Introduction to “Boxes of Time”

(Here’s an essay written by Personville editor Robert Nagle for Boxes of Time, the 2024 story collection by Ohio author Jack Matthews)

Every time I prepare another ebook by author Jack Matthews (1925-2013), I face the same two dilemmas: 1)should I write something for the ebook and 2)should I put it at the beginning of the ebook or the end?

So why a book preface? I want to explain how the book came about and talk about recurring themes. As the primary force behind this ebook’s publication, I can explain why this particular collection is so interesting.

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Ebook Announcement: Boxes of Time (Stories) by Jack Matthews

Book Description

In a few months, Personville Press will release a new story collection by Ohio author Jack Matthews (1925-2013) in ebook format. This is his 11th story collection.

Over his lifetime Jack Matthews wrote over 200 stories, many of which were published in literary journals during his lifetime. Although stories varied widely in subject and style, they often could be described as urbane, philosophical, poetic and sardonic.

Stories in the new collection Boxes of Time were mostly published between 1961 and 1981; they feature characters who are troubled or unsure of themselves trying to deal with life’s usual disappointments. Stylistically these stories are polished and carefully written, but they deal with messy emotions, troubled families and damaged personalities. The characters may not be as educated or self-assured as the people in Second Death of E.A. Poe (2021) or Crazy Women (1985), but they still manage to figure out interesting things about themselves and the people around them. Stories from this period focus especially on the emotional stresses that separate parents from their children. This collection also includes short historical fantasies which explore the darker side of well-known people in history.

This ebook contains 24 stories by Jack Matthews which have never been collected, making it the author’s largest story collection. Matthews picked “Boxes of Time” as the title for this collection because each story reveals the drama of worlds long since gone but whose dreams and fears and anxieties still resonate today.

Story Descriptions

  1. Introduction by Robert Nagle (Read it now!)
  2. The Knife. Tensions escalate between two brothers after one of them acquires a knife.
  3. A Slightly Different World. A young man becomes a sparring partner for a boxer he idolizes and discovers that everything isn’t what it appears.
  4. Last Voyage of Columbus. As Columbus reaches the New World, he meets Satan who shares a surprising truth.
  5. The Truth of Holcomb Street. A happy-go-lucky small town radio show host is egged on by his wife to get a job interview with a New York City radio station.
  6. Edward Colburn. A paradoxical tale about an author who aspires to write like Sherwood Anderson, but talks very little (unlike his wife).
  7. Gift from a Silent Lover. A woman with two kids is supposed to meet her husband at a 24 hour diner, but he doesn’t show.
  8. Stone in the Path. As a father prepares to talk to his 13 year old boy about sex, he recalls a strange episode when his father was having the same kind of talk with him.
  9. Dream of Four Women. A slow and troubled college student writes letters to several females who make him angry for various reasons.
  10. Night and a Fire on the Hill. For some reason the regular hunting trip that a college student takes with his dad feels unusual.
  11. Names of My Brothers. A boy with three overachieving brothers feels ignored by his mother until they go off to war.
  12. When the Shark, Babe. A sad middle-aged woman is disliked by other people at an office, and the manager has to deal with it.
  13. Absent though Unforgotten. After a man abandons a woman he got pregnant, his son later tracks him down to find some answers.
  14. The Betrayal. A teenage boy is intrigued by and suspicious of his mother’s sophisticated lady friend.
  15. Cleo and Time. A nurse hired to care for a seriously disabled man starts to be viewed suspiciously by the person who hired her.
  16. The Fish Pond. A divorced man hangs around his ex-wife’s house to build a fish pond for their kids.
  17. Comrades. After a disastrous battle, a French sergeant in Napoleon’s army becomes exasperated with a loyal but simple-minded soldier who continues to follow him.
  18. Swift as the Shadow of the Falling, Ah Wave. After an educated woman gives birth unexpectedly in an Appalachian town, she and her husband attract the attention of a nosy minister.
  19. How the Trees Were Cursed. Old letters offer clues about what may have happened to the trees in Ohio.
  20. Ponce De Leon. Various reports emerge about whether the famed 16th Spanish explorer actually found the Fountain of Youth.
  21. The Walnut Tree. A young couple has an absurd little conversation with a real estate agent about whether a property has a walnut tree.
  22. How Everything Will Be All Right. A mother of a newborn baby turns out not to be who she seems.
  23. Gravity. An 1828 lawsuit about the purchase of an “unsound horse” reveals the extent of superstitious beliefs in a small Ohio town.
  24. Wisdom of the Fingers. A music lover invents a device to capture the unseen finger movements of great pianists during their final days.
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Facelift is coming soon!

It’s been a while, but in the next few months I’ll be changing the design and layout of this website to make it more friendly for mobile devices. Actually I’ll be adding other things too. Stay Tuned!

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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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Posted in By Robert Nagle, Essays | 1 Comment