as in Quantum Leap, who would be the Al to your Sam?

DJ: I go back to eleven years old fishing the cattle pond on the Johnston’s farm. My Granny can be my Al.

SLC: Goonies or Ghostbusters? Cyndi Lauper or Madonna?

DJ: Goonies. And, of course, Cyndi Lauper. She sings in Goonies.

SLC: The next time you travel to a city or town outside of your own it will be the last time you can travel. You’re told this right before you leave your driveway. What city or town do you pick? And let's hear why.

DJ: If it can’t be home then it’s Pau. Maybe Lourdes. That whole stretch of country from Pau to Toulouse, put me anywhere there, anywhere in those foothills leading up to the Pyrenees. First time I ever wound up in that area I just remember thinking it felt like home. Only way I know to describe it is that word querencia. That was the feeling. I guess I just need mountains.

SLC: Every day, six new things arrive at your house, all of which begin with a letter you choose. Which letter would you pick? And might as well tell us what that first delivery's got.

DJ: R. Rods. Rifles. Rillettes.

SLC: You've been given three pardons you can hand out to death row inmates at your discretion. Choose wisely and let me know who you're sending home. Oh, and one more thing, they have to live with you for one month when released.

DJ: I’m contacting the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works cases of wrongfully convicted inmates facing death row. I'm getting intel on the three inmates they’re most convinced did not commit the crimes they are incarcerated for, and then those three are getting freedom.

SLC: You happen to walk around the corner just as this guy is running away from a wall along the sidewalk with a can of spray paint. You see what he's written on the wall and are given the ability to change one word. You're in London and the phrase the guy wrote is: "Clapton is God." What's your phrase?

DJ: I change the word God to Layla.

SLC: Look at the pictures or images nearest to you. Let's theorize that you can travel in time through pictures or images. Choose one picture and describe your trip.

DJ: I’m in a high mountain pasture with the poplars just starting to green up. I can see forever. There’s a tom turkey in full strut, three hens that seem too busy scratching to pay him any mind. My old dog Charlie is with me, and one of the hens looks up, all of us seeming to spot each other at the same moment. Charlie takes off after the birds and they putt and run and flush all different directions, each setting their wings and flying off that mountain like hang gliders. Charlie trots back to me with a big smile on his face seeming quite proud of what he’s accomplished.

SLC: Ten years from now life expectancy has been increased so that the average life span is 400 years. What changes do you make to your overall life plans considering this, if any?

DJ: I have no interest in living another 360 years. The folks I get along with have about died off and the world will be on fire by then. I’m blowing my brains out.