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Morningside professor writes about love, family and life in the swamp

October 8, 2016

SIOUX CITY | As a boy growing up working class along the swamps of the Delaware and Chesapeake bays, Morningside College creative writing and American Literature professor Stephen Coyne felt a kinship with the men who made their living in the water.

Whether they caught fish or trapped muskrat, these “water men” made do with what came out of the swamps.

“The water men could’ve worked for people in factories,” Coyne said. “Instead, they were needed to be self-sufficient.”

Coyne’s “It Turns Out Like This” -- a novel told through a series of short stories -- centers around a water man named Stu Jakes.

“It Turns Out Like This” -- the winner of the Many Voices Award from New Rivers Press -- will be published Oct. 28. The book will be available at area bookstore as well as online book retailers like Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com.

“Even though (Stu Jakes) has a contentious relationship with his daughter, he’s reached a point in his life where he needed to connect with other people,” Coyne said. “He’s finally ready to settle down.”

You describe “It Turns Out Like This” as being a novel in stories. What do you mean by that?

“The book is a collection of short stories tied together by a common character. A book with chapters needs only to have an element that propels the readers to continue on with the story. My book requires me to capture the audience’s attention but each story also needs to have a sense of completion. In other words, it needs to stand on its own.”

Which I imagine is a difficult task but I understand you have an intimate knowledge of the character of Stu Jakes, right?

“I do, since I’ve been writing his story for years. The character has become a scratch I need to itch. As I’ve matured as a writer, Stu’s life is getting more complex.”

I believe you waited a while to become a fiction writer. Is that correct?

“I was a late bloomer who didn’t write my first story until I was in my mid-30s. It’s been my experience that poets tend to mature at a younger age. That;s because poets have to turn inward and write about themselves. Prose writers mature later since they have to be out in society and experience things in society.”

Growing up, who were the writers who spoke to you?

“Obviously, (Ernest) Hemingway was a big influence. He knew how to write with economy. I also enjoyed the work of Flannery O’Connor, who also captured the culture of the water men in her stories of life in the American southeast.”

Do you read writers who might be considered more contemporary?

“I’ve always enjoyed Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep”) as well as environmental writer Rick Bass (“Where the Sea Used to Be”).”

How is the market for writers? Is it still tough to make a name for yourself?

“Yes and it’s getting tougher. Although (small press) literary magazines seems to be popping up, the larger mass market magazines seems to be dropping away. For instance, The Atlantic and Esquire used to publish fictional short stories on a regular basis. Nowadays, they seldom do so.”

But I imagine you write for the love of writing. As a professor, what advice do you give to your students.

“Read whatever they can get their hands on and write as much as they can.”