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Dogs Welcome

January 26, 2017

It should be obvious from the picture at the top that dogs are already welcome on this blog—in fact, they run our operation, compensated with the occasional biscuit—but the heading of this post refers to a story of mine, “Dogs Welcome,” that has just been published at Change Seven.

Here’s a link directly to the story. I’m billing the piece as a useful escape, totally irrelevant to contemporary political concerns. It never once mentions President Twitterman. On the other hand, it features a character who shows a bit of compassion for others, so perhaps that’s not untimely.

Thanks to editor Sheryl Monks and other members of the Change Seven staff, and also to members of the Working Writers Group, who helped me see what was wrong (a lot!) in an earlier draft of the story.

The magazine invites contributors to do a guest blog post on the subject of change, and mine will be up soon. In the meantime, check out Katrina Denza’s post called “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”—a reflection on the Women’s March in DC.

 

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The ambitious editors of Superstition Review have been assembling a massive collection of audio and video clips by their authors, and they invited me to add to it. Hence I’ve recorded a brief audio segment discussing my story “Ranger Ringo” that the magazine published in 2008. Originally I titled the clip “The Role of Memory in Autobiographical Fiction,” and it’s basically a guide to writing about your childhood when you can’t remember your childhood. Here are a couple of links that take you to the clip:

http://blog.superstitionreview.asu.edu/2016/12/13/authors-talk-sam-gridley/ (This includes the editor’s intro., a link to the original story, and a picture of my late dog Simon—who is obviously the best part of the enterprise.)

https://clyp.it/dutuwwzm (the audio clip only)

Please don’t tell Fergus (the guy grinning out at you from the top of this blog) about his predecessor. He thinks he’s an only child.

The Genuine Article

September 7, 2016

A new story of mine, “The Genuine Article,” has appeared in Hawai‘i Review as the winner of the 2016 Ian MacMillan Award for Fiction.

I haven’t yet read the work in its published form. During this political season I’m preserving deniability. So if something’s wrong with the piece, please blame that guy with the flowing orange hair.

I want to thank quite a few people:

  • Paul Lyons, the contest judge, for selecting the story
  • Ian MacMillan himself, for creating the literary legacy that inspired the magazine to honor him in this way
  • Rebecca Pyle, whose artwork—much handsomer than the story—appears as an illustration (of which you can see just a slice in the image here)
  • All the members of the Working Writers Group in Philadelphia, whose comments helped mightily to improve the piece
  • Chris Carter, the semi-legendary compiler of home runs and strikeouts who has nothing to do with the story but nevertheless is mentioned in passing

Sorry, Donald and Hillary, I’m not thanking you, but if America still exists after November, I will indeed be grateful to those who helped preserve our contentious union.

To read the story online, click on the image above or right here.

The Ordinary and the Weird

August 22, 2016

AbundanceCoverLate in this summer of dismal news, I welcome a chance to leave off my political screeds (four of the last five posts, I’m ashamed to say) to discuss a new book of stories by a friend of mine, Larry Loebell’s The Abundance League.

First, let me say what the book is not. Loebell is old enough to have lived through decades when American fiction has aimed to dazzle readers with stylistic flourishes, inveigle them into literary puzzles, or transport them to fantastic or dystopian worlds that have never existed. There’s none of that here. The book is stubbornly grounded on the earth that we know.

Second, it’s important to state that these stories pull no punches. Don’t let the plain black wrapper fool you. This book is sometimes shocking. That may seem an odd thing to say about contemporary fiction—what could possibly shock today’s reader? Well, how about a disabled woman, a quadriplegic with no feeling below her chest, describing in detail how she pleasures her lover—and insisting that, despite her lack of sensation, it’s fully consensual, not a horrid form of sexual exploitation? If you’re a resolutely PC person, prepare to be scandalized on occasion, not because the author is illiberal but because he’s willing to explore beyond the boundaries where our culture tells us to stop looking and stop talking.

Many of the characters, like the author himself, are close observers, giving lots of attention to small details, the “stuff” of our lives. One, an aspiring choreographer, even creates a dance piece from the movements and sounds of people in airports: “she noticed people parting around a slow moving janitor in a kind of parabola, their speed of movement a contrast of determination to languor, of progress to indolence, travelers heading toward their destinations and a laborer stuck in the routines of boring work.” Similarly, an advertising executive who calls himself “a visual guy” sees a resort’s beach bar as resembling “a Noel Coward play, a tableau of spot-lit gestures, glasses, and cigarettes.” With all the details, these tend to be talky pieces, the opposite of compressed vignettes. Yet the accumulation of particulars fleshes out the author’s rich and unsentimental vision of the way we live in the world.

A number of the protagonists are casual about their relationships, unwilling to be tied down. As the choreographer puts it, “It’s a hook-up world out there. That’s the world I run in.” Another woman, once married and now involved with a married man, “refused to desire or consider more, and she did not miss what she did not have.” Correspondingly, those who experience genuine and lasting affection find themselves obstructed or marginalized by others. They get dumped, discouraged, ignored, and in fact their love often follows paths one might consider weird: profound attachment to a dog, to an ancient carousel in the park, to an ex-partner unseen for decades.

The romantic outlook isn’t 100 percent dismal, though. The title story gives us two characters who do succeed in both physical and emotional commitment: a supermarket butcher and a produce worker. These are ordinary schlubs with no career ambitions, no grand expectations. They agree to a marriage of convenience that over time becomes a union of love. Likewise, the final story describes a slow-moving but ultimately hopeful relationship between two characters in small-town Alaska who have escaped collapsed lives in the lower 48. This story, with the impossible and wonderful title “How We Failed to Stop the War and Other Consequences of the Adolphus, Alaska, Peace March, February 2003,” offers a vision of community and mutual support in sharp contrast to the acquisitive striving of earlier pieces.

Engrossed with our material world and critical of it, focused both on the ordinary and on the weird that lies just below the surface of the ordinary, these are fascinating and unique stories, unlike those I’ve seen from any other contemporary writer.

Revealing All

April 2, 2016

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In a new interview with JD Fox at Mud Season Review, I reveal the connections among Jane Austen, Bernie Sanders, grandmothers and groupies.

Thanks to JD for some excellent questions that allowed me to rant so broadly. Potential readers should be forewarned: this is a somewhat alarming peek into the inner workings of a peculiar mind.

In the Season of Mud

March 21, 2016

A story of mine, “How I Found God in the Laundromat,” has just been posted at Mud Season Review:

http://mudseasonreview.com/2016/03/fiction-issue-18/

Many thanks to the editors there. And if you follow the link to look at my story, check out this month’s featured poetry, nonfiction, and art as well. The vagueness of the setting in my piece (an anonymous suburb) can be countered by the vivid Colorado landscape in Gretchen Comcowich’s nonfiction, “Garbage Heap Wonderland.”

I guess my story and its venue are both appropriate for the season, for these reasons:

  • The tale’s about a Bar Mitzvah boy bucking and moaning through his ritual ascension to “manhood.” It’s appropriate for Passover, coming up next month, when Jews tend to muse on what their religious identification means to themselves and to others.
  • We’re right in the middle of mud season, as my wife reminds me with curt emails about the clods my shoes have left on the rugs. And the boy in the story can be seen as trying to climb out of the mud he has created for himself.
  • Mud Season Review, an outgrowth of the Burlington Writers Workshop, lies in the heart of Bernieland, so I’ll dedicate this story to the Grumpy Grandpa who has energized the Democratic primaries this year.

 

Generally Pissed Off

May 18, 2015

I thought people had given up noticing my novel The Shame of What We Are, but it’s found one new reader: Ken Dowell, who blogs at OffTheLeash.net. Dowell seems to think the portrait of the 1950s authentic: “Art Dennison and I did experience a lot of the same things,” he writes, “beginning with a patch on the right eye to keep the weaker left eye from losing interest.”

That patch may have been a metaphor in the novel—I don’t remember. In our current era, however good your eyesight, I think it’s best to squint. Or cover both eyes, which I’ll be doing tomorrow during my city’s primary elections.

Interestingly, of the several passages Dowell quotes from the book, one is about the political outlook of Art Dennison’s father: “People who liked [Adlai] Stevenson were Communists at heart, he said, or else fools, ‘the type that can’t find their own rear end when they are sitting on it.’” And Dowell comments, “His dad’s political views would have produced a knowing nod from my father.” Dowell also notes that the father is “generally pissed off” throughout the book.

I feel like the novel just got a knowing nod from someone who knows what to nod at. Guess I’ll have to stop being generally pissed off for a while.