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- 33 Steve Yates d To Understand You Must Break In I n the last forty minutes of wakefulness there comes without fail a bitter drift of self-loathing and doubt. Especially in the days before taking my first published novel, Morkan’s Quarry, back to readers in my home place, Springfield, Missouri, this anxiety crept up from the floor, from around bookshelves, from the grout in bathroom tile. Often it was as fleeting as gray vapor over the darkening water of exhaustion. But sometimes it was as dense and clasping as the deadly miasmas that arose from old quarry waste pools. I am a fraud; all this in my novel I have written is worse than a Punch and Judy puppet show, less than shadows on a cave wall in a lame pantomime of what once was real life. Some nights as the dates to the first book signings approached, I became so overwhelmed with this strangling torpor that I vowed to e-mail my publisher the next morning and tell him all was off, cancel the contract, destroy the copies. I am not like other fiction writers, who frequently operate with the simultaneous burden and affirmation of teaching writing to others. Instead I work in scholarly publishing, in marketing, in bringing the peer-reviewed content of historians, literary critics, and comics studies experts to its widest possible readership. Though I received an MFA from the esteemed creative writing program at University of Arkansas, and though I regularly published short fiction and excerpts from novels in such magazines as TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Ontario Review, and Missouri Review, when one serves authors for twenty years, there is and will always be a feeling of fraudulence, of illegitimacy when my work is published. I serve authors; I am not, cannot be one. There was but one answer to this fear: return to and reread the books that had inspired me to create Morkan’s Quarry—those being Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War, Borderland Rebellion : A History of the Civil War on the Missouri-Arkansas Border, Wilson’s Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It, and steve yates - 34 the two most important to me, The White River Chronicles of S. C. Turnbo and Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks: Schoolcraft’s Ozark Journal, 1818–1819. Without this retreading and refitting, I could never have faced my townspeople with a novel made up from their past. * * * Possibly the best stroke of intellectual good fortune in my young life came when I fried our prized Curtis Mathes television set. Summer vacation had just started, and I was nine. My father, furious and perhaps financially pinched, did not replace our TV until well into football season . So I spent a summer immersed in books and in the limestone hills of the Missouri Ozarks. Living those golden, television-free months, I discovered all the aptitude and subject matter I would ever require to attempt the study of humankind we call fiction. That summer propelled me to write a novel about people who were nothing like my parents and me, a novel about Irish Catholic owners of a limestone quarry surviving the American Civil War. I did not intend to destroy the Curtis Mathes. It carried cartoons and brought a bandwidth of the outside world to suburban Springfield. Early on Saturday and Sunday mornings evangelists from Koshkonong weekly declared Armageddon near at hand. They wore extraordinary green and beige, western-styled suits, and they talked of seven-headed dragons, numbers stamped on foreheads, and many other enthralling miseries. Sometimes on the screen, the wickedly appointed aircraft of our empire swooped down to spray bullets or streams of flame into emerald jungles far away where enemies lurked. One evening, the national news reported that a rock band from England declared Her Majesty the Queen was not a human being. Who knew such stuff could be uttered? From its cabinet of stained wood, lovingly constructed by my father, the Curtis Mathes surely made its contributions. To turn it on, one pulled a silver stalk topped with a wee circular lozenge. In a dawn languor, I eased this knob outward very slowly and discovered that by leaving it in limbo between on and off, a white coruscation rose up from the depths of the dimmed charcoal screen. This was new, and nothing like the whirling, hissing snowfield of static when we lost the broadcast signal. These white...


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