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Daniel Woodrell
Youíve chosen to live in the Ozarks and it is the setting for several of your novels. Can you tell us what draws you to the place?
I live in the Ozarks because I was born here, and my family has lived in this area since about 1842, maybe a little earlier. Thatís a long time to live somewhere in this country, though it may not seem like much to you all with your Roman roads and walls etc. I love the Ozarks, which is not to say I donít find plenty to criticize. It is inexpensive to live here, the surrounding countryside is quite wild and appealing, thickly forested with clear rivers running between rocky bluffs,the water clean enough for trout. Not all of the old customs are gone yet,and the people feel like my people, not in any exclusionary sense, but we share something in terms of heritage and the outlook such a place engenders. Almost all of the original white settlers were of English, Scots-Irish, Welsh and Irish descent. I am a mixture of all those, with a Frenchman snuck in two generations ago, though in precisely what proportions I am mixed is a mystery.
It isnít absolutely clear when WINTERíS BONE is set, though, judging from the cars and by the lack of mobile phones, we guessed maybe twenty or thirty years ago? Would it be very different if it was set in the present day?
In my mind the time is indefinite: they had cassette players and cars and televisions. If I had to place a date Iíd say early to mid-90's. And as to modern gadgets - I still donít have a mobile phone, or a Blackberry, or any of those instant texting type things. Once, when a movie was being made, the producers asked me for my mobile phone number, and I said I didnít have one. ĒBut without one we wonít be able to reach you with various questions.Ē My point, exactly.
How did you inhabit the mind of a 16 year old girl so convincingly?
I wish I could say precisely how. I donít really know. I could fudge an answer, but I wonít. I can say that I always felt Reeís spirit strongly, and that focused me more than thoughts of gender might have done. I have had booksellers here call me and tell me that sixteen year old girls are the biggest fans of this novel, and, believe me, I had never before thought of sixteen year old girls as being prominent amongst my readers.
Is there any hope for the likes of Ree beyond the pages of a book?
Yes. Ree has all kinds of guts and drive and anything might still happen for her if she makes a few correct decisions and, yes, has a bit of luck. My own grandmother was functionally illiterate, a maid, and her husband was a drunk who ran off and left her with three young sons. One died in his teens, the other two somehow pulled themselves up (the war actually helped broaden their horizons) and did well. My father, also a Ďdrinking maní, went to night college for years while working full-time during the day and eventually became an executive with a large metal company. People can be astonishing.
Your novels are peopled by characters who live outside the rule of law. Is it because they make such great material for fiction or do you have a particular fascination with the transgressive?
They do make for good fiction, or at least to my taste, but I do seem to have a fixation on the transgressive. My juices only really start to jump and splatter when I am doing so - and Iíve tried lots of other sorts of fiction about more acceptable folks, but nothing flies. I have to write from inside of a character out, keeping the attitude fixed to the soul of whomever I inhabit. A homicide detective in Cleveland (where he gets plenty of work to do!) said he likes my books because they fill him in on the kinds of people he has to arrest so often. He has recommended them to others on that basis, though I hope not on that basis alone. I do not seem to have any problem inserting myself into the outlaw sensibility.
Who are your literary influences? And where do the Ozark novels fit in the American canon?
I have been deeply influenced by southern writers, Faulkner, Caldwell, Flannery OíConnor and so many more. I greatly admire the kind of passion and drive that are found in writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, William McIllvanney - the list would be long. I love the sentences of Hemingway. I always have read lots of Irish writers, especially the short story geniuses, and was educated at university in English Literature. Lately I have wandered over to Welsh writers and there I am finding more wonderful writers to absorb. The Ozarks is unrepresented in the American canon - hope that can be changed.
What are you working on at the moment?
This may come as a surprise, but my next book looks to be very dark and nasty. It is set in the Ozarks, concerning a young fellow just back from Iraq who has to reassemble his emotions while caught in a rather dangerous predicament with the Dollys.
Daniel Woodrell

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