James Ross Kelly lives in Northern California next to the Sacramento River. Mr. Kelly was a long-time resident of Southern Oregon where he grew up. And the Fires We Talked About published by Uncollected Press in 2020 is Mr. Kelly’s first book of fiction.
And The Fires We Talked About by James Ross Kelly is an anthology of 35 stories of varying lengths. The tales are set mainly in and around the town of Medford, Oregon and the California hills, though some stray much further afield to North Africa and the Red Sea. Many contain pithy local dialect or idioms which bring a flavor of the forests and mountains in the area and the men who work at logging and tree planting in the unforgiving landscape. The stories tell of their lives, the back-breaking work, the dangers, and the recreational visits to clubs and bars. There are strippers and fistfights, and beer flows freely in the bars as the men relax and for a time forget the perils of their chosen field of labor. Some stories tell of military men during the Vietnam conflict and there is one particularly moving tale of a forest fire in the California hills. The author displays an extraordinary depth of knowledge about the nature of the forests and the logging operations, while he also bemoans the disappearance of community and a particular bucolic way of life as farms and holdings are snapped up by rapacious, faceless corporations. But there are more diverse tales too – tales that will stretch your imagination, such as Standing in the Rain, where he writes about an author who is experiencing a degree of success writing formulaic detective novels, but is assailed by one of his characters who is unhappy about the way the plot has developed. James Ross Kelly also displays an intricate knowledge of the topless bars and strip joints of the seventies and eighties – knowledge which features in several of the tales and perhaps particularly so in No One Here Gets Out Alive. Well-written and covering a variety of themes and subjects, there is something in this collection for most tastes but maybe should be avoided by your maiden aunt.I enjoyed And The Fires We Talked About; it contains many glimpses into worlds and ways of life that are rapidly disappearing. Written in a forthright, unflinching style, Mr Kelly’s characters live and breathe and rise solidly from the pages. There is a certain amount of sex and violence but I found none of it offensive and felt that it was in keeping with the themes being explored. If I had to pick a favourite story from the collection, I would choose The Fire Itself, a beautifully observed tale of a California forest fire along with a touching look at the natural ecology of the region and one family who lives in it. And The Fires We Talked About is an impressive anthology from the pen of a talented author – I do not hesitate to recommend it.
Erasmus or one of those guys once said something like: When I have money, I buy books; if there’s any money left over, I buy food. Well, here’s biblio proof, in the shape of James Ross Kelly’s latest and loveliest collection of short stories AND THE FIRES WE TALKED ABOUT (title taken from a beautiful David Whited poem, the relevant passage from which is quoted on X. of the intro pages), that when I have money I buy books; if there’s any money left over, I buy a new sweater. This is some hot reading, kids. Buy a copy: it’ll keep you warm on those dreary chilly fall evenings when there are no ongoing debates to heat you up.
From page X. of the intro to And the Fires We Talked About by James Ross Kelly
This book is dedicated to the memory of my good friend, the poet David Lloyd Whited (1950-2015), who, not finding me home left this poem on my Smith-Corona in 1993.
Even the fish stories were out today And the lies we told were truth one time Before they cut the hills and butchered out the Trout pond, all of us good looking clear-eyed boys All of us searching for the right ax And wondering if the bait that we had was the bait Which they were biting on. Times like these I’m just too busy to get to work Times like these that the friends and the neighbors Which we grew up with are telling us the Summertime, in the wintertime, in the falling rain Good stories and good kids, each of them good And the fires we talked about Are probably still burning up there on That damn hillside.
In March, 1964 the Anchorage Earthquake sent a Tsunami down the Pacific Coast from Alaska to hit Crescent City, California causing major damage and 10 fatalities. Several of the fatalities happened to men sitting in a bar who thought it would be a good idea to get some six packs to go– and watch the Tidal Wave come in down at the Crescent City pier.
A DOZEN OR MORE three-hundred-year-old black oaks spread over the top of the south side hill of our farm with a two-acre pasture on top and our house sat on the edge and overlooked a small twenty-acre valley bottom with Reese Creek and across it at the far side and then there was a similar hill of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir to complete the farms north edge as a cross section of a small valley running from our house south to north.
“I enjoyed And The Fires We Talked About; it contains many glimpses into worlds and ways of life that are rapidly disappearing. Written in a forthright, unﬂinching style, Mr. Kelly’s characters live and breathe and rise solidly from the pages. And The Fires We Talked About is an impressive anthology from the pen of a talented author — I do not hesitate to recommend it.” Charles Remington for Readers’ Favorite
Kelly’s stories are tough, real, honest, and always true. Unadorned by gimmick or artifice, the pieces in this collection—all framed between the imagined voices of that most primal couple, Adam and Eve—carry us deep into the heart of a wild American world that in many ways (and most definitely for a lot of younger people) sadly no longer exists. The human settings of these stories—bars, strip clubs, dingy apartments, goldmines, ranches, logging crews, homesteads, highways—are rich with details and textures that linger long after the closing sentences. Beyond those, however, there’s always a sense of something even larger and older surrounding the often small, sometimes strange, yet always compelling events his narrators are recounting. Sometimes this larger thing is the natural world—the oceans and forests, the plants and animals—always placing the events into their proper context. At other times, it’s the human interactions themselves that somehow seem to take on this greater, at times even mythic, weight and power. Reading these pieces, we recognize how the hungers and desires, the fears and hopes, the regrets and epiphanies of his people have all somehow entered our cultural DNA, and how—like them–it’s up to each of us to come to terms with all the beauty and terror that comes with being alive.
After 30+ years of teaching in colleges, universities, military bases, and prisons from Alaska to Louisiana, Dave Sims retired to the mountains of central Pennsylvania where he now dwells and creates. His most recent comix appear in The Nashville Review, Talking Writing, and Freeze Ray, and panels from his digital painting sequence “Somewhere Around the Edges,” appear on the cover and in the Winter 2019 issue of The Raw Art Review.
What Oregon authors say about this book:
“This book is good company. And I appreciate the opportunity to associate with intriguing folks out there where I rarely venture.”
Lawson Fusao Inada, emeritus professor of English at Southern Oregon University, Oregon Poet Laureate, and author of Before the War: Poems as They Happened, and Legends from Camp, which won an American Book Award in 1994.
“The remarkable thing about this collection—how often it touched my heart. These stories have a soul.”
Robert Leo Heilman, author Children of Death, and Overstory Zero: Real Life in Timber Country (Winner of the Andres Berger Award for Pacific Northwest Nonfiction 1996).
HE HANDED IT TO ME THEN, I DUNNO, how I did it—knew I shouldn’t, but I just sliced me a slice of fruit with the ol’ barlow knife while I was looking at a coiled up snake, who’d been talking to my woman.
Yes, damnit, I know I should have been suspect of a talking snake. Howsoever, first thing I know, I was making moonshine, skip and go naked foolin’ round til waay after midnight, every-night, everything seemed clear for a while, but trouble was I ended up havin’ to get-a-job, plus plow the farm and then the woman left, and I had to take care of the kids too, and keepin’ the house from fall’n apart.. No more huntn’ and fishin’ just makin’ mortgage payments for a farm I had been given free and clear long ago. Before the bank was even a notion, and it seems like there was a time when there was just plants and animals and clear blue sky, white clouds and the low and high blue flint hills and the woman had really just been a part of me that couldn’t no more leave than I could say anything bad about anything and having kids didn’t involve them growing up and killing each other. Back then I don’t ever remember screaming in the middle of the night either.
If you walked through the front door
with the thumb latch key &
Took a right you’d walk into the living room
& continue on &
With a left turn before the bedroom
There were worn wooden stairs
& upstairs were rooms of equal size
Sparely furnished &
On a hanger in the east room
My father’s uniform hung festooned as
Staff Sergeant, Eisenhower jacket
& campaign ribbons on the front
A hall a door closed on the attic
That ran half the length of the upstairs,
& if you opened the attic
Door a window from the south kept it pretty hot
I would play in the attic when it was cool
I remember finding Indian head pennies under loose
Floorboards, other than books
I can’t remember any of the contents of The attic, boxes, I suppose, it was not empty…