It's time to celebrate Independence Day and, not coincidentally, the second Los Angeles Times Magazine fiction issue. We have collected five new stories from western writers that will transport you on horseback to Culver City, put you through grad school at Stanford, admit you to a magic show on the Kern River, effect your escape from Seguin, Tex., or teach you the scientific name of the housefly. So light the sparklers, slice the watermelon and put on your reading sunglasses. Happy Fourth!
"Writing," Max Schott says, "is a way of thinking about my own past." In fact, the characters and events in "Shannon" (Page 18) are autobiographical: There was a stable owner who was like a second father to Schott when he was growing up in Culver City; there was a girl who died trick riding and another who fibbed her way into the stable where he worked. "The story was inspired by memories, but I was also fascinated by ideas of independence in rodeo girls. They simply wouldn't be imposed on by anyone. They fascinated me as a kind of ideal."
Much of the cast of "Shannon" is also the cast of Schott's latest novel, "Ben," published last month by North Point Press. Schott, a horse trainer and rodeo roper till he was 30, is 55 and a professor of writing and literature at UC Santa Barbara.
Sandra Cisneros, 35, a Chicago-born Texan, calls herself a "migrant professor." She has taught for the past few years on three California campuses--most recently at UC Irvine. Her story, "Woman Hollering Creek" (Page 14), is all about reality: "The soap operas are real," she says, "the people are real; the character Cleofilas is based on a woman I encountered, helped escape from an abusive husband. And a creek by the name Woman Hollering really does exist in Texas. When I passed over it, I gave a hoot."
Cisneros' collection of short stories, "The House on Mango Street," won the Before Columbus Book Award in 1985; "Woman Hollering Creek" will appear in a new collection due from Random House in the spring.
"No matter what writers say, most stories are about ourselves," says Ethan Canin. "The facts might change a little, but not much." Canin, 29, lives in San Francisco, but he grew up in Pennsylvania and small-town Ohio, a self-confessed "sort of semi-nerd." He majored in English at Stanford and left Harvard Medical School one month away from obtaining an MD.
His story, "The Scientific Method" (Page 10), is excerpted from a novel-in-progress that will be published next year by Houghton Mifflin. It expands on the story "American Beauty," which appeared in Canin's best-selling collection, "Emperor of the Air," in 1988. This fall, Canin will teach writing at the University of Michigan.
"The Easterners" (Page 24) is just a few months out of Alice Adams' typewriter. Since 1966, she has published six novels ("Superior Women," in 1985, was a bestseller), four short-story collections and many individual pieces. She began by writing "awfully bad" poetry but gave it up in college. It wasn't until she was 40 that her first novel was published.
"The Easterners," Adams says, contains a theme that especially interests her: "the myth of the evil Easterner and the good Westerner."
Adams lives in San Francisco; her latest novel, "The Last Lovely City," will be released next spring by Knopf.
"Quintessentially Californian" is the way Gerald Haslam's dozens of Central Valley essays and short stories are usually described. "Writing about rural California," Haslam says, "has been to my advantage. Outsiders think we all roller skate to hot tubs, but we also work in the oil fields. I get a lot of creative energy from that tension."
Haslam, 53, teaches English at Sonoma State University. "Upstream" (Page 30) is taken from "That Constant Coyote," published last month by the University of Nevada Press.
"What does 'Upstream' mean? I honestly don't know," he says. "It's a tall tale, about primordial escape, I guess. Who knows where such a story comes from?"