“I was thinkin’ ‘bout going into town on Saturday. Thinking of asking that fat girl from church to go to the pictures with me. Cindy was her name.” – Phyllis Humby*
The first time I heard “Delusional Date”, the ‘coming of age’ story by Lambton County writer Phyllis Humby, I cheered. Here was a master storyteller in the making. The snappy dialogue and nuances of her characters Rafe and Cindy–plus Humby’s unique narrative style–clung to me like gum on the bottom of my shoe! Seriously, no ‘sour grape’ taste or feeling intended but the simile suited what I perceived was a cocky bubble-blowing protagonist. I applauded the way this author refused to sugar-coat her male character’s politically incorrect words but exposed all the gritty dirt and sticky elements pertinent to the plot.
This award-winning story also impressed the judges from the 2013 Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. They invited Humby to share her work with other emerging authors on the Fringe Stage. A video of her reading appears here.
Almost five years later, Humby continues to write and describe her stories as being “scheming, twisted, and spooky”. Her favourite storytelling medium is still the ‘novel’ of which she has written several manuscripts in a variety of genres from the ‘mainstream’ where a woman walks away from her home to move to Newfoundland to her memoir as a lingerie shopkeeper to her latest psychological thriller. She dabbled with short stories to market her name and upon submission several of them won awards and were published. Her ear for dialogue is impeccable. Her ability to hold the reader’s attention is strong.
Last year, she was asked to participate in an anthology project with four other writers: Canadians Nancy Kay Clark and Michael Joll and Americans Steve Nelson and Frank T. Sikora.
The result was Our Plan to Save the World (and other stories of false starts dead ends, detours, and determined people looking for their happy ending). The anthology (published this spring in print and digital formats) included 20 stories (4 tales each from the five contributors). Each story was slotted seamlessly in five themed sections: Set off on the search, Change the rules, Unravel the ties, Strive to connect, and Arrive at the place you need to be. Accepted submissions ranged from 2 ½ to 18 ¼ pages in length. “Delusional Date” became one of the showcased works. I cheered again!
When Phyllis (Humby) approached local writers to write a review of the book, I hesitated. First, we know each other on a first name basis so it would be a conflict of interest which I’m disclosing now. Second, what would I do if I didn’t like the published stories of the other contributors?
Out of admiration for Humby’s work, I took a chance.
Reading a new collection of short stories by an unfamiliar group of authors is like scratching a lottery ticket. Buyer beware but not with this powerfully-written anthology.
What a jackpot of storytelling to behold!
Don’t let the benevolent cover, the drawn-out title, and the absence of a more traditional trade publisher deter you from adding this book to your ‘must read’ list.
From a marketing point of view, the inside contents and section titles were beautifully designed and printed on crème paper. A larger print size would have made reading the collection more enjoyable. A more sinister cover and title would have better reflected the highly imaginative stories inside. Despite these suggestions, the strong content inside overshadowed any minor flaws. The 5-Star Review on Goodreads reflected my overall impression.
From first love heartaches to misguided spirituality, insanity to incest, suicide and other unexpected or unexplained deaths and more, the collection revealed dark and hard-hitting themes. Almost every story opened with a strong line that yanked me into a variety of unique settings and situations. For example, “Who the hell was St. Polycarpe?” (Clark p. 133); “I promised the doctor I’d stay off the booze.” (Humby, p.71); “Why does all the world love a rogue?” (Joll, p. 128); “If Mother knew I had picked up a hitchhiker, she would have thrown a good old Southern tantrum–” (Sikora, p. 125); and “Everything was fine until she turned crazy on me.” (Nelson, p. 82).
The strongest and most memorable characters were scarred physically and/or cerebrally: a 35-year old woman with a drinking problem, two teenaged runaways who stole a van, a 101-year old man reflecting on his love for his Rolls Royce, a student who walked on fire, Emma who was “the cruel, intriguing, and terribly lonely White Witch of Empathy”, a ‘mad’ sweetheart, a 14-year-old impregnated by a married man, a bat exterminator, and many more. Some characters were likeable. Others were detested for their stupidity or misguided actions but isn’t that what good storytelling is about? Each character felt authentic. Each life moved me.
I especially enjoyed the variety of genres: romance, historical fiction, literary fiction, speculative, science fiction, fantasy and more. Almost every story ended with not only a strong line but a surprise twist that lingered in my mind for days.
One of the most heart-wrenching stories in the collection was Joll’s “The Song of Solomon”, a tale of two sisters that began with the line: “All Faith wanted was to be slim and pretty like Alice, and to have at least one friend.” (Joll, p. 93) What transpired in this dysfunctional family will jolt the reader. To share it would spoil the ending!
To disclose any of the endings would ruin the book. The strength of the writing: the way it scanned and used different literary devices was impressive.
As a poet, I most enjoyed the metaphors and imagery in Joll’s story “In Singapore” where he wrote some beautiful lines. For example: “all of them small pebbles whose splash had left scarcely a ripple on his broader sea.” (Joll, p. 109).
The sign of a good collection of stories by emerging authors can also hinge on its reputation with other publishers. Almost all of the works in this book were previously published in Canada and/or the United States. Credits include Ascent Aspirations’ The Crooked Edge of Another Day: An Anthology of the Bizarre, Bew Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, CommerLit.com, Lunch Ticket, Perfect Execution and Other Stories, Phantasmagoria, and Rathalla Review. Some have even won awards and honours including Steve Nelson’s “Night at the Store” nominated for a Pushcart Award.
The quality of the editing by Clark and Nelson plus the manner in which the stories were seamlessly tied together with invisible thread made this collection an equal contender with other professionally-written books.
I look forward to following the writing careers of these new-to-me contributors:
Nancy Kay Clark is best known as the Toronto-based writer/editor/entrepreneur behind CommuterLit, an online literary magazine she launched in 2010. Her middle-grade novel The Prince of Sudland will be published in 2018. More info here.
Michael Joll is a retired police officer and the current president of the Brampton Writers’ Guild. His first collection of short stories, Perfect Executive, was published in 2017. More info here.
Steve Nelson is a Chicago resident with a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His work has been published in The Rambler, Storyglossia, eye-rhythm, the Absinthe Literary Review, and elsewhere. More info here.
Frank T. Sikora is a graphic artist, writer, substitute teacher, and track coach from Wisconsin. His work has appeared on-line and in print in Canada and the United States. More info here.
Check out the blog The Write Break with Phyllis Humby for feature articles on each of the contributors as well as a run-down of the anthology’s process.
As contributor Sikora wrote in his preface: “My original goals were modest…I could just say I’m proud of the collection, but honestly, and thankfully, I can say it has exceeded my original vision.”
He concluded with “I believe we have produced an anthology of stories worth reading and preserving.”
Hear, hear! Bravo to all the contributors! A winning combination!
The anthology is being marketed in Canada and the United States.
In Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, Phyllis Humby will be showcasing her work at a reading organized by Sharon Berg of Big Pond Rumours Press, Saturday, August 25 at the Sarnia Library, 124 Christina Street South. See poster below! More details will be announced later this summer.
Check my Literary Event Listing for other upcoming Ontario Happenings.
*From the story “Delusional Date” in the anthology Our Plan to Save the World (and other stories of false starts, dead ends, detours, and determined people looking for their happy ending).(Lulu. Com, U.S.A. 2018), Page 119. Used with permission from the author . Copyright © 2018 by Lulu.com.
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