- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Chuck Kinder was living in San Francisco when he finished his novel “The Silver Ghost” on Aug. 16, 1977.

As he completed the final edit, Elvis Presley songs played on a radio. Just before Kinder called his wife, Diane Cecily, to tell her the novel was done, a disc jockey made an announcement:

The King was dead.

Kinder’s novel would meet the same fate. After its publication in 1979, “The Silver Ghost” quickly disappeared when the book’s editor left Harcourt Brace Jovanonich for another publishing house. With no one to champion it, the novel was not promoted or reviewed.

“It sunk like a rock thrown in a river at night,” says Kinder, the former University of Pittsburgh creative writing professor who now lives in Key Largo, Fla. “There was no paperback interest. That was it. I never thought I would see it rise up again.”



After 37 years of literary limbo, “The Silver Ghost” is being reissued June 28 by Braddock Avenue Books, the Pittsburgh-based publisher run by writers Robert Peluso and Jeffrey Condran. Both men, who studied with Kinder at Pitt, feel they are resurrecting a literary masterpiece.

“It was a ghost, an appropriate title for the book,” says Peluso, who also taught at Pitt with Kinder. “A mythical beast, a unicorn you were trying to find in the department. People knew its history and Chuck’s stunning reputation. There was a lot of notoriety and interest, but trying to find a copy of it, that was an issue.”

“The Silver Ghost” is a raucous coming-of-age tale set in the late 1950s by the author of “Honeymooners” and “Last Mountain Dancer.” The main character, Jimbo Stark, fancies himself as equal parts James Dean and Jack Kerouac. After graduating from high school, Jimbo hitchhikes to Florida with his friend Pace, and gets picked up by a con artist, Jake Barnes, who quickly indoctrinates the boys into the world of crime.

Scott Turow, Kinder’s former colleague at Stanford University where they were writing fellows, thinks the novel is a worthy achievement.

“‘The Silver Ghost’ is a credit to any writer,” Turow says.

Condran, an assistant professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, first read the book about 20 years ago. He thinks “The Silver Ghost” was a great improvement on Kinder’s 1973 debut novel, “Snakehunter.”

“It felt like a different book, a more mature book,” Condran says. “It was somebody who had found his voice and was taking me on this road trip. It’s always about self-discovery, the idea that if you wanted to, you could be a wild ass and hit the open road and look for adventure, but do it in a way that was smart and exciting.”

The story itself is filled with details and incidents gleaned from Kinder’s life. Like Jimbo Stark, Kinder hitchhiked to Florida after he graduated from high school with a friend. Just outside of New Bern, N.C., they were picked up by a man who asked them if they wanted jobs “as lifeguards, or looking for sunken treasure, or running rifles to Castro,” Kinder says.

Somehow, en route to Miami, the trio ended up in Atlantic City, and under the man’s “tutelage” went on a minor crime spree, robbing four taxis and three bars, according to Kinder. When he returned home to West Virginia, Kinder’s father made him return to Atlantic City and turn himself in to the authorities.

At the county jail, Kinder couldn’t face his accomplice. But his father did.

“That evening dad said ‘I can’t believe a man like that could lead you to the bad, and I couldn’t lead you to the good,’ ” Kinder says.

After re-reading “Silver Ghost” nearly four decades after its publication, Kinder is pleased the book will be given a proper release. But he’s not sure how to categorize it, calling it “sort of a postmodern meta memoir, in the guise of a novel.”

“It was about equally fact and fiction, and I knew I was writing it as I was living it,” Kinder says, “much like everything else I have ever written, including my more recent poetry. But if I had more imagination, like a real writer, I wouldn’t have had as much fun nor gotten in so much trouble, too, I guess.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/28J6VvM

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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