Tony Earley, the Samuel Milton Fleming Professor of English, describes his latest book, Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories, as “much more grown up and calm” than his previous story collection published in 1994, when he was beginning to develop a reputation as one of the best writers of his generation.
“I chose ‘Mr. Tall’ as the title because a number of the stories have supernatural and mythical elements to them,” Earley says. “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.”
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 while 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,” Earley says, “I want to write conversation that has the speech rhythm and vocabulary I know best.”
Much of the research for his stories took place while he was growing up and sitting at his grandmother’s dinner table. “My family had many great storytellers,” he says. “If someone paused to take a break, everyone would try to jump in.”