An assortment of serious, goofy, fantastical tales
A cook’s chili at a summer fest brings the dead back to life.
A Texas prison tries different ways to execute a Death Row inmate but fails every time.
Horror-show hosts do verbal battle at a White Castle on Halloween.
Those are the setups for some of the stories in John H. Matthews’ new collection, This Is Where It Gets Interesting.
The 28 stories are selected from the more than 150 — “I’m not saying they’re all good” — he’s written since 1989.
Fifty of his pieces have been published, three in anthologies, said Matthews, a senior library specialist at the Daley Library.
“My stories are serious, goofy, fantastical — kinda all over the place,” he said.
He said readers have used these words to describe the collection:
Accomplished, quirky, noir-ish, poised, polished, inventive, entertaining, engaging, fantastic, fascinating, masterful, breathtaking, darkly comic, enthralling, unique, provocative, well-crafted, aggressive, refreshing, powerful, gimlet-eyed fantasy, funny, smart, philosophical, distinctive, witty, outsider, fast-paced, hilarious, classic, Kafka-esque, worthy of Bukowski, poignant, sharp, accessible, intellectual, non-mainstream and irresistible.
Kirkus Reviews says the book is “marvelously entertaining” and “as funny and witty as it is scary and menacing.”
Matthews helped pay printing and mailing costs by launching a Kickstarter campaign. It raised nearly $2,000.
He offered incentives at different pledge levels.
For example, the “Tornado” level of $100 or more rewarded donors with two copies of the print book, one copy of the e-book, a copy of the Guide to Underground Chicago, the donor’s name on the book’s acknowledgments page and, with enclosure of the donor’s photo, a pen-and-ink portrait .
For about 10 years, until 2007, Matthews ran a website that archived dreams about celebrities, both his and other people’s.
“I got a pretty good response,” he said. “It ended up being a vanity project for people who liked seeing their dreams in print.”
Matthews accompanied each entry with his sketch of the dreamed-of celebrity.
He also kept a journal of his own celebrity dreams. “I always had something to write about — I had several notebooks full,” he said.
“I learned techniques for remembering my dreams. You say to yourself before going to sleep, ‘I dream, I remember my dream, I write it down.’ You use a form of self-hypnosis so that the first thing on your mind when you wake up is what you dreamed.”
Some of his short stories are based on dreams — for example, the one in which a young woman recovering from heroin addiction moves in with her ex-librarian aunt. The story features cameos by Pat Sajak, God and Judy Blume.
Matthews grew up in Berwyn, moving to Villa Park at age 5. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Columbia College Chicago and has since lived in Ravenswood, Ukrainian Village and Jefferson Park.
He now lives in Des Plaines with his wife, Rachel, who teaches art in a Prospect Heights elementary school.
At the Daley Library, Matthews supervises interlibrary loans and secures obscure material for university researchers from out-of-state or foreign sources.
He enjoys camping, often visiting Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin, and likes to fish and play bass guitar.
Here are some more plot lines from This Is Where It Gets Interesting:
• Rod Serling wakes up a young man to inform him that he’s dead.
• A small-town journalist attempts to debunk a psychic who’s working for the DMV.
• A retirement community turns into a military installation.
• A man’s father dies and comes back as a black tornado to apologize for not being there.
• Isaac awakes to find he’s been transformed into a Norse warrior named Stormbringer.
• A ghost must resolve some business at the local mall before passing on to the next stage.
• A statistician rebuffs a would-be murderer, but not before taking in a Godzilla movie.
Matthews says of his collection, “This is certainly the object I would put before any curious individual who wished to know of what use I was to this weary old world.”