Ruffin's 'Pompeii Man' Named 'Outstanding American
Sam Houston State University English Professor Paul
Ruffin's novel "Pompeii Man" has been cited in the "Dictionary
of Literary Biography Yearbook" as an Outstanding American
Novel published in 2002.
The DLB records the
achievements of the world's most influential literary figures
each year. Its yearbook summarizes the immediate past year's
achievements in literature and lists the best collections of
poetry and short fiction and outstanding novels for the year,
all selected by a group of DLB editors.
The editors of the yearbook, in
selecting "Pompeii Man" as an outstanding novel, described the
book as a "literary thriller set in New Orleans and on the
Mississippi Coast." It cited among Ruffin's strengths in the
book his "strong, clear story line, a deeply accurate sense of
place, characters interesting enough to contain contradictions
and offer surprises, and above all a voice, a style that moves
easily between the colloquial and the lyrical." They also
published an excerpt from the novel.
The yearbook last
year listed Ruffin's second book of stories, "Islands, Women,
and God," as one of the best 13 collections of fiction
published in 2001.
Ruffin said that it is gratifying to
have his books recognized in what he regards as a very
important reference book.
"I don't know that this
recognition does all that much for sales, but it certainly
legitimizes the presses that published the books," he
"Islands, Women, and God" was published by an
independent press, Browder Springs Publishing, and "Pompeii
Man" was released by a university press, Louisiana Literature
Press, out of Southeastern Louisiana University.
agent got close a couple of times to selling 'Pompeii Man' in
New York, but not close enough," Ruffin said. "I never did
have to fool with going down to the bank with a big advance
check. I finally decided that it might be better to go with a
university press while I still have enough life left in me to
go on the road with it."
He said that Random House
still has the manuscript and has had it for over three years.
"I keep waiting for them to call and tell me when they are
bringing it out. The phone has been awfully quiet."
of the big problems with the novel as a commercial book,
Ruffin admitted, is that it is hard to like the
"You have villains that you can't like: the
early Stafford, who is too stupid to like; Susie, his wife,
who's too shallow at first to like. The only person readers
can really go for is the black detective, Merchant, and the
converted Stafford, but both come along too late."
the Baton Rouge Advocate reviewed the book, they devoted the
whole front page of their Sunday supplement book section to
it, with a big picture of the front of the book and of Ruffin,
but the headline read "No One To Like."
that one reviewer described the book as a "disturbing erotic
thriller," and he admitted that it is dark.
it's very, very real," he said. "I wrote the book as a study
of a man's plunge into hell as a result of his folly, but my
agent talked me into the commercial ending. I wish I had stuck
with the original version. If readers are going to dislike the
characters anyway, at least it wouldn't matter that none turn
He noted that "literary fiction does not
require agreeable characters. To be sure, it is hard to find
one at all in the work of Flannery O'Connor, perhaps the best
fiction writer this country has ever produced."
currently working on two new novels, one called "The Keepers"
and one titled "The Gravel Pit War."
"They are roughly
two lightyears apart in subject matter and tone," he said.
"The Keepers" is a murder mystery focusing on a couple who
find themselves back in their hometown caring for aging
"The book is a love story, but they have to go
through a whole sea of hell to get to the beach where they can
throw down a towel," he said. "It's every bit as dark as
"The Gravel Pit War" is the story of a
group of white boys who defend their swimming hole against an
"army" of black kids during the 1960s in Mississippi.
The University Press of Mississippi is publishing
Ruffin's second novel, "Castle in the Gloom," in 2004. Set in
East Texas, it is a psychological thriller in which an
estranged couple spend the night as captives in a converted
storehouse not far from Lufkin.
"I think it's the best
thing I've ever done," Ruffin said, "but that may be mildly
He is also dealing with the Mississippi
press on an advance contract for a memoir titled "Growing Up
in Mississippi Poor and White But Not Quite Trash" and
finishing a book of Texas pieces called "The Segovia
Copies of Ruffin's books may be bought in
Huntsville at Hastings.
- END -
Text submitted by Will Wright
Oct. 17, 2003
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