Up the Hill


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Set in a small prairie town, and narrated from the grave in a voice that is humorous, elucidatory, and enlightening, these interconnected folk tales capture how the dearly departed handle being spirits in a world that continues on without them, but also with them. In Up the Hill, death is intimate, and sometimes painful, but it is a threshold to understanding—not only for the deceased, but for the living. The result is forgiveness, redemption, and divine intervention and proof that “you get a whole lot smarter when you die.”

“James Calvin Schaap has done the impossible. These voices are both humorous, powerfully moving, and scary. They capture the very ‘bones’ of what it means to be human—to face one’s own transience. With irony and grace, this magical collection captures our attempts for both reconciliation and transcendence.” – Mary Swander, Poet Laureate of Iowa and co-author of Farmscape: The Changing Rural Environment (Ice Cube Press, 2012).

“A very original and heartwarming collection of tales that invite readers to listen in on the congregation of the dead as they speak from the afterlife. Every page sparkles with wit and is bathed with empathy and forgiveness.” – Jim Heynen, author of The Fall of Alice K.: A Novel (Milkweed Editions, 2012), The One-Room Schoolhouse: Stories about the Boys (Vintage, 1994), and The Man Who Kept Cigars in His Cap (Graywolf, 1986).

“A fine mix of characteristic Schaap grit and wholesomeness, frugality and abundance, colloquialism and wisdom. If you don’t read these stories, ‘Honestly, you don’t know what you’re missing.’” – Diane Glancy, author of Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea (Overland TP, 2004) and Pushing the Bear: After the Trail of Tears (Mariner Books, 1998), and co-author of Flutie (Moyer Bell, 1998), quoting from “The Music of the Spheres,” one of the stories in Up the Hill.

“When people imagine the dead they usually think zombies or angels, mindless corpses or fleshless sprites. In these sharply told folktales, James Calvin Schaap redeems the dead from these clichéd purgatories. In these ghost stories our dearly departed are canny and keen-witted, vivacious and full of life. There is comedy and tragedy here, and a wonderfully accented narrator who has one hell of an eye for what makes Highland Cemetery an interesting heaven-on-earth.” – Samuel Thomas Martin, author of This Ramshackle Tabernacle (Breakwater Books Ltd., 2012) and co-author of A Blessed Snarl (Breakwater, 2012).

“Jim Schaap’s stories go deep into human experience of communal life in small prairie towns. The only way they’d be better is if you had audio or video of him reading them.” – Virginia Stem Owens, author of And the Trees Clap Their Hands: Faith, Perception, and the New Physics (Wipf & Stock, 2005) and If You Do Love Old Men (Eerdmans, 1990), and co-author of Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year (Eerdmans, 2007).

“Do the dead being dead yet speaketh? They sure do, and beautifully so in James Schaap’s very special narrative voice. These are remarkable stories, unique, wise, painfully honest, and funny as—well, heaven.” – Shirley Nelson and Rudy Nelson, co-authors of The Risk of Returning (Nelson Family Partnership, 2014).

“It’s tempting to call these stories ‘Our Town in wooden shoes,’ but although the cemetery device is similar, the sensibility is all Schaap’s own—full of insight (bordering on wisdom) into how life and people really are, but even more full of affection, forgiveness, and grace.” – Daniel Taylor, author of Letters to My Children: A Father Passes on His Values (Bog Walk Press, 2010), In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands (Bog Walk, 2005), Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories (Bog Walk, 2001), and The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment (IVP Books, 1999).