This is undoubtedly one of my most prized possessions – an original edition of Ward A. Dorrance’s Three Ozark Streams from 1937, describing his floats on the Black, Jacks Fork, and Current rivers.
Ward Dorrance was an important literary figure in Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century. A collection of short stories that he co-wrote was the first book published by the University of Missouri Press. He was on the faculty at Missouri until, in a shameful display of 1950s bigotry, he was hounded off the faculty and out of the state because of his sexual orientation. You won’t see anything about this disgraceful episode in the “Mizzou” alumni publications, that’s for sure – they go in for the warm nostalgia of Tiger football and the Shack. But Ward A. Dorrance is the true Missouri treasure, and it’s a sad thing that his work has been so neglected over the years.
From the news today comes the report that the fans of the rock group Insane Clown Posse, collectively known as Juggalos, will be holding their annual Gathering at a campground near the Lake of the Ozarks. Prepare for the general wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by promises of good behavior, followed by excitable media reports of wild behavior, devil worship, and who knows what else.
Fact is, the Ozarks have long been thought of as a convenient hideaway for anti-mainstream activity, from Jesse James on down to Schwagstock. As long as the miscreants don’t impinge too much on the lifetime locals, the usual tendency is to wring our hands, thunder from the pulpit a bit, sell the outsiders some supplies, and then wave goodbye. I wouldn’t expect much different this time. When I was a youngster, it was the Rainbow Family that supposedly collected somewhere in the national forest for a few summers, although I never actually saw any of the purported members. They were always in the next county over, or the next.
I don’t expect the Juggalos to have much trouble, or to be much trouble. I’ve met a couple, and they were harmless enough guys with painted faces. The campground they’ve chosen is conveniently across the Osage River from the main swing of things at the Lake, down a long county road. The address is Kaiser, but it’s really more like trans-Bagnell. Besides, the Lake has developed a history of toleration for drug-addled obnoxiousness, although the more common drug is alcohol. I’m sure all the Casey’s General Stores on Highway 54 will be stocking up on Faygo.
I hope this doesn’t sound too cynical, but it often feels like the prevailing attitude is “Come, leave your money, and go. We’ll smile at your face and talk when your back is turned. Have your fun, but remember, we always lie to strangers.”
I have completed all but a few minor edits for the next book, the contract is all signed, and we are kicking around cover ideas. And yes, after more than a year I’m getting excited to see it come out.
The title of Book #2 is This Old World, a phrase that I borrowed from a song I grew up with:
This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore –
If you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.
The tune of this hymn, as I learned it anyway, is an old shape-note song that goes by the name of “Restoration,” which has had any number of verses put to it. I thought the song captured many of the themes I am trying to work into this book, not to mention the fact that the tune is haunting, and I wouldn’t mind if it stuck with readers for months!
The novel is indeed a sequel to the Slant of Light, but at the same time I was in a different mental place when I wrote it, and I think it will hit people differently. I’m working on the third book of the series now, and it too is very different. The thing about reading sequels (and I’m as prone to this as anyone) is that people approach them with the same expectation that they had with the previous book–and usually in the case of genre novels, this is a reasonable expectation. But in my case, I’m hoping that readers of the series will follow me through a set of books with widely varying themes, tones, and styles. Let’s hope that people don’t let sequel-expectations get in the way of an open experience of the new book.
If I had included this in a novel, people would have said the symbolism was just too obvious and strained.
One of my first memories — perhaps my first — is going to the funeral of a relative of my mother. I was probably four at the time. I had never been taken to a funeral before, and I recall my fascinated horror at the body of my distant kin, whom I had barely known before her death.
Her skin had the waxy smoothness that embalming gives it, and I remember wanting to touch it to see if it was as hard as it appeared. Of course that was forbidden. And the stillness! I had never seen anyone lie so still.
Afterward came the burial, and the return of family and friends to their farmhouse, where I roamed the yard trying to understand it all while the grownups sought to comfort her husband, weeping in the parlor. I had rarely seen grownups cry, and that added to the strangeness.
We say, “Some memories last a lifetime,” and “I’ll never forget,” but in reality we know that’s not necessarily true. I’ve seen it in friends and loved ones — with age comes forgetfulness, and memories that were once vivid bleach out and disappear.
That’s part of the impulse to write–to take those memories and put them somewhere that moth and rust do not corrupt.
The Missouri Humanities Council and the State Historical Society of Missouri jointly manage the “Show Me Missouri” Speakers Bureau, which provides speakers to civic groups, organizations, and libraries for a low cost. I’m pleased that I’ve been selected as one of the speakers for 2014 and hope to get out to a lot of groups and organizations! Check out the link for details.
Emory Styron of River Hills Traveler recently conducted an interview with me about Slant of Light, its origins and themes, the Ozarks in general, and I don’t know what else. We had a great time chatting, and I was delighted to find such a discerning reader and sympathetic listener. Here’s a link to the River Hills Traveler video interview.
May I just add that copies of the novel are available from their bookstore!
When I was a youngster, the afternoon of Thanksgiving was reserved for wood-cutting. My dad had a circular saw that hooked up to the PTO of the tractor, and for weeks beforehand my brother and I had been piling up slabs from the local sawmills. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with “slabs,” they are the edge pieces that are created when a sawmill shapes up a log for lumber — bark on a curved outer side, flat on the inner side, typically eight to twelve feet long.)
My brother would feed, my dad would run the saw, and I was the “off-bear” — the guy who would catch the cut section and toss it to the side. Occasionally my brother and I would trade jobs to keep from getting bored, but Dad always ran the saw. My mother’s task was to stand about twenty feet away and fret. She was convinced that one of us would eventually cut off a hand, and now when I think about that naked saw blade spinning about a foot away from Dad and me, I imagine her fears were justified. The footing was never smooth, and the weight of the cut pieces varied from featherlight to almost too heavy for me to carry. So yes, we were not exactly the poster children for the National Safety Council.
Somehow, we managed to make it through years of that labor without even losing a finger, so perhaps we were safer than it looked.
This image is not us (it’s a generation older, a photo I found via Google) but the operation is very similar. Our saw blade was about a foot larger in diameter, and the PTO belt from the tractor came out from beneath the seat, so it was fairly level rather than the high angle seen here. But I can definitely sympathize with the kid in the foreground plugging his ears.