John Young Releases Second Book

Fire in the Field is a collection of 16 short stories he has written since the 1980s

by Cynthia Smith

Reviewers use words like “heartbreaking” and “heartwarming” to describe the 16 short stories of Middle Americans in Wyomingite John Young’s second book, a collection titled Fire in the Field.

One thing I often don’t like about short stories is endings that leave you hanging. I found Young’s tales surprisingly satisfactory. People with small lives have large epiphanies; things shift. Each story is a micro-novel, a delicious no-cal snack that transports you to a place and time where you root ardently for new friend(s).

Father-Son Collaboration

The book was a collaboration between Young and his son Nick, who designed the cover and chapter illustrations. The stories, written over the last four decades (one from 1998 appeared in Yankee magazine and was praised by John Updike at the time), are filled with ordinary people facing complex moral, ethical, romantic or financial decisions: a neophyte high school journalist whose mother doesn’t see talent in him; a wife who must decide whether to try for a baby with her terminally-ill husband; an angry boy whose love didn’t have to leave seeking revenge; a woman making a Hail-Mary pass for forgiveness.

The 183-page book is hard to put down. Memories flood back when you read these exquisitely-crafted tales: of mistakes one made that couldn’t be undone; of crushes that almost became romances; of knotty family dynamics.

Here are a few plot teasers:

  • A hapless antiques dealer snubbed by his peers discovers a clever way to earn their respect, and pay for his daughter’s college.
  • The actions of a freeloading ne’er-do-well brother have surprising results.
  • A 17-year-old girl in the classic teenage-girl pickle seeks advice from her mother, who faced a similar dilemma 17 years earlier.

Golden Antelope Press

Fire in the Field is Young’s second offering published by Missouri’s Golden Antelope Press. His debut was a well-received coming-of-age novel released in 2019: When the Coin is in the Air.

The second book came about at the request of his Golden Antelope editor, who asked Young in 2020 if he had another manuscript to submit. “I had all these short stories stacked on shelves and on hard discs,” Young says, “so I started looking them over and kind of fell in love with them again.”

All the stories were rewritten and polished for Fire in the Field. Each is built around a happening  in Young’s life that made a strong impression on him.

He loves writing short stories because “you get a smaller, tighter dramatic window on a character or two. A short story can be completed quickly; you can fail fast, fix things and try again.” It takes him at least two years to write a novel, but only a few weeks or months to complete a short story.

Going Around Again

In April, Young found out his second novel, Getting Huge (from which the Fire in the Field story “A Pumpkin Summer” is excerpted) will be published in 2023 by Toronto’s Guernica Editions.

Both of his books are available from major booksellers and at libraries in paper and ebook form.

He is now working on a third novel.