John Van Kirk

Van Kirk grew up in suburban New Jersey. He attended Webster College (now Webster University) in St. Louis. He was then accepted to Washington University’s PhD program in Philosophy, where he remained for three semesters and served as a teaching assistant to William H. Gass. He left Washington University in 1977, without completing his degree. During 1978 and 1979, Van Kirk worked variously as a waiter, bartender, laborer, and carpenter.

Van Kirk joined the U.S. Navy in January of 1980. He completed Aviation Officer’s Candidate School in Pensacola, FL and was commissioned in May of that year. In 1981 he graduated from flight school and was designated a Naval Aviator. He served for three years as a helicopter pilot in Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 7 (HS-7), based in Jacksonville, FL, flying the SH-3 Sea King and participated in two lengthy deployments aboard the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy (CV-67). Van Kirk was selected for the navy’s Personnel Exchange Program, and after language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, he was posted to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela for two years, where he flew the Augusta-Bell 212 with La Aviacion Naval de Venezuela. Van Kirk completed his naval service in 1988, as a recruiter for the Navy Medical Programs in Hyattsville, MD.

In 1989 Van Kirk was accepted into the MFA Program at the University of Maryland, where he studied with Joyce Kornblatt, Howard Norman, and Stanley Plumly and completed his degree in 1991. After two years of traveling, Van Kirk began his teaching career at Marshall University in Huntington, WV, where he has taught for the last eighteen years.

Van Kirk’s short stories have earned him the O. Henry Award (1993) and The Iowa Review Fiction Prize (2011). Van Kirk’s work has been published in the following magazines and journals: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, The Hudson Review, The Iowa Review, Kestrel: a Journal of Literature and Art, The New York Times Magazine, Paragraph, Sonora Review, and West Branch. His stories and poems have been anthologized in Bless Me Father: Stories of Catholic Childhood; Made in North America: Contemporary Short Stories; Prize Stories 1993: The O. Henry Awards; Wild Sweet Notes II: More Great Poetry from West Virginia; and Writes of Passage: Coming-of-Age Stories and Memoirs from The Hudson Review. His novel, Song for Chance, will be published by Red Hen Press in 2013.

All Books

Song for Chance

John Van Kirk

Publication Date: August 1, 2013

$16.95 Tradepaper

ISBN: 978-1-59709-267-8


Keyboard man Jack Voss spends his evenings in the relative sanctuary of the clubs, playing jazz standards on the piano and occasionally singing some of the songs that made him famous. His 1974 rock opera, The Enchanted Pond, catapulted his band, Vossimilitude, into the stratosphere of rock superstardom. Later, solo albums earned him a reputation as a musician’s musician. Reverence for his genius led his shortcomings–as a husband, father, and friend–to be forgiven, or at least overlooked.

But when his life of comparative comfort and solitude is rocked by a devastating personal loss, Voss is led back to The Enchanted Pond. The story of an ill-fated love triangle based on the tense relations between Voss, his childhood girlfriend Avery, and Vossimilitude’s dangerous and charismatic bassist, Hal Proteus, Voss’s masterpiece set him on a path to this day of reckoning. To endure, he must confront the tragic consequences of his self-absorption on the only firm ground left him: the piano.

With the sure, unsentimental narrative command of writers like Richard Russo and Jonathan Franzen, John Van Kirk has brought to life in Song for Chance not just a fallen rock god, but–with the help of liner notes, bonus tracks, and the complete Voss discography–the whole sex, drugs, and rock and roll era with an immediacy so recognizable that it feels like yesterday.

Praise for Song for Chance

“The novel conveys a genuine passion for rock music, and cleverly includes liner notes, song titles, lyrics and a discography…Van Kirk raises compelling if age-old questions about the tension between art and life, and about our responsibilities to those we love…”—The New York Times

“A passionate, elegiac tale about the excesses of sex, drugs, and rock and roll over a tortured musician’s lifetime. . . . An invented discography, excerpts of lyrics, and cameos by real-life figures like Nick Cave give a feeling of authenticity to Van Kirk’s fictional rock star.”—Publishers Weekly

“John Van Kirk’s Song for Chance masterfully captures the essence of the 1970s rock culture by chronicling the meteoric rise and fall of fictional rock legend Jack Voss, a keyboardist whose life is as improvised as his playing. Van Kirk creates a remarkably vivid cast who could snort lines with the likes of Steven Tyler and Keith Richards. Not only is the hedonistic sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll lifestyle unflinchingly exposed, but Van Kirk reveals the evolution of Voss as a musician and as a man through the songs that he writes. In a brilliant move, those telling song titles and lyrics are included, along with liner notes, a discography, and bonus tracks, which add kick-ass authenticity. Amidst all the rock-god mayhem, however, is Voss?s meditative Zen quest-all while at the piano, the only language he really knows how to speak where he realizes the tragic consequences of his self-absorption and fame for the people he loves the most. Song for Chance is a beautifully orchestrated debut composed with the artistry of a fine piece of music.”—Marie Manilla, author of Still Life with Plums

“On its surface, John Van Kirk?s Song for Chance is a tale of 1970s sex, drugs, and rock and roll, seen through the eyes of a musician who, along with his band, goes for the big crazy ride of rock star success and endures a volatile mix of unanticipated (and often dire) consequences. Van Kirk?s knowledge and love of popular music shines through and richly informs his story, but it’s the deeper aspects of Song for Chance that make the novel truly memorable?a generously rendered account of a soul’s journey through an unexpected life. Van Kirk’s story is expansive, eloquently tracing the often strange alchemy in the great sea-changes of living, loving, and dying. The cadenced rhythms of Song for Chance will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.”—Richard Currey, author of Fatal Light and Lost Highway