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Reynolds, Clay 1949-

Reynolds, Clay 1949-

(Richard Clay Reynolds)

PERSONAL:

Born September 28, 1949, in Quanah, TX; son of Jessie Wrex (a railroad brake operator) and Pauline (a teacher's aide) Reynolds; married Julia Ann Kavanagh (a medical technologist), January 22, 1972; children: Wesley Eliot, Virginia Anne. Ethnicity: "White." Education: University of Texas at Austin, B.A., 1971; Trinity University, M.A., 1974; University of Tulsa, Ph.D., 1979. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Baseball, golf.

ADDRESSES:

Home—McKinney, TX. Agent—Ethan Ellenberg, 548 Broadway St., New York, NY 10022. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

Tulsa Junior College, Tulsa, OK, instructor in English, 1977-78; Claremore College, Claremore, OK, instructor in English, 1977-78; Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, associate professor of English, 1978-88; University of North Texas, Denton, professor and novelist in residence, 1988-92; freelance writer and editor, 1992-98; University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, began as associate professor, became professor of arts and humanities, 1998—, associate dean for undergraduate studies, 2001-06. Center for Texas Studies, associate director, 1990-92; Poly Karp Kusch Lecturer, 2004; also taught briefly at Villanova University, West Texas A&M University, Texas Woman's University, and University of South Dakota. Member of editorial board, Texas Goes to War, 1991, and Amarillo Bay On-Line Journal of Literature. Denton Area Little League, vice president of board of directors; active in community theater in Tulsa and Beaumont.

MEMBER:

Modern Language Association of America, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Western Writers of America, Western American Literature Association, Texas Institute of Letters, Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers (state officer, 1989-92).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction, Columbia University, and Violet Crown Award, Austin Writers' League and University Co-operative, both 1992, for Franklin's Crossing; ALE Award for short fiction, 1993; fellow, National Endowment for the Arts, 1994; PEN Texas Awards for essay and fiction, 1997; grant, Texas Council for the Arts and Austin Writers' League, 1997; fiction award, Council on National Literature, 1998; Violet Crown Award for fiction, 2001, for Monuments; award for best paper, American Studies Association of Texas, 2005.

WRITINGS:

Stage Left: The Development of the American Social Drama in the Thirties, Whitston Press (Troy, NY), 1986.

The Vigil (fiction), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Agatite (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Taking Stock: A Larry McMurtry Casebook, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1989.

Franklin's Crossing (fiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Marie-Madeleine Schein) A Hundred Years of Heroes: A History of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, Texas Christian University Press (Fort Worth, TX), 1995.

Players (novel), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1997.

Twenty Questions: Answers for the Aspiring Writer, Browder Springs Press (Dallas, TX), 1998.

(With Hunter Lundy) Let Us Prey, Genesis Press (Columbus, MS), 1999.

Monuments (novel), Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2000.

The Tentmaker (fiction), Berkley (New York, NY), 2002.

Arts Poetica: A Post-Modern Parable (novel), Texas Review Press (Huntsville, TX), 2003.

Threading the Needle (novel), Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2003.

A Cow Can Moo: The Irony of the Artistic Lie, University of Texas at Dallas (Dallas, TX), 2004.

Of Snakes and Sex and Playing in the Rain: Random Thoughts on Harmful Things (essays), Stone River Press (Conroe, TX), 2006.

Sandhill County Lines (short stories), Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2007.

Contributor to many anthologies, including Range Wars: Heated Debates, Sober Reflections, and Other Assessments of Texas Writing, edited by Craig Clifford and Tom Pilkington, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1989; This Place of Memory: A Texas Perspective, edited by Joyce Gibson Roach, University of North Texas Press (Denton, TX), 1992; The Waltz He Was Born For, edited by Janice Whittington and Andrew Hudgins, Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2002; Falling from Grace: A Literary Response to the Demise of Paradise, edited by Rick Bass and Paul Christensen, Wings Press (San Antonio, TX), 2004; and Vittles Champagne, edited by Jackie Pelham, Stone River Press (Conroe, TX), 2005. Contributor to periodicals, including Chronicles of Higher Education, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Chronicles, Western American Literature, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Texas Books in Review, Ploughshares, Linguistics in Literature, Bloomsbury Review, American Way, Texas Observer, and New York Times Book Review. Associate editor, Lamar Journal of the Humanities, 1986-88, and New Texas, 1991-92; editor, Texas Writers' Newsletter, 1989-92; fiction editor, American Literary Review, 1990-92; contributing editor, Descant 2000.

SIDELIGHTS:

Clay Reynolds was trained as an academic with a specialty in twentieth-century American literature. Although he published widely in literary criticism throughout the first five years of his scholastic career, he began producing fiction—a move that changed both his personal and professional direction. Since 1986, Reynolds has been an active writer of fiction and personal essays.

Reynolds's novels and many of his short stories are set in the rural American West, particularly north central Texas where he grew up. While he admits that he had no particular love of the region while he resided there, he developed a thirst to know more about the area's history, particularly its frontier past, once he moved from the region. Even though he has used contemporary settings in the bulk of his writings, he has also worked with historical backgrounds and characters. With such efforts, he is "attempting to chronicle a part of the country which has been more or less lost since the first pioneers came there to settle," he once explained to CA. "This was Indian Country," Reynolds added. "It was inhospitable because of climate, as well as because of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes who defended it so staunchly for nearly a hundred years. Today, it's still not very appealing as a place, but it's rich in the stuff of the frontier, and that makes for good fiction, regardless of when it was set."

Some critics have described Reynolds's writing as neonaturalistic and "anti-revisionistic," but the author rejects such labels. "I don't think calling a novel ‘realistic’ or ‘romantic’ or anything else says very much about it, unless we're trying to pin it down to a historical period," he once told CA. "Essentially, I try to show people being people. Most of them are disappointed in life, regardless of how successful they may be. Very little turns out the way it's supposed to. Most of us concentrate on the good things that happen, try to ignore the bad, and just make it through another day. But in the end, it's the bad stuff that gets us, whether it's disease, old age, an accident, victimization by crime or chicanery, or something else." Refuting that such an outlook is cynical, he added, "In a sense, that's what separates a human being from the other inhabitants of this planet—we see all that's bad around us, and we go on. We try to do good, even when it's easier to be bad. That's what my novels are really about—people trying to do and be good when nothing around them seems to make any sense."

Reynolds disputes the anti-revisionist label as well. "I like to think of what I write as being more ‘corrective’ than anti-revisionary," he wrote. "There are a lot of attendant myths associated with the American West that were the product of laziness on the part of writers and filmmakers in the first three decades of the motion picture industry. That was also the heyday of pulp western fiction. It's not so much that such writers deliberately obscured or ignored factual history and mixed up actuality with anachronism. It's more that they just didn't tell the whole story or that they didn't think the details completely through. That, I think, is my job as a novelist—to tell the whole story."

"Publishing is a tough business," he once told CA. "So much bad writing gets printed these days, and so many people do so well with it, anyone might think that it's the easiest thing in the world to write a good book, tell a good story, and then sit back and wait for the offers to roll in. But, if you think New York publishing is tough, take a look at Hollywood. There's nothing worse. Making a movie is the hardest thing in the world to do; making a good movie is harder; making a movie that actually reflects a writer's vision is nearly impossible."

Reynolds once told CA that the novel Franklin's Crossing began as "something of an accident. I was finally persuaded that a modern writer would have to learn to use a word processor or computer, and Lamar University had just obtained one for the department. A friend of mine in the computer science department suggested that the best way to learn to use a word processor was to have a project developing. I didn't have anything on the front burner just then, so I began writing what I thought would be a prologue for a novel called Country Matters. The novel was set in contemporary times and centered on a murder that took place at a remote ghost town called Franklin's Crossing, which I made up. It was a racially motivated murder, and my intention was to use the prologue, wherein a black scout was killed by Indians at the same site some hundred years earlier, as an ironic foil to the contemporary plot.

"I began working on the story right away, playing with and learning the word processor as I went, and before I knew it, I had more than 100 pages of plot working. But I hadn't yet reached the end of the supposed prologue. I put it aside and worried about my next novel project.

"My agent asked me to submit what I might have for a new contract, and I sent in a scenario for Country Matters and, as an afterthought, the prologue, which was untitled. He showed it to my present editor, who was initially pleased with it. Unfortunately, she resigned shortly afterward, and her replacement rejected the novel out of hand. We had fairly serious discussions, but he wouldn't budge. My second novel, Agatite, was published, and finally my editor officially ‘passed’ on what I had come to call Franklin's Crossing. I took the scenario to Dick Marek at Dutton, and he bought the idea and offered a contract on the book.

"I began work right away and worked through the winter until I hit a snag. I found out quickly that I knew very little about the West or about the people who settled it. I mean, I grew up there, thought I knew all about it, but I didn't know a thing about the details or personalities that made up the settlers in the region from which I hailed. I quit writing and started doing research. I found that through reading, library work, and archival investigation, I was able to fill in a number of gaps, but I was still short on a number of points that would be required for a believable and convincing story. For one thing, I had no idea how large a Conestoga wagon was, how long it took to saddle a horse with period tack, and what it felt like to fire a period rifle or shotgun, how long it took to load a period six-shooter, what people ate, how they repaired their clothing, and a thousand other things. I started going to historical sites and visiting museums, monuments, and restorations. I attended re-creations of battles, talked extensively with historians and preservationists. I persuaded one curator to help me load and fire a whole array of nineteenth-century weaponry, to show me how to use nineteenth-century tools and tack, and how to prepare a meal of salted meat and hard bread over a campfire.

"I found out the wealth of what I didn't know was overwhelming. I also learned that I knew almost nothing about Indians. I visited a number of Indian museums, interviewed several Native American reservations, and talked with experts of all sorts. I discovered that the ‘revisionists’ had almost ruined the true portrait of the Native American on the nineteenth-century plains, had done more damage, truly, than the romanticists had ever considered with their B westerns and television horse operas. I began collecting and absorbing as much data on the Comanche, Kiowa, and other plains tribes as I could.

"While I was engaged in all of this, Lonesome Dove was published and won the Pulitzer Prize. Pressure on me to finish my novel was intense. As completed, Franklin's Crossing tells only part of the story I wanted to relate. Length requirements forbade a full treatment in one book. I am hopeful that in subsequent novels I can expand and fill the gaps left by Franklin's Crossing. The story of the American West is our only real history, and often it's not a pretty one. Nevertheless, it's one that needs to be remembered accurately and truly, and I hope that through my fiction, I can help readers understand much of what it was like to be alive in a time that was more bewildering that satisfying, more conscious of its destiny than of its arrival."

Reynolds crossed genres with his crime novel Players. The author presents the story of Eddy Lovell, a former college football player at Southern Methodist University, as a black farce. Lovell's efforts to become a major player in the Texas underworld are foiled when he is shot in an armed robbery attempt. He serves time in prison, is released, and finds a job working in a Dallas gambling den. Then his former partner turns up with two compact disks—the only loot that remains from the robbery—and Eddy becomes the center of a wheel of violence that involves a bungled attempted kidnapping of Eddy's daughter Barbara (the kidnapers seize instead an actress named Vicki) and "sophisticated computer programs that can find out any information about anyone in the world," explained Library Journal contributor David Dodd. "What Eddy, Vicki, the cops, and the thugs all learn," commented Wes Lukowsky in Booklist, "is that none of them is really a player, just pawns in a much larger game where the stake isn't easy money but life itself."

Overall the book received positive reviews from critics. "The plot is ingenious, the resolution a forehead-slapper, and every character as real as the book in hand," stated Lukowsky. "If there's justice in the publishing world, this will be Reynolds' breakout novel. Prepare for significant demand." "Despite repetitious exposition and a penchant for the burlesque," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Reynolds' hard-edged prose is well calculated to captivate the reader right up to the final trigger squeeze."

Reynolds's novel Monuments returns directly to that part of West Texas he most enjoys writing about. It is the story of an unlikely partnership between a fairly typical teenaged boy and an old, old man as they ostensibly try to preserve a town landmark from destruction by a greedy railroad. More than a coming-of-age story, though, the novel deals with the more important monuments of American society: family, friendship, parent and child relationships, young love, as well as the monumental questions of integrity, honor, and the destructive elements that exist in the equally significant structures of lies, rumors, and gossip. It "attracted the interest of Judyth Keeling at Texas Tech University Press," reported Reynolds. "She immediately saw the value of the book and the marvelous reviews it's received validate both my belief in the book and her faith in it."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July, 1997, Wes Lukowsky, review of Players, p. 1802.

Choice, April, 1987, review of Stage Left: The Development of the American Social Drama in the Thirties, p. 1230.

Kliatt, July, 1993, review of Franklin's Crossing, p. 14.

Library Journal, May 15, 1997, David Dodd, review of Players, p. 104.

New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1986, Gary Krist, review of The Vigil, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1992, review of Franklin's Crossing, p. 65; May 19, 1997, review of Players, p. 64.

Rapport, Volume 17, number 2, 1992, review of Franklin's Crossing, p. 28.

Western American Literature, spring, 1993, review of Franklin's Crossing, p. 89.

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