The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, a novel      Author's Note:   The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, a novel by Steven Key Meyers
Smash-and-Grab Press revised edition 2021, paper $11, 212 pp., ISBN 978-1-7368333-7-7; ebook 978-1-7368333-8-4



This delicious book remains a favorite of mine. The story may be said to have started the Labor Day I was working in the entrance booth to a Midwestern state park when word came over the radio of a little boy gone missing while mountain-biking through the woods with his family. Immediately, there came a diesel roar as the original of Ranger Ray, with whom I'd been working peaceably all summer, rushed his truck up to the booth to give me the most evil look I’ve ever gotten; just such a look as a Jew in Germany might have gotten the day after Kristallnacht. (Word came five minutes later that the boy had been found.)

The two workamper jobs I had while living in a motorhome provide much of the background to The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, but it conflates them, bringing a colleague—the original of Percy—from a private campground (in its store a sawed-off shotgun hung suspended beneath the counter, aimed at the customers) into the state park where I worked a summer season.

The Beanblossoms? Straight from life, unfortunately, including their sad enterprise, plasma donations, Rick and disastrous home-schooling. Dennis, too; I’ve never known an alcoholic who set about his drinking in a more businesslike or less joyous manner. Travis is a composite of campground mowers I knew, though the story of his tragic rattlesnake history and obsessions comes from an Osage County, Oklahoma acquaintance.

Ranger Randy is based on a fetching young ranger who performed a feat that summer: Some drunk Russians (really!) alarmed the park one evening by illegally shooting off their assault rifles in the woods, and Ranger Randy, unarmed and looking like an angelic choirboy, singlehandedly disarmed and handcuffed them and, with the arrival of back-up, took them away.

The ranger station’s wall of caged reptiles was inspired by that at Wheaton Regional Park, outside Washington, D.C., when I was a boy. We used to go over all the time, walk its nature trails and, in the playground (lent incomparable glamour by virtue of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s having brought her kids there to play), crawl through the engine cowling of the superannuated fighter jet poised next to the swings.

I believe that this book's extravagant ending works, though I’ve never yet been involved in a hostage situation. I have, however, had a .38 poked in my ribs and, on two other occasions, guns mistakenly aimed at me, by police officers, no less. And I was walking along Beargrass Creek in Louisville one Christmas week when twiglets suddenly showered me from overhead simultaneously with a big blast. I hit the deck as more blasts followed, then got to my feet and went forward, figuring it might be the only opportunity I’d ever have to advance under fire—experiences my uncle, grandfather, great-granduncle, great-great-grandfather and so many other ancestors had. Naturally the first two people I told about it responded, eyes shining, “Shooting mistletoe!” (Ah, Kentucky's colorful customs!)

The original of Percy was an intelligent—if scary—man who ruined his life when anger carried him away on several occasions. Percy’s crimes and his being paroled from prison and returned to it the same day are based on that colleague’s history (he loved to tell the parole story as a boast). Such is the predictive power of literary fiction that I circulated a draft of this book among friends fully a year before the real-life Percy, facing a return to prison after a drunk-driving conviction, claimed for himself his fictional character’s fate. Well, he always did say he'd never go back.

And here’s a poignant memory of my summer working booth: I used to have to bicycle six miles downhill to buy groceries. The uphill slog was such that I’d wait to buy that weighty commodity, beer, until I reached the convenience store at the park entrance. Only at the end of the summer did my boss, surprised to learn I'd been patronising it, inform me that, by quiet arrangement with the park rangers, that store sold only 3.2 beer, a fact I could have learned by reading any can.

Junkie, Indiana

Junkie, Indiana began in 2012 when I was renovating a fixer-upper in a small town in Indiana. A father and son stopped by to ask if they could cut down the stupendous old TV antenna tower for salvage. I said sure, they did the job and hauled away the steel. My contractor then told me ** SPOILER ALERT ** that they happened to be his cousins, and went on to tell how their daughter/sister had been raped, made pregnant, been refused an abortion—owing to the family's Catholic beliefs—and hanged herself. (My book's mode of suicide reflects my being earwitness, one day as I walked my dogs, to a young woman's fatal jump from a bridge.)

As any writer would, I thought to myself, I’ve never read that story.

But my way in to how to tell that story didn’t arrive until I got to know the town better. My discovery: Everybody’s on drugs in Indiana! My contractor turned out to be a crackhead; his wife addicted to painkillers; their daughter a heroin addict (she fought it; whenever I saw her over the course of several years she’d say, “Congratulate me, I’ve been clean two weeks!” (Haven’t seen her for a long time, though.)) The town I live in, once an industrial powerhouse, now boasts a methadone clinic, epidemic levels of HIV and Hepatitis C, high unemployment and high crime—I've been earwitness to no fewer than four shooting deaths and eyewitness to the shooting of a teenager on my sidewalk. More houses are demolished than built, which is touted as progress. Meanwhile a large portion of the population gets by by selling a little weed or ice to one another. In 2021 this county of 60,000 is on track for 120 overdose deaths!

Despite living for years in Manhattan and Los Angeles, I never saw anyone shoot up drugs until I moved to small-town Indiana and happened to look out my window. Same with smoking meth or crack, sniffing whatever or popping handfuls of pills: It's all on view. Everybody’s on drugs in Indiana!

I made up very little in Junkie, Indiana; it's very nearly more transcript than novel.

And why is Indiana today so appalling?

Same big answer, I think, as regards most problems everywhere at any time: Lack of education. Not one of the people I’ve mentioned finished high school. Education in our society has lost its status—people don't want it! Indiana used to be different. Before it became one of those states that sets out every year to see just how much more it can carve out of its higher-education budget, Indiana built the great Indiana University. But that was when people saw education as an investment; now they see it as an expense, and if they have to have it, want it on the cheap. But why would good education ever be cheap?

Writers don't solve society’s problems but tell stories about the world. I’m satisfied that with Junkie, Indiana I’ve told that sad, very sad story I first heard from my contractor about his cousin. If it’s also a nihilistic story of despair, sorry, not my fault.


Available from your favorite booksellers.   Excerpt (.pdf) The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, a novel

The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, by Steven Key Meyers
Smash-and-Grab Press revised edition 2021, paper $11, 212 pp., ISBN 978-1-7368333-7-7; ebook 978-1-7368333-8-4







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