Charles Tan interviews Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock is the author of the Shirley Jackson Awards nominated novel The Devil All the Time.

For The Devil All the Time, what was the transition from writing stories to novels like?  Was the novel always the goal?

I tend to write very spare prose–most of my short stories are somewhere between 9 and 12 pages–so the thought of writing a 250 page novel was a bit intimidating at first, to say the least.  I finally decided that the only way I could do it was to write a very fast, sloppy draft, and then begin revising (in the past, with writing stories, I pretty much just moved slowly ahead with one finished sentence at a time, but realized writing a novel that way would take me years).  The first draft took maybe 4 months, then I revised and changed it considerably over the next two years.  As for the novel always being the goal, no, I can’t say that was the case.  When I decided to try to learn how to write (I was forty-five and had been working in a paper mill since I was eighteen), my aim was just to write one decent short story.  I thought if I could do that, then I would be satisfied.  But good things happened, and I landed a publisher for Knockemstiff, my first book, and then they asked for a novel.

You’ve created an ensemble cast of compelling and disturbed characters.  What was your approach in developing these characters?

I just kept typing!  I suppose everything and everyone in the book came from a wide variety of influences:   movies like Night of the Hunter and Badlands, psychological horror stories like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” crime fiction, the nightly TV news, people I’ve met, etc.  I wanted, if at all possible, to present the characters in a way where the reader might find a bit of empathy for them, no matter how horrible they might be, and that was certainly the toughest thing to do.  Though I tend to see the world as a sad and violent place, I think there are often “legitimate” reasons for the way most bad people turn out the way they do.

What made you choose Ohio as the setting?

Well, I’m fifty-seven years old and I’ve lived in southern Ohio, in the same county actually, all my life.  I believe “place” is very important in fiction–as someone once said, “Nothings happens nowhere”–, and Ohio just happens to be my place.  I realize that this might sound a bit constraining to some people, but good stories happen everywhere, not just in big cities or exotic locales.


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