Michael Malone first had the idea for his latest novel, The Four Corners of the Sky, in 1999, while on a college road trip with his daughter Maggie. At a stop at Annapolis, Maggie posed next to a jet plane and made a comment about wanting to fly one someday. "The image of what that would be for a young woman, what kind of person would succeed at that, stayed in my mind and was the start of the novel," says Malone, who'll launch his book at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books and Music on Thursday, May 7.
It took the Hillsborough-based writer another decade to bring that story to print—though, in the meantime, he wrote three novels, a short story collection and nearly two years of television shows. "By the time I'd get further in the novel, the experimental plane I'd written about had become obsolete," Malone says. "I had to keep updating the technology." He solved that problem by having the story end in 2001.
Malone's tale of Annie Peregrine, a young woman on a road trip to visit her absentee, criminal father, most closely mirrors his 1986 road tale Handling Sin. Malone agrees that it's a "mirror" to Handling Sin, though it's from a younger, different perspective. "As I get older, the interest shifts to younger people in a way that the relationship becomes a paternal one to the characters," Malone says.
"I feel so much affection for Annie that has nothing to do with my daughter Maggie's life. That woman is someone whose personality comes out of her, and I think that has something to do with the age of the writer. When I wrote Uncivil Seasons, I was very young and wisecracking with these two detectives, in this different writing position."
"The 'journey novel' takes you through [a whole new world] and you meet lots of different people, like Huck Finn going down the river. With the mystery genre, once you get into the court house or the police station, you meet a whole new world of people."
Malone's work often deals with large casts of characters from various social, racial and religious backgrounds, from the communities that populate his novels to his Emmy-winning work as former head writer on the soap opera One Life to Live. He's enthusiastic to see how this storytelling style has become more prominent in popular culture, particularly with such television series as The Wire.
"To see that format being finally grasped and picked up by episodic nighttime television—pure, character-driven shows—is amazing," Malone says. "In daytime, the process is so ongoing that you don't always have time to polish what you're putting out, and I have often thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to do this the way they're now doing it?'"
Malone, who recently donated his papers to Duke University, feels that "North Carolina now has one of the richest collections of truly first-rate writers living together in one state," and he always launches his books at Quail Ridge. "Nancy Olsen is such a friend to all fiction writers, but particularly writers of Southern fiction," says Malone, "so it's an honor to begin my journey with this novel at Quail Ridge. Even if I have to go on I-40 to do it—Nancy could get me [to drive] further than Raleigh."
For more information, visit www.quailridgebooks.com.