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 was born and reared in Springfield, Missouri, attended Greenwood Laboratory School and graduated from Glendale High School. He then graduated from Missouri State University and later earned his MFA in writing from University of Arkansas. His first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, set in Springfield, the surrounding Ozarks, and St. Louis in the Civil War, was published by Moon City Press in 2010. Yates is assistant director / marketing director at University Press of Mississippi 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 Springfield with the Morkans, Some Kinds of Love: Stories has a taste of what’s to come.
Q: So how many of these stories are set in Springfield or the Ozarks?
A: Seven of the twelve. Four happen in Springfield, and two others happen in Niangua and then Seligman, and the last story happens in a made up Ozarks town, Lawry City, which could be Strafford or Lebanon or Springfield, anywhere where all-night softball tournaments happen. Did you know that people outside the Missouri Ozarks don’t know what all-night softball tournaments are? Isn’t that extraordinary? In the workshop at Fayetteville, Arkansas, seated around that conference table in the writing program were super-talented young writers from Ireland, Burma, Virginia, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, California, Oklahoma, Mississippi, all over the nation and globe, and the great John Williams (author of Stoner and Butcher’s Crossing and a National Book Award winner) is leading the workshop. The last story in Some Kinds of Love is up for critique, and there is not much astonishment expressed at a seer who can only see an hour into the future or the real biblical apocalypse descending. The first questions are, “What is an all-night softball tournament? Is there really such a thing anywhere?”
Q: What are the other stories set in Springfield about?
A: One is about a detective pursuing Ether Eddie, a serial-home-invader case that maybe Springfield has forgotten. But when I was in high school at Glendale and working at the News-Leader, the ghastly, creepy invasiveness of Ether Eddie was constantly on everyone’s minds. A transformative moment when innocence and safety evaporated. The wonderful writers who have blurbed Some Kinds of Love: Stories—Ben Fountain, Steve Yarbrough, Brad Watson—and many other writers who have read the manuscript have mentioned how troubling and affecting that story is.
Q: How can a crime or a cop story be about love?
A: Oh, the detective—made up by the way, other than the details of what Ether Eddie was doing when he slipped into homes, etherized young women in Southern Hills, and watched them sleep, other than those details, I made the story up—but the detective has a daughter, and he loves her very much. Eddie represents to him the end of a way of life in Southern Hills, the end of a sort of idyll. And the detective loves his job, loves hunting complicated bad guys.
Q: Is the Ozarks all that unique?
A: The end of it that I used to know from Lake Pomme de Terre down to Fayetteville, Arkansas, certainly seems unique. Draw an oval right around those two points and think of the variety of people and landscape, think of the economic differences and energy. Especially in the crossroads marketplace that was and is Springfield. I mean, there’s a reason Sam Walton DID NOT open his first Sam’s Club in Arkansas. He did it in Springfield because we made for an awesome test market. In that oval between those points of the Ozarks, you will find the most adept and adaptable sales force in the nation, the Guy Smileys and Bob Barkers of America. They understand the dour Midwestern tone; they are totally down with the hillbilly’s wont to go-it-alone; and they can soften up to the Southerner without setting off Yankee alarm bells.
Q: Is that the sort of people you write about, sales people? I mean, these aren’t Chamber of Commerce stories?
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 five stories, they’re about what and set where?
A: The south. One in New Orleans, two in Jackson, Mississippi, one in West Point, Mississippi, and one in Port Gibson, Mississippi. And 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 missile guidance mastermind and his pig-throwing son.
Q: Pig throwing?
A: In a slow news cycle right before Christmas, a young Mississippian in West Point was arrested for a series of outrageous incidents in which he cast live animals, mainly pigs, across retail counters. In the age of the internet, this got everywhere, posting and sharing. My Mississippi colleagues were mortified that the nation was paying attention to this news story, and naturally so. I mean, imagine had this been a bored country kid hurling pigs in Marshfield or Buffalo, and it could easily have been! I obsessed about it. It was performance art, I insisted. He was casting living missiles into the heart of corporate America! My dear Mississippi colleagues were not won over to this narrative. And so I wrote a short story.
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. It had a pronounced effect on me.
Q: So what will you be doing in the Ozarks for this book?
A: Monday, May 13, I’ll be in Springfield at the Library Center in the Auditorium, 4653 Campbell at 7 p.m. Books will be sold by Barnes & Noble in Springfield. You can ring B & N at (417) 885-0026. On Wednesday, May 15, from 4-7 p.m. I’ll be at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, (479) 443-2080. That’s during the Farmer’s Market, so just drop in and I’ll be signing. And we come back to Barnes & Noble Springfield on Glenstone Saturday, May 18, from 1-3 p.m., just signing there. You can link to any of these sites at the events link here on the blog