Morgan Drish: Are the stories from Hard Toward Home drawn from your own personal experiences? And if so, what about the Ozarks inspired this story collection?
C. D. Albin: I don’t consider myself a highly autobiographical writer, so the stories are not drawn from personal experience in the sense that I’m recording the events of my life through fiction. My personal life doesn’t really enter my fiction in that way. Instead, I’m inclined to think about the conflicts that all people go through, and typically my stories start with some type of image. For instance, the story “The End of Easy Breathing” began with an image of the bottom of a lady’s skirt where the hem had come undone. In that moment the image seemed to suggest a conflict between the impressions most people try to give—keeping everything together, having a sharp appearance—and the ragged reality that our lives are constantly fraying at the edges in some way. From that point concrete characters seemed to step onto the stage of my mind—not characters modeled on specific people, but characters struggling with the conflicts and anxieties I have witnessed throughout my life. Once such characters make their appearance, my responsibility is to tell the stories of imagined people with the same seriousness and respect I would employ when writing about flesh and blood people.
—Read more at JMWW.
Like the characters in Hard Toward Home (Press 53, May 2016), his debut short fiction collection, C. D. Albin lives in the Ozarks, a place that can have an almost mystical hold on the hearts of its people, despite the hardships that life there can bring. Albin tells the stories of people who know this power of the Ozarks and also their struggles to survive hard situations, some of their own making, and to overcome the distances we humans can create among ourselves. Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone, writes, "A new voice from the Ozarks, C.D. Albin crafts a reverent, clear-eyed but heartfelt look at his people, the love, the violence, the myriad forces at work in lives that push the hidden up through the ground to be seen and reckoned with in surprising ways." A runner-up in the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, Hard Toward Home is a collection of stories that continue to engage and inspire long after the last word is read.
Jan K. Nielsen: You were born and reared in West Plains, left to go to school and then returned. What was is like to leave? What drew you back to West Plains and what keeps you in the Ozarks?
C. D. Albin: After graduation from high school, I enrolled at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa is located in the foothills of the Ozarks, but I didn’t realize that at the time. To me it seemed like a large city with too much traffic and too much concrete, although I made good friends at the school and enjoyed classes in the English Department. I returned home each summer, and by my junior year I pretty much knew I wanted to make my home in West Plains. The writers who were speaking most forcefully to me at the time were people like Welty, O’Connor, Faulkner, Steinbeck—people who had managed to explore their own cultural, artistic, and familial roots. I hoped to do that too, but I knew the challenge would be to find some way of making an adequate living in the Ozarks. That’s when I developed the goal of coming back after graduate school and teaching at Missouri State University-West Plains. My job there has enabled me to make a living and feel I’m giving back to my region. It has also afforded me time to develop as a writer.
—Read more at Necessary Fiction.
In his debut story collection, Hard Toward Home, C.D. Albin explores the lives of men and women living in the fictional Ozark town of Lotten, Arkansas. It is a place of great natural beauty that engenders strong feelings of affection and loyalty among its residents, but it is also one that suffers from persistent economic depression and the often troubling personal consequences that accompany such poverty—a place that inspires both dreams of escape and an almost instinctive desire to return home.
Albin’s stories have inevitably been compared to Daniel Woodrell, who wrote for the book, calling it a “reverent” and “clear-eyed” look at the people and the circumstances of the Ozarks. However, Albin has a lighter, subtler touch than what is often seen in Woodrell’s fiction. The landscape is the same—the poverty, the undercurrent of violence, the drug use and desperation, all set against a stunning natural landscape—but Albin’s stories are quieter, and there’s something about their careful composition that leaves room for the reader to find their way into the lives of the characters in a truly remarkable way.
—Read more at Arkansas Review (pages 72-74).
C.D. Albin’s Hard Toward Home (Press 53) features 10 fine and thrilling stories of the Ozarks and its people. While some debut collections contain a few misfires, Hard Toward Home impresses with solid story after solid story, each fully realized and beautifully rendered.
Albin’s are people all of us have known, reminiscent of Raymond Carver’s, people working to get the bills paid and food on the table, to be at peace with themselves and those they love. Their stories are told in crisp, crystalline prose, every word carefully selected and working on the page.
The collection barrels out with the title story of Lid McKee whose son Reed assaults and robs Lid’s former schoolteacher, Jessie Carrico. The conflict forces Lid into the dilemma of turning his son in or letting him continue in self-destruction.
—Read more at The Clarion Ledger.