Archive for February, 2011

Hoosier Hysteria, Sons, and Other Short Stories

Hoosier Hysteria, Sons, and Other Short Stories is a collection of eight short stories that will delight most avid readers. Short stories are the desserts of literature. Each is a delicious treat that can be consumed quickly, is complete and rewarding, and doesn’t fill us up. A collection of short fiction gives us more plots, introduces us to more characters, stirs more of our emotions, exposes us to more new ideas, and gives us more new experiences than literature’s main course, the novel. Of course, both the novel and the short story are wonderful in their own way.

I love to write fiction, because plots are intriguing and characters are fascinating.  Writing short stories allows me to explore more characters and to develop plots more quickly. Generally, ideas for my short stories are plot driven. An idea may come from me wondering how some event, real or fictional, might have developed differently under variant circumstances or had the players in the event acted differently. Characters in my stories are largely based on people I have known, but for each, I draw on characteristics of several people. In some cases, traits are exaggerated to make a character more amusing. But amusing or not, characters must be real, at least to some extent.

Mostly I write to entertain—to make readers laugh, think, and feel and to add a spark to their lives. In this collection, to share laughter with readers, I have included three humorous stories—The Mysteriously Missing Murder, Hoosier Hysteria, and Following Uncle McWitt in Time Travel.

In The Mysteriously Missing Murder, crime fighting newspaper reporter Brad Reilly, journalism’s answer to Inspector Clouseau, witnesses a murder, but the police cannot find a body, a crime scene, or any other evidence that a crime has been committed. Reilly uses all his skills to “help” unravel the mysterious case. Hoosier Hysteria is the simple story of a teenage boy’s dream of becoming Carmel High School’s star basketball player so he can win his sweetheart’s affection. In Following Uncle McWitt in Time Travel, a young man decides to follow a famous uncle in time travel to find the beautiful grass-skirted women of sixteenth-century Hawaii.

These stories are whimsical and light-hearted. The worlds portrayed in them don’t quite exist, and many of the characters in them are not quite real. Even so, some of the characters and events in these stories are loosely based on real people and events. For example, Lip Baker in The Mysteriously Missing Murder is based on the city editor at The Indianapolis Times when I was a young reporter there. My city editor was as gruff and tough as Lip, but he was also encouraging and supportive. I learned much from him and owe much of my development as a reporter to him. From the same story, the John Wilkes Booth letters incident is loosely based on something that really happened to, I confess, me. Of course, the real incident did not go as far as the one in the story.

Although many of the journalists in The Mysteriously Missing Murder are caricatures, I have great respect and affection for real journalists, particularly newspaper reporters. The nine years I spent as a newspaper reporter in Indiana were among the happiest and most rewarding of my professional career. I am proud of many of the stories I uncovered and wrote. One series of my stories led to the introduction in the state legislature of a bill that required county council districts within each of Indiana’s counties to have equal population. Other stories I wrote led to changes in local laws and policies. But mostly, my own and other reporters’ best stories provided people with the information they needed to make decisions in their personal and political lives. In addition to the serious reporting, I had fun writing a humor column for several years. Most journalists are wonderful people. Nearly all the reporters and editors that I worked with during those years were good, interesting, and dedicated men and women. The same can be said for most of the reporters I dealt with while I worked as the media contact person at the United States Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis for nearly twenty-five years.

The reader’s ability to clearly and completely traverse and experience the thoughts and emotions of characters is an important trait that distinguishes the written story from other art forms. For example, in Sons, the reader experiences with many characters the fear of an ambiguous future and then rides with the two main characters the tidal wave of emotions caused by the head-on collision of hatred and terror. In particular, David Rodgers, a United States senator and potential vice-presidential candidate, grapples with the dread that cool logic and compromise, tools that had worked so well for him through all his life, may not prevent the most horrific of all outcomes—being forced to choose who in his family will live and who will die.

For the record, Sons was written before any of my children were born and more than three years before any of my sons were born. The personalities and experiences of the sons in the story are in no way based on any of my sons. The traits and experiences of one of the sons are loosely based on one of my brothers; the other son’s personality is completely fictional.

In The Death of Sadie Wilson, two elderly women, who have shared a lifetime of friendship and competition, share an afternoon of uncertainty and terror. The reader shares these emotions with the characters and then must determine for themselves how Sadie Wilson died.

Two stories in the book examine the human soul. In Dangerous Passion, an author who writes novels about contemporary moral issues learns about truth, honor, greed, betrayal, and ultimately about himself. An old man is dying in the futuristic tale Love Ones, and his worst fear is that he will die alone. But the story’s surprising ending asks the question “Is dying alone really his worst nightmare?”

In Next Time by Fire, the world faces a calamity caused by years of ignoring one man’s plea to stop polluting the skies.

Many of the stories included in the book are not set in the opening years of the twenty-first century. Hoosier Hysteria is set in the early 1960s, when I was a junior at Carmel High School, and Following Uncle McWitt in Time Travel is set in the early 1970s, when it was written and when the women’s movement was most prominent in the public’s consciousness. A few statements in the latter story are by today’s standards not politically correct, but the story is still entertaining and is intended to be funny, not offensive. In fact, the story’s narrator gets his comeuppance. The Death of Sadie Wilson is set in the late 1970s, but the time period is not important to the story. Next Time by Fire is set a bit in the future, and Loved Ones is set still further in the future.

One of the most appealing aspects of this book is its diversity in genre, story theme, and characterization. Three stories are humorous, two are thrillers, one looks at the human soul, and two stories border on science fiction. There is even age diversity—one story is about a teenager and another is about an old man who is dying. Further, many of the stories are not set in the opening years of the twenty-first century. Because of the book’s diversity, nearly every reader will find at least several stories entertaining. Most readers will enjoy most or all of the stories.

Another important feature of the book is that readers get inside the minds of the characters in these stories. Like real people, characters in my stories are quite different, which makes them quite interesting. Some people have a positive outlook on life and others have a negative outlook. Some are mostly logical and others are more emotional. Two intelligent people can look at the same situation or problem and view it in totally different ways. Often how someone approaches a problem has little to do with right or wrong but with how he or she sees the world and human nature. Whether someone is a political conservative or liberal is more determined by view of the world and human nature than by intellect or morality. Good stories often pit different views of the world or human nature against each other. This happens in Sons, Dangerous Passion, and Next Time by Fire. Another interesting approach to story telling is to put characters in setting that are foreign to them. This also happens in Sons, Hoosier Hysteria, The Death of Sadie Wilson, and Loved Ones. The richness and diversity of characters are two of the things that make this collection of short stories so appealing.

 

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