Daniel Woodrell, best-known for his novel, Winter's Bone, returns to the Missouri Ozarks in his first collection of short fiction, The Outlaw Album.
You've written eight novels. Why did you decide to try your hand at short fiction?
I have always loved short stories. I have been at least as influenced by the short story masters as I have been by novelists. I wrote many in the '70s and early '80s, but felt pulled away by the longer form for many years. Then I wrote a couple and enjoyed writing them so much I kept going.
You certainly don't romanticize the characters you've created in The Outlaw Album. Are you concerned that these short stories will perpetuate stereotypes that the people who live in the Ozarks are lawless thugs?
It's called The Outlaw Album, not The Ozarks Album. These are stories that delve into different kinds of outlawry, from criminal acts to interior, or psychological, outlawry. The book is not meant to be a tapestry of the Ozarks. Anybody who can read the title should regard it as a clue.
You yourself live in the Missouri Ozarks. What do your friends and neighbors think of your depictions of this region and its people?
Upon reading Winter's Bone, the first novel they were aware of, my neighbors to the east said they loved the way Ree's family hung wet clothes on lines inside the house, just the way they did growing up. The house to the west is a meth house; I doubt they're big readers, but they seem to be daily enacting scenes from my novels. My neighbor to the northwest is a big reader. She's from California, and she completely found herself in Winter's Bone. She grew up in a motorcycle gang enclave; meth was made in the trailer in which she lived as a child. She didn't believe I could have written that book if I had not also grown up in a gang-controlled meth house, since the portrayal, to her, was so right in terms of detail and psychology. Have I known people like this? Only all my life.
A theme in many of these short stories is the class conflicts that inevitably emerge as more and more "outsiders" move into a region where families have lived for generations. How has your situation—being a native who left for the big city, before returning, complete with an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers Workshop—affected your perceptions of these conflicts?
It's the universal theme of gentrification and the loss that comes with it. I just came back from New York City, where I stayed in a hotel in Harlem. One of the young and successful editors I met with on that trip is moving his family to Harlem. If I lived in New York City, maybe I'd live there, too. On the other hand, I couldn't help thinking: if this gentrification process expands, where are the people who call Harlem home going to live? Where does the culture of Harlem go? Ozarkers have the same questions, and fiction is a fine way to confront some of them.