susan taylor chehak

Publications

Short Stories
Available now in Moon City Review
Read it online in Limestone
"The turns these stories take, structurally and emotionally, prove that Chehak is not only a daring literary artisan, but a connoisseur of human frailty. An acerbic, stirring collection from a master of the craft." -Kirkus Reviews
Read the whole story online, at Blue Lake Review.
Online at Conte
Included in a new anthology from SeedpodPress
Read it in the Winter 2013 issue of Permafrost
read it in the summer 2013 issue of Grey Sparrow Journal
Now available at Amarillo Bay
Now available at Necessary Fiction: Part One and Part Two
Now available at Juked
read it in the Spring 2012 issue of Folio by subscribing HERE
available online at Folly
read it in the Spring 2011 issue of Coe Review by subscribing HERE or read it online HERE
read it on your Kindle, or your Kindle App
Interviews
The novelist on what atheists and true believers have in common and how Mark Twain, Henry James, and “Sigmund-fucking-Freud” lack imagination. Read the whole interview at Guernica
Fiction
Told through alternating narratives—a portrayal of the last few days of Meena's life and an account of the events in the past that have brought her to where she is now—this is the story of a woman running away from home for the first time and the strong, nearly universal desire to shed one's identity to become somebody else.
“[Chehak's] ambitiously imaginative novel questions the very nature of reality… [a] diverting exploration of metaphysical concepts. Winsome and smartly playful.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Chehak's prose provides a seamless, calm flow to a novel whose elements of love and murder ripple enticingly, fully surfacing only gently, only eventually, in the most satisfying kind of storytelling." -Booklist
"Haunting . . . Clodine Wheeler is the bemused narrator who strings together brilliant beads of descriptive phrases as she sorts through her memories . . . Chehak skillfully depicts small-town meanness and ironic generosity . . . . Her mesmerizing tale has classic resonances." – Publishers Weekly
"A dark tale of obsession among the posh ranks of a midwestern town... Chehak's poetic style exposes the passionate longings beneath the mannered sterling-and-crystal patina of Cedar Hill life; she renders both violence and love with an unflinching eye and casts a mournful spell." -Vogue
"Chehak is a very accomplished storyteller, always in control of her narrative, which moves ahead with grace and speed. But it's not only the plot that matters to this writer. It's the telling little details, particularly of teenage angst and of domestic life that makes the novel rich... SMITHEREENS is a novel fully worthy of the title thriller. It's hard to put down. It has a kind of dark allure." - The Los Angeles Times
“In Susan Taylor Chehak’s skilled hands, Iowa becomes the seething, steamy setting for a tale of pure evil… This is a marvelous, creepy story.” -The Kansas City Star

What's New

The Future Perfect: An Interview With John Irving

December 4, 2015

The novelist on what atheists and true believers have in common and how Mark Twain, Henry James, and “Sigmund-fucking-Freud” lack imagination.

Read the whole interview at Guernica

On The Moon, a new short story

October 1, 2015

"We had to creep past that corner of the hallway where it made its turn and then make a beeline for the stairs because we were being watched. Or so we thought. Or so Gemma thought. That was her story, and I became her friend because I believed it. Or so I said. I didn’t ask awkward questions, and I wouldn’t let minor details impair my imagination. I only nodded, wide-eyed, and peered more closely at the walls.

"'See the holes?” she asked, pointing. 'Just there. And there. And there.'"

Read the rest at Limestone

What Happened To Paula Update: "The Third Guy"

April 17, 2014

The Update is here! If you already own a copy of the Kindle ebook version of What Happened To Paula, you will receive notice that your book has been updated and that updated version will appear in your Cloud, ready for download. (If you've signed up for automatic updates, you'll receive a new version of the book automatically on your Kindle or Kindle App.)

I've added new information, integrated with excerpts from previously published newspaper articles, police reports, statements and interviews in the Updates section of the book under the title: "The Third Guy." If you have not yet purchased the book, that update will appear in all current versions of the book, which is available for purchase HERE.

For those of you who have been following the story on the WEBSITE, I'll be adding this update there at the beginning of May.

As always, I'm eager to hear your thoughts.

What Happened to Paula, an e-book

February 17, 2014

Yesterday was my birthday. February 16th.

If you already know me, then you already know:

I live an insanely blessed life, filled with dear friends and beloved family, dogs and cats, a highly stimulating career, absorbing hobbies, travel, beauty, warmth, good health and (at least many moments of) inner peace.

I want you to also know: I'm deeply grateful for every little bit of it.

Around this time of year fifteen years ago, I'd published five novels and I was ready to write a new one. As is my habit, I went searching for a story to get me started. What I found was an unsolved murder, the death of a lovely girl, who I'd known only vaguely when I was in high school.

1970. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I remembered the story, but I wanted to know more.

So I wrote a letter and made an appointment and talked a judge into signing an order, effecting the release to me of a photocopy of the entire police file on the case. I remember thinking when I opened it and began to read: I have found my life's work.

And so it has become.

At the time of her death in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the summer of 1970, eighteen-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling was a beautiful leggy blonde who dreamed of becoming a model. She disappeared in the early morning hours of July 11th, after she'd borrowed her roommate's car to go off on an unspecified errand. She was barefoot and dressed in a light blue nightgown with matching panties. The next morning, the roommate's car was found parked in a red zone near a grocery store, and Paula was gone. Four months later, two young brothers who were on a hike along the railroad tracks down by the Cedar River came upon some human remains and homicide detectives were called in. While rumors flew, the ensuing police investigation brought no conclusive answer to what had happened to Paula.

Although theories have been put forth, still all these many years later, the case remains unsolved.

In 2008, I brought a crew to Cedar Rapids with a plan to make a documentary film about Paula and my ongoing independent murder investigation. In the process I conducted interviews with Paula's family and friends, as well as two homicide detectives who were on the case in 1970, the doctor who was coroner at that time, and others who had been mentioned in the file.

In 2010, I conducted further interviews with several more people who were involved, including the roommate and the man who was believed to have dumped Paula's body in the woods.

In 2012, in an effort to raise the stakes by crowdsourcing further investigation, I published a website and posted there the entire police file, obituary, FBI reports and other documents, as well as news articles, photographs, and my own transcribed interviews, inviting readers to comment and consult. I also built a Facebook page, where we've posted updates and tributes and ongoing group conversations as well.

Next Monday, February 25th, would have been Paula's 62nd birthday, and now, on that day, in honor and memory of her, Foreverland Press will publish an e-book revealing what has come of my 15 years of research into the circumstances of her untimely death.

What Happened to Paula: The Anatomy of a True Crime doesn't mark the end of my investigation. It doesn't offer a solution to the case. It's neither a conventional novelization nor a nonfiction narrative rendering of what went down. Rather, it's a compilation of raw data, presented in such a way that it tells Paula Oberbroeckling's story, reveals the socio-political realities of that time and place, and invites you, the reader, to follow the threads, make the connections, imagine the scenarios, come to your own conclusions, and in so doing, join me and other readers in this murder investigation.

The e-book will be available in the Amazon Kindle store on February 25th, and it will be continually updated as additional data is added and new information comes to light. (Readers will be able to sign up for alerts to these updates as they're made.)

All proceeds will go toward funding what promises to become a powerful collaborative effort to discover and reveal, at last, what happened to Paula.

Together we'll come to the truth. Solve the crime. Close the case.

Let the girl rest in peace.

Another new cover

January 18, 2014

...for an early novel re-released as an ebook via Foreverland Press.

Take a closer look HERE.

You can't tell a book by its cover

January 15, 2014

But I really love these new looks for my first books...

Read my interview over at Midwestern Gothic

August 6, 2013

When I was a kid I had these book club copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and Edgar Alan Poe stories that included terrifying woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg, and I gazed at those pictures and read those stories over and over again, scaring myself silly with them. When I was older, my mother gave me Rebecca and I followed it up with contemporary gothic romances by the likes of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.

Later, when I was published and people were labeling the novels “Gothic” I wanted to know what that meant, so I went back and read all those old Gothic novels again: The Monk and Ann Radcliffe and everything else I could find, including some lit-crit, like Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel.

I found this, in Nightmare on Main Street by Mark Edmundson: “Gothic is the art of haunting… [it] shows time and again that life, even at its most ostensibly innocent, is possessed, that the present is in thrall to the past. All are guilty. All must, in time, pay up.”

And this, from Chris Baldick’s introduction to The Oxford Book of Gothic Stories: “For a work to be Gothic, it should combine a fearful sense of inheritance in time with a claustrophobic sense of enclosure in space, these two dimensions reinforcing one another to produce an impression of sickening descent into disintegration.”

I already understood how the European Gothic worked these themes, with complex architectural structures of castles and mazes and secret documents, to be puzzled out. And Southern Gothic, with complex familial structures of characters and grotesques, where the gargoyles are living human beings.

Grant Wood, who painted the famous “American Gothic,” is from Cedar Rapids and was also a friend of my family. That iconographic painting begins to approach what we might mean by Midwestern Gothic, I think: the portrait of those plain people, stoic, solid as a rock, seemingly simple in their appearance and attitude, but also, in their way, closed off. The man’s face, daring you to ask him any questions. Her sideways look, avoiding openness. There is a tangle of secrets there behind those faces, symbolized by the Gothic design in the window of the house behind them. To me, that Gothic window represents the complex nature of the inner life, both conscious and unconscious—filled with secrets daring to be bared.

We get a hint of that complexity in the story of a guy like Ed Gein in Wisconsin, the original psycho killer, explicated in Deviant by Harold Schechter: “…for all their very real friendliness and hospitality, Midwesterners tend to be a reticent bunch, regarding certain personal matters as inappropriate subjects for conversation or examination. They also have a pronounced—and very American—tendency to take people at face value and to pay as little attention as possible to the darker side of human nature.”

This defines Midwestern Gothic, for me. It’s a hidden (or repressed) psychological complexity of character plus the tangled structure of a narrative maze (or fortress or house), in which a basically simple, flat, rolling, open, clear (as in the Iowa landscape itself) narrative takes place.

Now, when people ask me what kind of novels I write I use the term: Midwestern Gothic. And describe it as “love and death in Iowa.”

Read the rest of the interview at Midwestern Gothic

New look for an old book

April 25, 2013

“Chehak is a very accomplished storyteller, always in control of her narrative, which moves ahead with grace and speed. But it’s not only the plot that matters to this writer. It’s the telling little details, particularly of teenage angst and of domestic life that makes the novel rich… SMITHEREENS is a novel fully worthy of the title thriller. It’s hard to put down. It has a kind of dark allure.” -The Los Angeles Times

This compelling novel, set once again in the heartland of America, pairs two unlikely friends in a dark tale of seduction and murder. It is May Caldwell’s sixteenth summer, and life couldn’t be more dull in Linwood, Iowa. Vaguely suicidal and haunted by half-remembered scenes from her early childhood, May is a girl waiting for her life to happen. And happen it does with the unexpected arrival of Frances Anne Crane, a.k.a. Frankie, a girl with too much past and nothing to lose. Together they seduce an older man as Frankie awakens all that May has been holding inside: the mystery of her uncle Brodie’s illicit past, the painful truth of her grandparents’ slow dissolutions, and her own emerging sexuality. Where Frankie leads, May follows, and what’s left is a murder no one can pin, a family’s buried past resurfaced in a wild night of mayhem, and May’s safe world blown to smithereens in this unforgettable tale of betrayal and desire.
Available for all ebook readers HERE

April Showers Bring New Stories for Spring and Fall

March 23, 2013

Tags: short stories, litzines, new work

I'm pleased to announce that I have some new stories coming out soon, all a part of the collection-to-be that I'm calling It's Not About the Dog. "Dawn" will be published in the next issue of Permafrost. "Mouse Wars" is set to appear in the next issue of Verdad. And "All The Time" will show up in Monday Night #12 early next fall.

Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, on the State of the Story

October 26, 2012

Tags: short stories, Paris Review, reading

"For most of my grownup life I edited books, most of them novels. I read short stories now and then, the way book editors do, in a professional way, because they're a good place to spot talent. And every once in a while I'd teach a class where we read short stories, because – well,because they're short. You can read them closely. They lend themselves to discussions of technique. And certain short story writers I loved, and now and then I was lucky enough to edit one of their collections. But novels were what I thought about most of the day. And at the end of the day, when I took a book to dinner or to bed – that is, when I read for pleasure – the book I took with me was almost never a book of stories..." read the rest of the essay HERE