Steve Yates is assistant director / marketing director at the University Press of Mississippi in
Q. What led you to write a novel about the Civil War in the Ozarks region?
A. I spent so much time at
Q. One of the main characters, Michael Morkan, owns a quarry in
A. There is one forgotten old novel called The Quarry, set in a granite quarry in
Q. Your book has a flavor of authenticity about it. For example, you work in details about clothing, exchange rates, a medicine story pamphlet, Gratiot Prison, and the fight by invalids during the battle of
A. A lifetime of them. My most treasured source is a blue and battered saddle-stitched pamphlet I have had since childhood, Robert Neumann’s An Illustrated History of the Civil War in
Q. One of the strengths of your novel, in my opinion, is your depiction of how civilians were forced to make choices in regard to their loyalties. For example, Michael Morkan made a “choice” to provide gunpowder to the Confederate army early in the book and then paid for that by being imprisoned by Union authorities in Gratiot Prison. Why did you decide to focus on civilians in your book rather than military personnel?
A. The civilian story in the Ozarks is THE story. Michael Fellman taught us that in his monumental Inside War: The Guerilla Conflict in Missouri During the Civil War. And William Garrett Piston helps us focus on it in his indispensable The Battle of Wilson’s Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It. The great fiction writers of the Ozarks who have treated the war—Donald Harington, Daniel Woodrell, Paulette Jiles—all obeyed Sir Walter Scott’s rule, follow the middling man or woman rather than the mighty generals and kings. And the fiction writers that I find centering and cleansing, my benchmarks—Isaac Babel, Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, and above all my godfather, the Austro-Hungarian Joseph Roth—never created stories with powerful generals as protagonists. Bit-part or minor characters, or main characters who briefly, ineptly, or uncomfortably served in the military, sure. But never the main characters.
There is a set of American epic historical fiction which does focus on generals and mighty, heroic warriors. And I find those fictions stirring and engaging in the same way I find David’s “Napoleon Crossing the
Um… don’t tell my wife that part about art and six hundred copies stuff, okay? She’ll leave me.
Q. A student comes to you and wants advice on what Civil War trans-Mississippi related research project or creative project they should tackle; what would you suggest?
A. Oh, there are so many. I desperately long for some historian to create a book called Civil War Springfield. And Fellman at a panel at OAH mentioned the carnivalesque quality of the Trans-Mississippi war, and pointed out the scene of Van Dorn’s army leaving the
Q. Are you working on another novel now? If so, would you be willing to share some information about it?
A. I am, thank you. Portions of the sequel to Morkan’s Quarry, which I call The Teeth of the Souls, have twice appeared in the Missouri Review, and once in Kansas Quarterly/Arkansas Review. And one is forthcoming in March 2011 from Elder Mountain Review (follow http://blogs.missouristate.edu/eldermountain/ and you can get a copy if you like). The Teeth of the Souls will take some of the same characters and many new ones up to fateful 1906 in
Steve’s excellent novel may be ordered from the following or from a bookseller near you: