I’m humbled, really quite floored in that tomorrow at 11 a.m. I will stand in Strong Hall on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield before students in a university course entitled Ozarks Literature and History, and taught by Dr. Brooks Blevins. Thirty students have just finished reading my novel, Morkan’s Quarry.

While not unheard of, it is very rare for an author in his or her lifetime to have a novel taught in a classroom as part of a body of literature. This is what has me floored, as Morkan’s Quarry was just published in 2010. Much has happened for it, and I count myself extremely blessed.

The honor has me thinking, though, of what to share. The narrator of Morkan’s Quarry has a voice, one that I hoped would fall between two valences within Ozarks literature. I wanted the narrator to have the slightly elevated sophistication and the almost scientific distance (without the snotty, eastern condescension) of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. But I also wanted the narrator to tap Silas Turnbo’s raw, brainwave cadence and his sweeping humanity and curiosity about people found in the accounts in The White River Chronicles of S. C. Turnbo.


So where does Ozarks Literature start? I think, arguably, here, on December 9, in 1818.

From Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks: Schoolcraft’s Ozarks Journal: 1818–1819, edited by Milton D. Rafferty (University of Arkansas Press 1996)

“…we continued our journey in a north-west course along the hills which skirt the river bottoms at the distance of a mile from its banks, and arrived at an early hour in the afternoon at the house of a Mr. Coker, at what is called Sugar-Loaf Prairie. This takes its name from a bald hill covered with grass rising on the verge of the river alluvion on the west side of the river, and is discernible at the distance of many miles. The settlement at Sugar-Loaf Prairie consists at present of four families, located within the distance of eight miles, but is so recent that a horse-path has not yet been worn from one cabin to another. It is the highest settlement on the river, excepting two families at the mouth of Beaver Creek, about three miles above (the actual distance is fifteen miles overland and forty miles by river). These people subsist partly by agriculture, and partly by hunting. They raise corn for bread, and for feeding their horses previous to the commencement of long journeys in the woods, but none for exportation. No cabbages, beets, onions, potatoes, turnips, or other garden vegetables, are raised. Gardens are unknown. Corn and wild meats, chiefly bear’s meat, are the staple articles of food. In manners, morals, customs, dress, contempt of labour and hospitality, the state of society is not essentially different from that which exists among the savages. Schools, religion, and learning are alike unknown. Hunting is the principal, the most honourable, and the most profitable employment. To excel in the chace procures fame, and a man’s reputation is measured by his skill as a marksman, his agility and strength, his boldness and dexterity in killing game, and his patient endurance and contempt of the hardships of the hunter’s life. They are, consequently, a hardy, brave, independent people, rude in appearance, frank and generous, travel without baggage, and can subsist any where in the woods, and would form the most efficient military corps in frontier warfare which can possibly exist. Ready trained, they require no discipline, inured to danger, and perfect in the use of the rifle. Their system of life is, ill fact, one continued scene of camp-service. Their habitations are not always permanent, having little which is valuable, or loved, to rivet their affections to anyone spot; and nothing which is venerated, but what they can carry with them; they frequently change residence, travelling where game is more abundant. Vast quantities of beaver, otter, raccoon, deer, and bear-skins, are annually caught. These skins are carefully collected and preserved during the summer and fall, and taken down the river in canoes, to the mouth of the Great North Fork of White River, or to the mouth of Black River, where traders regularly come up with large boats to receive them. They also take down some wild honey, bear’s bacon, and buffaloe-beef, and receive in return, salt, iron-pots, axes, blankets, knives, rifles, and other articles of first importance in their mode of life.

“We were received by Mr. Coker with that frankness and blunt hospitality which are characteristic of the hunter. Our approach to the house was, as usual, announced by the barking of dogs, whose incessant yells plainly told us, that all who approached that domain, of which they were the natural guardians, and whether moving upon two, or upon four legs, were considered as enemies, and it was not until they were peremptorily, and repeatedly recalled, that they could be pacified. Dried skins, stretched out with small rods, and hung up to dry on trees and poles around the house, served to give the scene the most novel appearance. This custom has been observed at every hunter’s cabin we have encountered, and, as we find, great pride is taken in the display, the number and size of the bear-skins serving as a credential of the hunter’s skill and prowess in the chace.

“We had no sooner acquainted our entertainer with the objects and contemplated extent of our journey, than he discovered the fear which appears to prevail on this river, respecting the Osage Indians, and corroborated what we had before heard of their robberies. He considered the journey hazardous at this season, as they had not yet, probably, broke up their hunting camps, and retired, as they do every winter, to their villages on the Grandosaw river (Grand Osage). He recommended us to abandon our guns for rifles, to take with us as little baggage as possible-thought we should find it a poor season for game, and made other remarks of a discouraging nature. The fact was, he had an old rifle for sale, thought we had money, and wished to get double the worth of it, and wished us to engage an idle hypochondriac, who hung about him, as a guide. We were inclined to do both, but could not agree as to the price of the former, and the latter could not be prevailed to go at any price.”

There is just the right amount of curiosity, distance, annoyance, amazement, awe, and disdain here to make wonderful, even humorous literature. Notice how Schoolcraft contrasts hospitality. Mr. Coker is described as being in possession of “frankness and blunt hospitality” after Schoolcraft has noted our people to hold in general, “a contempt of labour and hospitality.” And how delicious that Mr. Coker’s report of the dangers ahead resolves itself in large part to be selling points for a rifle and the guide services of some local layabout, both of which Coker wishes to be shed of, and for a profit! We are in character revealed in this our Ozarks archetype, our core, quite adept at the hunt and already honing the sell. I think all the elements of true Ozarks character start right here in this sublimely cranky, yet often lovely journal told from the outsider’s eye. That’s where I’ll start tomorrow.


In August 2013, Big Fiction, published in hand-set type on a letterpress and dedicated to the long short story, the novella, issued its Knickerbocker Prize. Chosen by acclaimed novelist and short story writer Lauren Groff, the first prize novella, “Sandy and Wayne,” is a love story set in the Arkansas Ozarks on the interstate as it was built between Fayetteville and Fort Smith.  The author of “Sandy and Wayne,” Steve Yates, is also the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction, and his collection Some Kinds of Love: Stories was published by University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arkansas, and while in Fayetteville he worked three summers as a construction inspector and surveyor for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. Born and reared in Springfield, Missouri, Yates is the author of the novel Morkan’s Quarry (Moon City Press, 2010) and is currently assistant director/marketing director at University Press of Mississippi in Jackson. Editorial Intern Lauren Hohle earned an interdisciplinary bachelor of arts degree from the University of Redlands, in “Framing and Narrative: Creative Writing, Film, and Social Justice.” Her work has been published in The Dos Passos Review, and she is on pace to watch three hundred and twenty films this year. More information on the mission and history of Big Fiction resides at http://www.bigfictionmagazine.com.

Q: Your bio said that you worked inspecting highways.  Was that experience the genesis of the story?

A: Of the nitty-gritty details, yes, absolutely. But not any of the love. For three summers in the University of Arkansas writing program I was a surveyor and construction inspector for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. We were building interstate between Fayetteville and Fort Smith. It was mountainous, beautiful country, the heart of the heart of the Arkansas Ozarks. It was also filthy and hot and hard and mortally dangerous at times. I was honored to be accepted among the laborers, contractors, engineers, and inspectors who do that work. It’s a really majestic stretch of highway now. Without witnessing it built, you would never guess the lives and labor spent on every mile of it.

Q: I like that the characters don’t say much.  Their relationship is more intuitive, built on a mutual understanding.  Would you categorize this as a tough-guy / tough-gal romance?

A: Yeah, these people were tougher than I will ever manage being. Ten High at bedtime and Imodium for breakfast.  And they have both been told some lies in love, and so are more apt to listen and wait to see actions. They also don’t say much because many of their interactions occur on a jobsite that’s loud when equipment is moving, and more or less professional even if it is out-of-doors. And they’re pretty exhausted at day’s end. I used to come home with red clay and lime dust in every pore and crevice, tired enough to weep. I would also add that, while there are chatterboxes and philosophers on highway jobs, the smartest people, the ones you really want around you when things get tight and dangerous, they’re Ozarks to the core. They speak by doing.

Q: Are the Sandys and Waynes of this world the intended audience?

A: In an interview, the living Ozarks writer I admire most in the world, Daniel Woodrell, said that more than once the kind of impoverished, often extralegal Ozarkers he writes about had at times stopped him and told him personally how much they appreciated being given a voice. Oh, my God! I would reckon that a Holy encounter, reader to writer. Burning bush Holy. I’m too clumsy and unknown and unimportant to think much at all about an audience. I just need to write well made, natural sentences that my characters could plausibly think and speak, and create stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A few people who read: That’s the best I can hope for right now.  

Steve Yates with niece Ava Lou Kaufman

Steve Yates with niece Ava Lou Kaufman

Q: The story has romantic elements, but it is also largely about coping with loss.  I was impressed by the delicate balance between what is conscious and what is unconscious for Sandy.  We are so close to her point of view, yet we are placed in the position to know what she wants or feels before she does.  Could you speak a little on what it was like to write that character?

A: Thanks so much for saying that. It means a lot. I thought I knew Sandy really well, after having been around someone like her on the job. But I know a character will take me through the whole story and that the story is alive when the predictable, the planned is quickly overturned. I really wanted the novella to feel like a long Country love song, a good Country love song, one with wit and turns, and even a self-referential awareness. A great Country music song—the poet Miller Williams once mused to me in all sincerity that there may be no higher calling than writing a great Country music song.  I wasn’t smart enough to know everything he meant by that then. “Sandy and Wayne” might be my first humble answer back now.

 Q: What drew you to the novella form?

A: Is there a higher calling in fiction than the long short story? “The Pedersen Kid,” “The Beggar Maid,” “The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter,” “Old Mortality,” “A Simple Heart,” “Boule de Suif,” “Stationmaster Fallmerayer,” “The Bust of the Emperor,” “Ward 6,” “Peasants,” “The Steppe,” “A Boring Story,” “The Duel,” “Bartleby the Scrivener.” I’ll bet if I could trace every story that I knew was transformative to me, they would all be novellas. Thank God, Big Fiction is trying the mad experiment of giving the form a refined vehicle!

Q: Did the story take on this shape as you were writing it, or did you sit down knowing you were going to write a novella?

A: I knew it was going to be long. I knew there were several episodes that had to happen, knew that Sandy had to face a string of them to force her and Wayne into realizations. If I hit twenty-five double-spaced pages, and don’t feel I am through the beginning, middle, and end, then I need to make some decisions. I admire the novella enough to hope that I can try one, to give one back. “Sandy and Wayne” seemed the natural marriage of those two high callings—the novella, the good Country music song.

Q: Do you have a favorite novella?

A: I reread “Bartleby the Scrivener” at least once every year, and find it more revelatory, more gorgeously constructed, more keenly honed to the truth of the human heart and human work every time. “Ward 6” and “Stationmaster Fallmerayer,” too, are workplace stories in many ways. Depending on the time of year, and which of those three I am rereading, one of those is my favorite. Interesting that work is so key to each of them. Work and love and loss, that’s the heart of us. That and the fear of being alone when you need someone.   I sure am glad you asked me these questions. Thank you, Lauren Hohle, and thanks, Big Fiction, for giving the novella such a handsome, new home. 




This content “reblogged” here is by the venerable Mississippi architect Louis Malveney. He blogged in late January of 2012 and shared a fine set of photographs from the actual cottonseed oil mill in Port Gibson that inspired the fictional one in the story “Coin of the Realm,” the mill that Lawyer Ducat and Sterling Estep are trying to save. The commentary and content is from Malveney’s blog http://misspreservation.com/. I will be reading from the story “Coin of the Realm” after signing Some Kinds of Love: Stories at 5 p.m. tonight (7.27.2013) at Lorelei Books in Vicksburg.

Originally posted on Preservation in Mississippi:

The abandoned plant of the Mississippi Cotton Oil Company wasn’t on the recent Port Gibson Holiday Home Tour, but as I was wandering about before the tours started, I was drawn to the place, just north of downtown, like a moth to the flame. I’ve always been intrigued by cotton seed oil mills–the strange shapes of the buildings, the rusty metal, and odd protruding machinery and pipes running this way and that. I find the seed houses, with their distinctive steep roof and clerestory, especially compelling, but unfortunately, I don’t understand how the whole operation works together. I know just enough to be fascinated.

This 1994 article in Agricultural History, “Cotton Gins and Cottonseed Oil Mills in the New South” may be worth the $14 that JSTOR wants to charge me. And this 1948 Sanborn on microfilm at MDAH (and a little cleaned up on Photoshop) shows…

View original 511 more words


Karen Brown interviews Steve Yates on Mississippi Edition, MPB Think Radio

Time perception is an extraordinary thing. My wife is always tickled to recall to me that when microwaves first came into offices and homes, people waiting on snacks and lunches eagerly watched the digital timers winding down, and many starving seekers would bounce on their toes and shout, “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” The microwave did not change how time passed, only how that passage was perceived. Being on radio will radically change how you perceive time. Linked here on Karen Brown’s Mississippi Edition on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, her interview with me starts at 18:05 and runs about six minutes. We talked for seven minutes tops. It is both strange and wonderful to be in the presence of a great radio interviewer, one with years and years of experience as Karen has. Kyle Kellams at “Ozarks at Large” on Fayetteville’s KUAF and Randy Stewart at KSMU in Springfield are this way, so poised, so smooth, so good at what they do, you (the subject; the interviewee) never feel unnerved, nonplussed, or ill-at-ease. In fact, so good are they in this universe bristling with microphones and levels and lit with sound boards, it is hard to imagine Karen, Kyle, or Randy outside this compressed, racing, time-ridden space of radio. I felt I was with Karen for not much more than thirty seconds. In what’s on Mississippi Edition here (the private prisons story and the Nissan story do bear weird conjunctions with my story about the Pig-Thrower of West Point, Mississippi) I am barely edited. I sat down, she welcomed me, and in thirty seconds it seemed we said goodbye. All I remember is laughing. Fastest and funnest six minutes of writing life, I am sure. Thanks, Karen Brown and producer Ezra Wall! Who knew time could fly like that?

Steve Yates reads the Green Tomato Marquesa’s Night of a Thousand and One Triumphs at Lemuria Books from Steven B Yates on Vimeo.

I have often thought about family, that embracing, nurturing metaphor, when I travel to visit the many Mississippi independent bookstores I serve for University Press of Mississippi. You can learn about this second family of mine by glancing through http://www.squidoo.com/Mississippi-Bookstores . When I think of Diane Shepherd at Main Street Books in Hattiesburg, or Laura Weeks at Lorelei Books in Vicksburg, or Mary Emrick at Turning Pages in Natchez, or Scott Naugle at Pass Christian Books, or Jamie Kornegay at Turnrow Book Co., the commerce we have conducted, the books we have shared, the whole enterprise of caring for one another and bettering the bookstore experience for customers takes on the deeply emotional tones and sentiments of family experience. It has its repetitions, its traditions, its rewards, even in some senses its ceremonies, this golden duty of traveling and helping book sellers. In the vimeo pasted above, I have to say I had to take a moment and recover, for John Evans had said what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed. I was quite moved to hear him say before my reading from my new short story collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, “Let’s gather up for Steve. He is sort of like family.”   

Promotions Manager Karen Fisk

Promotions Manager Karen Fisk

There are two stages I’m finally perceiving to the inception of a book, two distinct states of mind and heart.

Let’s call the first stage Offer It Up, and set its parameters this way: Everything has gone right. Cooperative author and enthusiastic publisher have communicated mutual and realistic goals. The publisher has bound handsome advance readers’ copies (ARCs) right on time and rushed them to reviewers and tastemakers. Books are beautifully printed, shipping through all distribution channels, poised on store shelves like speedboats sparkling in their slips. Then silence. Everything is in the hands of someone other than the author or publisher. Offer It Up, that awful hush in the two weeks before publication date in the catalog, grips the heart and mind.

Mark Harril Saunders, currently interim director at University of Virginia Press and the author of a much heralded 2012 spy novel Ministers of Fire (Swallow Press), described Offer It Up brilliantly. “It is as if I am in a foreign country, and I get the broken satellite phone call that tells me my wife has been rushed to the hospital back home and is going into labor. Everything I love most I am powerless to effect and aid.”

I have just passed through Offer It Up, but barely. And this shaky lack of faith–it’s my own fault. University of Massachusetts Press had masterfully found a way to get everything in place. In fact the whole success of the enterprise was building this baby up in my mind to really dangerous flights of grandiosity. Usually about all enterprises I am the pessimistic Ozarks fishermen: We will catch nothing and get wet and cold; that’s the forecast. But with Some Kinds of Love: Stories, I could not get that frame of mind.

487071_10200333619684583_90110182_nToo much was going right to don my “Eeyore über Alles” baseball cap. The collection of twelve stories was the eighth Juniper Prize winner, chosen and blurbed by the brilliant writer Sabina Murray. All twelve stories in the book were published somewhere that mattered: TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Missouri Review, Western Humanities Review, and so on. Generous blurbs came in from Ben Fountain, Brad Watson, Steve Yarbrough, Tom Franklin, and Kim Harington granted me and Massachusetts permission to use something Donald Harington had written about my work as another blurb.

But in the hush of Offer It Up, so much agonizing doubt came in. I felt terrible for Massachusetts especially, in that even with the offset of contest entries paying for some of the print run, here these wonderful people at this outstanding fifty-year-old press had taken a risk on me, a big risk. And it appeared that no one in that all important, Imperial capitol of American literary taste-making, New York City, no one there would give a durn about this hick from the sticks, this oddball who has worked twenty years now in university press publishing and yet somehow writes (and dares to publish!) stories and novels. The audacity! An elf who wants to be a dentist!

Designer Sally Nichols

Designer Sally Nichols

Director Bruce Wilcox

Director Bruce Wilcox

Thanks to a quirk in my New York and New Jersey sales calls for University Press of Mississippi, I had a Sunday and Monday free to travel to Amherst, Massachusetts, and do something authors at small presses sometimes never can afford to do, meet the publishers face-to-face. What a blessing this brief trip was, but at the same time, it made me even more cognizant of the hush of Offer It Up, and how painful it was that so far no one in New York was taking notice.

Bruce Wilcox and I recorded this calm and sensible, even revealing vimeo, yet I was dying inside. I was so worried that his team and press had taken a big risk on me, and there would be no spark of recognition from anyone in New York.

Bruce Wilcox, director of University of Massachusetts Press, interviews Juniper Prize winner Steve Yates from Steven B Yates on Vimeo.

And yet, O Me of Little Faith, the very morning we sat and recorded those 19 minutes, Publishers Weekly, that mighty purveyor of what matters in publishing, a magazine and now also an online powerhouse that for twenty years I had read, even visited in person, and strived mightily to get our UPM authors in, that purveyor ran this review of Some Kinds of Love: Stories:

“In this sturdy story collection, Yates (Morkan’s Quarry) parades a cast of characters who, as diverse as they appear on the surface, have in common an underlying ignorance and mistrust of others. This trait manifests in a larger theme of historical prejudice in the “American Empire”, the setting of these tales which range in time from 1833 to the present. The memorable ensemble includes an aging gay bachelor disturbed by a series of burglaries in his rapidly declining neighborhood; a vocationally and romantically unfulfilled highway inspector who has an affair with an uncouth contractor; an insect-collecting fat fetishist dealing with conflicting feelings toward the married object of his affection; a disaffected Pakistani would-be terrorist in post-9/11 Jackson, Mississippi; and a slow pitch softball player who happens to be able to see the future. Contrary to what the title suggests, the stories are more about what love is not: misdirected lust and other complex, confounding desires; but also personal and professional ennui and a sort of general angst. Instead of getting their comeuppance though, Yates’s clueless characters get laid, get back together, or get a new SUV, which somehow rings true: good things happen to bad people, or more accurately in these cases, things happen to people. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/06/2013″

It is, I told UPM’s director, Leila W. Salisbury, who proudly and gleefully pointed the review out to me on Thursday when I was back in my office, it is an “out-of-body experience” to read what someone you do not know thinks of what you have taken years to write. But oh, what relief I felt as well. Offer It Up was over. The second stage of a book’s inception, The Out-of-Body-Experience of reception had at last begun. Someone had noticed.

Even more striking, I awoke this morning to find a new friend on Facebook, someone from my own hometown of Springfield, quoted my detective, Joe Voss, from the story “Hunter, Seeker” and posted that on my Facebook page followed by her assessment: “Brilliant, Steve, brilliant.”

Offer It Up is over, the hush has lifted, the mother has emerged victorious from the faraway hospital, the baby gives a mighty squall! I am so glad and relieved to know the brilliant work of the good people at University of Massachusetts Press will get its recognition, recompense, and epiphany. I’m taking this baby home!


Q & A with Steve Yates author of

Some Kinds of Love: Stories (University of Massachusetts Press)


Steve Yates won the 2012 Juniper Prize for fiction, established in 2004 by the University of Massachusetts Press in collaboration with the UMass Amherst MFA Program for Poets and Writers, presented annually for an outstanding work of literary fiction. His collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, will be published by University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013. Sabina Murray, author of The Caprices and Tales of the New World among others, was the judge. The dozen fictions in Some Kinds of Love: Stories were all published in nationally renowned literary magazines such as the Missouri Review, Southwest Review, and TriQuarterly. One was honored by Richard Russo and the editors of Best American Short Stories 2010 as among the 100 Distinguished Stories of 2009. Another story was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Yates earned his MFA in writing from University of Arkansas. His first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, was published by Moon City Press in 2010. Yates joined the University Press of Mississippi in 1998, and is now assistant director / marketing director at the Press in Jackson, and lives in Flowood with his wife, Tammy.

Q: So Some Kinds of Love: Stories is a short story collection. It’s not the sequel to Morkan’s Quarry?

A: Right, these are twelve stories I wrote and published between 1990 and 2012. But, one of the stories, published originally in the Missouri Review, is really an adapted version of chapter two from the sequel to Morkan’s Quarry. So for any reader demanding to be back in the 1860s in Missouri with the Morkans, Some Kinds of Love: Stories has a taste of what’s to come.

Q: How many of the stories are about Mississippi?

A: The four longest stories are all set in Mississippi. Two in Jackson, one in West Point, and one, the longest, in Port Gibson. The other story set in the South happens in New Orleans.

Q: You’re from Missouri and have been in Mississippi now 15 years.

A: And before that in the Arkansas Ozarks for eight years.

Q: So do you think of yourself as a southern writer?

A: No way I can claim any of that great legacy. The Ozarks is not the South, and it’s not the Midwest. It’s the Ozarks, a border band of hills and mountains, and really the vanguard, Westernmost outpost of the American hillbilly. After Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and Joplin, Missouri, the continent flattens out, dries up, and becomes the West. The Ozarks is its own thing.

Q: Is there any such thing as an Ozarks writer?

A: Maybe. Donald Harington, Daniel Woodrell, Skip Hays, Speer Morgan, Paulette Jiles all come to mind. All of them are as wonderfully different as stars in the sky. So it’s not hard for me to conceive of an Ozarks writer and an Ozarks literature, but maybe it would be hard to categorize and teach an Ozarks literature. And of course most outsiders would sneer that “Ozarks literature” is an oxymoron, like “luxuriant outhouse.”

Q: When you write about Mississippi, did you feel a bar raised there? I mean, it’s not like Mississippi needs another fiction writer with Faulkner, Welty, Wright, Morris, Hannah, Nordan, Yarbrough, Watson, and now Jesmyn Ward from the Coast.

A: And a lot more besides them, too. I thought about that some, but in the end I figured here I am watching people work and love and fight and make fools of themselves and reconcile and raise kids. If a story hits me, let the literary journals sort out whether what I’m writing is worthy. And they did. All four Mississippi stories found publication, and one was even named among the 100 distinguished stories of the year by the editors of Best American Short Stories. I can’t really help where my job is. And I would also say that for a place that already has plenty of writers, Mississippi is incredibly welcoming to anyone writing. Outside of a graduate school writing program, I’ve never lived anywhere like it. With almost no prompting, people will openly tell you that they are writing and tell you what they are writing. Growing up, I would no more tell someone back home that I was a writer and what I was writing than I would try to sell them a UFO detector and a foil cap.

Q: You use a lot of humor in your stories. I mean, one is about a teenager who thinks he’s a performance artist and throws his family’s pigs over retail counters in West Point, Mississippi. Do you worry that Mississippians won’t care for an outsider making jokes?

A: For that story, I’ll risk some ire. The seed of that story was in the news of the weird—that associated press news feature that used to run on the wire service. A kiddo in West Point, Mississippi, had actually done that, driven around in the pit of night and hurled pigs across retail counters. In the Ozarks that would fit right in. He could have been from Buffalo or Marshfield or Sparta. Mississippians I work with were mortified that the nation, for one slow news day in December, was sharing that story far and wide. I proclaimed that the young man was a performance artist with a message heaved right at the heart of corporate America. There was considerable skepticism among my colleagues, but I couldn’t let it go.

Q: So some bored country kid throwing pigs inspired you?

A: A great performance artist! And I don’t believe in inspiration. Only obsession. I work fifty hours a week at a great university press. I have plenty of intensely fulfilling work. There’s no reason on earth for me ever to write a short story. But when something is an inescapable obsession, there’s really no stopping.

Q: Work does figure in a lot of these stories. None of your stories are about a struggling writer, or a student, or someone without a profession.

A: I do tend to write about people who are employed and whose worldviews are shot through with perceptions gained at work. One of the oddest things for me about contemporary American writing that tries to be literary fiction is this: people seem to have no discernible means of economic support in short story after short story, novel after novel. No jobs. Magic trust-fund babies do Portland! Whee! Americans are intensely defined by the work we do; few national workforces in industrialized countries work harder and longer and yet go back for more and say they love it.

Q: So that’s where we get the list on the back of the book—pioneers, limestone quarry owners, nurses, sex toy catalog designers, attorneys, missile guidance masterminds, librarians, highway engineers?

A: From age eleven I had a paying job, whether I was a gofer at Yates, Mauck, Robinett, and Bohrer, or at sixteen, a sportswriter for the Springfield News-Leader, I was doing something for a wage, and had big, black rings under my eyes. Even in graduate school in Fayetteville when there were no teaching slots, I surveyed highways in the summers and did construction inspection. Work matters to American life, and certainly to the Ozarks I know. I don’t think I could write a story about someone without a job. I mean, even Mrs. Bridge was affected by a job and really had a job, right? She was the wife of attorney, Mr. Bridge, and mother of three. She ran a household in Kansas City, and her leisure hours confounded her.

Q: Okay, that’s a lot about work, but the story collection is called Some Kinds of Love. What about love?

A: Well, the book is dedicated to my wife, Tamara Gebhart Yates, also of Springfield, for a lot of reasons. For a major inspirational reason in that she was the one who dared me to write a happy ending. Why in undergraduate school at Missouri State and graduate school at University of Arkansas in the late 1980s, early 1990s were we writing all these stark stories with fatalistic, inconclusive endings? Tammy hated that vogue and dared me point blank to think outside of it. And it ended up that each of these characters I invented found their struggle was with some aspect of love, how love did not work the way they demanded it to or the way venial desires led them to believe it did.

Q: So does everybody end up happy, happy, sunsets and holding hands? Who is this book for?

A: No, I can’t conceive that Hollywood, Disney outlook. Love is work sure as life is work. And I keep fretting that people won’t recognize that some books are for adults only. This book is called Some Kinds of Love, so people in the book will tear their clothes off and do terrible things to each other as surely as they may undress and do loving or merciful things that are nonetheless adult in content. My wife will sometimes ask when I fret about this, “People realize you’re not writing Hallmark cards, right?” Watching the public at my own book signings for Morkan’s Quarry and at book signings for University Press of Mississippi, my employer, I don’t know what people recognize any more. I think they are too busy sometimes, and find themselves somewhere with their kids, who may already have seen way more violence and depravity in movies and on television than I ever want to stomach.

Q: So the other stories set in the South, what are they about?

A: They are about all kinds of people—a terrorist cell member and a librarian who fall in love; three gay men in a love triangle, one of whom is stealing; a lawyer in Port Gibson who is losing his daughter and his town; a catalog designer for a company that sells sex toys.

Q: Sex toys?

A: Someone has to design those catalogs! The story is set in New Orleans. I wrote most of it one night while manning a book exhibit in New Orleans. I feel as if I’ve been in that city as often as I have been in New York for my work, and that’s a lot. From my hotel room, I could see people working, some pretty late, in a white, stone building on Saint Charles called The United Fruit Company Building. What are they doing, I wondered, working so hard and so late in a city that offers such a riot of dissipation and distraction? And they looked happy, too. It was office work, with PCs and Macs and modems blinking. They weren’t wistfully gandering at the street or rolling their eyes at the clock. And here I was, passing up a night’s frolic in the only foreign, carnival city in America to write all night until the last street car boomed home. And loving it.

Q: What does the title, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, mean? What’s it from?

A: Only a book geek would come up with a dream like this. As soon as I conceived of the title, since again and again love seemed to be what I was writing about, I realized something in Dewey decimal destiny might happen. There is a great short story collection, which all of us in creative writing programs have read and learned from, a classic. Now that University of Massachusetts Press has published this, there exists the distinct Dewey-decimal-system possibility that in some library where fiction is shelved the spines in a row will read Richard Yates: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, and then a humble answer, Steve Yates: Some Kinds of Love. As a kid I was left alone for hours and hours on end at the Brentwood Library back home. It had a pronounced effect on me.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: