I think today (Wednesday, 4.21.2010) marks about the halfway point in a return trip to the Ozarks to bring Morkan’s Quarry to what I imagined to be its core audience. A summing up, then, is in order.
Thursday morning (4.15.2010) at Ozarks Technical Community College, my longtime writing friend Michael Pulley and my former boss from the News-Leader and now OTC’s chief of publicity Steve Koehler greeted me at Lincoln Hall. Along with Kay Murnan, Social Science Chair, we were fretting the state of newspapers and all other literary endeavours when six minutes after start time, a curious face pops in the door.
“Is this the Civil War novel thing?”
We all nodded eagerly. Twenty college students strolled in, all waiting in the hall I guess because we sounded, well, not so literary.
Seeing that the audience was all students, I toned the lecture down, but kept the focus on this—Springfield’s Civil War history is far more interesting, more complex and sad, and more harrowing, than say St. Louis’s Civil War history. And yet, we have a superb book called Civil War St. Louis, but we do not have a professional historian’s take on our town, a book I would title (if I were marketing it) Civil War Springfield. Someone find us this historian, because Morkan’s Quarry is not that book. It is fiction, which is entertainment and no substitute for the work of a professional historian. We need our history done proper.
Any lecturer who is not an egomaniac must feel that sinking dread at the last word. Who could listen to all that and emerge awake and thinking? But lo and behold, questions, and great ones.
Why are there not more books on the slave experience in the Civil War? How many battles were in Springfield? How many slaves were in Springfield? How many people were in Springfield and what were they doing? Where did all the St. Louis Germans come from?
Friday at Borders in Springfield was well attended, and old friends were in abundance. Period music provided by four Missouri State students Sara Coleman, Josh Markley, Kelly Osborne, and Veronica Adinegara was superb. And the introduction by my editor Donald R. Holliday was a real rev up. What a lot of sweat Moon City Press’s field marshall James Baumlin put in to make this evening hum!
My second grade teacher, Pauline Barker, attended, and she bears special mention, for much of this is her fault. Seeing her reminded me that the pedagogy she employed to get us to write at that early stage deserves a book from Teacher’s College Press. From group storytelling, seated Indian style and tolerant of ANYTHING, to dictations taken by student teachers, to that final project when she said, now you write a story, I know there is method there that must be preserved and handed down to future teachers.
Borders still has signed copies, and readers can nab one by calling 417.881.4111. Borders will ship anywhere in the U.S.
Sunday morning, I was on Ozarks At Large with Kyle Kellams, one of the very best book interviewers in the nation, and certainly the best radio news magazine in the Ozarks. The Fayetteville Free Press gave us ink. In Fayetteville at Nightbird Books I met the best imaginable combination of my teachers from the writing program, fellow writers from my years there (1990-1994), former and present colleagues from University of Arkansas Press, and just good Ozark readers.
Once again, the questions were far more exciting to me than what I read. After several questions about quarrying in general, a reader asked about the Germans in the Union army, and said that they were mercenaries recruited from overseas. I explained that the German Americans in the Union army in the Ozarks, such as my mother’s people the Evertz’s, were just Americans of German origin or with German roots, many, called 48ers, from St. Louis, as much American citizens at the time of service as soldiers from many national origins on both sides. There was no need to recruit them from abroad.
While I may not have adequately met her questions, I was reminded there is no more lasting, unassailable truth in fiction than family lore. And in the end, truth is always in the mind of the perceiver, and sometimes, though not always, in the heart of the speaker. In the end, swarmed over by friends and signing books for new friends, readers I did not know before Sunday, the whole thing was golden.
Many thanks to Lisa Sharp at Nightbird Books. The store still has signed copies and will ship. Call 479.443.2080. Thanks to our hosts in Fayetteville, the Morris’s of Blue Sky Ranch. And a send up to my late friend Jay Prefontaine, the Skipper, who died Friday, April 9. I dedicated the evening’s work to him, who, more than any writer of my generation in the writing program, taught us to celebrate other writers, read and support their work, for that is community and the only way literature can carry on. To the Skipper! Onward!