Cover image for Past perfect, present tense : new and collected stories
Past perfect, present tense : new and collected stories
Peck, Richard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dial Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
177 pages ; 22 cm
A collection of short stories, including two previously unpublished ones, that deal with the way things could be.
The first. Priscilla and the wimps -- The past. The electric summer -- Shotgun Cheatham's last night above ground -- The special powers of Blossom Culp -- By far the worst pupil at Long Point School -- The supernatural. Girl at the window -- The most important night of Melanie's life -- Waiting for Sebastian -- Shadows -- The present. Fluffy the gangbuster -- I go along -- The kiss in the carry-on bag -- The three-century woman -- How to write a short story -- Five helpful hints.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.9 6.0 78250.
Format :


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Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Young Adult
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

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Though Richard Peck is best known as a novelist, he has been writing praised and popular short stories throughout his career. His first, “Priscilla and the Wimps,” is perhaps the most-read children’s short story of all time. Others have inspired his award-winning novels: A Long Way from Chicagoand A Year Down Yonderbegan with a story called “Shotgun Cheatham’s Last Night Above Ground”; and “The Electric Summer” was the jumping point for Fair Weather.Now here are thirteen of Richard Peck’s stories, including all of his previously published tales and two brand-new ones. He has also written entertaining notes about the stories, an informative introduction about the genre, and tips on how to write short stories, including “Five Helpful Hints” that will be a valuable aid to aspiring authors.

Author Notes

Richard Peck was born in Decatur, Illinois on April 5, 1934. He received a bachelor's degree in English literature from DePauw University in 1956. After graduation, he served two years in the U.S. Army in Germany, where he worked as a chaplain's assistant writing sermons and completing paperwork. He received a master's degree in English from Southern Illinois University in 1959. He taught high school English in Illinois and New York City.

He stopped teaching in 1971 to write a novel. His first book, Don't Look and It Won't Hurt, was published in 1972 and was adapted as the 1992 film Gas Food Lodging. He wrote more than 40 books for both adults and young adults including Amanda/Miranda, Those Summer Girls I Never Met, The River Between Us, A Long Way from Chicago, A Season of Gifts, The Teacher's Funeral, Fair Weather, Here Lies the Librarian, On the Wings of Heroes, and The Best Man. A Year down Yonder won the Newbery Medal in 2001 and Are You in the House Alone? won an Edgar Award. The Ghost Belonged to Me was adapted into the film Child of Glass. He received the MAE Award in 1990 and the National Humanities Medal in 2002. He died following a long battle with cancer on May 23, 2018 at the age of 84.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-12. Starting with the wildly popular Priscilla and the Wimps, Peck's short stories have enlivened many YA anthologies. This collection gathers 11 of those stories and two new ones, with notes about each--where it came from, why and how Peck wrote it, and, sometimes, how it led to a novel (even to a Newbery Award)--as well as helpful hints for young writers. Relaxed in style, the notes never try to explain anything. The voice is laconic and wry (Does Peck believe in ghosts? Not really, and may I never see one ). But the advice is tough (Real writing isn't e-mail ). Then, suddenly, there's literary discussion about a story's epiphany: In a moment he's been unconsciously moving toward, he suddenly sees he's been living the wrong life. The combination is wonderful for both writers and readers. Read the story and the commentary, then go back to see how Peck does what he does. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Two new stories pair with 11 previously published tales here," noted PW. "It is Peck's introductions to each grouping of stories and his two additional sections for aspiring writers that make the collection exceptional." Ages 8-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-This collection of 11 previously published stories and two new ones begins with an introduction to fiction writing by Peck and the first story he ever wrote for publication, "Priscilla and the Wimps." The other stories are divided into sections of "The Past," "The Supernatural," and "The Present," with insightful explanations introducing each part. Concluding pages discuss writing short stories and offer five helpful hints. What's wonderful about this title is not only the quality of the writing, but also the additional information it offers about the craft and the author. The stories perfectly highlight Peck's range and expertise at characterization. Almost every one is a superb read-aloud and the humor is enjoyable for high school as well as middle school students. Peck's messages that "Nobody but a reader ever became a writer" and the importance of reading should be copied and placed on every English class bulletin board. This superior collection is a must for every library.-Karen Hoth, Marathon Middle/High School, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



A story isn't what is. It's what if? Fiction isn't real life with the names changed. It's an alternate reality to reflect the reader's own world. But what is a short story not? It's not a condensation of a novel, or an unfinished one. It's not Cliffs Notes to anything. It has its own shape and profile. It's not the New York skyline; it's a single church spire. Its end is much nearer its beginning, and so it can be overlooked. The short story is much misunderstood. There are even aspiring writers who think they'll start out writing short stories and work their way up to the big time: novels. It doesn't work like that. A short story isn't easier than a novel. It has so little space to make its mark that it requires the kind of self-mutilating editing most new writers aren't capable of. It has less time to plead its case. I hadn't meant to be a short story writer. BOOKS BY RICHARD PECK NOVELS FOR YOUNG ADULTS Don't Look and It Won't Hurt Dreamland Lake Through a Brief Darkness Representing Super Doll The Ghost Belonged to Me Are You in the House Alone? Ghosts I Have Been Father Figure Secrets of the Shopping Mall Close Enough to Touch The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp Remembering the Good Times Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death Princess Ashley Those Summer Girls I Never Met Voices After Midnight Unfinished Portrait of Jessica Bel-Air Bambi and the Mall Rats The Last Safe Place on Earth Lost in Cyberspace The Great Interactive Dream Machine Strays Like Us A Long Way from Chicago A Year Down Yonder Fair Weather Invitations to the World The River Between Us Past Perfect, Present Tense The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts Here Lies the Librarian NOVELS FOR ADULTS Amanda/Miranda London Holiday New York Time This Family of Women PICTURE BOOK Monster Night at Grandma's House NONFICTION Anonymously Yours Invitations to the World New and Collected Stories by Richard Peck I acknowledge with thanks the editors who generously have included my work in their anthologies: Lois Duncan Lisa Rowe Fraustino Donald R. Gallo Michael Green Johanna Hurwitz Harry Mazer M. Jerry Weiss and Helen Weiss I am grateful to Roger Sutton, who encouraged this collection. CONTENTS Introduction A short story, like fiction of any length, is always about change. Even in a handful of pages, the characters can't be the same people in the last paragraph whom we met in the first. If there's no change, there's no story, unless you write fiction for The New Yorker magazine. A word writers use is "epiphany." In ancient Greece the word described the miraculous appearance of a god or goddess. The Christian church uses the word with a capital E to define Twelfth Night, the moment when the Magi, the Three Kings, made the long-heralded discovery of the Christ child. In fiction writing, the epiphany is a sudden breakthrough of understanding, of self-awareness. It's that moment of change that changes every moment after. It's the lightbulb switched suddenly on over somebody's head. Novels tell of epiphanies acted upon. A short story tends to turn upon a single epiphany, sometimes in the last line. The change to come is to play out in the reader's mind. In real life we have epiphanies all the time. But we wait for them to go away. Change is too hard, and threatening. That's why we have fiction. Stories are better than real life, or we wouldn't have them. Stories for the young present the metaphor of change upon the page to prepare the readers for the changes coming in their lives. Non-readers will never be ready. Again, like all fiction, a short story is never an answer, always a question. Writers with answers write nonfiction: advice columns and government pamphlets and textbooks. Fiction writers have only questions, and the eternal question all fiction asks the reader is: WHAT IF I WERE THE CHARACTER IN THIS STORY? WHAT WOULD I DO? This is the great gift readers receive: They can be anybody and go anywhere. They can try on all these lives to see which ones fit. Stories raise every kind of question. Stories for the young regularly invite their readers to ask themselves: WHEN WILL I START TAKING CHARGE OF MY LIFE? A comic story can ask serious questions. So can a tale of the supernatural, which is only another device for questioning actual people and wondering how they work. A story set in past times can ask a modern reader timeless questions about all those issues history and progress never solve. Even an animal character can be a way of asking what moves and motivates humans. Fiction writers creep up on as many sides of their readers as they can. They use as many techniques as they can think of. And so a short story is like all fiction: It's a question about change. All stories begin with those same two words: WHAT IF? A story isn't what is. It's what if? Fiction isn't real life with the names changed. It's an alternate reality to reflect the reader's own world. But what is a short story not? It's not a condensation of a novel, or an unfinished one. It's not Cliffs Notes to anything. It has its own shape and profile. It's not the New York skyline; it's a single church spire. Its end is much nearer its beginning, and so it can be overlooked. "One tends to overpraise a long book because one has got through it," said E. M. Forster--a novelist. His tongue was in his cheek, but he makes a point. A full-length novel with its community of characters, its multiple epiphanies, its changing scenes, is taken more seriously--in class, in reviews, in the book club. The short story is much misunderstood. There are even aspiring writers who think they'll start out writing short stories and work their way up to the big time: novels. It doesn't work like that. A short story isn't easier than a novel. It has so little space to make its mark that it requires the kind of self-mutilating editing most new writers aren't capable of. It has less time to plead its case. Only poetry is less forgiving. But poetry can teach you how to throw out all the words that aren't pulling their weight. In a short story there's no place to hide, whether you're the writer or the reader. I hadn't meant to be a short-story writer. I'd hoped to be Mark Twain. The first of his books to lift me out of my world and into a bigger one was Life on the Mississippi. It seemed to be autobiography, and true. I little knew how much fictional technique, and fiction, that book embodied. I fell for nonfiction, the romance of the real. But later when I was a teacher, an English teacher naturally, my students preferred fiction to reality. They were in junior high, and so they preferred ANYTHING to reality. But our curriculum was heavy-laden with full-length novels, even when I drew up the reading list myself. I harbored the wan hope of stretching their attention spans. Junior-high teaching made a writer out of me. The first question a writer has to answer before putting pen to paper is: WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHO MIGHT BE WILLING TO READ WHAT I MIGHT BE ABLE TO WRITE? I found those people in my roll book. They were the people I knew the best, and liked the best. From our first morning together I knew things about them their parents dared never know. Better yet, as their English teacher I saw in their compositions what they would never say aloud within the hearing of their powerful peers. The voices in their pages still ring in mine. When I quit teaching to write, I had novels in mind. First one, to see if I could do it, and now thirty-two novels through these thirty-two years later. But as the years went by, the short story found its own way into my career. Most of the short stories in this collection were written as assignments. Editors like Donald R. Gallo and Michael Green, writing colleagues like Lois Duncan and Harry Mazer, ask us to write short stories for collections they're putting together. Sometimes they give us a theme, sometimes not. Sometimes they give us the length, sometimes not. They always give us deadlines. Real life turns out to be strangely like school: You have assignments--and deadlines. Yet deadlines are our friends. The deadline helps us find the time to write the story. But how much easier to talk about writing than to write. How much easier to generalize about a whole generation of readers than to reach just one of them upon the shared page . . . The First The first short story stands alone because it's the first one I ever wrote. And because it may be the most widely read of anything I've ever written, of any length. From this story, I learned that short stories can go places novels can't--into textbook anthologies and other people's collections and endless magazine reprints in any number of languages. This one goes first because it proves that a writer can't have a master plan for his career. A writer has to be ready to turn on a dime. One day more than twenty-five years ago, I was bent over the typewriter in the midst of a novel when the phone rang. It was the editor of a magazine for teenagers. She said she'd been reading my novels and wanted me to write a short story for her magazine. It had to be set in junior high/middle school. She already had too many stories about high school. When I could get a word in, I told her I didn't do short stories. "We pay three hundred dollars," she said. "I'll try," I said. "It has to be very short," she said, "about a thousand words, and it needs to end with a bang. That's the good news. The bad news is that we'll need it by Thursday." She hung up, and I had thirty-six hours to write my first short story. All I knew about it was that it had to be set in junior high, so I assumed the girl would be bigger than the boy. The story unfolded from there. I knew too that I wouldn't be working on my novel for thirty-six hours, that I wouldn't be leaving the house, that I'd be bringing my meals to the desk. What I didn't know was that years later in another century, I'd be putting together a collection of my short stories because of that one and how it opened a new door. I called it "Priscilla and the Wimps." Priscilla and the Wimps Listen, there was a time when you couldn't even go to the restroom around this school without a pass. And I'm not talking about those little pink tickets made out by some teacher. I'm talking about a pass that would cost anywhere up to a buck, sold by Monk Klutter. Not that Mighty Monk ever touched money, not in public. The gang he ran, which ran the school for him, was his collection agency. They were Klutter's Kobras, a name spelled out in nailheads on six well-known black plastic windbreakers. Monk's threads were more . . . subtle. A pile-lined suede battle jacket with lizard-skin flaps over tailored Levi's and a pair of ostrich-skin boots, brass-toed and suitable for kicking people around. One of his Kobras did nothing all day but walk a half step behind Monk, carrying a fitted bag with Monk's gym shoes, a coil of restroom passes, a cash box, and a switchblade that Monk gave himself manicures with at lunch over at the Kobras' table. Speaking of lunch, there were cases of advanced malnutrition among the newer kids. The ones who were a little slow in handing over a cut of their lunch money and were therefore barred from the cafeteria. Monk ran a tight ship. I admit it. I'm five foot five, but when the Kobras slithered by, with or without Monk, I shrank. And I admit this too: I paid up on a regular basis. And I might add: so would you. This school was old Monk's Garden of Eden. Unfortunately for him, there was a serpent in it. The reason Monk didn't recognize trouble when it was staring him in the face is that the serpent in the Kobras' Eden was a girl. Practically every guy in school could show you his scars. Fang marks from Kobras, you might say: lumps, lacerations, blue bruises. But girls usually got off with a warning. Except there was this one girl named Priscilla Roseberry. Picture a girl named Priscilla Roseberry, and you'll be light years off. Priscilla was, hands down, the largest student in the school. I'm not talking fat. I'm talking big. Even beautiful, in a bionic way. Priscilla wasn't inclined toward organized crime. Otherwise, she could have put together a gang that would turn Klutter's Kobras into a bunch of garter snakes. Priscilla was basically a loner except she had one friend, a little guy named Melvin Detweiler. You talk about The Odd Couple. Melvin's one of the smallest guys above midget status ever seen. They even had lockers next to each other in the same bank as mine. I don't know what they had going. I'm not saying this was a romance. After all, people deserve their privacy. Priscilla was sort of above everything, if you'll pardon a pun. And very calm, as only the very big can be. If there was anybody who didn't notice Klutter's Kobras, it was Priscilla. Until one winter day after school when we were all grabbing our coats out of our lockers. And hurrying, since Klutter's Kobras made sweeps of the halls for after-school shakedowns. Anyway, up to Melvin's locker swaggers one of the Kobras. Never mind his name. Gang members don't need names. They have group identity. He reaches down and grabs little Melvin by the neck and slams his head against his locker door. The sound of skull against steel rippled all the way down the locker now, speeding the crowds on their way. "Okay, let's see your pass," snarls the Kobra. "A pass for what this time?" Melvin asks, probably still dazed. "Let's call it a pass for very short people," says the Kobra. "A dwarf tax." He wheezes a little Kobra chuckle, and already he's reaching for Melvin's wallet with the hand that isn't circling Melvin's windpipe. All this time, of course, Melvin and the Kobra are standing in Priscilla's big shadow. She's taking her time shoving her books into her locker and pulling on an extra-large coat. Then, quicker than the eye, she brings the side of her enormous hand down in a chop that breaks the Kobra's hold on Melvin's throat. You could hear a pin drop in that hallway. Nobody'd ever laid a finger on a Kobra, let alone a hand the size of Priscilla's. Then Priscilla, who hardly ever says anything to anybody except to Melvin, says to the Kobra, "Who's your leader, wimp?" This practically blows the Kobra away. First he's chopped by a girl. Now she's acting like she doesn't know Monk Klutter, the Head Honcho of the World. He's so amazed, he tells her. "Monk Klutter." "Never heard of him," Priscilla mentions. "Send him to see me." The Kobra just backs away from her like the whole situation is too big for him, which it is. Pretty soon Monk himself slides up. He jerks his head once, and his Kobras slither off down the hall. He's going to handle this interesting case personally. "Who is it around here doesn't know Monk Klutter?" He's standing inches from Priscilla, but since he'd have to look up at her, he doesn't. "Never heard of him," says Priscilla. Monk's not happy with this answer, but now he's spotted Melvin, who's growing smaller in spite of himself. Monk breaks his own rule by reaching for Melvin with his own hands. "Kid," he says, "you're going to have to educate your girlfriend." His hands never quite make it to Melvin. In a move of pure poetry Priscilla has Monk in a hammerlock. His neck's popping like gunfire, and his head's bowed under the immense weight of her forearm. His suede jacket's peeling back, showing pile. Priscilla's behind him in another easy motion. With a single mighty thrust forward, she frog-marches Monk into her own locker. It's incredible. His ostrich-skin boots click once in the air. And suddenly he's gone, neatly wedged into the locker, a perfect fit. Priscilla bangs the door shut, twirls the lock, and strolls out of school. Melvin goes with her, of course, trotting along below her shoulder. The last stragglers leave quietly. Well, this is where fate, an even bigger force than Priscilla steps in. It snows all that night, a blizzard. The whole town ices up. School closes for a week. The Past I call 1900 the year of my birth, but Mama claims to have no idea of the day. --"The Special Powers of Blossom Culp" These next four stories appear together because they're set in the past, and the past is my favorite place. All fiction is historical fiction the minute the ink is dry, particularly if you write for the young. Very little history is learned in school or college now, but that only spurs on the fiction writer. Whole generations of us fell for history, not in class but in the pages of Gone with the Wind and The Young Lions, just as an even earlier generation was swept up and carried back in time by Ben Hur. The first book I ever loved throbbed with the turning wheel of a long-vanished riverboat plying the nineteenth century. "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground" is set in 1929. "The Electric Summer" goes to the great world's fair of 1904. Blossom Culp displays her Special Powers during the 1910 school year. "By Far the Worst Pupil at Long Point School" is set in that timeless territory, the recollections of old folks. Three of these stories have something else in common. They all relate somehow to my novels. My first story, "Priscilla and the Wimps," had taught me how a short story can inspire a novel. I found I liked Priscilla and Melvin and wanted to see more of them. I wanted to learn how the friendship between the largest girl in school and the smallest boy would work out. They therefore reappear as Teresa and Barnie in a novel called Secrets of the Shopping Mall that had a long and happy life of its own, in several languages. Excerpted from Past Perfect, Present Tense by Richard Peck All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.