If you are reading this, you are on a connected device of some kind, so go ahead and do an image search on Indian Campfire Tales by W.S. Phillips. Got it? We should both be looking at the same cover of a children’s book from 1963 – an illustration of American Indians seated around a roaring fire, and the men and women, children and old folks, are all in rapt attention to the standing storyteller. Even the dog is mesmerized. Never mind that the illustration is probably as historically loose as the tales inside, and that this particular composite of hair bone pipe breastplate, wampum belt, eagle feathers, sash and moccasins probably never existed anywhere outside a Hollywood soundstage. The book itself was a gift from my mother, but the cover is why, at age 8 or 9, I decided to become a writer. And I don’t know what it means, but my imperfect memory of this cover (before I did my own image search) is that the night was far, far darker, that the tribe was huddled even closer, and the storyteller was a pillar of reflected fire in a war bonnet. It probably does explain, however, why American Indians wander unbidden into most everything I write.
What the little me understood instinctively, and what he recognized about this campfire scene, is that stories are power, entertainment, attention, and, much like home-cooking, a way to show your love to those you love. Stories are vessels filled with love and hate and history, joy and pain, and the thousand small fears that shape us. And the little me also understood, no instinct required, that storytellers are outsiders trading in the coin of empathy, sharing thinly disguised scars by describing someone else’s. And storytellers have the hubris, the unmitigated audacity to live another life not our own, to commit it to paper and convince you it is true even after the pages run out. We fumble for some reassurance that how we see the world isn’t that much different than how you see the world. Or maybe we’re checking to see that we are both looking at the same things. Every outsider knows it is the best way to buy a few moments on the inside.
And I’m supposed to tell you that I grew up in southern Ohio, and that my wife and I have two sons. And now I tell you that I have won a slew of awards for both fiction and drama, that my plays have been in theatres large and small, from Off Off Broadway to Albuquerque, that Strobe Life is my first novel, that my short stories have appeared in The Sun, December, Southern Indiana Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Madison Review, The North American Review, The Indiana Review, and Tampa Review and been anthologized here, Great Britain, and Ireland. One of these stories won a contest, and the judge was kind enough to write that the main character, “Is tough, wise, and kind, her heartaches and triumphs so honestly rendered that for the length of this piece I believed she was real, out there somewhere, whispering her story to me.” In Tiki Man, I hope Pere and Tammy conjure this strange alchemy for you, even after the pages run out.
Tiki Man will be published by Regal House Publishing in the fall of 2021.