Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend Donald Ray Pollock’s reading of his new novel THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME at Powell’s in Portland. After reading his short story collection KNOCKEMSTIFF earlier this year, I was an immediate fan. If you like good writing and an honest portrayal of the hardscrabble, lives that many rural Americans have experienced, it’s a must-read. Uncompromising feels like a weak adjective, but it’s all I got.
Maybe it’s because I have my ear to the ground, but I’ve been noticing a nice uptick of rural male stories that feel rooted in truth and written by people that know the world. With my novel DOVE SEASON set mostly in the farming community of the Imperial Valley where I grew up, I’m always looking for writers who get the country right.
When I started my book, I just wanted to write the story that was in my head. Something that was honest and something I knew. And that was the country. When I started to shop it to publishers, I realized that I had hit the trifecta of: working class, rural, and male. Not what a lot of publishers thought of as their reading public. If the writers below are any indication, I think they’re starting to see how wrong they were. That a good, honest story will always prevail.
So I put a list together. If anyone wants to add to it, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll start with just five writers and keep following it up, as I keep reading, remembering, and hearing about people bringing the backroads to life.
1. DONALD RAY POLLOCK – One of the things that any writer envies is another writer’s ability to turn off any outside influence and truly write from one’s self. Mr. Pollock digs deep inside his history and his imagination and offers imagery and morality that a less confident writer would veto. Start with KNOCKEMSTIFF and graduate to THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME.
2. TOM FRANKLIN – Franklin’s Mississippi is as vivid as Pollock’s Ohio. His collection of short stories POACHERS won the Edgar Award and more recently his novel CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER was a Finalist for Best Novel. Franklin is a compelling story with an eye to the history of the world around him.
3. DANIEL WOODRELL – The author that coined “country noir” to describe some of his novels. Most people will know him as the author of the novel WINTER’S BONE on which the Oscar-nominated was based. Whether in the Ozarks or the Bayou, you really can’t go wrong with these books. WINTER’S BONE is a good place to start.
4. CRAIG JOHNSON – As the author of the Walt Longmire detective series, Johnson is probably considered more of a straight genre writer, but his depiction of the Wyoming countryside deserves a second look. While the mysteries of his books drive the stories, they are really about the characters and the world. A voice for an often forgotten part of this country. Start with THE COLD DISH.
5. FRANK BILL – Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve only read a couple of his short stories, but every single one of them punched me in the face, picked me back up, and then punched me again. His upcoming collection of these stories CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA is one of the most anticipated books of the fall.
As Donald Ray Pollock wrote in the book he inscribed to me last night, “We all got to stick together.”