Books by Frances Webb

The Memoir Man: And Others in Public Places

The small dramas that happen in public places are like mini stories that can entertain, make us
think, or touch a certain emotion. They are played out without a producer or editor, but maybe with a writer taking notes. These twenty or so stories are perhaps those notes.

The Memoir Man: and Others in Public Place is a collection of both short stories and poems that range from a camouflaged homeless person pushing a grocery cart carrying a typewriter, to a man walking on Fifth Avenue with a television on his head. The main characters are either slightly mentally or emotionally challenged, and happen to be out in public.

Bits and pieces of lives such as these are played out, with an involved narrator or without. A man sits at a table in a library peeling an egg while being watched by a woman quietly and obsessively reviewing highlights of her ancestor’s life.

A man on a train is peeling an egg and wondering what to do with the tiny pieces of shells lodged in the creases of his hands.

A woman watches and judges a woman filling her pockets with napkins at a Barnes and Noble café.

In a museum lobby, a woman notices a couple trying to check their baby along with their coats. Both long and short stories capture obsession, loneliness, nosiness, and brief moments of guilt or

He’s back. He looks at the kid holding his pen. He looks pained. He walks to the window. He can’t sit down. He rubs his eyes and pushes his gray hair to a stick-out straight-up position. Then smooths it down. Rubs his head again. I think: Maybe he has a publisher. Maybe he is a retired professor on a mission for the Center for Advanced Learning or the Fellowship of
Spanish Believers or the Salvation Army … Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in the British Museum.

The man could be another Karl Marx and I am watching him change the course of history. It’s a shame they don’t supply him with an office. I think too: If that kid speaks to him, he will cry.

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Roamers and Wanderers

This mixed genre of short stories and poems set in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s have one thing in common: They show how travel opens the world to new ideas, yet expresses the universality of mankind.

“Getting to Verdun” veers a bit to the crazy side of life, with a woman, her husband, and her father intent on granting the father’s wish to reach Verdun, so he can retrace his steps made in World War I. The daughter has unresolved issues with her father and acts up.

In “Norway,” the illusory attention from a colleague of her husband within an atmosphere of possible radiation exposure, and in totally unfamiliar surroundings, distracts a woman from confronting her fear for an imagined unborn child.

The universality of travel continues with the short story “On a Bench in the Amtrak Station,” which follows a woman intently watching a mother and baby interact. She talks to herself about it, revealing how envious she is of their relationship.

“The Guide and the Boy,” written in the style of magic realism, deals with a tour guide trying to keep his tourists interested in the myths of Mexico. Among the tourists is a teenage boy who finds the guide boring and thus harasses him until the guide “loses it” and becomes violent.

In “Ulrika,” an arrogant womanizer drives through the Alps off-handedly looking for a woman he vaguely remembers. He finds her, objectifies her, and she reacts in a self-destructive manner.

Travel, and everything changes. It’s all new surroundings, people, routine, and relationships, which can be tested, strained, rejuvenated, or even broken. Embedded ideas can suddenly become challenged.

Roamers and Wanderers is a collection of short stories and some poetry set in different countries or cities and written over a period of about forty years. Each is about travel and the effect the trip has on the traveler. Characters may react in negative or positive ways. In one case, memories surface, resulting in emotional turmoil. Primarily in the poems, political issues are visited.

In the first short story, “Markers,” a newly married woman confronts the controlling behavior exhibited by her husband.

The poem “Take Off” reveals the universal fear of flying. In the poem “Nobody Knows,” a woman reflects on how she appears to others – looking crazy? – in the airport as she walks back and forth looking for the ground transportation sign.

In “Remembering Caracas,” the narrator is waiting in a Rhode Island train station and notices a provocative sentence built into the tile floor: “I travel not to get someplace but travel for travel’s sake.” This exemplifies all the stories in this collection.

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A Short Joy for Alma Hedman

Two cultures, embodied in Alma, an ex-nun, and Carmelo, a newly arrived young man from Puerto Rico, hit head-on in this ’80s-era story about language and obsession.

A Short Joy for Alma Hedman begins as Alma, a troubled postulant nun, leaves her convent for an uncertain outside world. She brings with her strong religious beliefs, embodied in a handmade cross she wears around her neck. Her life collides in the big city with Carmelo, a young Puerto Rican who can barely speak English.

Unable to get a job in America without learning better English, Carmelo enrolls in Alma’s ESL class at a community college. Both are outsiders, and as it turns out, both have much to learn from the other.

Alma, an ex-Episcopalian postulant, is leaving the convent for good. On the drive home, her mother tells her, “We’ll stop at Bloomies – you have no clothes I’m sure; no home, no man.” Alma responds with religious platitudes, including, “Virginity is the highest calling.” Their annoyance with each other builds until Alma tells her mother to stop the car. As her mother drives off, Alma hears her yell, “Go find a church.”

Alma does just that. She comes across a large church as well as a mentor, who in exchange for a job, allows her to remain until she can adjust to the outside world. She’s told about a job teaching English at a new community college, something she did at the convent.

Carmelo, a young Puerto Rican, comes to the city and is met by his brother, Mario, who lectures him on the need to learn English, the “right English,” so he won’t end up a thief like him. All Carmelo wants is to get a job as a diesel engine repairman and bring his girlfriend, Miguelina, to the mainland.

Come to a Memory: Joab’s Story/Lila’s Story


Prejudice takes many forms. Set in New Jersey just before World War II, Come to a Memory: Joab’s Story/Lila’s Story is about two classmates who are both bullied in school for different reasons.

Joab arrives in Lila’s fourth grade class as the new kid, and is greeted with scorn because he’s a half-Jewish refugee from Germany, and everyone knows that Germany is the enemy in the war. He talks funny and dresses differently, and has a black number burned into his arm. The teacher sits him next to Lila, another student who is belittled by the other students. She comes from a poor extended family, and her grandfather is considered the town fool. Can these two forge a friendship and survive against all the odds?

The historical novel Come to a Memory reflects how memory can affect current relationships, and is set as a backdrop to life during wartime. It also depicts the slow development of friendship through patience and kindness in the face of childhood bullying.

The story takes place in a small suburban northern New Jersey commuter town at the very beginning of World War II, just as the Great Depression is lifting for some, but not for others. Lila’s family (extended and living in one large house divided in two) is poor and her grandfather rants to his son, Lila’s father, about letting the bank foreclose on part of his property and on their livelihood.

Early rumblings of war reverberate from newspaper headlines and the evening news with Lowell Thomas.

Lila is a fourth grader and an outcast at school, since she is poor and lives in an odd house with her grandfather, the town tyrant and fool. The first day of her school year in 1939 is clouded with sadness for Lila because of the noise coming from her backyard. A bulldozer is razing her family’s greenhouses, disturbing the peace of the neighborhood, and she is tormented by her classmates because of it.

The child is self-conscious about her house, which she has divided into the “green” and “blue” sides. She and her nuclear family represent the green, and her aunts and grandparents are blue. This, along with being old-fashioned in dress, add to Lila’s ostracism.

Innocence and Gold Dust

After Eutropius’ mother dies while giving birth to him, the newborn is raised by a shepherd and his wife. The shepherd castrates the baby to increase his worth and sells him into slavery, where Eutropius eventually becomes part of a young woman’s dowry. He develops a close relationship with his new mistress, Sophie, until he is caught pandering and is released from service without financial support.

Eutropius’ struggle with his lack of social and sexual power translates into lust for political power and wealth. He is determined to overcome his outcast status and concocts devious schemes (switching brides on the Emperor and kidnapping a bishop) to reach a powerful position in society. However, as he works his way up, public outrage over such a high standing for a eunuch threatens to knock him back down again. With physical violence and verbal insults raging against him, is it possible for him to keep everything he has earned?

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About the author

Retired teacher Frances Webb has written many short stories over the years and plans her next book to be another short story collection. She grew up in a small town in North Jersey in a house built in the 1890s by her grandfather.