"The Night Train" by Clyde Edgerton

Clyde Edgerton, The Night Train
Little, Brown & Company, Kristina Edgerton

Jeff Glor talks to Clyde Edgerton about "The Night Train," a novel about friendship, and the power of music, in one small North Carolina community.

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Clyde Edgerton: I was in a rock and roll band in 1963. Seven white boys. Playing James Brown's "Live at the Apollo" album (it's about 35 minutes with no breaks) word for word and note for note as best we could was part of our show. A friend named Dennis Hobby was James Brown (as best he could be)--the cape, falling down, the microphone tricks, an almost split, etc. He'd be on the floor, in the cape, singing "Please, please, please," right after the band had gone silent. Then we'd come back in (dum, dum, dum, dum-dunka-dum) playing the music and he'd stand slowly, singing. One night we conspired NOT to come back in . . . just to see what would happen. The memory of that night has been with me for over forty years and inspired me to write the book. Also inspiring was an almost-friendship with an African-American teenager, Larry Lime Holeman, from my neighborhood in rural Durham County, NC. I was also inspired by my love for rhythm and blues music and my appreciation of the music of Thelonious Monk. (A bit of inspiration for the book might be felt in the book trailer at http://vimeo.com/25265338.)

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

CE: My realization of the similarity of the little details and nuances of racial segregation in Durham County, North Carolina, in 1963 and in Wilmington, North Carolina in 2011. Also I was surprised (through memory) of the potential power of music in the life of a teenager--music, that abstract thing that is so human, that lively something with energy that may be freely taken and freely given among musician friends.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

CE: Playing piano in a rhythm and blues band and teaching English in a public high school and being very poor.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

CE: A book on illegal liquor sales during the depression in Franklin County, Virginia, written by Charles D. Thompson, and "The Host," an amazing non-fiction piece by David Foster Wallace.

JG: What's next for you?

CE: A buddy of mine recently told me about going to a cousin's funeral where a volunteer funeral militia had made the funeral a military one. A member of the militia group asked my friend's wife if she wanted a shell casing from a round fired during the funeral (a blank, I'd guess) (well, maybe not). When she said "Yes," the militia guy went to his car trunk and brought back a cardboard box of casings. My friend told me the men in the militia group weren't dressed exactly alike and that he'd been was afraid a gun might go off accidentally. He started in on something else about them and I said, "Stop right there. This is turning into the best story I NEVER heard and I want make up the rest for a novel. So I'm working on that novel and I'm also writing a funny (I hope) book about fatherhood in which I have a section about getting fixed.

For more on "The Night Train," visit the Little, Brown website.