Ebook Announcement: The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories by Jack Matthews

ebook cover for Second Death story collection

Book Description

Did Edgar Allen Poe fake his death? That’s what a Baltimore doctor needs to figure out in the title tale for this 11th story collection by Jack Matthews. As one critic wrote, “Matthews stories are like friends from small towns: They are honest, warm, occasionally lyrical and as strange and idiosyncratic as the rest of us.”

Characters face all kinds of improbable situations in this collection. A US army battalion finds itself locked in an absurd stalemate with German troops at the end of World War Two. A second-string college football player inexplicably receives an athletic prize. A middle-aged man discovers that random women around his neighborhood are walking around nude. A man witnesses a car falling out of the sky into a supermarket parking lot. A book collector and his wife concoct a mad plan to outbid a mysterious competitor for a 17th century manuscript.

In the novella-sized title story, Edgar Allen Poe’s doctor investigates the mystery of Poe’s disappearance from his deathbed and the very real possibility that Poe (or someone purporting to be him) has fled to Louisiana and been sending enigmatic clues. As author of several novels set in 19th century America (Gambler’s Nephew, Sassafras and Soldier Boys), Jack Matthews (1925-2013) writes about early America with gusto and insight.

In contrast to previous story collections (which lean more to the cerebral or poetic), the Matthews stories collected here are down-to-earth yarns: gently satirical and reminiscent of John Cheever’s fiction. Most are like pleasant strolls through Midwestern neighborhoods, glimpsing random people at backyard parties, cafes and parking lots.

  • Retail Price: $3
  • Publication Date: November 15, 2021
  • Genre: Short Stories
  • Places to Buy: Google Play |BN | Apple | Kobo | Amazon US | Amazon UK |
  • Social Media: Librarything | Goodreads
  • Where to Buy the “No DRM” Version: Payhip| Smashwords
  • Available NOW for less on Payhip!
  • Word Count: 73,000 (approximately 210 pages)

Jack Matthews (1925-2013) published 20+ books and taught literature at Ohio University over four decades. His story collections were praised by authors such as  Eudora Welty  and W.P. Kinsella and received positive reviews in places like New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. He is the author of Hanger Stout, Awake, a modern coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy’s obsession with cars (which was praised by Time Magazine and called by National Book Award winner William Stafford “one of the most neglected works of the 20th century.”) He has published multiple essays and several works of fiction about life in 19th century America.

** The “No DRM” version allows you to download the files directly (rather than read it only on the bookstore’s own ereading system). Besides being more compatible, buying the NO DRM version often is 25-50% cheaper than other retailers.

Note: Another collection — tentatively titled Boxes of Time — is expected to be published in late 2022.

Book Reviews

The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories is a fun gathering of odd and insightful inspections. It opens with “Trophy for an Earnest Boy,” which tells of a college sophomore football player who harbors a “wildness of spirit” and dreams about his future success.

Only a nineteen-year-old could take a game that is a miserable experience for a “…gullible, earnest nineteen year old boy who went out on a soggy field and struggled in the icy mud for two exasperating hours” and turn it into a lesson on winning, losing, and an ethical dilemma over a trophy’s assignment.

Contrast this with “Indispensable Ghosts,” in which a collector of 16th century devotional literature considers a fellow collector who is “…grimly possessed, frying like a rasher of bacon in a chrism of bibliophilic madness.”

Everyone needs someone or something to push against, as the narrator’s wife observes: “…some people need that sort of tension, don’t they?” “What sort?” “Somebody to push against. To feel their presence against.” Waldo Kiefer serves that function in this story, which juxtaposes literary collectors of devotional material in a competition which erupts into a professional war between competing bibliophiles, where more is at stake than ownership.

Readers of these literary examinations will find Jack Matthews cultivates a diverse set of scenarios, voices, and experiences that especially stand out with metaphorical representations.

His language is bright, original, and refreshingly startling. This is one reason why each short story is a standout – that, and his attention to capturing different details in disparate lives and experiences.

Each story is refreshingly unique. Each captures the nuances of choices which often embrace betrayal, loyalty, and passion.

Literary readers seeking a collection that embeds whimsy and fun into its life inspections will find The Second Death of E.A. Poe and Other Stories is filled with unexpected moments and revelations that shine.

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review


Ten unique short stories, all wonderfully worthwhile. All adult readers could find a tale that suits them in this collection. 4 stars (out of 5). Theresa Kadair, San Francisco Book Review, November 2021. (Read the full review)

Theresa KadairSan Francisco Book Review, November 2021.

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A brief commercial announcement

Personville Press (which publishes ebooks by Jack Matthews) now has an online store through payhip for fans of Jack Matthews to buy ebooks and audio at low prices. In the past, the audio play was distributed to the major retail sites (Amazon, Apple, etc) through cdbaby. Unfortunately, cdbaby didn’t allow content publishers to discount very much, and so prices were crazy high. In contrast, payhip gives artists full control over pricing with minimal fees. Personville Press can earn a lot more money if you buy through payhip, so that allows prices to be discounted even deeper. Personville Press gives it two thumbs up!

Currently the audio play Interview with the Sphinx can be bought there for $2. If you are comfortable buying and managing digital content, you generally can buy Jack Matthews bundles at substantial discount from the payhip bookstore. Over the next week or so, all of Personville’s ebook titles will go on payhip and links will appear on the book pages for each title.

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“Hangers Stout” in Real Life

Here’s something amazing to fans of the novella Hanger Stout, Awake. I never imagined that “hanging contests” would ever be a thing, but apparently, an athlete/YouTube personality has been offering random people cash to see how long they can hang freely from a bar.

I’m sure Jack Matthews would have enjoyed this video — if only as research. For those unfamiliar with Hanger Stout Awake, the novella is about a teenage boy with a talent for free hanging who competes in hanging contests with other teenagers. In the book, I think the record for hanging is 5-6 minutes — while in this video it’s only 2 minutes. One insight is that more relaxed people seem better able to manage the task than others. In the book the hanging act is portrayed as a kind of spiritual feat, and that’s reflected in the video as well.

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Cover Preview: Second Death of E.A. Poe (Stories)

Here’s the cover for the upcoming story collection by Jack Matthews:

I expect publication date to be in July 2021 sometime, but the pre-order page should be up by mid-February. I’ve picked the stories and love every one. About half the stories have never before published, while the other half have been published in literary magazines over the decades. I haven’t written up a formal book description yet, but I can sketch what this collection will be like:

The longest title story is about a doctor investigating whether Edgar Allen Poe faked his death and fled to another city. Another story is about a US soldier stationed in Italy during the latter part of World War 2. Although some stories are rooted in the past, most are fairly contemporary. For example, one story is about the heroism of a college football team’s worst player. Another is about a police officer who accidentally gets caught up in a political protest.

I love almost every Jack Matthews story. The ones I picked here are highly readable and yes, entertaining as hell to read.

In addition to this ebook, Personville Press will be releasing another story collection by Jack Matthews — probably a year or so later.

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VIDEO: Jack Matthews on the storytelling craft

In 2012 Jack Matthews gave an audio interview about his writing guide, A Worker’s Writebook. This video gives excerpts from this interview and at the end, Matthews, reads from his chapter “Pointedness of the Tale.”

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Afterward to the 2019 Edition

I included this afterward to the revised edition of a Worker’s Writebook, which has now been pushed to the major stores. I’ll be posting audio from Jack Matthews about this book and others very soon!

I take some credit for getting this ebook out because frankly, it never occurred to Matthews to publish this writing guide at all. Every semester for decades Matthews would pass around this photocopied guide to writing students consisting of essays and dialogues he’d written over the years.

In 2010 I flew to Ohio to meet Mr. Matthews for the first time and pitch the idea of helping Matthews to publish some ebooks. Matthews feigned coyness when I suggested the notion by email. But when I met him in person, Matthews was eager to get into ebooks though personally he was more comfortable with traditional printed books. The problem was: where to begin? Most of Matthews’ titles were out of print, and at the time I didn’t realize how many finished-but-unpublished books Matthews had – stories, novels, essays and plays. Writebook seemed like an easy project to start with.

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Hanger Stout, Awake! at 50 Years: A Rumination

In May 2018, to commemorate 51 years after initial publication, Personville Press will release a 2nd edition of Hanger Stout, Awake. The second edition will include this  new preface which I wrote for it.  

When author Jack Matthews (1925-2013) talked to me about digitalizing his books, he made clear that the first book he wanted to do was the 1967 novella Hanger Stout, Awake! I had already read most of Matthews’ books (including Hanger) and thought Hanger to be minor compared to later novels and story collections. But Hanger Stout, Awake! was the breakaway book which put Matthews on the American literary map. A major publisher (Harcourt, Brace and World) had published it. It was reviewed positively by Time and New York Times; the great Southern writer Eudora Welty gave it an impressive blurb, and the book was nominated by Antaeus literary journal as one of the “neglected works of the 20th century.”

Wait! Did I miss something when I first read it?

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Antaeus magazine’s “Neglected Books of the 20th Century”

Jack Matthews was proud to learn that his early novella Hanger Stout, Awake was listed by Antaeus magazine as one of the “Neglected Books of the 20th century.” Personally, I think some of his later novels are more remarkable — especially the satirical novel, Sassafras and one of his last works,  Gambler’s Nephew

About a year ago I came across a great site neglectedbooks.com which lists previously published lists of book recommendations, and there I found the Antaeus list.  It also contains two other lists I know and love from David Madden’s  Rediscoveries 1 and Rediscoveries 2,  . In Rediscoveries 1, Jack Matthews himself wrote a 2 page recommendation for  South Wind by Norman Douglas which is downloadable for free from Project Gutenberg. Ok, the list is below.  Continue reading

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New (old) audio, New (old) photos by Jack Matthews

I first got acquainted with author Jack Matthews by stumbling upon an audio interview he did with Don Swaim in 1984. Swaim used to run a literary interview show on CBS radio; later Swaim released the extended interviews with these authors to Ohio University for a WiredforBooks site. Unfortunately, the site was not well maintained (someone even forgot to pay the annual domain cost!), so the audio interviews have been offline for a longer-than-expected time.  Eventually the site will be fully restored, but in the meantime, I want to make available a copy of the audio files:

  • 1984 interview mp3. 25 minutes. Matthews talks about Hanger Stout Awake, book collecting, growing up in Ohio, teaching college students, Sassafras.
  • Jack Matthews and Don Swaim discuss the life and writings of Ambrose Bierce (in mp3 format). (Mirrored audio here).  recorded Oct. 9, 2001, WOUB, Athens, Ohio  46 minutes.
  • Note that the multimedia page of this site also has  other multimedia, including an audio interview I did in 2010.

Here are two historic images of Jack Matthews from the university archives

Update: Ouch! It looks as though Ohio University does not allow these images to be posted here, so I had to remove them. The link still works though (for now).

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Story Collection: Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind

Book Description

During the last decade of his life, author Jack Matthews wrote a series of 1-2 page prose pieces (which he dubbed “Abruptions” or “very short stories that end abruptly”).

Matthews had already published over 20 books of fiction with an astonishing variety of characters and plots. This last volume hints at a lot of characters and plots without trying to resolve them.

Each abruption — which rarely takes more than 5 minutes to read — sheds light on something unexpected, whether it be a character’s view on life or the reader’s notions of how the world ought to work.

Many episodes read like contemporary fables or sketches of quirky people from small midwest towns. Two older women have a long-running feud about what flowers should go on the fence between their houses. An actor makes a living out of playing the bad Nazi in movies. An owner of a movie studio in the 1930s throws out any audience member who misbehaves during a movie. An office worker is distracted by a pretty woman washing the outside windows.

Other stories sound like wild fairy tales. What if one superintelligent Siamese twin were conjoined with an idiot brother? What if a witch’s curse caused every third word uttered by a person to go unsaid? What if a woman has terrifying dreams about a missing watch?

Some stories simply ponder the imponderable. Why do certain memories persist or reappear? Why do elderly people become set in their ways? Why do people become blind to certain things?

Matthews explains in the book’s preface that abruptions “can reach down to dimensions of wonder and speculation that are commonly thought to be the proper domain of poetry.” These stories are a fitting coda for Matthew’s career as a storyteller. As deep and dark as these abruptions can become, they are told with simple language, flashes of humor and a sage’s sense of wonder and irony.

Jack Matthews (1925-2013) published 20+ books and taught literature at Ohio University over four decades. His story collections were praised by authors such as  Eudora Welty  and W.P. Kinsella and received positive reviews in places like New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. He is the author of Hanger Stout, Awake, a modern coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy’s obsession with cars (which was praised by Time Magazine and called by National Book Award winner William Stafford “one of the most neglected works of the 20th century.”) He has published multiple essays and several works of fiction about life in 19th century America.

Retail Price:  $2.25
Publication Date: October 16, 2017 (Version History)

“Few contemporary writers can – or want to – compose stories in the narrow tunnel of the interior, the rutted trail of memory between mind and heart, sometimes shutting out other people as well as time and place and usual props. Matthews takes us there, carrying a bright light.”

Art Seidenbaum, Los Angeles Times

“Matthews stories are like friends from small towns: They are honest, warm, occasionally lyrical and as strange and idiosyncratic as the rest of us.”

Arthur Sabatini, Philadelphia Inquirer.


Preface by the Author

“Abruptions”  are  very short stories that end abruptly. While they are known by more familiar labels (e.g., “Flash Fiction” and “Sudden Fiction”), I like the in-your-face brusqueness of the word “abruptions.” Like parables, they seem to be almost all point, lacking the more comprehensive “pointedness” that enriches and complicates longer narratives. As abruptions, they can be conveniently and thoughtlessly dismissed as mere anecdotes – which, in a way they are, although there is nothing “mere” about them, for they can penetrate in ways not accessible through the longer, leisurely accounts of more conventional narratives.

Essential to their depth is their conciseness. By what is both presented and judiciously excluded, abruptions can reach down to dimensions of wonder and speculation that are commonly thought to be the proper domain of poetry. The depth to which they can reach is always and to some extent a function of what is both their genius as a form and their most obvious limitation, their brevity. Nevertheless, it is the narrow and pointed instrument that penetrates deepest.

Because of our instinct for a telling taxonomy, we are nagged by the question of whether abruptions are nothing more than what we are tempted to view contemptuously as, say, key situations or story ideas rather than finished stories – which is to say, the real thing. To the extent that no quality can exist without quantity, it follows that if the latter is diminished, the former is necessarily affected, and in many contexts it is affected negatively.

So the question of what definition would best fit “abruptions” is as natural as it will eventually prove irrelevant. While they may seem to be nothing more than mutilated or apprentice narratives, they are nevertheless real stories in certain important ways, their brevity notwithstanding. Often, in a well-designed abruption, what might appear to be an amputation – a gratuitous chopping off of a story’s end -is actually the final, sudden emergence of a latent theme in the story, fulfilling a pattern that has been at work beneath the surface machinery that drives the plot.

Abruptions can be seen as constituting a literary sub-genre, for they are as distinct from the classic short story as haikus from sonnets. And as already argued, their brevity is suggestive in ways incompatible with more conventional closures, and some form of suggestiveness is essential to all narrative – especially short stories, and within that division, the still more intensified class of abruptions.

Agonizing over whether abruptions are “really” stories or not isn’t worth the effort: call them “lawn mowers” or “dental floss” if you want – but think of them as lenses focusing larger, more complex ideas or conceits. And the truism that great literature is dependent upon great readers could not be better exemplified than in a readerly interaction with a well-designed abruption, for its very abruptness presents a unique challenge.

So I hereby challenge you and welcome you to the game.

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