Short Stories & Stephen King

As anyone that has read Dave and my blog with any regularity knows, I’m a Stephen King fan. He is kind enough to release a book (most years) right around my birthday. This year it was The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of short stories. He releases one of these every few years. It was a really great collection of short stories, in my opinion. The stories ranged from Twilight Zone twisty (Premium Harmony) to the downright give you chills along your spine (Bad Little Kid) to one connected to his Tower series (Ur). So, really, any of his writing that is your favorite, you will find something in here to make you happy.

But, while reading The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which I had interrupted my reading of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore for, I started thinking about short stories. And I decided I wanted to write a blog post on short stories for today.

I love short stories. I’ve always loved short stories and on here I have reviewed a few different ones over the last 3 years, including Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Jeremy Morong‘s collection of stories that just came out recently (look Jeremy! Your name is listed with O’Connor’s and Hemingway’s!), and one on Stephen King’s Top Ten, called The Golden Argosy (out of print, so if you find a copy for cheap, grab it, I’ll pay you back!).

People keep saying “Oh no! The short story is dead! Don’t write a short story!”, but while it might not be the premier form of entertainment anymore (at the turn of the century, when Best American Short Stories debuted, many Americans saw short stories as a perfect entertainment), it most certainly has not died. In mainstream publishing, you will see few collections, but I have run across a few over the years that aren’t from authors that are big name like Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, and are in fact, first book authors. Now, from small press publishers, your ability to get short stories is much higher. In fact, your chances are quite excellent. If you have Dave on your Facebook, do not hesitate to drop him a line for some great small presses to check out or authors he recommends. If you don’t have his Facebook, feel free to leave a comment. One of us will respond with a list :)

Authors will say that short stories are often harder to write than a novel. In a short story, you don’t have the ability to digress. You have to keep everything streamlined, you have to be able to get it across in a limited amount of time, and you don’t have a lot of room for character development.

As a reader, I find short stories incredibly satisfying. I especially enjoy anthologies of short stories. Anthologies have a lot of different authors in them, so there are a lot of different genres, tones, styles of writing. And you get to sample all of them. If you don’t like one that you’ve started, you can skip it and you haven’t ruined the reading experience (if you try to skip, say Hugo’s section on argot in Les Miserables, you miss a few details you should probably have). But, it’s also fun reading a single author’s collection of short stories, like Jeremy’s that I mentioned above. You can get a feel for the author, and it’s interesting to see the different ways they use the stories to play with structure, with characters and with tone.

I recently ordered Harper’s when my daughter was selling magazines. My main reason? Each issue they publish has a short story in it.

Now, another thing people that have read this blog know, is that Dave has published two novels previously. In March, he has a third book coming out. This isn’t just a statement out of nowhere. It actually fits into the theme of the rest of this post. The book is titled Not Quite So Stories and as the title suggests is actually a collection of short stories. I’m excited for Dave, as he has actually published quite a few short stories in different literary publications over the years, so to see him able to have an actual entire book of them out makes me almost squee happy. (Note I said almost, not quite). You can pre-order his book on Amazon.

100 Years of The Best American Short Stories is a great collection as well. Every year for the last 100 years, an anthology called “The Best American Short Stories” has been published, in which the editors read hundreds of stories from dozens of sources and pick the ones they feel are best. The 100 Years collection is a story from each year. It’s got a lot of authors you’ve heard of, like Hemingway and O’Connor, but a few of them are ones you haven’t really heard of or haven’t heard of at all, like Tillie Olsen (well, some of you might have heard of her, I had not). A lot of different styles and types of stories are represented in this volume. It gives you a chance to try out an author that you’ve maybe heard about before but never picked up a novel of theirs to see if you might want to read more by them, like Phillip Roth.

The next time you’re looking for something new to read, please give a collection of short stories a try. Start with Jeremy’s, especially if you’re an Omaha native, then move on to others. And in March, get Dave’s.

I currently have I’m a Little Teapot stuck in my head. My daughter is in cleaning her room and in between coming out five million times and asking how much longer she needs to be in there keeps singing it. While not quite as annoying as it was to have “Do you want to build a snowman” stuck in my head last year, it’s pretty irritating. Like sand in your bathing suit.

Have a great Thanksgiving!



Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry is kind of an odd book. It starts out with a guy remembering one of his friends and how he died. Then we flash back to that day and focus on that friend, as well as the two people with him. The guy who starts the book makes some appearance later, but not much. That’s probably an odd way to open discussion of this book, but Under the Volcano is a strange book.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 4th for Walter Kirn.)

Geoffrey Firmin is ‘the Consul.’ Well, that’s what he’s called. He’s actually a drunk. He was a consul at one point, but still pretty much in name only even then. Consuls watch out for the business interests of their country. There wasn’t much of that in the small Mexico town Firmin was posted in, even before the UK severed ties with Mexico and pulled their people back. He was pretty much sent there to get him out of the way. When the UK pulled out, Firmin stayed.

We know from the very start of Under the Volcano that Firmin is going to die. We read to find out how, and in what manner his death occurs.

On this day, Firmin is drunk. He’s pinned between desperately wanting his former wife to return to him and wanting to be left alone to pretty much drink himself into oblivion. She comes back, wanting him to leave Mexico so they can form a life together again. However, he’s still pinned. He’s not going anywhere. His half brother is also there, making a bit of a love triangle.

But, most importantly, as I already mentioned, Firmin is drunk:

… The Consul, an inconceivable anguish of horripilating hangover thunderclapping about his skull, and accompanied by a protective screen of demons gnattering in his ears, became aware that in the horrid event of his being observed by his neighbours it could hardly be supposed he was just sauntering down his garden with some innocent horticultural object in view. Nor even that he was sauntering. The Consul, who had waked a moment or two ago on the porch and remembered everything immediately, was almost running. He was also lurching. In vain he tried to check himself, plunging his hands, with an extraordinary attempt at nonchalance, in which he hoped might appear more than a hint of consular majesty, deeper into the sweat-soaked pockets of his dress trousers. And now, rheumatisms discarded, he really was running… Might he not, then, be reasonably suspected of a more dramatic purpose, of having assumed, for instance, the impatient buskin of a William Blackstone leaving the Puritans to dwell among the Indians, or the desperate mien of his friend Wilson when he so magnificently abandoned the University Expedition to disappear, likewise in a pair of dress trousers, into the jungles of darkest Oceania, never to return? Not very reasonably. For one thing, if he continued much farther in this present direction towards the bottom of his garden any such visioned escape into the unknown must shortly be arrested by what was, for him, an unscalable wire fence. “Do not be so foolish as to imagine you have no object, however. We warned you, we told you so, but now that in spite of all our pleas you have got yourself into this deplorable—” He recognized the tone of one of his familiars, faint among the other voices as he crashed on through the metamorphoses of dying and reborn hallucinations, like a man who does not know he has been shot from behind. “—condition,” the voice went on severely, “you have to do something about it. Therefore we are leading you towards the accomplishment of this something.” “I’m not going to drink,” the Consul said, halting suddenly. “Or am I? Not mescal anyway.” “Of course not, the bottle’s just there, behind that bush. Pick it up.” “I can’t,” he objected—”That’s right, just take one drink, just the necessary, the therapeutic drink: perhaps two drinks.” “God,” the Consul said. “Ah. Good. God. Christ.” “Then you can say it doesn’t count.” “It doesn’t. It isn’t mescal.” “Of course not, it’s tequila. You might have another.” “Thanks, I will.” The Consul palsiedly readjusted the bottle to his lips. “Bliss. Jesus. Sanctuary… Horror,” he added. “—Stop. Put that bottle down, Geoffrey Firmin, what are you doing to yourself?” another voice said in his ear so loudly he turned round. On the path before him a little snake he had thought a twig was rustling off into the bushes and he watched it a moment through his dark glasses, fascinated. It was a real snake all right. Not that he was much bothered by anything so simple as snakes, he reflected with a degree of pride, gazing straight into the eyes of a dog. It was a pariah dog and disturbingly familiar. “Perro,” he repeated, as it still stood there—but had not this incident occurred, was it not now, as it were, occurring an hour or two ago, he thought in a flash. Strange. He dropped the bottle which was of white corrugated glass—Tequila Añejo de Jalisco, it said on the label—out of sight into the undergrowth, looking about him. All seemed normal again. Anyway, both snake and dog had gone. And the voices had ceased…

Firmin’s half brother hopes for things. His former wife hopes for things. Firmin has hopes of a kind, but they are disconnected from any actions he really performs in life. What is going to happen is going to happen. That’s just going to be it, tragic as it may be.

The prose in Under the Volcano is a little denser than is my preference, but I can’t fault the effects it pulls off. The images are vivid and the melancholy fatalism is beautifully stirring. Its structure is odd, but it works masterfully. Really, that’s all anybody needs to say.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

So, I know this is late. I’m really sorry. Blame a bad back, The Mighty Johnsons, family stuff and playdates.

I read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Remember me talking about Edwidge Dandicat when I talked about Night by Elie Wiesel? Well, I was so fascinated by her name that I went to her list to see what she had listed. I had already read a couple of them previously for the blog, but this was one I had not read. And I have wanted to read this ever since a friend told me to about a decade ago but I just wasn’t able to get into it at that time and had not come back to it as of yet.

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking and yet, somewhat uplifting, story. It deals with African American communities in the early 20th century. Bits of it oddly reminded me of Grapes of Wrath, even though completely different region (Florida) and different culture (black instead of white). But it’s also about one woman. It addresses so many things about that culture at that time. What it was to be African American at that time, what it was to be a woman at that time, and what it was to be an African American woman at that time. You may wonder why I broke it up like that, but I think some of the things the main character Janie goes through could be “any woman”. Hurston’s writing is evocative.  The way she describes how minds work and how we transition stages is stunning.

“The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”

Janie has one marriage at the beginning when she is 17 that her grandmother arranged for her. She talks later to a friend about how her grandmother had been a slave, so to her the ultimate accomplishment was to see her granddaughter being able to “sit all the time”. But, Janie ended up not wanting that. So she left the first husband. Thinking she had found something different, she ran off with a second husband. They were together for over twenty years, but she had to hide herself away from him. He dies. Then comes a chance at redemption.

I liked Janie, a lot. She ended up not being afraid to grab for what she wanted. She acted against all the social mores of her group of people, and she did it time and time again (when I say group of people, I’m talking about the communities she became a part of). And in the end, it’s up to the reader to decide whether that ended up better or worse for her. I like to think better. I like to think that her life and herself were richer for taking those chances and finding the things she did, both outside of herself and about herself.

My only major note is that Hurston writes the entire thing in dialect. Which is fine, I often read stories with a ton of dialect in them. But, I think she could have lightened her usage just slightly. Especially since her narration is -not- in dialect, it created a huge dissonance for me at times.

This is definitely another book I’d put on a highly recommended list.

Have a great rest of your weekend! I’m off to continue in extreme busy mode, while wincing every time I step wrong. But lots of good things too :) Just the way it is.

FYI-on next Thursday, when you see Dave’s post up, I’ll point out now that it’s not only his birthday that day, but mine too. This was just a happy coincidence and not the reason we started the blog (which would be a little silly if you think about it, “Oh we share birthdays!? Let’s start a blog about books!”). It’s nice having someone with the same birthday. It means no matter how much you think no one remembers, there is always one person LOL. So, tell him happy birthday.

Follow Up On Settings Influence Stories: Stories Influence Settings

Kim interviewed Jeremy Morong about his new book The Legend of Hummel Park a couple weeks ago. Given that she took a week off our list, I thought I should do the same so I didn’t get too far ahead on the list. In that interview she gave some thoughts how settings influence stories. That got me thinking, what about the flip side? Settings certainly influence stories…but the reverse is also true.

Consider the Stanley Hotel:

I’ve been there. I wasn’t staying at the hotel, so why do you think I visited? I think you know:

I had to look at the place, feel the eeriness of it, peek around.

But…it only felt that way because of King’s story. Sure, people claimed that the Stanley was haunted before King made the story, but the attention came after. For a rumored haunting, it’s certainly nothing like King’s story. It feels like an incredibly eerie place…but only after King.

The Shining has permanently altered how I and many people perceive the Stanley. Sitting in the bar, I kept looking around for Jack Torrance. An awesome horror writer retreat is regularly held there. Heck, the Stanley has even put in a hedge maze to be more like the story.

The setting of the Stanley may have influenced King’s story, but I think it’s pretty obvious that King’s story has had even more influence on the setting itself. How people see it, how it sees itself, how it tries to get people to see it, and so on. Stories aren’t separate from the world. They are influenced by it, and they influence it right back. Stories are a conversation with the world, an interaction.

At least, the ones I like are.

I’m sure this is completely obvious to everyone (particularly since the stories about Hummel Park we talked about previously influence the park as much as the park has influenced the stories created involving it). However, I thought it was worth bringing up given what we’ve already said on here about setting influencing stories. Like most anything, that doesn’t just go one direction.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Edwidge Danticat was the only author to list this in her top ten. I love the name Edwidge Danticat. I don’t remember ever hearing her name before, even with any other books I read for the Top Ten. I looked her up in the book to get her bio (and to find out that she was a she and not a he :O )

“Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. Her books include Breath, Eyes, Memory; The Dew Breaker and the Farming of Bones which won an American Book Award”.

Looking at her Top Ten, I have actually read a couple for this blog. And Dave has read a couple. So, apparently her name did not strike me with its originality until tonight.

Which might be because I just finished Night.

Before I start talking about Night fully, I will admit to something. I have, since an early age, been fascinated by the Holocaust. Not in an insane way or a creepy way (I have no Nazi uniforms and have no idea the name of the woman who was a wife of a commandant and supposedly made lampshades from Jewish skin). Further confession: I made Greg spend six hours in the Holocaust Museum on our honeymoon. Which, when I say that, he always responds “I was interested too”. (I do, in fact, often thank God that I married Greg).

Somehow, I had never read Night though. I remember picking it up once years ago and putting it back down. I think I was mainly interested in women Holocaust victims and survivors at that point. So, I picked it for this week.

Night is a very short novel in terms of words written. It’s a forever novel as in the images Wiesel sears into your soul. I’ve read a lot of Holocaust memoirs, fiction and historical accounts. Many that went on longer than Night. Night is one of the most vivid ones I’ve ever read. Wiesel would have done Hemingway proud in his brevity and ability to pack as much as he could into each word.

Wiesel, prior to going to the camps as a young teenager, was a very devout Jew, and in fact, had history not …you know, I can’t even think of the right word, the one that keeps coming to mind is raped, so raped it is…raped him, he would have probably been a Kabal scholar. The camps changed that.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the faces of the little children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God, Himself. Never.”

Later on, after seeing the hanging of a younger boy whom was well liked in the area of camp they were in:

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

‘Where is God now?’

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

Where is He? Here He is–He is hanging here on this gallows.

That night the soup tasted of corpses.”

Many authors I have read have talked about the immense hunger in the camps. Only Wiesel has managed to sum it up in one short paragraph so well.

“I now took little interest in anything except my daily plate of soup and my crust of stale bread. Bread, soup–these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.”

Elie managed to survive with his father until almost the end. Then his father finally, exhausted from their march from Auschwitz area to Buchenwald, died. Wiesel and his father had had the choice of staying in the infirmary at the camp they were at, but afraid of being “liquidated” they left with the others. Wiesel stated that he found later that 2 days after they left, the Russians walked in and liberated them.

This book will leave you feeling heavy. Weighed down.

But, still I highly recommend you read it.

One: As just a general human being on this planet, to see what some humans will do to other humans, to educate yourself, to develop a sense of compassion.

Two: As a writer, Wiesel’s writing could teach a lot.

And now, I’m putting the rest of his books on my To Be Read pile.

Have a great weekend :)

Hummel Park, Jeremy Morong, and thoughts on settings influencing stories

Last week, Dave hinted at how we were going to be doing something a little different this week.  Well, here it is. Those of you in the Omaha area already probably are wondering why the heck would I be talking about the most haunted park in Omaha and those of you outside of Omaha were wondering until that line what the hell Hummel Park even was.

This week, a local author from Omaha, Jeremy Morong, had a book come out called The Legend of Hummel Park. It’s a collection of short stories. Hummel Park is -that- place in Omaha. The one that all the legends spring from, where you hear about hauntings, and body dumps, and lynchings, and albinos. In fact, normally, local authors that aren’t Rainbow Rowell don’t get much press. Hummel Park is so imbedded in Omaha’s psyche as the scary place that one of Omaha’s news stations even did a story about Jeremy and his book. I’m posting the link here. Between watching this clip and further information below, those of you not in Omaha should get a good indication of what Hummel Park is all about.

Dave contacted me a couple of weeks ago (in Facebook, then had to text me to tell me to check my Facebook as I am currently in a very casual acquaintance relationship with Facebook) and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing an author he knew with a book of short stories coming out. The subject? Hummel Park. Well. Those of you that have been reading this blog for awhile know that I’m a fan of the “spooky”. And short stories. And Hummel Park, which is fascinating in so many different ways. So, I told Dave I had to think about it….ha! kidding! I told him sure. He gave me Jeremy’s email address and bada bing, bada boom (I’m not sure where some of this stuff is coming from tonight, in all honesty) the next thing I knew I was at a reading for Midnight Circus (a literary magazine run by EAB Publishing. Check it out here. (Side note: The most recent issue, Issue 9, is an amazing issue. Check it out.). Jeremy and I had agreed to meet up there to talk a bit about the short stories, Hummel Park and whatever else came up. Now. If you haven’t watched the clip of Jeremy talking about The Legend of Hummel Park above, go do so now. I’ll wait.

So. In all honesty, after I read the stories, I was not expecting Jeremy to be well…Jeremy. I was envisioning one of those slightly gloomy coffee house guys (you know, not the emo ones, the other slightly gloomy coffee house guys) or someone that I’d be likely to bump into in a bar that seems like Halloween year round. Jeremy, well, he looks like he works in a bank (which is good, since he does actually.) Though, I should have had some warning that he probably wasn’t the gloomy coffee house sort when we had a whole 3 or 4 email exchange about our children’s names (there was other information interspersed, we aren’t really that pathetic). We talked about favorite books and he told me about reading to his two year old son as he was going to sleep at night. He’s reading him Huck Finn and other ones he’s loved in his lifetime. Now. Please, please, buy a copy of his book. Read those stories. Then reconcile the stories with that image. I have yet to read Jeremy’s other two published works (sorry Jeremy! My to be read pile from the library is huge. I promise. Soon!) but he assures me that they’re less macabre and are books that he feels comfortable with his children reading as they get older. We had to leave shortly after the reading was done, due to the place closing down. Which was sad because I definitely could have spoken longer with him and done more of the interview in person than via email. But, Jeremy was nice enough to answer my multiple questions in email.

Legends of Hummel Park has two stories in it that were written (per Jeremy) specifically with Hummel Park in mind. They’re fascinating to me because they really explore the intersection between stories, legend and reality. There’s also a sense of when someone desperately and truly wants a legend to be true, what lengths will they go to? (Oh, and by the way, Jeremy stated he agreed with me that in Hemingway’s short story, the curtain was probably just a curtain, so don’t go looking for hidden symbols in every word he’s written. It’s not there. Or at least not symbols hidden in trees and curtains and hills). Then other stories have Hummel Park almost as a hidden character. They’re spokes in a wheel with the Park in the middle. Then there are the ones that don’t overtly have Hummel in them, but the tone of them…well they’re Hummel all the way. In a couple of the stories, there’s almost a glee to the macabre. Oddly, for the fascination he shows with Hummel Park, Jeremy says he has never seen anything overtly spooky. He said his dad used to take them to Hummel when they were kids, and tell them the story and he always just wanted to see the hermit!

(Digression note: I was listening to the podcast Serial today, which I recommend, and they were talking about Baltimore’s Leakin Park, and the dumping of dead bodies and the spooky feel of it. And I was like Hummel! Except for Leakin, the reputation as a dumping ground for bodies is well documented and deserved. In the last 50 years I think it’s been something like 60 bodies found there. For those of you outside of Omaha, there have not been 60 bodies discovered in Hummel Park. But…maybe they’re really there! Ha.)

So, here are the questions I emailed, and Jeremy’s responses to them.

1. Explain about Hummel park for Dave and my readers who aren’t from the Omaha area. What it is on paper and what it is on legend.
“Hummel Park is a park on the northern edge of Omaha, set in forested river bluffs that overlook the valley of the Missouri River. Though there are residential areas around it, they are sparse, and so it is highly isolated. If you want to do something you’re not supposed to when the sun goes down, Hummel Park seems to be the place for you, even though the park closes at 8 when the gates are locked.”
2. You told me when we talked that your dad used to take you there and tell the tales. You have a 2 year old son now. Do you plan on continuing the tradition?
“We live fairly close to Hummel and we love to hike, so we’ve been there many times. I have a 7-year old daughter and she loves to count the stairs, and I’m sure I’ll tell my son all the tales, but only in a joking manner. I don’t want them to be scared of anything that isn’t true!”
3. You personally have never seen or heard anything creepy at the park. Why do you think it lodged itself in your psyche like it did?
“Everyone likes ghost stories, I think. We believe, and we hear things, even when our brains are telling us not to. I can’t say that I’ve ever had anything unexplainable happen to me there, but it definitely has a vibe about it–maybe it’s the vultures that often circle overhead! The idea of being alone in the woods–it’s very powerful. You never know when the Big Bad Wolf is waiting for you.”
4.  Do you think Omaha has deposited a lot of the “banal evil” of the city into one place? Like the trees where black men were supposedly lynched?
“I think that when people see something that perhaps can’t be explained, there’s an urge to explain it, and sometimes the facts get in the way of that. For example, the trees that “lean” can be explained easy enough–they grow on a small hill that borders a road and seeking sunlight, naturally adjusted.

But, what kind of story is that? Unfortunately Omaha, like most cities, has a sordid history with race, particularly lynchings. Malcolm X was born here; his family fled shortly after he was born due to harassment from the KKK. In 1919 there were a series of race riots, including a brutal lynching. I guess someone thought it would be fun to link that horrible incident to the trees in Hummel.”
5. Explain how the lynching can be shown with actual historical documentation to be a definite myth.
“Lynching in Omaha is not a myth; it definitely happened. The most known incident would be the 1919 murder of Will Brown. He had supposedly assaulted a white woman and was seized from the courthouse and lynched, then his body was set on fire. It’s far scarier than anything that actually happened at Hummel:

As far as it taking place in Hummel, it defies logic. Work on the park didn’t begin until 1930, and there are no documented lynchings in Omaha after 1919. Even if there were, Hummel is a good deal away from where people live, and so nobody would have bothered taking their victim all the way there when there are plenty of trees elsewhere. The road the trees lean over didn’t even exist.
As awful as this all is, there’s almost a sense of disappointment when you learn a place isn’t as scary as you thought it was. And so that motivated me to create a character who decided he would make some of the myths reality. Being twisted and a sociopath of sorts, he naturally doesn’t see that it’s not quite the same thing.”
(Side note: At this point, I did have to clarify with Jeremy that I wasn’t meaning the lynchings didn’t happen but that they didn’t happen in Hummel. He knew. But I was afraid of appearing like I didn’t know that so I had to put this note in here. Carry on.)
6. There seems to be more people coming out of Nebraska whom seem to be creating art that feels like it couldn’t exist without the locale. The most famous contemporary being Alexander Payne and Rainbow Rowell. Do you think of Hummel park as an actual secondary character in your stories? Like without this character the story wouldn’t exist?
“Hummel Park is definitely a character in four of the stories of The Legend of Hummel Park and Other Stories, to varying degrees. Without Hummel, two of the stories don’t work and could never exist; they came about entirely because of Hummel. “The Legend of Hummel Park,” the title story, is about a group of teenagers going to have their own Hummel experience. As people often do, they learn to be careful what they wish for.

“Deer Season” was inspired by something that happened to us while driving past one day–someone shot out our driver side window in our car with a pellet. It really ticked me off–it’s not cheap to fix a window, number one, but number two, my daughter was in the backseat. So this was sort of my opportunity to put myself on both sides of that event.
In “Unwanted,” which takes place on the edge of the park, it exists as sort of an evil entity, and is a motivator for an adult daughter to try to get her father, who lives alone, to adopt one of the rescue dogs she cares for. The story could exist without the park but I think it definitely adds a layer to it.
Great question; I like the idea of being a contemporary of Alexander Payne and Rainbow Rowell. :)
7. Remind me how the conjoined twins fit into Hummel again?
“There are nine stories in this collection and as mentioned, Hummel plays a role in four. The other five do not take place there, but they all share certain thematic elements, to a degree. It’s a collection of horror-type stories.”
8. Tell me a bit about your other published work and how it differs.
“I have published two novels. They are quite a bit different than each other, and far different from The Legend of Hummel Park and Other Stories, and I guess I’m a little proud of that. The Adventures of Braxton Revere is my second novel, published by EAB Publishing. It’s a first-person story about a vampire killer. Don’t let that scare you; someone told me it has as much to do with vampires as Indiana Jones has to do with archaeology and I liked that description! I grew up watching Universal Horror films and playing Castlevania video games, and reading Huck Finn, and so if you put all of those in a blender, you’d get something like this I think. Hopefully, it’s fun.

My first novel is On the Backs of Dragons. It’s an epic-fantasy. I tried to steer clear of save-the-world plots with it; basically, it’s about three children who have their father seized from them during a burgeoning war, and so they take off both to rescue him as well as warn the king that war is coming. Of course, nothing is ever easy. Ultimately, I think I wrote it because I wanted to feature Sasquatches as characters in a book… ;)”
9. Have you always written? Or is it something you started doing as you got older?
“. I have not always written fiction, in part because I am an idiot. I had done a few short stories in high school and enjoyed it. I can remember by senior year English teacher expressing that I might have some talent. I also wrote for the school paper. I did fine on it, but can’t recall the teacher thinking I had a lot of talent there!

I say I’m an idiot because I signed up to take a Short Story class in college, thinking I would learn how to write them. Instead, it was about reading them, and the teacher wasn’t particularly good, so it kind of killed my interest.
But I kept getting weird ideas, and stories. Eventually, it had to come out or I’d go nuts. So I started messing around with what eventually became On the Backs of Dragons. I struggled with it, with lots of failed ideas, and so it languished. What finally motivated me to finish it was my daughter. I read a rant somewhere that most adventure books feature a female character that does little but pine for some heroic man to tell her what to do, so I decided that my main character would be a female that would sort of boss around her brothers, and use her brains to outsmart her enemies on the way to saving her father. That all sounds rather Freudian, to see it written like that, but that was not my intent! So now my daughter will at least have Caroline, from Dragons, and Hermione.”
10. And appropriately enough for question 10 and fitting in with the blog theme, list me your top ten books.
“Wow, my top ten books. This will start easy and get tough! And I will be honest, I won’t try to cite things that make me sound well read or anything.

1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: My all-time favorite, I’ve read it probably a dozen times and I learn something new from it each time. It’s part of my DNA at this point.
2. Watership Down: A book about talking rabbits that is far better than it has any right to be.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird: English teachers have it right about this one.
4. The Lord of the Rings: Cliche, but true.
5. The Count of Monte Cristo: Dumas books are usually jammed with filler. This one is around 1200 pages in its unabridged version (the only way to read it) yet feels short.
6. The Chronicles of Narnia: I read these when I was 10 and they blew me away.
7. The Harry Potter series: I really didn’t want to like these, thinking the hype was too much. I was wrong. JK Rowling is my hero.
8. The Education of Little Tree: This book is a pack of lies–purported to be the autobiography of a young Cherokee boy, it turned out that it was written by an avowed racist. And yet, it works.
9. Buffalo and Beaver: This is one of many churned-out adventure novels for boys back in the 1950s or so, but I read it when I was 12 or so and I still have the desire to read it every few years, so it must be pretty good. It’s about a boy whose father suddenly shows up and takes him on an adventure as a mountain main in the Rockies. What more could a boy want?
10. Scrooge McDuck comics by Carl Barks and Don Rosa: I’m sorry, but these are just the greatest thing ever. They were once huge in America before we got all jaded and stuff; they remain so in Europe.”
I don’t have any sort of ratings system I give. So I will give the one rating that means a lot to me. I will be re-reading this book. (Obviously not until my to be read pile shrinks a bit, and time passes, but yes. I’ll read it again).

Pearl by Tabitha King

Me again. Kim is taking the next two weeks. In fact, we have something special planned for next week so I went twice in a row to give her time. Anyway, today you’re going to hear from me again. This time? Pearl by Tabitha King.

I have to admit that I decided to pick up Pearl by Tabitha King after realizing she was Stephen King’s wife. I didn’t know about the book, didn’t know Stephen’s wife was also a writer, or anything. I was immediately curious what kind of writer she might be.

Pearl presents us with Pearl Dickenson, a woman who has inherited a home in a small New England community from a family she has almost no personal connection to. She knew her mother, and then only her grandmother when her mother died. No one else personally. This relates (in ways that may not be completely elaborated) to the fact that Pearl’s mother and grandmother were white, whereas Pearl’s father was black.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 6th for Jennifer Weiner.)

Pearl is capable and knows what she wants. She buys a diner in town and is immediately successful. However, there are parts of herself she is not completely able to control. Against her better judgment, she cannot resist getting into sexual relationships almost simultaneously with two very different men in the small town. The first is a rich and indolent young poet pretty boy named David Christopher:

Inside was all shadows and she could almost feel the house exhaling coolness. David Materialized out of them from somewhere, barefoot, in shorts and an unbuttoned crinkled gauze shirt, its long sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Despite the interior shadow, he wore sunglasses.


Solemnly he flung open the door. It cracked smartly against the siding and he caught it as it came back, sparing Pearl an ungraceful jump over the stoop to avoid the door spanking her calves. He led her through the dark entry hall past a galley kitchen.

Abruptly the house opened into the living room, three stories high, with a wall all of glass facing the lake. It was a breathtaking wedge of space that dwarfed the two of them, an alien intrusion of right angles into the natural world of forest, lake, and mountain, and yet in scale with the enormous old pines, the vast containment of the lake’s water, the leap of the land toward the sky that made the mountains reach.

and the second is a burly and laconic mechanic named Reuben Styles:

He knocked politely at the screen door.

“Come in, Reuben, it’s open.”

“Pearl, you’re up late,” he said, flashing her a grin that was just a wee bit slowed with legal anesthetic. He breathed a yeasty zephyr over her.

“You too. Excuse my dishabille. Thanks for the berries.”

“It was too hot to sleep,” he explained.

She struggled to keep a straight face.

“Actually,” he said shyly, “those are your berries. I picked ’em on your land.”

“Do tell. Sit down.”

He pulled up a straight-back chair, turned it around, and sat down with its back for an arm rest.

She offered him a berry and he popped it into his mouth with great relish.

“I shouldn’t. I ate a lot when I was picking ’em.

She giggled. “I remember picking strawberries at a farm as a kid and eatin’ too many.”

He grinned. She was looking at the way his mouth hitched up ironically when he did that, and not thinking about the box of berries, and she sat up. The box spilled and they both reached for it and came up with each other’s hands. Oh man, why couldn’t you have waited till the fall, when poets fall off the trees and get swept back to the cities? Her stomach tightened up, partly in panic, partly in a nearly hurtful arousal. It seemed David hadn’t satisfied her after all, but only awakened her to what she had been missing.

David is unbalanced, occasionally suicidal, still not over the murder of his sister as a child. Reuben has his problems too, a daughter running wild and a wife who ran off with a preacher. Either would make Pearl’s life complicated, but the combination of both is a sure-fire recipe for a crash. Pearl knows this better than anyone, but can’t stop herself and can never manage to tell each about the other.

Life in the town starts to get more complicated. Reuben’s daughter’s boyfriend brutalizes her and Reuben puts him in the hospital, giving Reuben’s ex wife a chance to try to take custody. David has episodes that disturb Pearl deeply. People start to notice the affairs. Pearl, against what she really wants to do, keeps juggling. Things will come to a head, though. That is the one certainty.

King lays down solid, literary lines. Pearl reminded me of John Irving or Richard Ford a bit, but still a distinctive voice over them. The characters are full and tangible, the storyline is engaging, and the descriptions are vivid. I can’t understand why Pearl isn’t still in print, because it is very good. It isn’t one of my all time favorites or anything, but King is definitely an accomplished author.