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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

InterviewHeader

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.

 

On My Commitment

April 28, 2015

Rathalla Review 2014 Annual Issue: CoverNo, I haven’t been institutionalized yet, though my family would probably be happy for someone to arrange that.

The headline means that a printed copy of my story “Commitment” has arrived, embedded in the handsome 2014 annual issue of Rathalla Review, a selection of pieces that appeared in the online magazine during the year. I’m honored to have my work included, and it’s made me think once more about the print-vs.-electronic debate.

Though I’ve spent most of my adult life working on physical books printed on paper, I don’t mind reading on screen. Either way is fine. I doubt that e-books will make printed books obsolete, and I’m not worried about the matter. There are bigger issues in the world.

In deciding where to submit my writing, therefore, I tend to choose magazines that people I know will be able to locate and read. Literary magazines that appear only in print are generally seen by only a few hundred subscribers. I can tell my friends I have a story in such-and-such a journal, but they’re unlikely to buy a physical copy even if they can find one. (And I’m too poor to buy copies for all of them.) But if I say the story is free on a website, they’ll check it out. Advantage: electronics.

Still, it’s nice to get a print version as well, and it may survive long after websites are revamped and electronic links go dead. Paper is surprisingly durable for a thin, flimsy medium. There’s a reason we’ve used it for centuries.

I do not love the scent of glue, however. That’s one quality of a contemporary printed book I could do without. Old books that are smyth-sewn smell better as long as you brush off the dust first.

Postscript: After admiring the annual print issue in physical form, I discovered it’s also available online. Click the picture above to go to it. The electronic version has no smell whatsoever.

An Early Call

December 31, 2014

Flash Fiction Magazine Headline

On New Year’s Eve, here’s an early summons by the year 2015:

http://flashfictionmagazine.com/blog/2014/12/31/an-early-call/

It’s a very brief story of mine called “An Early Call” in Flash Fiction Magazine.

The first comment, before I even saw the story myself, was from Miles White, who I gather from his blog is a journalist, flash-fiction writer, and ethnomusicologist. He wrote, “Interesting. I think I got it but I’m not sure.”

Miles, I totally agree. If you figure out who’s calling, let me know, but I don’t think we should answer.

Peeping Devin

December 23, 2014

Turk's Head Review logoAt the risk of breaking my record for number of posts in a season and thereby alienating all those who count on me for blissful silence, I have to plug my latest publication, which appeared (to my belated surprise) a day after I got the acceptance email.

Called “The Upper Mahoney at Dawn,” the story is a sympathetic account of a man who becomes a Peeping Tom, more or less. His name is Devin, so let’s call him, avoiding stereotypes, the Peeping Devin. Does he really deserve sympathy? That’s for readers to say. Use the comment feature on this blog to let me know what you think.

The story can be found here at Turk’s Head Review, a cool publication that bills itself as “Blog meets literary magazine.” Many thanks to the editors for choosing the story.

 

 

New Stories

December 13, 2014

Two of my recent stories have come out this month, and a third is evidently on the way:

Rathalla Review Cover“Commitment,” a tale of tornadoes, family relationships, and a young woman’s struggles to find peace with herself, appears in the fall issue of Rathalla Review. Thanks to fiction editor Joe Magee and the rest of the staff for choosing the piece and interspersing some great photos by Enrico Pagliarulo.

Tethered by Letters CoverI’ve also been indulging in some flash fiction, and one of those pieces, “A Little Girl’s Mouth,” is in the fall issue of Tethered by Letters. The contributions in this issue aren’t yet accessible online, but the print version can be purchased at the magazine’s store. This story took shape in my mind after I read the phrase “a little girl’s mouth” in Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s wonderful novel Tumbling. The story has no other relationship to the novel, but that phrase stuck with me. Thanks to DMW for writing so well that even my sluggish brain gets energized!

flashfiction magazineFinally, I’ve just heard that another flashy bit, “An Early Call,” a semimystical piece of less than 200 words, will go online December 31 at Flash Fiction Magazine. I guess it’ll be an early call to 2015, and if anyone can figure out the import of that fact—or what the story itself means exactly—please tell me.

Dear Author

November 4, 2014

One advantage of publishing in the distinguished Valparaiso Fiction Review, as I did earlier this year, is that Valparaiso University’s system sends you periodic updates about the readership. Here’s the latest message:

ValpoReportHey, that’s more people than I know, so it must mean that an actual Public out there is reading my work. Yay!

Just a minute, though. A “download” isn’t necessarily a reading. I sometimes download stuff myself, glance at it, say “What the hell do I want this for?” and discard it. How many people are trashing my work in that way? How dare they!

And 181 total downloads, that’s not much, is it? Hardly a bestseller.

Possibly this is a sad indication of the limited readership of literary magazines.

However, it’s also possible that other stories in the same issue are being downloaded much more often. That would be heartening. Wait, no it wouldn’t–who’s getting downloaded more than me, and why? Are some authors in the 200s, even 300s? Whatta they got that I don’t?

Maybe the counter isn’t right. Do I trust this technology? No way!

Now I’m all anxious.

Well, look, being listed in Valpo “Scholar,” that’s an honor, right? In there with all them university perfessers. For someone who hasn’t been a scholar in many years, that’s pretty, like, awesome.

OK, I’m at peace now.

But hurry up, number 182–put down the stupid comics and read my story!