Friday! It’s the end of a particularly long week for me (see yesterday’s post about reappointment binders and such), but I’ve been looking forward to tonight for more reasons that the usual putting on of sweatpants, ordering of pizza, and staring at the TV—whatever’s on, it doesn’t matter—and letting my brain heal. Tonight, we at Missouri State are hosting a reading, and it’s for one of our own, fiction writer and alum Steve Yates. At the start of the week, when I was lining up which authors to read and write about, I had Danielle Evans, a former MSU fiction instructor, on Monday, and Steve, knowing he was coming to town today, up for today. I then altered my list to include other MSU alum and faculty, and filled the middle of the week with Kevin Brockmeier, Stacy Tintocalis, and W.D. Blackmon. I’ve really enjoyed the writing this week, and am happy to have completed what I hope is the first of many theme weeks for this project. Next week’s theme: “Authors who may or may not have anything to do with each other, aside from the fact they write short stories.” I should have no problem finding writers to fill that particular dance card.
I had not known Steve Yates’ work before I came to Missouri State in 2012, but I know now that I had been missing out. Yates got a BA at MSU (then Southwest Missouri State), then moved on to Arkansas for an MFA. He currently works at the University Press of Mississippi as the Marketing Director and Assistant Director, so he gets to work with books and authors in a slightly different way than I do (except I kind of do all that for Moon City Press, only not nearly as well or as often as Steve). Steve’s first book was Morkan’s Quarry, a Civil War novel set right her in Steve’s hometown of Springfield (where MSU also is), put out by Moon City Press in 2010, and then Steve had a really great two-year streak. He won the Juniper Prize in 2013 and had his collection, Some Kinds of Love, published the University of Massachusetts Press in 2014, then had the sequel to Morkan’s Quarry, The Teeth of the Souls, released early last year from MCP; this year, he saw his prize-winning novella, Sandy and Wayne, come out from Dock Street Press. Three books in three years is a nice streak, but not surprising, as Yates is a talented guy.
Today’s Story366 story, “Forgery,” comes from Some Kinds of Love. I’ve read from Steve’s two Civil War novels and can attest that he is a top-notch historical fictionist, particularly on that era of history, his books on par with other Civil War authors I’ve read, including Charles Frazier and Robert Olmstead. In choosing a story for today, I decided not to go with either of the historical pieces I read from Yates’ collection, “Starfall” or “Homecoming,” both excellent stories, as I wanted to do something different. When I came across “Forgery,” a contemporary story set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I had my inspiration.
“Forgery” is a funny story, told from the point of view of Rudyard, Rudy to his friends, a guy who works a graphic designer for a sex toy catalogue company. His job has him staring at dildos shaped like this, candles shaped like that, and sex oils of all descriptions. If that weren’t enough, from his twelfth-story office window, he can see right onto Bourbon Street, women flashing their breasts at all times of the day, especially from the hotel across the street, from one of those second-story balconies with the fancy wrought-iron railings. Rudy focuses on his work: Sex toys. Get distracted: Naked drunk ladies. Twenty-year-old Mike would have thought Rudy had died and gone to some heaven, that this was an afterlife story, Rudy’s years of charity and public service justly rewarded.
Adding to Rudy’s titillation (yes, I just used that word), he talks to Carla, seemingly the only other employee at Head Shoppe Gift Company, an attractive superior who flirts with Rudy every chance she gets. The only hitch is, a recent sexual harassment lawsuit against the company—by a temp secretary on her first day—has made both Rudy and Carla super-cautious and ultra-aware of what they do. The two have to dance around each other, just do their jobs, describe those butt-shaped soaps in the most appealing and consumer-friendly light.
Yates has a lot of fun with this story, with his fantastically fun concept, keeping two people who are attracted to each other, who are otherwise unencumbered, focused on their dirty jobs, or at the very least, the buxom woman earning some beads just outside the window. The story’s about that, about frustration, but it’s also about control, about timing, and about chemistry. None of this accounts for the titular (…) forgery, a side plot that all the eroticism skirts, then uses to bring the story to its climax.
Okay, maybe I should have written about one of the Civil War stories instead. Maybe, though, there’s no avoiding the sex—“Homecoming,” for example, uses such themes and encounters in a very different way, to a much different effect. If Steve is single-minded, he’s at least eclectic about it.
Steve Yates is one of Missouri State University’s distinguished alum, and I get the pleasure of visiting with him today, having him speak to my classes, enjoying a couple of meals together, and then hearing him read. If you haven’t come across his work—be you a Civil War fiction buff or just a person who likes great stories—I highly recommend that you find his books and read for yourself.