Listen: Earley’s new stories bring the extraordinary to aging characters

Tony Earley (Vanderbilt University)

Tony Earley describes his second collection of stories as “much more grown up and calm” than the one published in 1994, when he was beginning to develop a reputation as one of the best writers of his generation.

Earley, the Samuel Milton Fleming Professor of English at Vanderbilt, will unveil Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories (Little, Brown, August 2014) on Aug. 26. Parnassus Books will host a discussion and signing at 6:30 p.m.

Mr. Tall is Earley’s fifth book and second collection of stories. “I chose ‘Mr. Tall’ as the title because there are a number of stories that have supernatural and mythical elements to them,” Early said. “I have no idea why I’m so fascinated with ghosts at this time of my life. I have yet to see one, but I’ve managed to sneak several into my book.”

“Mr. Tall” is also the name of one of Earley’s favorite stories in the collection. The main character is Toliver, but everyone calls him “Mr. Tall.” The plot concerns a lonely teenage bride who spies on a reclusive older neighbor who had lost his wife and infant in a mysterious drowning.

"Mr. Tall" by Tony Earley (courtesy of Little, Brown)
(courtesy of Little, Brown)

Several of this collection’s stories deal with the ups and downs of a long marriage and the anxieties of growing older. In “Haunted Castles of the Barrier Islands,” a retired husband and wife consider their next phase of life as their only child is away at college and developing her own identity and interests.

“Haunted Castles” is set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and, for the first time, a couple of Earley’s stories take place in Nashville. However, he still places many of his characters in the western area of North Carolina where he grew up. “When I write dialogue, I want to write conversation that has the speech rhythm and vocabulary that I know best,” Earley said.

Earley noted that young writers tend to write autobiographically. “I really don’t do that anymore,” he said. “However, there are elements of my autobiography in all of my stories.”

He said that much of the research for his stories was actually done while he was growing up and sitting at his grandmother’s dinner table. “My family had many great storytellers,” he said. “If someone paused to take a break, everyone would try to jump in.”

Earley said that he knew by second grade that he wanted to be a writer. The author of the novels Jim the Boy and The Blue Star, he was named by Granta as one of the 20 best young American novelists in 1997. Earley was elected to the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2010.

Earley looks forward to teaching in the spring an advanced undergraduate fiction workshop and a workshop in the top-ranked MFA Program in Creative Writing.