Indiana authors collect stories from around the state

Indiana’s deep literary heritage is celebrated in a new anthology with a seasonal theme.

“An Indiana Christmas” is a collection of stories, essays and poems. All are by authors with a strong Indiana connection, and all have a holiday focus.

Some of the entries are to be expected in such an anthology, such as three poems by James Whitcomb Riley and an excerpt from Jean Shepherd’s “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.” Don’t recognize that one? It’s the basis of the film “A Christmas Story” and a little boy’s quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

The entry from war correspondent Ernie Pyle describes a crew of soldiers digging an air raid trench in the sands of North Africa in 1943.

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Other entries are less widely known but just as enchanting. For example, Bryan Furuness, a professor at Butler University and editor of the book, has collected some of the letters sent to the post office at Santa Claus, Ind. He writes: “When Christmas is coming, the hopes and dreams of children everywhere pour into Indiana.” Some of the letters are heartbreaking, others just plain fun — such as one little girl who asks for a doll but admits she would rather have a baby sister.

Well-known names are included. The editor describes Kurt Vonnegut as “the finest writer to ever come from Indiana.” His story recounts tales of a curmudgeonly small-town newspaper editor.

Gene Stratton-Porter’s entry is a chapter from her novel “Laddie: A True Blue Story.” She describes Christmas Eve in a small town when everyone gathers at the schoolhouse for, of all things, a community spelling bee. But it’s really a story about a little girl’s idolization of her older brother and his girlfriend, whom the girl describes as The Princess.

There are contemporary entries as well by Scott Russell Sanders, Barbara Shoup, Susan Neville and others.

Among the purely charming entries are those by George Ade, Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard and Booth Tarkington. But one of the most fun is Meredith Nicholson’s telling of a hapless burglar who finds himself inadvertently kidnapping a toddler and ends up a “reversible Santa Claus.”

In all this collection covers a variety of emotions and literary styles. All are crisply written, and most are just a few pages, which makes this book admirable Advent reading, covering just one or two entries a day during the holiday season.

Another collection of Indiana stories covers a much darker side of Hoosier life. “No Place Like Murder” by Janis Thornton is a collection of chronicles about 20 celebrated criminal cases from 1869 to 1950. The chapters explore the criminal acts themselves, the murderers’ mindsets and motives, and the ultimate disposition of the cases.

The author draws heavily from contemporary newspaper reports, and the entries are written in a straightforward journalistic style, which makes for easy reading. A smattering of photographs — no crime scene photos, thankfully — which add to the accounts.

As with the Christmas book, the relatively short chapters in this book make it easy to pick up and read a chapter or two and save the rest for later.

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Editor: Bryan Furuness

Pages: 242

Price: $20 hardback, $19.99 e-book

Publisher: Indiana University Press

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Author: Janis Thornton

Pages: 272

Price: $70 hardback, $20 paperback, $19.99 e-book

Publisher: Quarry Books, an imprint of Indiana University Press