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Author Donald Ray Pollock reads at Prairie Lights

BY LINDSAY DOUGLAS | JULY 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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Donald Ray Pollock dropped out of high school when he was 17. He worked at his town's paper mill in Chillicothe, Ohio, for years.

Then, at age 50, he quit to be a writer.

"I was just in this place where I wanted to do something else with the rest of my life," he said. "I looked at my options, and they looked pretty slim — I knew how to work in a factory and drive a dump truck."

At 56, he can now add "publish a book" to his credentials. In fact, make that two books.

Pollock will read an excerpt from his second book, the novel The Devil All the Time, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

His recent release is packed with colorful characters, cast with a sad fog that covers their troubled lives in misery. The Devil All the Time, centered on southern Ohio and West Virginia, intertwines the lives of a group of disturbed individuals, including a deranged serial-killing couple and murdering pastor. Not to mention the man who kills animals as a sacrifice to save his dying wife.

They are characters so devious, a reader may wonder who could create them.

"I'm actually a very normal guy in almost every way," Pollock said.

But Pollock was not without concern about the public's opinion of his sophomore effort.

"I've been apprehensive about the reaction because it's so dark," he said.

Dark — a word his professors used to describe his style.

While he was working at the mill in his mid-30s, Pollock went back to school to obtain a bachelor's degree at Ohio University-Chillicothe. He then went on to receive an M.F.A. at Ohio State University.

"[Pollock] came into the M.F.A. program brilliant and a little rough around the edges," said Michelle Herman, an Ohio State English professor. "And when he finished, he was just as brilliant and polished around the edges."

Ron Salomone, his freshman English professor and adviser, described Pollock as a perfectionist, hardworking, and humble. But, he said, Pollock was also "kind of a loner."

As Pollock had so much life experience prior to starting his writing career, Salomone said, he had more to write about than the younger students.

Salomone, now a friend of the author, brings Pollock back to read to his American Literature class — a seat Pollock once sat in.

"We're on the edge of Appalachia, and there's a lot of what he writes about here," Salomone said.

In the pages of The Devil All the Time, most of the characters are stuck in a web of tragedy, madness, and religious corruption. And Pollock said he finds it easy to be empathetic toward people who are trapped by their situation.

"Maybe they're a little bit bad, but not terrible people," Pollock said. "Then something happens, and everything falls apart."

The blue-collar worker said writing about people in trouble comes easy for him. Someday, he would like to write a "nice story," but he's not sure if he has what it takes.

Salomone said he raised his brow when Pollock suggested he would one day write a love story. But there is always a chance.

"I don't think anybody can guess what comes next for him," Salomone said.


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