I’ll Tell You What is a collection of short stories that I brought out myself in the summer of 1996. It consists of fourteen stories, eight of them previously published, and it was a bit of a lark to publish.
The subtitle of this slim collection is Fiction with voice, and the unifying characteristic is that the pieces are all in the first person. I like to think that each voice is different and that none is equated with that of the author. As I mention in a foreword entitled “To the Reader,” I “brought these stories together because each has a voice that is (as it seems to me) responsible for the story’s existence. . . . Some of these characters might be people you want to kick in the ass; others you might imagine having a beer with. . . . I hope you and your friends try reading some of these stories aloud, for the shared fun of bringing out the voice.”
It should be evident from this little bit that many of these stories have an ironic distance between the author and the created speaking voice. That is, many of the narrators are what we call unreliable narrators. That is part of what makes stories such as these fun to write and fun to read aloud, as both author and reader can enjoy going out of himself or herself and getting into the character, however tacky or unaware that character may be.
Some of these stories I wrote out of amusement, to create the character and have him reveal himself in his own words. Others I wrote out of a stronger compulsion, I believe, as I would imagine a character in a strange position, such as “Down in the Ditch” or “On the Trail,” and I felt that I had to bring out what the character would have to say.
I wrote these stories over a period of time, from the late 1970’s through the mid-1990’s, and I had fun writing every one of them. I have also had fun reading them aloud, especially some of the shorter ones, as they lend themselves to informal gatherings and group readings. If I were to pick up one of these stories right now, let us say “I’ll Tell You What” (the title story) or “Good Night, Niobe” (the last one), I could slide right into that character as I have done several times and merge with what I think of as the autonomous character of the story itself.
I did not have any career motives in bringing out this collection, but I did so largely because my brother David was coming over from Spain that year and I thought it would be fun to have a few copies on hand for him to sign and to hand out to friends. David has done a great many illustrations for my publishing projects, post cards, and so forth, and he did up a few marvelous sketches for this collection (check out the dome tents in “Good Night, Niobe” or the guy on the cover). So it was fun, from beginning to end.
I have sold a few copies of this book (I have only a few left from the print run of 400 or so), and I have had readers write me and say they enjoyed the stories. I even came across an online comment from a reader in Arizona who picked up a used copy in Flagstaff, I think, and who saw fit to post a complimentary review. Sometimes when I sign a copy of this slender volume at a book signing, I inscribe a comment that if the reader does not laugh at least once out loud while reading the book, he or she may write me and tell me so, and I will write a spirited (though perhaps humorless) letter of apology in response. No one has yet taken me up on that offer, but it is still good.
I’ll Tell You What is available at Amazon.