Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Notes from Daniel Woodrell's Talk at St. Charles Community College


Last week, I was among an estimated crowd of 200 people at St. Charles Community College who listened to critically acclaimed Missouri author Daniel Woodrell read from his works and talk about writing.

I arrived early and saved seats for two of my writing pals, Mary Horner and Marcia Gaye.

During the event, Woodrell, who has been described by the LA Times as a “Backcountry Shakespeare,” read passages from Winter’s Bone and The Maid’s Version. He also spoke about the inspiration for his novels and answered questions about writing.

I took pages of notes and a few photos. Here are some highlights:

* Most of his bios don’t mention that he grew up in the Frenchtown section of St. Charles while his father attended night school at Washington University. He moved from the area in 1968 and remarked about how the area has grown since then.

* Because of his mother’s encouragement, he learned to read before going to school and was comfortable with books at a young age.

* He has always had “class” on his mind as a writer. He didn’t want to preach about it, so he decided to write about it fictionally.

* The setting for Winter’s Bone evolved after he and his wife moved to the Missouri Ozarks in 1995. In an early draft, the main character, Ree Dolly, was in her 30s and the younger kids in the story were hers. Once Woodrell realized he was “completely off the rails,” he wiped away pre-conceived ideas and had to go all the way back and start over.

* Strong, formidable women have influenced him his entire life. His mother and grandmother were “terrific gossips and told stories for which there was no proof.”

* The Maid’s Version, which is based on an actual event and is his most autobiographical novel to date, is a finalist in the Fiction category for the LA Times Book Award.


* When writing The Maid’s Version, he stalled until he decided to tell what the maid thought happened. Once he made that decision, he was able to get focused.

* As a beginning writer he wrote pages that didn’t go anywhere. He found he was technically proficient before he “could write with emotional honesty about characters.”

* In his non-writing jobs he was a “terrible employee” and knew writing was what he needed to do to “ride this horse to the end.”

While Mary (at left) and I (below) got our books signed, I asked Woodrell about his next project. 

He told me he is intrigued by the fact that in the past each generation of parents assumed their children would have a better life than they had, but nowadays that’s not necessarily the case. 

He also hinted that a setting for a future book might be a Missouri River town much like St. Charles. 

What a treat it was to learn about the craft of writing from one of the best writers of our time!


For a more detailed account of Woodrell’s talk, hop on over to the Walrus Publishing site to read an article I wrote about the event. 

Please feel free to leave a comment here or there.

15 comments:

  1. Donna, thanks for sharing the details of your evening with such an inspiring and talented writer. Your article in Walrus Publishing was also very interesting and quite professional. Great job!

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    1. Hi Alice,
      Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

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  2. Donna---I am sooo sorry I was too worn out to do anything that evening. Obviously, I missed a gem of a book talk.

    (And your article was wonderful...the ending especially. Well done--as always--Donna.)

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    1. Hi Sioux,
      I'm sorry you missed it too. Thanks for your kind words. He was so inspiring, I think it came through in my article.

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  3. I've heard positive reviews, so I must read the books! Thanks for the info.

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    1. Hi Linda,
      You're welcome. I've read both books, as well a a couple others he's written. Love his writing style.

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  4. You did such a good job of capturing the essence of the talk! I'm so glad I was able to attend.

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    1. Hi Mary,
      It was great sharing the event with you. And thanks for taking my photo.

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  5. Thank you for always sharing what you learn with us. It sounds like a great talk. I always learn so much from other writers and feel inspired afterwards!

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    1. Hi Margo,
      You are so sweet. What you write is so true; listening to other writers talk about writing is inspiring!

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  6. As always, beautifully written about this talk that sounded like it would have been great to go to... too many things going on at once! Will have to put these books on my reading list!

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    1. Hi Lynn,
      Aww. You are so sweet. You won't be disappointed with his books.

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  7. I connected with the bit about his proficient early writing. I had an editor tell me that the writing was well-crafted but I needed story. It took a while for me to understand what that meant.

    Thanks, Donna--interesting profile!

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  8. Sorry to come to this late, but thank you for sharing your notes. I too am adding to the reading list.

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  9. Hi Cathy and Tammy,
    You are welcome. Sorry I'm just now following up on responses.

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