Tag Archives: Tom Franklin

Donald Ray Pollock and the Rural Story

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.”

My Week of Crime

I attended the March meeting of Friends of Mystery in Portland to hear SF-based mystery writer Cara Black talk about her books and Paris. A really fascinating and engaging speaker.  The way she talks about the city makes you want to head to the airport and jump on a plane.  I haven’t read any of the Aimee Leduc series, but I’m going to add them to my voluminous list.  I also got the opportunity to have a nice chat with Portland crime writer Bill Cameron.  A great guy.  If you haven’t read his books, you should take a look. LOST DOG and CHASING SMOKE are good places to start.  He captures the city of Portland really well and it’s hard not to like a hero named Skin.

The next night, Greg Rucka was signing the new hardcover edition of his graphic novel STUMPTOWN at Bridge City Comics. Not only did I pick up a signed copy (look for my review soon), but Greg was generous enough to offer to read an Advanced Copy of DOVE SEASON.  So if you don’t see me touting his blurb in a month or two, you’ll know he didn’t like it.

It got me thinking.  I’ve been writing for a long time, so I have pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism and reviews.  But I have to admit, it’s slightly more nerve-racking to hand your book to people who you have read and admire.  Obviously I want good reviews from other sources, but I don’t know most of those people’s work.  I do want other authors to like it. If they don’t, it’s cool. Chalk it up to a matter of taste. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to.

Just finished the book SMONK by Tom Franklin and absolutely loved it (I put a short review of it up at Goodreads).  I might wrong a longer piece on it in the future.  Definitely not for everyone, but if you like gleefully described unapologetic violence and gore, this western is for you.

Until next time…