Alumni

February 10, 2021 at 9:15 am

Alumni News | John Woods’s Debut Novel Named One of the Best Crime Novels of 2020

John Woods, portrait

John Woods

Ohio University alumnus John Woods’s debut novel, Lady Chevy, was named one of the 10 Best Crime Novels of 2020 by The New York Times.

Published by Pegasus Books and Simon and Schuster, it also will be translated and released in Italy and France.

Woods majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, graduating in 2009.

Fiction writing is his passion.

He started writing at OHIO, where he says he could often be found in the Alden stacks. He left Athens with “two failed novel manuscripts in a trunk.” And set about honing his craft.

“After graduating from OU, I lived in coastal Maine and then Northern Virginia. I currently live in Yorktown, Va. I sought out jobs that did not involve writing or academia. I stocked grocery shelves, taught at a private tutoring center, and now work for a mental health community services board, where I have been for eight years. I work day jobs to earn a living, and at night, I read and write fiction.”

Q: What inspired you to write this novel, and how does it feel to make the NYT best of list?

I have been seriously writing fiction for over 15 years, learning the craft, finding my voice. I have always wanted to become a good writer and tell meaningful stories. My work is grounded in a fictitious version of the small town where I grew up in the Ohio Valley, but I do not know where inspiration comes from. For me, writing often feels like an intuitive passion, without conscious, deliberate decisions. Before LADY CHEVY, there were many failed novel manuscripts, stories and language that never became what they needed to be. I learned from each failure, grew with each experience. I think that is part of every writer’s journey. I have written and published several short stories, but LADY CHEVY is my first published novel. Its publication is the realization of a dream. I am excited, honored, and grateful that LADY CHEVY was named one of the top ten crime novels of 2020 by The New York Times.

Q: I’m guessing no book tours during COVID—how are you getting the word out?

No, no book tours, and no local signings, which I really looked forward to. In many ways this year was not an ideal time to release a debut novel, but I am so thankful LADY CHEVY is out in the world, finding readers. I am an introvert, so I am still learning the ropes of social media. I am on Facebook, and I started regularly using Twitter this year. It is a good way to connect with other authors and readers. I know I have discovered many new writers from Twitter, and so I hope others have found my work as well. When the novel was released in June, some Ohio newspapers spread the word. I am grateful for every review and recommendation. I always expected it to take time for LADY CHEVY to find its audience. It will soon be published in Italy and France, and so I hope it will continue to be discovered.

Q: What’s next—do you have another novel in the works? Or special projects?

Yes, always. I am finishing another novel, and I have a completed short story collection. Both are set in Barnesville, the town where LADY CHEVY takes place. All of my writing exists in the same fictitious universe, with interconnecting characters and events.

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life? Was it coursework or a life lesson that they passed on? And how did you apply that knowledge?

My favorite professors were in the English and History departments.

Michael Brown influenced me most. His creative writing workshops were invaluable. He understood the dynamic power of language in storytelling. He taught me that character is everything, the driving force in any narrative, and that great characters do not need to be likeable, but complicated and interesting. He told me that a good writer must be generous. Like the best advice, it was cryptic, but I interpreted it as no half-measures, no insincerity, and working hard to make the writing beautiful, even if the content is not. These were powerful foundations for me as I learned the craft, and I apply this knowledge every day.

I also enjoyed classes with Paul Jones, Joe McLaughlin, and Linda Rice. OU has an outstanding English faculty, passionate about literature. For a student who loves reading and writing, that energy was empowering. And Timothy Curp was my favorite professor in the History Department.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your faculty?

I do now. After I finished undergrad and moved to Maine, I kind of vanished for several years. But now I regularly keep in touch with Michael Brown and Paul Jones. Whenever I visit Athens I always somehow run into Timothy Curp, and we get to catch up over coffee at Donkey and discuss the complex tragedies of human history.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

I’m not sure I ever had one. Haha. While I was at OU, I focused on my classes, my grades, and my writing. I was driven to succeed, but I didn’t really have a plan. I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa my junior year and ended up graduating summa cum laude, but my writing was not where it needed to be. I had two failed novel manuscripts in a trunk, and short stories that had promise, but were not good. So, I constantly felt like I was failing, and that I needed to work harder and prioritize the writing.

I guess my moments of clarity, the confidence of “I’ve got this,” came whenever I was writing in the stacks on the seventh floor of Alden, or at 3 a.m. alone in my room, and I’d present a short story in workshop, where it was often well-received and often torn apart. Writing always felt good and right, even if I wasn’t where I needed to be yet. I was happy and confident when I was working toward getting there.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

I have so many great memories. Athens is just such a beautiful, special place. My favorite moments were the quiet walks to class under the sycamore trees, getting coffee with friends, talking literature and art and history, late nights working in Alden, walking along the Hocking River and exploring The Ridges. I worked my way through college as an RA, and I lived on East Green my entire time in Athens. I have good memories of my residents and fellow staff, the community the campus shared. It is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

I just encourage new students to explore all the opportunities OU has to offer. Enjoy the beautiful campus, take interesting classes, meet people, experience new culture and art. Athens has a great atmosphere where you can just easily be around people who share the same passions and interests. I miss being able to go to a coffeehouse and talk literature with people who love literature. But also, don’t limit yourself to your major’s coursework or social circle. Be open to discoveries and challenges.

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