Posts Tagged ‘Ozarks’


This made no sense to Hettienne. Strange? Saturn? How could anyone ever think that Emerald Park was scary, lonely, and strange? Here was where you ran and yelled like Indians, and no one on Earth could stop you. Here was where nine nobles strove to defend castle walls and never once were defeated. Here was where lightning bugs answered flashing stars across gold bays of meadow hemmed in purple forest and sheltered by navy sky.

from The Legend of the Albino Farm: A Novel published by Unbridled Books

On the campus of Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, in a recital hall where the novel’s main character, Hettienne Sheehy, attended concerts and chorals, 18010796_10211570021757432_8848822537898277000_nwe launched The Legend of the Albino Farm: A Novel at the Unbound Book Festival. If you have not put this festival on your literary map, please do so now. Its second year was spectacular. Here’s a recording of the interview among Unbridled Books editor, Greg Michalson, and two of his authors, Peter Geye (Safe from the Sea; Lighthouse Road) and me: https://vimeo.com/214373398. The night before, staying at Michalson Farm, we toured past the Stephens College stables, where, in the novel, Hettienne taught equestrian. And at Michalson Farm, I must add, we comforted a very pregnant mare out of Holy Bull.

“Happenings @ the Library

from LibeWire, Staff Newsletter of the Springfield-Greene County Library

It was standing room only at the Library Station on Sunday, April 23, for Steve Yates’ talk about his new book “The Legend of the Albino Farm.” Fifty-five people attended and enjoyed Steve’s reading and the Q&A that followed. Collection Services Manager Lisa Sampley sold out the 30 copies of the book she brought. “Thanks to her for keeping us classy at the book signing,” said Branch Manager Kim Flores. “It was especially gratifying to see so many people inside the library on the first nice weather day we’ve had for a while.” Steve followed up with a full house of 36 in the Library Center room B on Monday, April 24. Photograph at the Library Station by Kim Flores.20170423_140714

Steve responded on Monday with this note of thanks: “I am just dizzy with wonder at the two events we just achieved. Thank you all so much for your help! Lisa, who stayed and stayed while patrons chatted, had only four copies left last night. Wow! Here’s a video of the reading at The Library Center, https://vimeo.com/214676117 and the Question and Answer is at https://vimeo.com/214677380 ”

18119238_927327530703761_8737146363786523239_nIn addition to the two library lectures, successful signings happened at BookMarx and at Barnes & Noble-Springfield, where Reneé has been a supporter of every book I have published. Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas, also had a happy turnout and a nearly full room. It was great to see old friends and meet new readers! The photograph above is by Allis Hammond of the University of Arkansas Programs in Creative Writing and Translation.

Signed books are available in limited supply at

325 E Walnut St
Springfield, MO 65806
Reserve your copy at (417) 501-1062

Barnes & Noble-Springfield
3055 South Glenstone
Springfield, MO 65804
Reserve your copy at(417) 885-0026

Nightbird Books
304 W. Dickson Street
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Reserve your copy at (479) 443-2080

Media Coverage

Tailgate Guys Countryside BBQ Radio Show

The Springfield News-Leader

USA Today Entertainment Network

KSMU Ozarks Public Broadcasting

Ozarks Alive

Midwestern Gothic

Missouri Review Podcast

KRFU Columbia Morning with David Lile

KSFG Author of the Week with Nick Reed

I spoke to W. D. Blackmon’s Creative Writing class at Missouri State University and, after a vigorous Q & A, I signed books for the students, who had already read the novel. This is the class in which I learned to write fiction, and I was there in service to the professor who taught me how to write.

I concluded time in Springfield as the featured speaker of the Drury University English Symposium, sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta, honoring Drury’s graduating seniors. This was a moving ceremony—Drury’s English Department has clearly created an intensely supportive community among its students—and I was quite honored to be part of it. See the reading at https://vimeo.com/215009850


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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.


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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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.

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