Q-and-A with columnist Parnell Thill on his new book
Pine Journal columnist Parnell Thill, after years of readers wondering when he was going to come through with the goods, has published his first book, “Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks.” A collection of mostly short stories, essays and poetry by Thill that draws the reader into the moment, it’s a page turner but also something people can absorb in bite-sized pieces. Pine Journal editor Jana Peterson chats with Thill about the book.
Pine Journal: So, you finally got your book done. What took so long?
Thill: Ha! Fair question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing. The honest answer is pretty simple, really:
1. I’m lazy. And writing is very hard for me. People tend to think, because I do it a lot and because I love it, that it’s easy. It’s the opposite. Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I’d write less.” Not saying I’m in the same league as Mr. Clemens, just making the point that good writing, like good cooking or good dancing or good teaching, etc., is much more difficult than mediocre writing. Anyone can spell words out on a piece of paper. That ain’t Writing. That’s writing.
2. Lack of confidence. Story of my life. In anything I’ve ever excelled at or succeeded in — my whole life — for me success is driven by fear of failure, fear of having people finally conclude the dirty truth, which is that I ain’t good at very much. And I suck the most at anything practical. Drives my wife nuts.
PJ: I don’t believe very much of that, but next question: The title is intriguing. How’d you come up with that?
Thill: “Killing the Devil,” as a phrase, has been rattling around in my head for quite a while. As a concept, even longer. It’s my humble opinion that we puny humans don’t know much about what we don’t know. The things we DO know, or think we know, is infinitesimal, compared to the things we don’t know. Ya know? (sorry). … so, since we don’t know much, we spend a lot of time being scared. We’re scared of the dark because … well, because it’s dark. And we can’t see. So we “don’t know” what’s out there. Scary. We’re scared of diseases because we “don’t know” how to cure them. We’re scared of other people and their nutty opinions because we “don’t know” what it’s like to be them … so, early on in our collective human history, we became pretty expert at explaining stuff we don’t know by using stuff we do know as stand-ins. The birth of symbolism. Pretty early on, the devil earned a place in our collective, human consciousness as the symbol for all evil. Pretty fearful. When we kill fear and loneliness and darkness and confusion, we make real progress. That’s what I think, anyway.
PJ: So, do you think we can kill fear and loneliness and darkness and confusion?
Thill: Of course. We do it all the time. I used to be scared of the dark. Now I’m not. On the other hand, I used to NOT be scared of heights. Now I am. Two steps forward, sort of thing … and I’m surely not saying that we can eliminate fear and pain and suffering and loneliness the world over, once and for all, the way we rid it of polio or leprosy. I do have at least one foot in the Realm of the Sane. My point is just the mundane notion that excellence and light and love and optimism and relationship — I’m just making the point that those things are real things and must be chosen. It’s an opt-in deal. Those things, intentionally chosen and lived, are every bit as real as darkness and fear and hate — every bit as real as the devil surely is. It’s true that evil lives. It’s also true that it dies. And we can/do/should kill it.
PJ: What’s the subject matter of “Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks?”
Thill: Well, there’s a chapter for each word in the title, with appropriately placed essays, stories and bad poems in each chapter. A lot of the material will be recognizable to readers of “Notes from the Small Pond” in the Pine Journal, and, previously, the Pine Knot and a number of other publications going back to the mid 1980s. Damn, I’m old.
PJ: How do we get the book?
Thill: Best place to get it right now is via my website: www.parnellthill.com. It’ll make it’s way to amazon.com and Barnes & Noble eventually. The website will be the launch pad for upcoming books I’m presently trying to finish.
PJ: How about a reading/book signing?
Thill: Yes. I’ve got one coming up at the West Duluth Public Library branch at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec 1. Others are being scheduled at an assortment of bookstores around the area — details on those will follow. Check my website if anyone cares: www.parnellthill.com. All this has happened pretty fast.
And, of course, there’s the event you’ll be moderating on Sunday night, Nov. 13, at the Northeastern Bar on Dunlap Island. That’s scheduled for 6 p.m. That should be fun — grab a beverage, wander over to the reading area, listen to some talk about the book, maybe chime in with your own questions or opinions (be kind).
PJ: Will there be copies of the book available for sale and signing?
Thill: Of course.
PJ: Will you continue to write for the Pine Journal?
Thill: For as long as you’ll have me.
PJ: See you on November 13.
Thill: Thank you.