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Author Biography: Pete Fromm is the author most recently of Night Swimming, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories (1999). He won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards for How All This Started (2000), the story ...
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Author Biography: Pete Fromm is the author most recently of Night Swimming, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories (1999). He won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards for How All This Started (2000), the story collection Dry Rain (1997), and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles (1994). He has published over a hundred stories, earning numerous honors, including nominations for the Pushcart Prize. How All This Started is his first novel. He lives with his family in Great Falls, Montana.
“Raw and immediate. Abilene drives what becomes a suspenseful, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive adventure in growing up.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“Pete Fromm’s first novel lays bare the raw nerve of love.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A wistful, moving first novel...a powerful and promising debut from a diligent writer" —Kirkus Reviews
“How All This Started offers a vivid perspective from the pitcher’s mound, in this case, from the West Texas desert. A gutsy effort in the manner of McGuane and McMurtry, full of mesquite, cresote and one girl’s violent encounters with herself.” —Los Angeles Times
Howling gusts ripped at the corners of our house, tearing at the roof, shaking the windows, and I lay open-eyed in the dark, listening. Blue northers Dad called these storms, and through the gravel BB-ing the house, the occasional scratchy thump of a creosote bush shot against the siding—the wind itself, moaning and keening—I strained to hear the first trace of Abilene's return. I'd even left my jeans on, so I wouldn't be naked when she came.
She'd been gone over a week, without a word, Mom and Dad in a quiet panic, their voices trailing off whenever I appeared. But Abilene and I had never once missed a norther.
When I was little, still wearing pajamas, before Abilene's disappearing this way was something anybody could ever have pictured, I'd sneak into her room as soon as the wind started. Wrapped under the same blankets, we'd giggle as the whole world got turned upside down by something as deadly normal as wind. There wasn't a thing out there to stop it, even slow it down, only, as far as any eye could see, the endless, level horizon of stubby, drought-brittled creosote and head-high mesquite. The wind would roar through that thin cover, tearing loose anything broken, dusting the skies for days. But we used to open all her windows, shivering against each other in the dark, feeling the strange, wet cold, the scorched smell of the desert turned pregnant, like no other time at all. Abilene said if Mom and Dad found us like that, we'd tell them the storm had woken me, had scared me. Burying our faces in her pillow, we laughed like crazy at the idea of us beingscared of anything. We laughed till our ribs ached, till we had to throw back the blankets for air. Then we lay still in the cold, holding on to each other for the warmth, and we listened to the wild wind, raging wherever it cared to go.
But that'd been when we were just kids, and Abilene was too old now—I was too old now—to go tiptoeing into her room no matter how much I might have wanted to. Even if she had been home.
Outside the wind kept up its battering, whistling through the loose shingles, but as I lay staring at the dark, it turned into as much a lullaby as anything, and instead of dashing from beneath the covers and opening the window, the way we used to, I ended up dozing off. It would've been too lonely anyway, having the desert all wet and cold in the room with just me.
I woke to the window screeching back and forth, stubborn in its frame. I sat up smiling, picturing how excited Abilene would look, shooting her fists up first in one corner, then the other, zigzagging the window up, letting in the wind, maybe even jumping in with me like the old days.
But the window, though half-open, was empty. A pale light flooded in with the cold, like maybe there was a fire somewhere out there. It was bright enough to look around, but the only person in my room was Nolan Ryan, my old poster ghostly in the outside light, his leg caught chin high, about to uncork his scorching fastball, the word Fireballer arcing over his head.
Then, even louder than the wind, I caught the bleating rumble of Abilene's broken-muffler truck, smelled the creeping fog of blue exhaust. "Ab'lene?" I whispered.
Something hit the bottom edge of the window then, from outside, shoving it up the rest of the way. A two-by-four or something. Some kind of big stick. It clattered in the yard, and before I could think, Abilene's hands shot up over the sill, her head poking into my room, her elbows clawing at the ledge, feet scrabbling against the siding.
"Ab'lene?" I said again, louder, my smile growing.
She hooked her waist over the sill and slithered inside.
When Abilene leapt up, quick as a snake, the light outside left nothing but a long, lean, black shadow of her, wider through the shoulders than anywhere else. Not much different from Nolan Ryan, really, if Nolan Ryan had been a girl. A perfect one.
"Hey, Ab'lene," I said, my smile huge. We'd used her window forever; our escape hatch, crawling onto the porch roof and dropping down between Mom's flowers. Abilene had even waxed the frame for silence. But there was no roof under my window. There was nothing out there at all. It was as if she'd been off somewhere learning to fly, and was just back now to share the secret.
Abilene blew out a big breath, barely holding back her laughter. "Hey, Austin," she whispered. "You awake?"
A snort escaped. "Do you hear this wind!"
"I've been waiting for you." I poked a leg from beneath the blankets, showing her my jeans.
Abilene paused, then grabbed my leg, giving it a shake. "You were waiting!" She stooped and tossed my shirt to me. "Come on. We're burning daylight."
"It's the middle of the night, Ab'lene," I said, drawing the shirt over my head, poking my arms through, hiding my scrawny self as quick as I could. I couldn't help a shiver at the cold touch of the cloth.
"Night. Day. Same thing." She was looking around the floor. "Where's your jacket?"
Abilene shook her head. "Poor planning, Austin. What with a norther and all."
"I wasn't sure you'd come."
Abilene jerked to a standstill, her shape dark against the watery light of the window. "Of course you were."
"I know," I said fast. "It's a good norther, isn't it?"
"You got that?" she cried, smacking at my shoulder, her fist balled up tight. But then, serious, she asked, "You knew I couldn't stay away with that going on, didn't you?"
"We didn't know where you were," I whispered. "We didn't have any idea."
"Hell," Abilene said, laughing again. "Neither did I!"
I stood up from the bed, but didn't move away from it.
"But I came back for you," she answered. "Just like you knew I would. Now let's go."
I eased toward the door, listening for any trace of Mom and Dad.
Abilene tugged me around, pointing at the window.
"Follow me," she said, grinning.
Darting feet first out the window, she clung to the sill like a spider. "Just kick off a little," she said, and that fast she was gone, smacking down in the bed of her truck, backed up tight to the house. "Presto!" she called.
She clapped her hands, waiting for me. "Child's play!"
I poked my head out instead of my feet.
She clapped again, not so patiently. "Turn around. The other way."
Afraid to tell her I'd meet her at the door, I wormed my legs out and dangled down the side of the house, the wind slapping at me just like everything else out there. Me in my T-shirt. I craned to see beneath me and Abilene said, "For crying out loud, Austin."
Then, back in my room, I heard a tiny, soft tapping: the ratchety click of my doorknob. I pushed off the wall of our house and let go.
Abilene caught me tight, keeping me from falling out of the truck. Her chest pushed up against my shoulder blades. I turned into her. "Mom and Dad are up," I whispered.
Abilene sprang over the side of the truck, bouncing behind the wheel and calling, "Time to go!" The engine roared and I jumped too.
The crushed white rock Dad kept raked smooth skittered out behind us, pinging in the wheel wells as Abilene scorched out of our driveway, blowing off into the desert, leaving our yard—the indistinguishable patch of nothing surrounding our house—far behind.
I knelt up on the seat, looking back, seeing my room light up like a beacon, a shadow so thin and small in the window it could only have been Mom, watching after us. Billowing in the icy wind of the norther, the curtains blocked more light than she did. Dad, of course, would have been like an eclipse up there.
To overcome the stark immensity of the West Texas landscape, Abilene pins her hopes on making Austin a pitching phenomenon -- a "fireballer" who will eclipse even the legendary Nolan Ryan. Abilene's seductive exuberance, however, soon takes on a darker cast. As she drives them beyond the edges of sanity, it becomes uncertain whether Abilene and Austin will survive her manic dreams.
Introducing one of the most memorable female characters in contemporary literature, How All This Started portrays with strength and subtlety the heart-wrenching struggles of a family dealing with manic depression, and the visceral bond between a brother and his sister.
1. Why is baseball so important to Austin? To Abilene? How does its significance change for each of them with the worsening of Abilene's disease? What does the bomber base symbolize to them?
2. What does Nolan Ryan mean to Abilene? Why does Abilene want Austin to become the next Nolan Ryan so badly? How does this dream connect Austin and Abilene?
3. Austin's family seems very traditional from the outside: mother, father, sister, and brother. However, the relationships between the family members aren't very traditional. What is Austin's relationship with his parents? And how has Abilene affected that relationship?
4. Abilene shines brighter than anything else in Austin's life. Why? What place does she hold in his life?
5. How does Abilene's illness change the roles in her family? Does she become closer to her mother? Does Austin become closer to his father? Why?
6. At an appointment with Dr. Pape, Austin shouts "You need to leave her alone!" Why doesn't Austin want to believe that Abilene is bipolar? Why is it difficult for him to accept her illness?
7. Why do you think Abilene takes Austin hunting for swallows? How does this episode affect Austin's view of his sister?
8. Why does Abilene isolate herself from her brother when she is trying to cope with her disease? How does this affect Austin?
About the Author:
Pete Fromm is the author most recently of Night Swimming, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories (1999). He won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards for How All This Started (2000), the story collection Dry Rain (1997), and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles (1994). He has published over a hundred stories, earning numerous honors, including nominations for the Pushcart Prize. How All This Started is his first novel. He lives with his family in Great Falls, Montana.