The Devil and James Whitcomb Riley by Jason Roscoe – selection #30 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♥10♥ Ten of Hearts.

The Suit: For 2016, Hearts is my suit for stories from “Indiana-related Magazines and Literary Journals”

The Selection: “The Devil and James Whitcomb Riley” from Mythic Indy, an anthology of “New legends, fairy tales, and myths about Indianapolis.” I have a couple copies of this anthology, one signed by many of the authors, which I received since Bibliophilopolis was one of many sponsors of the project, and another, now more beat up copy that I carry around with me, reading a story here and there… The story may also be read online at Punchnel’s Magazine where it was originally published.

The Author: Jason Roscoe. This story is the first of his work that I’ve read, and I don’t know much about him, but he operates a website that includes reviews of many tv series and movies. It is where I found the mysterious gas mask photo of him(?) above…

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storylegacy project seal of approval 2roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

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The Devil and James Whitcomb Riley

“‘I must have my story.’

‘What happens if I refuse?’

‘Bad things. Very bad things.'”

Stories have power. That’s something I’ve come to appreciate more and more ever since I started blogging about them back in 2010.  Many authors have written or spoken about this as well. I remember in particular an author event at Bookmama’s Bookstore a few years back that featured Indiana author James Alexander Thom. He was there to talk about a book of his on the “art and craft” of writing historical fiction and talked about how stories around the campfire by ‘primitive man’ were the start of everything. Stories about what a hunter found ‘the next valley over’ (or whatever) were the birth of geography. Stories about certain plants that eased certain pain or injuries became the birth of medicine. And so on, and so on. I don’t want to spoil an upcoming Deal Me “IN” post, but I have on deck an interview with author Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried) where he shows a respect for the power of the story as well. James Whitcomb Riley had a reputation as one of the greatest storytellers of his time. A reputation that also made him known, in this story anwyay, to the Devil himself!

Shortly after his death in 1916, Riley’s spirit, “at rest in crown hill cemetery” is accosted by a strange voice, one that he knows, deep down, is that of the Devil.  The Devil demands that Riley entertain him with a story and, perhaps for the first time in his life – er, perhpas I should say “existence” – Riley’s “got nothing” and can’t quickly come up with one. The Devil gives him a year to come up with one and he does. Satisfied, the Devil decides to make this a recurring contract, one that Riley eventually tires of, prompting the interchange quoted above.  The year he refuses, 1945, something bad happens. Something very bad. Nuclear weapons are used for the first time in human history. Riley’s ghost blames himself and keeps his end of the bargain up going forward, but to what end?

It’s not clear, but to this reader – by the end of this story – Riley’s annual storytelling is perhaps beginning to have a “good influence” on the nature of the Devil himself. Now THAT is powerful indeed! Maybe the denouement is best captured by the final paragraph of this story:

“Next time you’re in Crown Hill Cemetery on a cool spring day and you think you catch something out of the corner of your eye – a shimmer or an old man – and you feel a chill down your spine, remain calm.  Just lie back on the grass, and know that you are safe in the hands of a master storyteller. Close your eyes and listen closely and perhaps you’ll even hear a story that could charm the Devil himself.”

This is the final story from “Mythic Indy” that I’ll be reading for this year’s short story project, but there remain several stories in the collection which I have yet to read “at large.” Maybe I’ll save some for a future year’s iteration of “Deal Me In.”  I recommend picking up a copy of this book check out online for details or maybe check at Indy Reads Books bookstore Next time you’re in downtown Indy.


Above: The burial site of James Whitcomb Riley, at the top of Crown Hill cemetery.  It’s the highest point in Indianapolis (for you trivia fans out there).


♫ Personal Notes: The Indianapolis home of James Whitcomb Riley (above, from Wikipedia) is now a museum, in the downtown”Lockerbie” neighborhood.  It’s just a few blocks away from the location where one of my book clubs meets (the Rathskeller – you should try it sometime if you’ve never been) and after this month’s meeting, eight of our members adjourned to an afterparty featuring a walking ‘ghost tour’ of the area.  This event was sponsored by the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library in conjunction with one of the books (dealing with “haunted Indiana”)  in their summer reading program. The tour itself – though I found it very interesting – provided few true frights.  The Riley home was the last stop on the tour, and we learned that some visitors have reported seeing the ghost of “The Hoosier Poet” on the grounds.

(below: one of my awesome book clubs at a recent meeting at the Rathskeller; I think we set an attendance record that night) 

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And here I thought I was going to be the only person in town NOT at the track last Sunday…

Where was I instead? The Library of course! The Central Branch of the IMCPL (Indianapolis Marion County Public Library) hosted an event at 3:30 featuring a few authors reading their works from the recently published “Mythic Indy” anthology of short stories. This anthology – as you might guess from the title – is a collection of fabricated myths about Indianapolis (my home town). I was also pleased to learn that this event was intended to be the first of a series featuring the stories and authors in this anthology.  The profits for sales of this book go to a local non-profit, “Second Story,” which hosts writing camps for young students and helps those who might be ‘intimidated’ by the written word.

Better attended than most local “readings” I’ve been too, this one was held in the Library’s Sexton East Reading Room and, perhaps not coincidentally, the Central Library was featured prominently in one of the stories – in particular an outdoor sculpture that lay just beyond the wall behind the lectern. In fact, though Indy is a pretty large city, all the stories featured in this event were set within walking distance – a fact I made use of afterward, as you’ll see from some of my photos if you read on…

(above: top Clint Smith reads to the crowd (photo courtesy of Corey Dalton), bottom(photos by me) from left to right, Maggie Wheeler, Austin Wilson, and Hugh Vandivier take their turns at the mic)

Of the four authors, first up was Clint Smith, who shared his story “The Fall of Tomlinson Hall; or The Ballad of the Butcher’s Cart.” The story ‘mythologically’ explains the demise of Indianapolis’s storied “Tomlinson Hall” (see photos of plaque and arch below, underneath the photo of Corey Dalton introducing one of the authors). Smith and Gills are two cooks at downtown Indy’s Columbia Club (NOT a fictional place) who find an odd, insufficiently hidden key and use it to enter a portal in the club’s cellar that leads down even further. The two off-duty cooks’ explorations reminded me vaguely of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Statement of Randolph Carter” – although the title character of that story had the prudence to wait “above ground” while his buddy Harley Warren explored below.


(below – from Wikipedia: The Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.  I’ve only been inside a few times – for lunches, or training seminars and even once to “party” with some of my then employer’s corporate visitors from North Carolina.  Always reminded me of the fictional “Heritage Club” in the movie “Trading Places” 🙂 )

Next up was Maggie Wheeler, whose story was “How Market Square Arena Killed Elvis.” In this new myth, it turns out that Indy’s old Market Square Arena (the site of Elvis Presley’s final concert in 1977) was actually constructed on the site of a Native American burial ground. While preparing for the show,”The King” notices an “anomaly” in the wall of his dressing room, which turns out to be a human bone from this burial ground. Coveting it as a potential item of jewelry, he extracts the artifact from the wall, carting it back to Graceland where it amusingly discovers how hard it is to haunt someone who is more often than not “under the influence.” There was an ample amount of humor in this story too, and the reading brought laughter from the audience at a couple points.

(above: the plaque commemorating Elvis’s last concert (photo from I looked for it on my post-reading photo shoot, but think it may be temporarily relocated during the latest construction on the site that is now ongoing (below).)

Next was a longer story – “thinmanlittlebird” by Austin Wilson. This one detailed a mythical origin of the two unusual statues/sculptures (called “little bird” and “thin man”) that flank the south entrance of the library. The author’s enthusiasm during his reading and about the event was contagious. This tale was also the “deepest” of the four, featuring “extraterrestrial muses,” inspiring – and inspired by – the arts of our humble human race. This is one I’ll probably read again. Some of the Extraterrestrials’ thoughts regarding art:

“It is beautiful. The universe. It behaves in some ways because it cannot do other. Cannot. However,” and the man held up a hand, his humpy finger extended, “it behaves in others … in ways because we direct. Reacts.”

(below: the “thin man” (left) and “little bird” (right) sculptures exist in reality, only Wilson’s story is fictional. Well, I assume it is…)

Lastly, we listened to Hugh Vandivier read his story “The Zero Point” – one of a couple “name origin” entries in the anthology. Told to the narrator by another patron at Indy’s “literarily iconic” Red Key Tavern, it explains how Washington Street got its name. Hint: it’s not how one would assume…

All in all, quite a fun event, and I look forward to the others in the series!

Read an Indianapolis Star article with more about this anthology at

Or in Nuvo: (Indy’s “Alternative Voice”)

Better yet, support a good cause and buy a copy of “Mythic Indy” for yourself!

I’ve blogged before about a couple other entries in this anthology, “The Man on the Monon” and “The Gods of Indianapolis.” I’ve also previously featured a story by Clint Smith, “What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell.”

“The Gods of Indianapolis” by Jason de Koff story #3 of 2016 Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: 7♥ seven of hearts

The Selection: “The Gods of Indianapolis” from the magazine “Punchnel’s” and the short story anthology “Mythic Indy”

The AuthorPictured at top middle left, Jason de Koff  is an Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Soil Science at Tennessee State University. (picture from the University’s website)


IMG_5408(For an explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post.  For a look at my deck of cards/story roster see here. In the 2016 edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection”
since this year is my home state’s bicentennial. 🙂 )

For week three of the 2016 Deal Me “IN” short story reading challenge, I drew the seven of hearts, which I had assigned to this story from the Indy-based online magazine, Punchnel’s. The story will also be part of a soon-to-be-released short story anthology, Mythic Indy, for which this blog was happily one of the many sponsors rallied via their IndieGoGo campaign last year.

“The Gods of Indianapolis”

I’ve always been fascinated with names, both of people and of places. The names of people – surnames at least – often reveal where they come from. (Yes, I’m the guy who always asks someone he just met “where does your last name come from” – well at least if the name is unusual.) First names often reveal who or what someone’s parents admired – a favorite relative or respected parent and the like.

Names of places are fun too. Some places go through many names (think St. Petersburg, Russia, for example). Some go through most of history with an established name until the point that a ‘more civilized’ “discoverer” renames it after a head of state or generous patron (Think Mt. McKinley, now known (once again) as Denali). The state of Indiana’s name means, unsurprisingly, “Land of the Indians” and my home town city of Indianapolis, well that one’s kind of obvious when you remember “polis” is a Greek word for city.

This story offers an alternate explanation of how a famous street in Indianapolis got its name. If you’re not familiar with Indianapolis, its streets are laid out in a quite orderly, grid-like manner. Most main streets, north-south, east-west, and even a few radiating out from the downtown “circle” on the diagonals are named after our fellow states of the union. The main north-south artery, however is named “Meridian Street” and divides the city in half. Seems an obvious name as there are imaginary north-south meridian lines drawn all over the face of our planet. But maybe the name “Meridian” is a coincidence and actually has nothing to do with geographic concerns…  Above: an aerial view of Indianapolis from many years ago (but not nearly as many as the setting for this story) You can clearly see the layout of the major streets, and there’s Meridian Street running right down the middle.

Author Jason de Koff hypothesizes an alternate history of a pre-colonized Indiana where… “In the 1600s, a group of Icelandic traders made the voyage across the Atlantic and landed on the eastern shore of North America. Heading west, they eventually settled in Indiana along the White River near a trade route used for transporting dried fish north and beaver pelts south. A peaceful people, the Icelanders befriended the native Miami tribe, intermarried, and formed a new society that maintained aspects of both cultures. The blended tribe prospered and grew…”

The star of the story is “Meri,” descended from both the Icelanders and native people and combining the best qualities of both. Such are her skills that she has risen to become the first woman to be named chief of her tribe, and is its leader when trade seems to be drying up and the tribe is falling upon hard times. The story takes place in an era where propitiation of the gods via sacrifice is not an uncommonly suggested solution for those in trouble, but just whose gods should be turned to? That’s when the story gets really interesting…

I enjoyed this story a lot – though I am admittedly a sucker for “alternate history literature.” As of this writing, the story may be still read online at It only takes 15 or 20 minutes to read, so why not give it a try?  Let me know what you think of it. 🙂

I also think the question of a name’s origins is quite appropriate for my 2016 iteration of Deal Me “IN” since there has yet to be a definitive answer to the frequently asked question, “What exactly is a ‘Hoosier’?” After all, Indiana is known as “The Hoosier State” For an exploration of some possible origins of the word, I’ll refer you to this page of the Indiana Historical Society:

Beloved Indiana Pacers radio broadcaster and former coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard (below, with Reggie Miller on the right) is fond of saying, when a Pacer player drives down the middle of the lane for a dunk or lay-up, “He took it right down Meridian on ’em!”

Three down and forty-nine to go! 🙂