His book's title is not exactly what you would expect coming from Catawba College's new Director of the Center for Values and Ethics. "Someone To Kill," which will be available in bookstores in mid-February, is Dr. Kurt Corriher's first novel, a thriller set mainly in North Carolina though the action eventually carries the reader across Europe and the Greek Isles.
"I had given up on it," Corriher says. "I never thought it would be published. Publishers today all want the big book by the well-known author."
But regardless of Corriher's lack of name recognition, Forge Books, a subsidiary of St. Martin's Press, took a chance on the book and made him an offer in late 2000 for its publication.
Corriher, who grew up on a farm in southern Rowan County began writing the book in 1992. He completed a draft in 1995 and at the suggestion of a friend, sent out a synopsis and a sample chapter to literary agent Mildred Marmur. "She read the sample and asked for the rest of it," Corriher recalls. "The she called me back and said she liked the book and wanted to represent it."
Almost five years passed before Corriher got the first nibble from a publisher. Warner Books made him the first offer to publish the book electronically.
"I didn't reject that offer outright, but it wasn't what I wanted," Corriher says. "But looking back, that offer is the one that actually got things moving and rekindled interest in the book.
"Milly (the literary agent) says that publishing sometimes exhibits a herd mentality. If one house accepts it, it makes others sit up and take notice."
Using the Warner Books' offer as leverage, Corriher's agent approached Forge Books again, and this time, they took the book. "They asked for a few minor rewrites," Corriher remembers, "and I did them all in one day."
Corriher is concerned that the $27.95 price tag that the publisher placed on his hardback edition seems expensive. "It costs a little more than most novels," he explains. "Lots of other books are close, but not quite that expensive."
When asked how he feels about the book 10 years after beginning it, Corriher's response is candid: "Sometimes I read it and I think that its not that good, and other times, I think ‘That's great -- I can't believe I wrote it!' I've moved a long way since then. I'm 10 years older now and I would write a very different book today."
Ten years ago, Corriher consciously set out to write a novel in "a relatively clean and readable style" aimed at a thriller audience. And, although he wanted to include some philosophical conflicts between his characters, the genre did not lend itself very well to that.
He cut 100 pages of his work early on in his search for a publisher after getting the same suggestions repeated. Today, the novel's once-explicit conflict between Christian pacifism and the need for justice and vengence is "implicit in the novel's language and plot," Corriher says.
Corriher explains that his novel is about "a man whose estranged wife and daughter are murdered in a car bomb. The man is seeking vengeance and wants justice. He encounters a young woman whose sister has also been killed. This young woman is a novice nun who takes the Christian view of ‘vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.' "
Corriher is a man very concerned with all things literary and artistic and these interests are keeping him occupied until he has the "economic freedom" to begin writing his second novel. He jokes that he has six jobs – director of Catawba College's Center for Values and Ethics, director of the J. Fred and Mary Corriher Community Forum at Catawba, director of development for the Center for Faith and the Arts, artistic director for the St. Thomas Players, husband to Alicia Corriher and father of two children, 13-year-old Maria and 8-year-old Adam.
An accomplished actor, he has performed in numerous theatre productions in Salisbury. He has written and starred in his own play, "The Interview." And, although he holds an M.F.A. degree in acting performance from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he realized early on "that the actor's life was not for me. It didn't provide enough stability," he says. "I wanted a home and a family, but at the same time I don't regret the theatre training. I find it helpful in character development, especially when I'm writing dialogue."
A graduate of Davidson College, Corriher holds his Ph.D. in German literature from UNC-CH. He has been a German language professor at both Davidson and Catawba. He also has held jobs in information systems at Food Lion and Catawba, but looks back on those positions with a sigh. "Computers appeal to my analytical side," he says, "but the computer thing is an avocation for me, not a vocation."
Looking back on his youth, he describes himself as "feeling caught between two worlds and not fully in either one." He loved things of the mind, but his family's farm grounded him in the world of the physical with chores and farm work. Ironically, perhaps despite his feelings of conflict, Corriher today makes his home on a portion of that family farm.
What will occupy him in the future? He admits that he will be wrestling in all of his occupations with thoughts of "how we should live."
"Religion interests me because religion is our attempt to deal with the most fundamental questions, the questions that have no certain answers."