In the writer circles of the Ozarks, most people are familiar with Larry Wood. He’s one of the most respected authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’m honored to belong to three of the same groups and consider Larry to be a friend. He is always willing to share his wisdom with others and makes Ozarks history come alive.
Please enjoy Ozarks Maven’s March Author Spotlight on Larry Wood.
I am a retired public school teacher and freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding areas. I maintain a blog about regional history at ozarks-history.blogspot.com.
2. What kinds of writing do you enjoy?
I mainly write nonfiction, mostly about the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. I have written eighteen nonfiction books and about 500 magazine articles. I also occasionally write fiction, but even a lot of my fiction tends to be historically based, such as my novel Showdown at Baxter Springs, set in the cowtown atmosphere of early-day Baxter. In addition to Showdown, I’ve published one other historical novel and a number of short stories that have appeared in anthologies and magazines.
3. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
As far as nonfiction is concerned, I enjoy the research almost as much as the actual writing. When the research is done, I also enjoy sifting through all the facts and distilling them into a compelling narrative that is interesting to read—a real-life story that doesn’t leave anything important out but also doesn’t bore the reader with unnecessary details.
4. When did you start writing?
As an English major in college, I wrote a lot of essays, but I did not attempt to write for publication until a couple of years later. The first piece of writing for which I was paid was published in 1974, when I was 27. It was a nostalgia essay about my time as a paperboy when I was kid.
5. To what or whom do your attribute your love of reading and writing stories?
My father, I suppose. He had a full-time job unrelated to writing, but in his spare time, he read a lot and also wrote poems that were published in a variety of newspapers and journals. As a child, I had no interest in writing and little interest in reading, but the idea of being a writer was probably planted in my subconscious by the role model my dad set.
6. How have your past experiences impacted your writing?
Probably the main experience that has impacted my writing has been the experience of living in southwest Missouri almost my entire life, because I tend to write where I know rather than what I know. Other than the fact that the setting for much of my writing is defined by the region I know best, the direct impact that my experiences have had on my writing, I think, has been minimal. For instance, I’ve written very little about schools and teaching, even though I was a long-time schoolteacher. However, I think that writers’ past experiences almost always manifest themselves in their writing in subtle, if not obvious, ways.
7. What are some jobs that you have held?
Besides being a teacher, the only other full-time job I’ve ever had was serving in the US Army during the Vietnam era. As a teenager and young adult I had a lot of different part-time jobs such as mowing lawns, hauling hay, being a paperboy, being a carhop, and umpiring youth baseball.
8. Does your past employment experience ever make its way into your books?
Not often, but I did write an essay once about my experiences in Vietnam that appeared in Vietnam Magazine, and as I previously said, my very first published piece of writing was about my experiences as a paperboy.
Hitting upon an idea or topic that has not previously been overdone. For instance, in the realm of nonfiction, I’ve written quite a bit about Bonnie and Clyde, but there were a lot of notorious characters and incidents during the gangster era that had no connection to Bonnie and Clyde and were not nearly as well known. As a rule, I prefer writing about these lesser-known characters and incidents.
10. What made you decide to write about the subjects or themes of your books?
My interest in writing about local and regional history was sparked when I started researching and writing about my family history many years ago. I spent a lot of time browsing in local libraries, and my interest gradually expanded from my own family to include all sorts of topics pertaining to local and regional history. Over the years, I’ve developed a special interest in the Civil War and in anything notorious or criminal, like gunfights and murders, although I still write about other subjects that strike my fancy.
11. Have you met any interesting people while researching your books?
The short answer is yes, but I’ve written hundreds of articles and only about twenty books. So, I’ve met a lot more people while researching and interviewing for my articles than while working on my books. In fact, when I wrote for Show Me the Ozarks, many of my articles were profiles of people who had a fascinating career, hobby, or story to tell or else I wouldn’t have been writing about them.
12. What is the most difficult part of writing?
For fiction, it’s the whole creative process–coming up with unique or unusual ideas and plotting an interesting and complete storyline. Some writers say editing/revising is the hardest part and that the first draft comes easy. It’s the opposite for me. I find editing and revising fairly easy, but I struggle to come up with a good story to begin with. Which is probably why I’ve gravitated toward nonfiction over the years. With nonfiction, the story is already there. You just have to dig to find it and then tell it in a highly readable fashion. I’ve become pretty good at that, but it’s much harder to create whole new worlds, as sci-fi and fantasy writers do, or to come up with fresh, compelling storylines on my own.
13. Who are some of your favorite authors and why do you enjoy their work?
Most of the authors I read nowadays are detective and crime novelists such as Michael Connelly, John Sanford, James Lee Burke, and Lawrence Block. They all tell gripping stories that hold your interest, and that’s all I ask, because I read them mainly just for escapism. As an English major, I read a lot of classics in college, of course, and I still enjoy reading one occasionally. Hemingway is one of my favorite authors. I like his terse style.
14. What writing advice did you find most useful when you were honing your craft?
“Never give up.” Sometimes, when you’re not seeing any return for all the work you’re putting in, it’s hard not to get frustrated and want to quit. But if you stick with it, your perseverance will usually pay off. For instance, I’ve had stories that were rejected as many as ten times or more before they were finally accepted for publication. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right editor and publisher at the right time. Until then, you keep working on your craft and getting better.
15. Do you have any new work just released or coming out soon? If so, would you please tell us a little about it?
My most recent book, The Murder of Sarah Graham and the Scandal of Emma Molloy, was published last October by the Kent State University Press as part of its true crime series. The story centers around a notorious murder that happened near Springfield in 1885 and the subsequent scandal surrounding nationally famous temperance revivalist Emma Molloy, who was drawn into the sensational case as an alleged accomplice to the crime.
16. Can you tell us a little about your current project?
I have just finished another book entitled Midnight Assassinations and Other Evildoings: A Criminal History of Jasper County, Missouri. It has not been released as of this writing but might be available by the time this interview appears. I am scheduled to have a book signing for Midnight Assassinations on March 28 from 1-3 p.m. in Joplin at Always Buying Books, where nearly all of my other books are also available.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.