I'm elated to showcase friend and author Joan Hall today. She's just published a collection of thirteen short stories entitled Menagerie. The assortment spans eras and genres, and the characters include the old and young. Truly, there's a story for everyone.
If your life is like mine, time is elusive. Reading a complete story in one setting isn't possible, unless it's a short story. It's been a pleasure to pick up Hall's book, and read a story to its end before turning off the lights.
My 5-Star review is posted on Amazon, where you'll find many other 5-Star comments. Menagerie is a winner, and I think you'll discover it to be as well.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years I’ve been writing, it’s to always keep notes of story ideas. They often come at the oddest times and in the most unusual ways. Such was the case with the idea behind Hot August Night.
When I still held a public job, my drive home went through a tiny town with a population of around 500 people. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much there, but railroad tracks ran alongside the state highway that passed through the town.
I’ve always had a fascination with trains, and it was probably a hot August afternoon, when inspiration struck. I imagined a couple of people sitting on a porch on a hot summer night when a train passed through town. The noise of the engines and sound of the train cars along the track drowned out other night sounds. Something happened in those few minutes, but what was it?
Once I got home, I made notes, not knowing what I wanted to do with the story or when I would use it. When I decided to scrap another story originally intended for this collection, I looked over my list of potential stories and Hot August Night was born.
Written in first person, the story follows a young woman, Amy Beth, who has returned to her hometown for her grandmother’s funeral. While there, she remembers another hot August night when she was thirteen years old. A teenage girl disappeared, right about the time a freight train passed through town. Amy Beth has reason to believe her older brother, Denny, was involved.
This leads to a strained relationship between the two of them. Their grandmother was the glue that held the family together. Now she passed away, Amy Beth is uncertain what will happen with her brother.
Like some of the other stories in this collection, Hot August Night takes place in the twentieth century. It begins in 1980, then flashes back to 1968. Somehow, I couldn’t see setting it in modern times. By the way, Amy Beth often sneaks into her brothers room to play his records. I used to do the same thing with my brother’s collection.
I went inside the house, wishing I had something to do. If my friend Becky had been in town, I would have called to see if she wanted to go to the park. Since my brother was home, I couldn’t listen to his records, and I’d outgrown Saturday morning cartoons.
Denny was on the phone. “Hey man, about that thing last night. If anyone asks, I was at your house around 9: 00. Just say I stopped by to pick up my ring from Debbie and was there twenty minutes at the most. Don’t be too precise. If you do, that might raise suspicion.”
I stifled a gasp.
“That nosy old biddy Millie Shaw saw me talking to Sharon. She told McDowell, and he came over this morning to question me about it… No, of course not. I’m not crazy. Sorry I brought your name into it, but my grandmother knows I wasn’t at Bobby’s all evening. I had to come up with an excuse… No, I don’t want any of us to get into trouble. It’ll be all right as long as our stories match. Yes, I talked to Bobby… Okay. Talk to you later.”
My blood froze. Did something happen to Sharon? If so, how was Denny involved?
King’s. The Tower of London. Glass. What do these have in common?
Each is a famous menagerie.
While this Menagerie doesn’t focus on exotic animals, it does contain a collection of stories that explore various trials people face and how their reactions shape their worlds.
Survivors of haunted bridge. Women who wait while their husbands fight a war. Former partners reuniting to solve a cold-case murder.
These are just three of the thirteen stories in this compendium, encompassing past and present, natural and supernatural, legend and reality. The genres and timelines are varied, but there’s a little something for everyone who enjoys reading about simpler times and small-town life.
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