Biography: I was born and raised in Arkansas . I took my M.A. in English literature from the University of Arkansas, and finished the PhD at the University in 19-century British literature. I have always loved reading and occasionally thought about being a writer, but not until the middle of a career teaching literature at the college level did I begin seriously to write fiction and poetry. My two favorite hobbies, brewing beer and sailing, came later. I live in Northwest Arkansas with my wife, Mary Ann, and my dogs, Seamus and Peanut.
My great-great-grandfather, a second lieutenant in the 1st Kentucky Mounted Rifles in the Civil War, brought his family to northern Arkansas after the war. My great-grandfather was a blacksmith in Delaney and Combs, two of the small towns along the White River southeast of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and my grandfather ran a mercantile in Delaney until he lost the store in the Depression. My father, uncle, and aunts grew up in Delaney in the years when all the towns along the White River were in decline, when the hardwood forests were being depleted and forty years of boom times were coming to a close.I was raised on stories about growing up in the hills of Arkansas during the Great Depression. My memory became almost as full of their lives as it was of my own–the dirt basketball court on the Delaney square, the cannery whistle that called people to seasonal work, the train that came down the Frisco line from Fayetteville in the morning on its way to Pettigrew and returned in the afternoon, the swimming hole at the old mill dam, the swinging bridge, ‘Harm’ Richie and his grand radio powered by a car battery because electricity did not come to Delaney until many years later, after World War II. And my father teaching the elementary grades in Delaney while he finished high school in Huntsville. Story after story. And so, the heart of my fiction is in the hills of the southern Ozarks, and it evokes the human quest for what William Faulkner called the verities of the heart.
As Robert K. Gilmore says in the preface to his book Ozark Baptizings, Hangings, and Other Diversions, the people of the Ozarks have always had a strong sense of belonging to a particular place. They are suspicious of strangers, says Gilmore, fiercely independent, and cherishers of solitude. The land of the Ozarks, “the hills, the gullies, the hardwood, the rivers, the small communities,” has formed the character of the people who live here. And it forms the characters in my work.
The contemporary writers who have most influenced my writing are Louise Erdrich, Lee Smith, and Lewis Nordan. Like so many other readers and writers, I admire the fiction of Arkansas writers Donald Harrington and Charles Portis.