Cover

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Advance Praise, Half Title, Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-viii

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Preface

Jonathan Allison

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pp. ix-xii

The University Press of Kentucky is proud to publish Patchwork: A Bobbie Ann Mason Reader, which brings together many of the author’s most beloved short stories and excerpts from her novels and memoirs, as well as essays, interviews, and recent work. In its variety and brilliance, it is certainly a “patchwork,” as the title suggests, but the contents have been ...

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Introduction

George Saunders

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pp. xiii-xx

When I was a grad student back in the 1980s, Bobbie Ann Mason was considered one of the Southern reps of the so-called “dirty realists” or “Kmart realists.” Her work was praised for its frank, unabashed inclusion of elements then supposedly unusual in American literary fiction—television, brand names, pop culture, apartment complexes, malls, etc. ...

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A Note to the Reader about This Reader

Bobbie Ann Mason

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pp. xxi-xxii

A collection like this is a patchwork autobiography of sorts. I see in it my lifelong tendency to look for patterns, and I see my rebellion against them too.
I grew up with scraps and scissors and paper dolls and colors and jigsaw puzzles. I helped my grandmother piece quilts—geometric designs of stars and flowers. ...

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I. First Stories

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pp. 26-27

My first published story appeared in Stylus, the University of Kentucky’s literary magazine. It was the era before the MFA, so instead of pursuing creative writing in graduate school, I studied literature. Suddenly Donald Barthelme’s novella Snow White (1967) turned my head around. ...

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Offerings

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pp. 28-34

Sandra’s maternal grandmother died of childbed fever at the age of twenty-six. Mama was four. After Sandra was born, Mama developed an infection but was afraid to see the doctor. It would go away, she insisted. The infection disappeared, but a few years later inexplicable pains pierced her like needles. ...

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Shiloh

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pp. 35-48

Leroy Moffitt’s wife, Norma Jean, is working on her pectorals. She lifts three-pound dumbbells to warm up, then progresses to a twenty-pound barbell. Standing with her legs apart, she reminds Leroy of Wonder Woman. ...

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Third Monday

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pp. 49-63

Ruby watches Linda exclaiming over a bib, then a terry cloth sleeper. It is an amazing baby shower because Linda is thirty-seven and unmarried. Ruby admires that. Linda even refused to marry the baby’s father, a man from out of town who had promised to get Linda a laundromat franchise. ...

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II. War

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pp. 64-65

I did not expect to write a novel about the Vietnam War. During the war, I did not know anyone who went to Vietnam. No personal loss or connection motivated the writing of In Country. The story grew out of a group of characters who came into my mind and danced around aimlessly for well over a year ...

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from In Country (1985)

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pp. 66-84

“I have to stop again, hon,” Sam’s grandmother says, tapping her on the shoulder. Sam Hughes is driving, with her uncle, Emmett Smith, half asleep beside her.
“Where are we?” grunts Emmett.
“Still on I-64. Mamaw has to go to the restroom.” ...

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An Appreciation of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

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pp. 85-86

Of all the stories I’ve read in the last decade, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried hit me hardest. It knocked me down, just as if a hundred-pound rucksack had been thrown right at me. The weight of the things the American soldiers carried on their interminable journey through the jungle in Vietnam sets the tone for this story. ...

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Big Bertha Stories

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pp. 87-101

Donald is home again, laughing and singing. He comes home from Central City, near the strip mines, only when he feels like it, like an absentee landlord checking on his property. He is always in such a good humor when he returns that Jeannette forgives him. She cooks for him—ugly, pasty things she gets with food stamps. Sometimes he brings steaks and ice cream, ...

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III. Love Lives

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pp. 102-103

There’s always sadness lurking in our love lives—missed opportunities, missed connections, a string of losses. But both memory and anticipation propel us along, sometimes on an exhilarating ride. Tone is my guide to the inner lives of the characters. Tone is the sound of their inner voices, ...

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Love Life

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pp. 104-119

Cobb’s fiancée, Lynnette Johnson, wasn’t interested in bridal magazines or china patterns or any of that girl stuff. Even when he brought up the subject of honeymoons she would joke about some impossible place—Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Lapland, Peru. ...

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Coyotes

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pp. 120-136

Cobb’s fiancée, Lynnette Johnson, wasn’t interested in bridal magazines or china patterns or any of that girl stuff. Even when he brought up the subject of honeymoons she would joke about some impossible place—Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Lapland, Peru. ...

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Bumblebees

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pp. 137-151

From the porch, Barbara watches her daughter, Allison, photographing Ruth Jones out in the orchard. Allison is home from college for the summer. Barbara cannot hear what they are saying. Ruth is swinging her hands enthusiastically, pointing first to the apricot tree and then to the peach tree, twenty feet away. No doubt Ruth is explaining ...

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IV. Beginnings

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pp. 152-153

The radio, girl detective books, and Louisa May Alcott were my early escapes from the isolation of country life. I wanted to go to radioland. I wanted to drive a roadster and solve mysteries. I couldn’t sing or play a guitar, ...

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from The Girl Sleuth (1975)

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pp. 154-155

Writing is the closest you can come to being a girl detective in real life at that age. I wrote the Carson Girls series, and I still have The Carson Girls Go Abroad. A glance at my little mystery story reveals no child prodigy, no creative imagination blossoming, only a frustrated but nevertheless determined child who was busily resisting the Honey Bunch/Junior Miss model. ...

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Reaching the Stars: My Life as a Fifties Groupie

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pp. 156-169

In the late nineteen-fifties, when I was a teenager, I held a national office, published a journal, was interviewed on television and radio, and travelled widely to places like Cincinnati and Detroit and Blytheville, Arkansas. I was a shy, backward, anti-social country kid living on a farm near Mayfield, Kentucky, a hundred and fifty miles from the nearest city, Nashville, ...

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Reading Between the Lines

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pp. 170-174

When I was about ten, I received a five-year diary for Christmas. It was a small green leather-look book with a little lock and key. My grandmother, who had briefly kept a minimalist diary, insisted that I record the weather. In her diary she wrote things like “Wind in the north. ...

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from Elvis Presley (2003)

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pp. 175-177

On August 16, 1977, when I learned that the King—Elvis Presley—was dead, I was vacationing in Nova Scotia. In the lounge at the inn where I was staying, the news came on TV. Stunned, I could only mumble some clichés. The bartender recalled the death of the actor Audie Murphy, a war hero ...

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V. Family History

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pp. 178-179

Why do people write memoirs, anyway? I eschewed sensation and the penetrating exposé of the self. A good memoir ought to have a larger story, I thought, something beyond the typical personal saga of sexual awakening and the search for affirmation. ...

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The Family Farm, from Clear Springs

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pp. 180-192

It is late spring, and I am pulling pondweed. My mother likes to fish for bream and catfish, and the pondweed is her enemy. Her fishing line gets caught in it, and she says the fish feed on it, ignoring her bait. “That old pondweed will take the place,” Mama says. All my life I’ve heard her issue this dire warning. She says it of willow trees, spiderwort, snakes, ...

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The Pond, from Clear Springs

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pp. 193-203

It had been an unusually hot summer, and my mother had gotten out of the habit of stirring about, although she still drove to her garden at the farm each morning. When she lived at the farm, she had kept active all summer, but at the new house, she felt inhibited from going outside. There were so many houses around, with people to see her and make her feel self-conscious. ...

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VI. Nancy Culpepper

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pp. 204-205

Over the years, a character named Nancy Culpepper haunted my imagination. Her background was much like mine—country people in Kentucky. In the several stories and novella (Spence + Lila) in which she appears ...

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Nancy Culpepper

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pp. 206-220

When Nancy received her parents’ letter saying they were moving her grandmother to a nursing home, she said to her husband, “I really should go help them out. And I’ve got to save Granny’s photographs. They might get lost.” Jack did not try to discourage her, and she left for Kentucky ...

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The Prelude

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pp. 221-239

Nancy was waiting in Windermere for Jack’s train. With its grassy splendor, the Lake District was an ideal place for a marital reconciliation, she thought. She hadn’t seen him in almost a year. He was flying from Boston to Manchester, then catching the train. ...

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VII. More Love Lives

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pp. 240-241

I am interested in how characters handle their limitations, especially those who glimpse unprecedented possibility. Anticipation, fear, anxiety, and gladsomeness merge at the thought of greener pastures, as seen through a knothole. ...

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Memphis

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pp. 242-257

On Friday, after Beverly dropped the children off at her former husband’s place for the weekend, she went dancing at the Paradise Club with a man she had met at the nature extravaganza at the Land Between the Lakes. Since her divorce she had not been out much, but she enjoyed dancing, and her date was a good dancer. She hadn’t expected that, ...

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Midnight Magic

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pp. 258-270

Steve leaves the supermarket and hits the sunlight. Blinking, he stands there a moment, then glances at his feet. He has on running shoes, but he was sure he had put on boots. He touches his face. He hasn’t shaved. His car, illegally parked in the space for the handicapped, is deep blue and wicked. ...

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Wish

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pp. 271-279

Sam tried to hold his eyes open. The preacher, a fat-faced boy with a college degree, had a curious way of pronouncing his r’s. The sermon was about pollution of the soul and started with a news item about an oil spill. Sam drifted into a dream about a flock of chickens scratching up a bed of petunias. ...

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VIII. Whimsy

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pp. 280-281

As a college student I wrote a humor column for the campus newspaper. And the impulse toward parody and wry commentary never left me. Eventually I had a chance to write some Talk of the Town pieces for the New Yorker, ...

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La Bamba Hot Line

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pp. 282-284

“Hello. La Bamba Hot Line.”
“Is it true that ‘La Bamba’ is derived from the Icelandic Younger Edda, set to music by Spanish sailors and transported via the Caribbean to America in 1665?” ...

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Sheep Down Under

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pp. 285-288

My friend Sharon and I are having a wonderful time. We’re crazy about New Zealand! It’s got everything: alps and tropical beaches and rain forests and fjords and the most wonderful, complicated hills, which look as though someone had draped a crazy quilt over a pile of oranges and rocks— the hills are very irregular, that is. ...

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Hot Colors

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pp. 289-290

At the Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, the crowd one hot afternoon resembled a tropical garden of extravagant blooms and gay colors. It was as though in deciding how to dress for the heat everyone had been seized by Picasso’s reckless willingness to try anything. We overheard someone say, “Form was to Picasso what color was to Matisse.” ...

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Sanctuary

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pp. 291-293

On the first day that really felt like fall, Roger and I biked to a wildlife sanctuary in our community. Roger gets melancholy over autumn, and, besides, we had moved from a sixty-acre farm only a few months before, so the idea of going to a wildlife sanctuary in the middle of town at the beginning ...

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All Shook Up

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pp. 294-295

Scream sightings have been popping up all over the place ever since the famous Munch painting was stolen from the National Art Museum in Norway. The Scream was first spotted at the Olympics, and then at a Starbucks in Santa Barbara. It was glimpsed on a frozen shoulder of I-95 ...

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Hear My Song

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pp. 296-298

O.K. How many people do you know with their own theme song? How many people have you even heard of whose full names are also song titles? John Wesley Harding? Pretty Boy Floyd? Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle did have songs named for them, but not many other folks get to have a song of their own, the way I do. ...

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Terms of Office

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pp. 299-301

Q: Mr. President, in a recent news conference you used the rather colorful expression “He doesn’t know me from Adam’s off ox.” Senator Dole alleges there is no such term and says you employed this “pseudo-colloquialism” (he also called it a “Gergenism”) as a calculated attempt to sound “downhome” ...

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IX. Fiction and History

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pp. 302-303

In 1988, I heard about a woman who had given birth to quintuplets in my hometown a century before and had become a worldwide sensation. Surprisingly, this had occurred just across the field from the house where I grew up. I don’t know why I had never heard the story before, but once I did, ...

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from Feather Crowns (1993)

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pp. 304-317

Christianna Wheeler, big as a washtub and confined to bed all winter with the heaviness of her unusual pregnancy, heard the midnight train whistling up from Memphis. James was out there somewhere. He would have to halt the horse and wait in the darkness for the hazy lights of the passenger cars ...

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X. Literary Meanderings

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pp. 318-319

For me, literary criticism is a foreign language, and I haven’t made a habit of it. Writing fiction is more inviting than writing nonfiction, which demands a logical mind and a fidelity to fact. I usually approach essays and reporting much as I do fiction—as organic, intricately involved designs rather ...

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The Universe of Ada

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pp. 320-322

John Updike, in his New Yorker review of Ada, chides Nabokov—whom he otherwise admires greatly—for taking his characters off the planet Earth and fabricating a science-fiction wonderland for otherwise earthly beings. He says: “I confess to a prejudice: fiction is earthbound, and while in decency the names of small towns and middling cities must be faked, ...

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Introduction to Mark Twain’s The American Claimant, 2004 edition

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pp. 323-335

In most of the places I’ve lived, Mark Twain has left his mark. When I lived near Elmira, New York, I went to movies at the Twain Theater and shopped at Langdon Plaza, built on the site of Twain’s Elmira-born wife’s family home. The octagonal study in which he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn sits on the campus of Elmira College ...

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XI. Atomic Fact and Fiction

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pp. 336-337

When the Washington Post reported on plutonium contamination at a uranium-processing plant in my home region in western Kentucky, once again I seized on a story that had a personal connection. First, I wrote a nonfiction piece for the New Yorker about the fallout from the nuclear fears suddenly ...

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Fallout

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pp. 338-351

On the national radar screen, Paducah, Kentucky, is a provincial town with a funny name, but here in the western end of the state it was never an inconsequential place. I grew up on a farm near the small town of Mayfield, and Paducah was so far away—twenty-six miles—that we went there only on special occasions. It was the city, the Mecca ...

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from An Atomic Romance (2005)

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pp. 352-365

Reed Futrell still went camping in the Fort Wolf Wildlife Refuge, but he no longer brought along his dog. One spring evening, after his shift ended, he raced home, stuffed his knapsack, loaded his gear onto his bike, and headed for the refuge. He was in one of the enigmatic moods that clobbered ...

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XII. Zigzagging

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pp. 366-367

For a long while, the short stories I wrote zigzagged among longer works of fiction. Stories came sporadically, and that was best, for they offered more surprise and possibility. A story grows not from an idea, or a plot outline, ...

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With Jazz

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pp. 368-380

I never paid much attention to current events, all the trouble in the world you hear about. I was too busy raising a family. But my children have all gone now and I’ve started to think about things that go on. Why would my daughter live with a man and get ready to raise a baby and refuse to marry the guy? ...

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Charger

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pp. 381-397

As he drove to the shopping center, Charger rehearsed how he was going to persuade his girlfriend, Tiffany Marie Sanderson, to get him some of her aunt Paula’s Prozac. He just wanted to try it, to see if it was right for him. Tiffany hadn’t taken him seriously when he had mentioned it before. ...

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XIII. Another War

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My father-in-law was a pilot. During World War II, he was shot down in a B-17 over Belgium. With the help of the French Resistance, he made his way through Occupied France and back to his base in England. Ordinary citizens hid him in their homes, fed him, disguised him, and sheltered him ...

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from The Girl in the Blue Beret (2011)

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pp. 400-412

As the long field came into view, Marshall Stone felt his breathing quicken, a rush of doves flying from his chest. The landscape was surprisingly familiar, its contours and borders fresh in his memory, even though he had been here only fleetingly thirty-six years ago. Lucien Lombard, who had brought ...

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The Real Girl in the Blue Beret

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pp. 413-419

I didn’t know if Michèle Moët-Agniel was still alive. She would be over eighty by now. I had written her a letter—in painstaking French—in August, 2007, and it was now January, 2008. I mailed another copy of the letter with an updated note. I told her I was coming to Paris in the spring ...

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XIV. Zanies

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pp. 420-421

In recent years I collaborated with flash-fiction writer Meg Pokrass on a few strange experimental pieces.

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Whale Love

Bobbie Ann Mason, Meg Pokrass

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pp. 422-426

Louisa, who tucked up her skirts and went running every day or she would go mad, was confounded and smothered by the whales of Concord, like Mr. E, on whom she had a crush when she was a child and left him flowers under his window, flowers found and laughed at by Mrs. E, ...

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Talking through Hats

Bobbie Ann Mason, Meg Pokrass

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pp. 427-431

TV Voice: It’s time for “Talking through Hats” with your host, Geoffrey Chase.
Chase: Good evening and welcome to this week’s edition of “Talking through Hats,” in which our guest critics opine and cogitate, jaw and argue while they probe and dissect, worry and flay a Poem. They Pick A Poem ,,,

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XV. Dancing

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pp. 432-433

I’m fascinated by stories that go back and forth in time and place. Characters retell their stories to themselves, reshaping episodes in light of new information. Characters who try to puzzle out where they have been ...

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Quinceañera

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pp. 434-439

The rented hall had a flat, gray, dense carpet and a bandstand that seemed too large for the room. The mariachi band had only six musicians, and the trumpet player drowned out the violinist. Bob had inserted his ear plugs before leaving the car. Margo walked ahead of him, stylish in stilettos and a swirly black skirt. ...

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The Horsehair Ball Gown

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pp. 440-451

On Thursdays, if the weather was pleasant, Isabella Smith drove her older sister, Maud, to Lexington to have lunch at Harvey’s, the best place outside of Louisville to get a Kentucky Hot Brown. They liked the friendly old-time atmosphere, with its Venetian blinds and antique portraits of forgotten families, ...

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XVI. Flash Fiction

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pp. 452-453

After exploring the past in the memoir Clear Springs and the novels Feather Crowns and The Girl in the Blue Beret, I wanted to settle down in the twenty-first century. It was a time shift. ...

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Corn-Dog

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p. 454

Here he is—unmarried, fat, with few cravings, stuck in a stucco house waiting for parcels to arrive by UPS, waiting for anything to come out of the blue. Anything would be welcome—bill collectors, laryngitis, UFOs. But a letter from Laura would be nice. He really wants nothing else. ...

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The Canyon Where the Coyotes Live

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pp. 455-456

She lives near a canyon with four cats. The Post-it notes on the bulletin board keep track of the cats—their special needs, the diets, the vet appointments, little notes about their charming pranks and romps. ...

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Car Wash

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pp. 457-458

Hi, Betsy,
Got here on Tuesday and had a job by sundown! They say the economy is in the ditch, but I’m just a lucky guy, I guess. I’m not pushy, but I can speak up for myself. I hit just the right balance. ...

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Cumberbatch

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pp. 459-460

“The Giant Pacific Octopus starts out as plankton, microscopic at first. Then it is the size of a grain of rice.” The schoolchildren sitting at my feet are disbelieving. Shrugs, but no astonishment. ...

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The Girl in Purple

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pp. 461-462

Near dawn, Dennis Moore saw the iron gate to the courtyard inch open and the wisp of a girl squeeze through, clanging the gate behind her. Two minutes later, on the boardwalk, she halted as if for an invisible dog, then resumed her dog-walker gait. He followed her down this wooden walkway, ...

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The State Pen

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pp. 463-464

Sandra went with me to visit my boy at the state penitentiary, an unforgiving castle-like fortress with a splendid view of the lake from the cellblock. We were walking past the pleasant house outside the gates. It had a dog house inside a chain-link fence. The dog, a cute pug, was running around in the yard loose. ...

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Falling

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pp. 465-467

George had a fitful night, the nurse said on the phone. Surgery scheduled for nine a.m. Frantic about getting to hospital in time. First: I zipped Squirrelly Girl over to the groomer—her spring molt. It took a month to get the appointment so I didn’t want to cancel. Had to leave her there for the day. ...

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XVII. The Hot Seat: Interviews

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pp. 468-469

In interviews I rarely manage to say what I mean, or I don’t realize until later what I meant to say or should have said. Writers, who may spend months and years fussing over words to get them just right, are somehow expected to talk off the top of their heads during interviews. It can be a greater challenge than ...

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BOMB Magazine, 1989

Craig Gholson

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pp. 470-481

Craig Gholson: We’re both from Western Kentucky, and I always refer to it as the South. But I have friends, particularly ones that come from further south, who pooh-pooh the notion of Kentucky as being of the South. They talk about it like it’s a plain stepsister. Is Kentucky of the South to you? ...

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Missouri Review, 1997

Jo Sapp, Evelyn Somers

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pp. 482-496

MR: How did your background, growing up on a Kentucky dairy farm in the forties and fifties, contribute to your becoming a writer?

Mason: It was a somewhat isolated social setting, although we lived close enough to town that its pleasures and privileges seemed within easy reach. I suppose the desire to go to town helped make me ambitious, ...

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Transatlantica, 2015

Candela Delgado Marin

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pp. 497-506

CDM: New Yorker author Hannah Rosefield wrote a piece (“No More Questions,” 2014) this January reflecting on the struggle or nuisance interviews may represent for writers. She reported that in 1904, Henry James said in his first interview: “One’s craft, one’s art, is his expression, not one’s person.” And Joyce Carol Oates claimed earlier this year ...

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2paragraphs.com

Joseph Mackin

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p. 507

What do you like least about writing?

In a way, what I like least is the thing that is best—that state of mind when your Muse kicks you off a cliff and you go flying without any thought given to gravity. You just go. I often have an airplane image in my mind, taking off or landing. Somehow in that state, the energy is directed and you get into the story and you don’t have to stop until you run out of gas. ...

Copyrights and Permissions

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pp. 508-511

About the Author

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pp. 512-513