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Austin Chronicle In Person: James Hynes

By Jeremy Reed

Writer James Hynes loves cats -- he has three. But after reading "Queen of the Jungle" in his new collection Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror (Picador, $24 hard) of three novellas, the theme of man versus cat reads even more clearly.

In the story, Paul and Elizabeth are married, and they have a cat named Charlotte; Charlotte is Elizabeth's cat. The marriage becomes strained as Elizabeth commutes four days a week to Chicago University from their home in Bluff City, Iowa. As Paul and the cat remain at home, Paul finds solace in the company of a female graduate student who attends the university where he teaches. Elizabeth does not know, but Charlotte does, and so begins the battle.

As Hynes told me with regards to the story, "I don't really give a damn if I offend postmodernists, but I'm really worried that people are going to think I hate cats."

James Hynes moved
to Austin after leaving a position teaching creative writing at the University of Michigan. That experience, coupled with the yearning to create horror stories in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and M.R. James, led him to write Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror. Hynes describes the collection as a combination of horror stories and academic satire.

Besides "Queen of the Jungle," two additional novellas are included in Publish or Perish. "99" is the story of anthropologist Gregory Eyck, who, after taking a much-needed break, becomes the centerpiece of a small town's occult rituals. The third novella, "Casting the Runes," is an adapted, modernized version of M.R. James' ghost story of the same name.

Hynes first gained national attention in 1990 with the publication of his well-received book, The Wild Colonial Boy, and his essays on television criticism have appeared in Mother Jones and Utne Reader. In addition to teaching, he has been at work on another novel since that time, one to be published later in the year, and a historical book that now rests in a drawer, also waiting its turn. And as Hynes wryly comments, "depending on the day of the week, I'm either unemployed or a freelance writer."

-- Jeremy Reed

James Hynes will be appearing at Book People on Thursday, June 19 at 7pm.

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