Today@Sam - SHSU Campus News Online Sam Houston State University Seal
In the News
SHSU Homepage

SHSU Experts
SHSU Stats
Sam the Man
SHSU History
Austin Hall

Heritage Magazine
Huntsville Item
The Houstonian
Gov. Links
Useful Links
Theater & Dance
SHSU Athletics
Rec. Sports
Request Info
General Info
Then & Now
The President
Public Relations
Post Office
Search SHSU

New Novel by SHSU Professor Set in East Texas

Paul RuffinWhen you see Paul Ruffin anywhere on the SHSU campus or on his walk to and from his home, one of the last adjectives that might spring to mind to describe him is distinguished. In the summer he wears shorts, a Texas Review Press t-shirt and cap, and trail boots, and in the winter he substitutes jeans for his shorts and sometimes wears a denim jacket.

But the fact is that he is officially distinguished, having been proclaimed a Regents Distinguished Professor of English by the Texas State University Board of Regents last November.

Author of two novels, two collections of short stories, and five books of poetry, with his work appearing in journals, anthologies, and textbooks all across the country, Ruffin was recently a featured author at the Southern Festival of Books in Memphis, where he read from and signed copies of his new novel, "Castle in the Gloom," released in September by University Press of Mississippi.

(He was dressed the same: jeans and trail boots, TRP t-shirt and cap: “Gotta advertise the press, you know, but the half pint of Old Crow and black garter that sat on my signing table were merely props to promote the book. I didn’t break the seal until later that afternoon.”) He has also been a featured author in the past few years at the Texas Book Festival, the Eudora Welty Symposium, and the Tennessee Williams Symposium.

Ruffin's newest effort is unlike his first novel--which one reviewer referred to as a disturbing erotic thriller and of which Jamie Raab, senior editor at Warner Books, wrote, “I read 'Pompeii Man' with horror and fascination. It is a powerful, chilling story, which I can’t say I enjoyed, though it unnerved me in a way few novels do.”

"Castle in the Gloom" is much more lighthearted, with a great deal of humor in the exchanges between his two major characters, Tommy and Annie, an estranged couple who find themselves in a lot of trouble while on their way from Shreveport to Houston.

When asked about the origin of the novel, Ruffin explained that it grew out of a short story from his first collection, "The Man Who Would Be God."

“Every time a woman mentioned her favorite story in that collection, without fail it was ‘The Beast Within,’ the story of a couple who get more or less kidnapped and imprisoned in the storeroom of an old country general store by a crazy old woman who lives there. I never could quite figure out why that particular story would always be the favorite of women, but the more I thought about the couple, the more fascinated I became with them.

" So I went back and followed them from Shreveport right on through until their release from ‘prison’ the next morning, capturing the best I could the spirit of two people who have come to hate each other’s guts, or think they do. I had a ball writing the dialog between them as they spar verbally all the way. I just fell in love with the two of them, and with the crone who forces them into her ‘castle’ at gunpoint.”

Ruffin said that the novel has been described as a literary thriller, which means “that it has the elements of literary fiction, but it also can be read as escape fiction. Most readers will probably not get all the fairytale allusions going on in there, nor the other symbolism at work, but that’s OK too. The main thing is that they enjoy the story.”

In Chapter Three Ruffin examines the nature of East Texas and its inhabitants through a distillation of Tommy’s thoughts as he drives along, headed south toward the very strange and frightful night that awaits the two of them.

“ I’ve always liked writing about couples,” he explained while going over his many stories in which a man and woman share leading roles. “'Pompeii Man' is about a couple who get in trouble in New Orleans when the foolish husband lets a sexual fantasy go a little too far.

" And I have a novel underway, called 'Keepers,' in which a man and woman find themselves back in their hometown caring for terminally-ill mothers; they end up falling in love, but they have one hell of a time making it work, given the demands of those parents on their time and energy. There’s just no story more important than the one involving a man and woman. It was the first story, and it’s always been with us, and it will be the last.”

Ruffin is also working on a novel called "The Gravel Pit War," which is set in Mississippi during the embryonic stages of the Civil Rights Movement.

“These white boys get the idea that their sacred swimming hole is going to be swarming with black kids on the 4th of July, so they set about preparing for the Second Civil War. It’s largely a fun book, and I’m having a ball listening to and watching these boys devise their strategy to save the South. That gravel pit swimming hole is a great symbol to them, and they do not intend to let it fall to the probable descendants of slaves who once picked cotton in the vast field that the gravel pit is located in.”

His next book to be published, "Here’s to Noah, Bless His Ark and Other Musings," a collection of his newspaper columns, will be out in the spring of 2005. He also has two other books currently being considered by university presses, "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White But Not Quite Trash" and "The Segovia Chronicles," and he is revising his third book of stories, "Jesus in the Mist," for publication.

Ruffin teaches creative writing and an editing and publishing course at SHSU, where he edits The Texas Review and directs Texas Review Press.

Copies of "Castle in the Gloom" are on sale in area bookstores, including Hastings in Huntsville and Conroe (special-order only in the Conroe store), and the Woodlands Barnes and Noble. It may also be purchased on numerous web sites.

- END -

Submitted to Today@Sam by Sam Houston State University graduate student Dan Sellers


SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Dec. 21, 2004
Please send comments, corrections, news tips to


This page maintained by SHSU's Office of Public Relations
Director: Frank Krystyniak
Assistant Director: Julia May
Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
Located in the 115 Administration Building
Telephone: 936.294.1836; Fax: 936.294.1834