New novel set in Springfield explores teen romance amid COVID pandemic

Editor's note: A previous edition of this article incorrectly listed the former owner of Hoover Music Company and Springfield acreage as “Albino Farm.”

Seven years after the release of his last novel set in Springfield, Steven Yates is back with a new story inspired by his hometown.

“The Lakes of Southern Hollow,” which premieres July 16, follows three teenagers – Casey, Tyndall and Devon – during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The trio, who feel trapped in their Southern Hollow subdivision, continually fall for each other, always at the wrong time. The pandemic forces friends to learn about music, love, friendship and courage.

The 262-page novel is available for pre-order on for $23.20. A portion of the proceeds benefits Pagination Bookshop, which makes an appearance in the novel.

A native of Springfield, Yates attended Missouri State University and worked as a sports reporter for the News-Leader between 1985 and 1990. He then attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he earned a master's degree in creative writing . He and his wife Tammy live in Mississippi, where Yates is marketing director for the University Press of Mississippi.

Reinventing Springfield

Yates published his previous novel, “The Legend of the Albino Farm” in 2017. The book explored the legend of the Springfield “Albino Farm,” a 70-acre family farm located north of Springfield.

Shortly after the release of “The Legend of the Albino Farm,” Yates began tinkering with the setting of “The Lakes of Southern Hollow.” The book takes place in Springfield. In fact, the Southern Hollow subdivision where Casey, Tyndall and Devon live is modeled after the Southern Hills subdivision, where Yates grew up.

Yates said he renamed Southern Hills to Southern Hollow because he had previously written about his hometown subdivision under that pseudonym, including in short stories written as a master of fine arts student. Creating a new name also allowed Yates to deviate from the truths of the Southern Hills subdivision, granting him more creative freedoms.

The word “hollow” may also be perceived differently by readers.

“It allows you to sort of ring more than one bell in the reader's heart, because if something is hollow or empty or dark, it's submerged. It can also serve as shelter,” Yates said.

Several Springfield landmarks appear throughout the book, which Yates and his wife Tammy call “Easter eggs.” One of Yates' favorite “Easter eggs” is Hoover Music Company, a company he frequented growing up.

Hoover Music, formerly located at 404 S. Jefferson Ave., closed its doors in January 2020, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In “The Lakes of Southern Hollow”, Yates also talks about the music store closing.

“It’s where I grew as a musician,” Yates said of Hoover Music. “That's where I learned to play guitar from Dave Painter (a member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils). That's where the only band I ever played in was playing somewhere, we all practiced at Hoover Music. I just wanted to capture this paradise, this space where people learned so much together.

Although Yates was not in Springfield in January 2020 – Yates has lived in Mississippi since 1998 – he last visited Hoover Music around 2017-2018 when he was in town for a book signing of “ The legend of the albino farm.

“Luckily the owner Brian Hoover was there,” Yates said of his visit. “We got to see each other for the first time since we were a band together. It was really intense. There was a simple way for me to remember everything I was seeing and wake up that space.”

Pagination Bookshop also makes an appearance in the new novel but under a different name, Write On Book Shop.

“I've ordered online from there, but every time I go to Springfield I have a lot of things I need to take care of and I literally haven't been able to get in there,” Yates said . pagination. “So I thought, 'Okay, maybe I could visit a bookstore that's not Pagination but it's kind of Pagination. It'll be like going there for the first time.'”

Yates said he referenced photos posted of Pagination on social media as a guide for creating Write On Book Shop in “The Lakes of Southern Hollow.” He decided to change the name of the bookstore since he never went to Pagination.

As for why he decided to set another novel in Springfield, Yates said it was probably because of “desire.”

“I live very, very far from Springfield,” Yates said. “It’s a nine-hour drive and I miss it so much.”

More: 9 Underrated Ozarks Destinations to Explore This Summer, All Within 3 Hours of Springfield

Character creation

“The Lakes of Southern Hollow” revolves around three teenagers, Casey, Tyndall and Devon. Yates said the characters are not necessarily inspired by a single person, but rather a culmination of characteristics of different people he has met over the years.

Tyndall, for example, is loosely based on Yates' nephew Will Plunkett IV, to whom the novel is co-dedicated.

“He is on the autism spectrum and his life journey has been somewhat of a miracle,” Yates said of his nephew. “Will Plunkett just graduated from the University of Arkansas engineering program. He will become an industrial engineer with a specialty in logistics. He will now earn his master's degree in engineering. This experience, in a way or another, I wanted to place her in one of these characters.”

On the other hand, Casey Strong, the main character of the novel, was inspired by a woman Yates saw performing on a radio show in Oxford, Mississippi, as well as by Tanner Boyle from the book and film “The Bad News Bears.”

“He was the first young adult character I ever read who was allowed to be furious at the universe at all times,” Yates said of Tanner Boyle's character. “He was hell. He was amazing, so much fun to read. I couldn't help but think, I kind of want to make Casey this person, the person who is super talented at something and yet their stature is tiny. That's because they are even more fiery because they had to fight.”

Speaking to the News-Leader Friday, Yates said he doesn't have any book signings planned in Springfield, but he hopes to have a few on the calendar soon.

In addition to “The Lakes of Southern Hollow” and “The Legend of the Albino Farm,” Yates also published “Sandy & Wayne: A Novella” (2016), “The Teeth of the Souls” (2015), “Some Kinds of Love: Stories” (2013) and “Morkan’s Quarry” (2010).

Greta Cross is the current affairs reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. She has more than five years of journalism experience covering everything from Ozark history to Springfield's LGBTQIA+ community. Follow her on X and Instagram @gretacrossphoto. An idea for a story? Send him an email to [email protected].

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