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12074659_10207871081916428_5839618322702226560_nIn August 2013, Big Fiction, published in hand-set type on a letterpress and dedicated to the long short story, the novella, issued its inaugural 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. Now in February of 2016, Dock Street Press in Seattle has published Sandy and Wayne: A Novella as a standalone book. Learn more about that at the Dock Street Press website.

Steve Yates will be reading and signing Sandy and Wayne at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Thursday, February 4 from 6-8 p.m. He’ll then head to his native Springfield, Missouri, and read and sign books at the Library Center, Saturday, February 6 from 2-4 p.m. and at the Barnes & Noble on Glenstone from 5-7 p.m. See more details at EVENTS.

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 novels Morkan’s Quarry (Moon City Press, 2010) and The Teeth of the Souls (Moon City Press 2015). He 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.

1236956_10201766045294328_2077959514_n

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.

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Squirrel pot pie, tomatoes, onions, fried okra and squash, ham and beans

Squirrel pot pie, tomatoes, onions, fried okra and squash, ham and beans

In Dr. Brooks Blevins’s class in Ozarks Literature and History, the first question a student asked struck at the heart of what I am wondering at now. A longing for the Ozarks, being away from the Ozarks, living in the Deep South, how does this separation affect my writing?

Last week, I had two reasons to head home to Springfield and the Missouri Ozarks. The Seventh Annual Ozarks Studies Symposium at Missouri-State-West Plains honored me as its keynote speaker and asked me home to read from my story collection Some Kinds of Love: Stories. And Dr. Brooks Blevins was teaching my novel, Morkan’s Quarry, in a class called Literature of the Ozarks and Literary History of the Ozarks (students can enroll in the class for credit either in English or in history).

1,329 miles reads the odometer in the Blue Avenger. Flowood, Mississippi, to Springfield, Missouri, to West Plains, Missouri, then back to Springfield, thence back to Flowood once more.

For a living, beginning author, to have a novel taught within a university setting as part of a body of literature, this seems miraculous to me. Most writers have to be dead for that to occur. Morkan’s Quarry is but three years old now. In book years, though, that is moldering-in-the-grave old. Driving home, my wife and I reflected that had either of the two New York agents who burned themselves out trying to sell Morkan’s Quarry, had they succeeded and placed the novel with one of the five remaining publishers in New York, the novel would now long have been remaindered, pulped, and gone. For, while it made happy money for me and for Moon City Press, it did not achieve what a New York publisher requires for success. Had I not found the perfect boutique publisher in Moon City Press, which keeps the book in print indefinitely, Dr. Blevins could never have taught it. Most New York publishing houses pulp a novel deemed unsuccessful within six months. Now, three years after publication, thirty students have read Morkan’s Quarry, discussed it, written impression pieces on it, and thoughtfully considered how the novel fits within Ozarks Literature.

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Dr. Blevins put no limits on me, and suggested I just say what I usually say when starting a reading. Being in my hometown, the Springfield that gave Bob Barker his intellectual underpinnings, I did my best Guy Smiley (my hero! And also, I believe, from the Ozarks), and we played quiz show. Our multiple choice game is, Who wrote this sentence?

“The tales which follow were omitted from my earlier publications, because the editors objected to certain inelegant expressions.”

Was it A) Donald Harington in a soon-to-be-released posthumous collection of short stories entitled Will Tell; B) Vance Randolph in his preface to Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales; C) Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in the just discovered manuscript he titled More Stuff That Uncouth Backwater Hayseeds Told Me; or D) me in my apologia to my parish priest Fr. Gerard Hurley begging him not to excommunicate me after University of Massachusetts Press published Some Kinds of Love: Stories.

The answer was immediately guessed correctly, and on the first try! The winner received a free copy of Big Fiction Magazine, containing my novella, “Sandy and Wayne,” winner of the magazine’s inaugural Knickerbocker Prize.

In addition to reading from Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks, I read from this, one of many extraordinary entries in The White River Chronicles of S. C. Turnbo, http://thelibrary.org/lochist/turnbo/v4/st111.html

Between the scientific distance of Schoolcraft and the raw, brainwave cadence of Ozarks speech in The White River Chronicles of S. C. Turnbo, that’s where I wanted the narrator of Morkan’s Quarry to fall, insatiably curious about his people but not without the capacity for dismay or even indignation at what people are capable of doing.

Two of the dangers I see in being so far away from the Ozarks yet writing about home: nostalgia and boosterism can take hold. I love the Springfield I left in 1990, and the Fayetteville I left in 1998. When we hit the first winding curves, the first balds and limestone bluffs around Imboden and Ravenden, I have trouble speaking, and I am always glad that this is Tammy’s part of the drive. Reading and researching in local records with the help of Brian Grubbs at the Springfield Greene County Public Library Saturday, I was on the trail of a Springfieldian of some note from 1900 to 1914, Frank Headley, Jr. Newspaper articles praised much of his agricultural prowess, much of it corroborated by the structures he built at Springlawn Farm, but then, boosterism crept in to the record. One article, not contemporary to his zenith but from the 1990s, incorrectly stated that he introduced the first Percheron herd to America because he owned several show champions; the next article summarized that and polished it to a boosterish glare—our local citizen had introduced the Percheron breed to America. The error, repeated and expanded in journalism, accretes with nostalgia for a simpler, grander time into a faux fact. What we love and miss can make us rave. That is not why I write.

I was deeply touched by the enthusiasm and curiosity of the thirty students in Ozarks Literature, and with every minute astonished at how deeply they had all read and discussed the novel. The first question was, Now you don’t live in the Ozarks and you wrote some of Morkan’s Quarry while not living in the Ozarks. What affect does that long displacement have on your writing?

My gut answer was truthful, and I didn’t mean to be flip. I put a lot more snow and ice in Morkan’s Quarry because once I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and especially when we moved to Flowood, Mississippi, I was doing without snow and ice. Many other great questions came, about Springfield history, quarrying, accidents at quarries, Ozarks geology, classes at Missouri State (Southwest Missouri State when I was there), which quarry in town inspired me, whether Leighton’s Galway was Galloway Village, the agency of African American characters in the book. What an unforgettable wonder that these readers had absorbed so much!

The Ozarks Studies Symposium continues its inclusiveness, a wonderful openness when you look at the program and presenters. Look at the variety here, from musical instruments to weather and religious studies, prohibition, and a celebration and memorial of University Press of Mississippi author, the late W.K. McNiel, who wrote Ozark Country for University Press of Mississippi. Would that all symposia on regions could be so open-minded! That the symposium would devote its keynote to a writer of literary short stories and the book, Some Kinds of Love, really brought inclusiveness home powerfully to me. I was doubly honored in that both Dr. Blevins and Lynn Morrow, co-creator of The White River Chronicles of S.C. Turnbo, were there to hear me read from the story “Starfall.”

Steve Yates reads from Some Kinds of Love: Stories at the Ozarks Studies Symposium West Plains, Missouri from Steven B Yates on Vimeo.

Too bad Tammy and I both had head colds that were obnoxious, and barely held in check by cold pills and plain good luck. I hope it doesn’t show in how I read. After the dinner—squirrel pot pie, paw paws, and gooseberry pie for desert, plus the gift of elderberry wine from Howell County News editor and publisher, Kim Wehmer, and the signature of editor and poet Anthony Priest, who included me next to Daniel Woodrell in Yonder Mountain: An Ozarks Anthology—we limped home to Springfield and family and the research I’m doing on a new project.

Still, driving to my other home, to Flowood on Sunday, there remains that lingering question, what does all this distance do to me? What does it do to what I can write?

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12074659_10207871081916428_5839618322702226560_nIn August 2013, Big Fiction, published in hand-set type on a letterpress and dedicated to the long short story, the novella, issued its inaugural 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. Now in February of 2016, Dock Street Press in Seattle will publish Sandy and Wayne: A Novella as a standalone book. Learn more about that at the Dock Street Press website.

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 novels Morkan’s Quarry (Moon City Press, 2010) and The Teeth of the Souls (Moon City Press 2015). He 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.

1236956_10201766045294328_2077959514_n

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.

Read Full Post »

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