Interview with the Sphinx–Update

sphinx-cover-webHere is the outstanding cover art for the Jack Matthews play Interview with the Sphinx.  It is the image of the female Sphinx wearing dark glasses – as viewed in the sunglasses of the onlooker. This art by Barbiel Matthews-Saunders (Jack Matthews’ daughter) does a good job of capturing the paradoxical nature of this comic philosophical play.

In August, we recorded an audio version of this play starring two distinguished Houston actors. Jill Brumer played the role of Sphinx, while Neal Gage played the role of the Interviewer. Both were great.  The audio is still in post-production, but the audio play should be available at a moderate price in a few weeks. The ebook of the play should be available at about the same time in the usual places.  Here’s a photo I took during the production.  Sorry for the poor photo quality,  but the resemblance between the cover and Jill with her sunglasses was uncanny (er, except for the lion paws!) reduced-2-actors

In other news, I (Robert Nagle) will be going to Ohio to visit Mr. Matthews in two weeks.

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Hanger Stout Awake — a Study & Discussion Guide

Here’s a list of questions and discussion topics for the novella Hanger Stout, Awake!   This study guide is saved and being maintained in Google Docs and is available as a free download.  (In Google Docs, you also save it as a PDF and DOC file).  If you have additional suggestions about this study guide, feel free to comment here or send me  an email (idiotprogrammer at Continue reading

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Three Times Time mini-ebook released (Free Short Story Collection)

cropped-best-three-final-miniature[2016 Update: For a while Amazon was charging 99 cents for this free ebook, but the situation is unpredictable; sometimes, it’s free and sometimes it’s 99 cents. You can always find it for free at the other places. If you’re looking for a free copy to read on your Kindle, download the free .mobi file from Smashwords and then use Personal Document Service to send it to your device.  ] One of America’s foremost short story writers has made available 3 of his most intriguing stories for a new promotional ebook. These 3 stories (first published in the 1980s) were chosen because they are accessible, intricately written and provocative on many levels. Also included is a long interview with the author about the craft of storytelling. Total: 23,000 words.

87 year old Jack Matthews has published hundreds of short stories, 7 novels and 8 volumes of literary essays. This ebook republishes three of Jack Matthews’ best stories. “Amos Smith, the Gunsmith” reaches into the folk tale tradition to produce a nice allegory about human labor. “A Woman of Properties” is a satirical suburban tale (reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor or Cheever) about a real estate agent with a grudge. “The Girl at the Window” is an unsettling and mysterious tale about our relationship to the past.

Here is a list of other titles by Jack Matthews you can purchase as ebooks — either from the major ebook distributors or directly through this site. Note: Several new titles will be coming out in the next few months, so sign up for the mailing list if you wish to be notified.

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Plans for new ebooks (plus one free ebook!)

Now after a delay, here’s some honest-to-god news. cropped-best-three-final-miniature

First, at the beginning of July,  Personville Press will release  a free ebook sampler, Three Times Time containing three of Jack Matthews’ best short stories previously published in other volumes.  It’s being released as a promotional sampler for readers who haven’t heard  of  Jack Matthews. I’ll keep you in suspense about which stories they are, but they should be released very soon.

Second, Personville Press will be republishing the play Interview with the  Sphinx which Mr. Matthews first published in 1992.  It’s a philosophical comedy based on the legend of the Sphinx character in Greek mythology. In this modern  version, the Sphinx is being interviewed by a interviewer, as though she were just another Lady Gaga celebrity.  She is a talkative, flirtatious and mysterious person who likes to talk about anything except the question being asked. The Sphinx speaks of ancient Greek times as though it were yesterday. She and the interviewer discuss all kinds of linguistic and philosophical questions, weaving contemporary and classical allusions together. As an added bonus, Sigmund Freud and Florence Nightingale make cameo appearances as a kind of “Greek chorus.”

Now here’s the fun part.  Although Interview with the Sphinx  makes for fun and cerebral reading, Personville Press will be producing an audio version of the play which will be released at approximately the same time as the ebook.   The audio version should capture the lively wordplay and pyrotechnics from the script.  (More). Both the ebook and audio play will be for sale separately and as part of a bundle. Both will be available in November.

Finally, there’s a backlog of ebooks that will probably be published before the year is over. That includes 4 new story collections of stories published in book form for the first time. Personville hasn’t finalized any deals yet, but I can say that I’ve read most of the completed manuscripts. They are all delightful. This includes:

  • Soldier Boys,  a series of stories about ordinary Civil War soldiers and how they confront life-and-death questions. Ironically, war itself is not so much the main subject of the book as how individuals deal with the insanity while trying to live a normal life…and ultimately how  they make their peace with it.   These are contemplative  and even spiritual stories. They also reflect  Matthew’s interest and fascination with the Civil War era (which we also see in Gambler’s Nephew).
  •  Abruptions is a collection of flash fiction or prose poems (under the pseudonym Matt Hughes). which Matthews has been writing over the last decade. These pieces fuse the  lyrical/metaphysical/humorous/  with the mundane, yet these pieces remain accessible and are not simply “precious.”
  • The Second Death of Edgar Allen Poe and other Stories is a Borgesian collection of stories, full of twists,  plots and narrative tricks. The title story was one of the most fun pieces I’d read in a long time.
  • Boxes of Time is a collection of stories written over the decades which have appeared in various literary magazines. They have  a variety of different styles and themes and many different approaches to storytelling.

As I said, the 4 story collections haven’t been finalized, but they’re ready to go.  At the moment, it’s hard to say which story collection will come out first. They are all important in their own way.  If I were a betting man, I would say, Sphinx comes out by Thanksgiving, and at least two additional collections will be out by the beginning of 2013.

Finally, one final note about formatting. You may know that ebook formatting are changing for the better. Starting with Sphinx onward, people reading on the Kindle should see substantial improvements in layout and design (pretty much because the old Kindle format was atrocious).  People reading the epub file should see some improvements too.

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The Cars of Hanger Stout Awake


Himageere are photos of the cars  (listed by chapter) which appear in Jack Matthews’  1967 novel Hanger Stout, Awake!  The novel is now for sale as an ebook . This page is a reference for readers; it contains  a LOT of photos underneath relevant quotations in the novel, so click the Continue Reading  link to see all the cars. I found these photos from the Internet (Wikipedia, etc), and so I do not own the rights to any of these images; the copyright belongs to the owner. (If you are the copyright owner and don’t want the image to appear here or wish to receive attribution or credit, just email me idiotprogrammer at gmail, and I’ll be happy to remove it and switch the image with another.)

The 1967 novel Hanger Stout Awake! is  a story about how a teenager grows up and widens his perspective. But on a literal level at least, the story is simply about cars. The teenager Clyde “Hanger” Stout works in a filling station, hangs out at junkyards, can identify cars from 20 years ago  and is always working  on his 1956 Chevy,  which he paints solid black.  Hanger has this knack for noticing every car that whizzes by   and even starts identifying people with whatever car they drive.  Some people (like his ex-girlfriend Penny) hardly pay attention to cars except when it’s the latest  sports car.  But for Hanger cars hint at  personality;  over time they accumulate   dents and scratches, ornaments and used parts to replace the original ones. They become the setting for everyday dramas, and at some point acquire a history closely aligned with its driver.

To an older person, this preoccupation with cars might seem materialistic or  superficial. But as I reread this novel on my ebook reader, I realized that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what the cars mentioned in the book actually look like!  So I googled around and found an amazing assortment  of styles and colors.  As a person already  habituated to   the slick ergonomic designs of Camry’s and Porsches,  I expected the   cars of Hanger Stout Awake!  to look quaint and old-fashioned.  Instead, I found a lot more variety of styles and customizations than what appears on roads today.    Even more amazing to me was how popular these vintage cars still are. They are still being displayed at shows, bought and sold on ebay, rebuilt and restored…almost to the point where the restored cars look in better shape than   they were when they first  hit the American scene.

Perhaps  over time a character like Hanger might  outgrow his teenage  interest in cars and move onto more important matters — like computers, business, raising a family,  pondering the meaning of life  and dabbling perhaps in the arts. But thanks to the Internet, I see now that there’s  an entire army of Hangers out there still tinkering with the contraptions that once captured their imaginations. Even younger people are messing around with vintage cars, finding in it  both a technical challenge and a way to assert their individuality.  I’m not a car guy — never was, and never will be. At the same time, it’s easy to marvel at the efforts of the dedicated few to make these  machines destined for the scrapheap to  outlast the company that produced it or  even its original human owner.

1956 Chevy black (Hanger’s Car)

I had been wanting to get a rear-vision mirror for my ’56 Chevy, which I painted all black last fall with some lacquer paint I got special from Bert Wilson’s secondhand store.


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Sample Chapters from Hanger Stout Awake

Here are some sample chapters from the beginning of  Jack Matthew’s 1967 novella Hanger Stout, Awake! which is now for sale directly from this website and Amazon and BN.  See also: the Cars of Hanger Stout Awake! (a photo gallery).

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Gambler’s Nephew Book Page

Here are related links to the Jack Matthews Novel “The Gambler’s Nephew.”image

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Ebook Announcement: Hanger Stout, Awake! (Novel)

blog-hanger“gentle first novel told with a fine ear for adolescent patois.” Time Magazine

“I like it, and warmly admire his sturdy subject and delicately restrained treatment. It seemed to me blessed with honesty, clarity, directness, proportion and a lovely humor. . . .” Eudora Welty


See also: The Cars in Hanger Stout Awake (vintage car photo gallery), sample  chapter, and The Hanger Stout Discussion & Study Guide.

Other Places to Buy: Amazon: USA | UK |DE |FR | IT | ES  Barnes and Noble, Lulu, Apple

Publication Date: March 20, 2012 (Version History)

Read Reviews:  Librarything, | Goodreads

Book Description.

Clyde Stout is a high school graduate in a small Ohio town; he loves tinkering with cars and dreaming about his girlfriend. He has interests and aspirations, but no definite goals. He is coasting….until he discovers he has a new talent: the ability to hang from a metal bar longer than anybody! Others start calling him “Hanger,” and an out-of-town stranger, trying to help the boy to profit from this talent, organizes various “hanging competitions.” At first, Hanger goes along, but after a while he becomes suspicious of the stranger’s motives; is he for real? Hanger is no longer a boy and not yet an adult – but he finds himself in a world where older adults are constantly offering advice and supervision and alleged wisdom. Until then, Hanger had always been an amiable and trusting sort; now Hanger needs to look at things through adult eyes — can he adapt to a world which seems less safe  or reliable but possibly more profound? This slender 150 page novel was first published by Harcourt in 1967 and reprinted several times. Now it is available as an ebook. Time Magazine described it as a “gentle first novel told with a fine ear for adolescent patois,” and National Book Award winning poet William Stafford called it one of the most neglected works of the 20th century. Southern novelist Eudora Welty said about the book: “I like it, and warmly admire his sturdy subject and delicately restrained treatment. It seemed to me blessed with honesty, clarity, directness, proportion and a lovely humor. . . .” The book is a fun and easy read… Not too much seems to happen in the novel, and the protagonist (we’re sorry to report) is not a werewolf or vampire or time traveler or wizard or superhero; to all appearances, he’s just an ordinary guy, but if you penetrate beneath those appearances, you’ll find that he’s defiantly and unforgettably unique. This book will help you remember how it felt to be a teenager…before you needed to start worrying about more serious matters. Like life, or what passes for life in the world of adults.

About the Author

86 year old author Jack Matthews has not only written more than 15 works of fiction, he was distinguished professor of Fiction Writing at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio for over 4 decades. Winner of Guggenheim and several arts grants, Matthews has been anthologized widely, translated into several languages and nominated for a National Book Award. His own books have been praised by Eudora Welty, Anthony Burgess, Shirley Ann Grau, Tom O’Brien, Doris Grumbach, Walker Percy and a host of other famous and highly accomplished authors.  In 2011 he published the novel Gambler’s Nephew (about the accidental killing of a slave by an abolitionist while trying to save him) and a writing guide.

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Jack Matthews Mailing List is now working

If you wish to stay posted about what’s going on with the books and life of Jack Matthews, you can sign up for the mailing list . Here’s what it will be used for:

  • updates 4-6 times a year.
  • Book promotions & discounts
  • New titles, plus new published articles.
  • Probably not too chatty; just the summary highlights.

Keep in mind that a lot of the same information will go on the Facebook group page. But news tends to be drowned out in Facebook; hence this mailing list.

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Profile & Review of Jack Matthews’ new novel “Gambler’s Nephew”

Literary reporter imageand reviewer Jim Phillips does a nice writeup about Gambler’s Nephew for the Athens News.

Half the pleasure in the book comes from its resemblance to a huge, shuffling, shaggy-dog story. Every time a new character comes on stage, the narrator – whose identity we don’t learn until the end – wanders off to talk at length about the new person’s history, quirks and kin. He later circles back to the main plot – now a little askew from where we thought it was heading originally. Later on, we learn that the silly, apparently offhand information imparted earlier is important.

Matthews looks at his people with a clear and merciless eye, laying out all the pettiness, greed and self-absorption that humans are prone to, but he does it without a hint of rancor, and more than a little affection – jaundiced and cynical affection, but real nonetheless.

He tries to let his characters have it out among themselves, without coming down on anyone’s side, or imposing some ultimate author’s truth. He cites the notion of men-de from classic Greek rhetoric (he has degrees in English Literature and Classical Greek) – which seems to mean something like, "one the one hand – but on the other hand" The idea, he suggests, is that nobody in the human world has the whole truth, and those who think they do – even if, like Nehemiah Dawes, they’re generally on the right side – end up crazy and mean.

Here is publisher information about the book  and purchase page on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Price is currently $12.

I read this book last month and enjoyed it very much. I’ll be posting a review and analysis at a later date. For now suffice to say that it’s a fascinating story, a well told tale, a relatively fast read, lots of twists and surprises and confronts a time period in America’s past where people operated under different kinds of moral codes than from how we do today.

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