Donald Ray Pollock Q&A

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June 28, 2011 by markstani

The Devil All The Time (pub. Harvill Secker) is out in the UK on November 3. It is also available on Kindle. A review is here, and an excerpt here. Check back here to win a copy on publication day.

Here, exclusive to this blog, author Donald Ray Pollock talks about the ideas behind his new book, his difficulties adapting to the novel-writing process, and why The Monkees would provide its perfect movie soundtrack:

Q Reading the prologue to your new novel, I couldn’t help thinking how great it was to be heading back to Knockemstiff. How would the locals react if I rolled up at the Bull Pen on a Saturday night wielding a copy of your book?

A Well, you have to understand that Knockemstiff has changed drastically since the time when I was growing up there. There’s no bar or stores or really any sense of it being a community any more. Most of the tough characters you would find in Knockemstiff now are just unemployed, listless druggies (prescription painkillers and heroin mainly) who probably wouldn’t get too excited if the world was coming to an end, let alone react in any significant way to seeing a copy of my book.


Q I have to ask: Tina and Boo – happily ever after?
[the title story from Knockemstiff describes the impending departure of a young couple, Tina Elliot and Boo Nesser, “to shack up in a trailer next to a Texas oil field”. The narrator opines: “..ever since she started putting out for the boys, she’s been looking for someone to take her away. I wish I could have been the one, I really do, but I don’t figure I’ll ever leave the holler, not even for Tina. I’ve lived here all my life, like a toadstool stuck to a rotten log, never even wanting to go into town if I can keep from it.”]

A I imagine that Tina and Boo might stay together, but I’m not sure they would live happily ever after (quite a few people don’t). Perhaps the romance faded after a couple of years, but by then, there were probably a couple of brats in the picture and they stayed together just because they wouldn’t know what else to do.

Q Does your new novel have its roots in a Knockemstiff-ish short story? How did the whole thing evolve?

A No, The Devil All The Time isn’t based on a short story. I started off with three characters – Carl and Sandy Henderson, the serial killer couple, and a young boy named Arvin Eugene Russell – but just a dim idea of what the story might be. The other characters just came along as I kept working. The biggest problem for me was how to structure the book so that the reader doesn’t get confused (and I’m not sure I succeeded!) since we move back and forth in time some and also because there are, at least to a degree, four separate storylines.

Q Is the main character, Arvin, purely a figment of your imagination, or is he based on any real-life acquaintances?

A Arvin comes mostly from my imagination. Though it used to frustrate me a bit when people infer that my characters are based on real people, I’ve learned to take it as a compliment.

Q I may be wrong, but I seem to recall you being quoted somewhere as saying you found short story writing more enjoyable. Looking back on it now, how did putting a novel together compare?

A I think because The Devil All The Time was my first attempt at a novel, it was difficult to write (or maybe I was just lazy). There were a lot of things I had to figure out as I went along, as far as structure and how to connect the different storylines, etc. Also, I’m not a very ‘wordy’ writer, and so even imagining doing something the length of a novel was daunting.

Q If you had your way, which record would provide the soundtrack to the big-screen adaptation of The Devil All the Time?

A Maybe an album of classic bubblegum music from the Sixties: The Monkees, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Archies, that kind of stuff? Though I guess I’m joking, it would definitely serve as a contrast to all the grittiness and blood!

Q Any new books or authors who have excited you recently?
A Sure, Frank Bill’s collection of stories called Crimes of Southern Indiana, Patrick Michael Finn’s story collection, From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet, Jessica Blau’s funny novel, Drinking Closer to Home, Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, and Alex Kudera’s novel about adjunct college teachers, Fight For Your Long Day.

Q Jumping the gun a little here, but what’s next on your writing agenda?

A Though I really don’t want to talk about it too much, I’m working on another novel, mostly set in Meade in the early 1980s.

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One thought on “Donald Ray Pollock Q&A

  1. nigel p bird says:

    I'm jealous of you guys in the States as you get an earlier release date than we do in the UK. Knockemstiff is a hell of an act to follow, but I'm certain the new novel will live up to all expectation and, possibly, even surpass it.From the way you answer the questitons, and I'm especially pleased to read that you began with characters and only vague ideas of plot, it looks like you've had to wrestle a little with the form and that means you'll have nailed it at some point. Nailed it. Sounds hard. I'm imagining the novel is the equivalent of a perfectly finished, hand crafted wooden chair, not a nail, screw or tube of wood glue in sight, perfectly finished so all the grains are brought out. Hardwood, it goes without saying.Can't wait.nigel

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