Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

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Winesburg, Ohio (1919) is a moving and brilliant short story cycle of small town American life. It drips with semi-autobiography and youth turned into myth. Every character is a living wound in search of a realization they cannot quite grasp.

Anderson writes in a kind of prose poetry with dashes of authorial intrusion mixed with a simplicity and understatement. He creates a world here where stars of one story make cameo appearances in another. Throughout, the central figure George Willard, young newspaperman, the implicit collector of these tales and witness to these struggles, comes of age.

The book resides in a grand tradition of small town literature between the micro realism of Spoon River Anthology and the magic nostalgia of Ray Bradbury. Simultaneously, we have the author surrogate grow up, the rewritten life, as seen in Look Homeward, Angel or even Kerouac.

And it’s truly amazing. One of the best books I’ve ever read. One that touched me deep in my small town soul, even though, unlike George Willard, I didn’t leave my hometown until my late 20s, and haven’t moved far at that.

Highlights include:

“Hands” – A moving and empathetic character study of a former teacher who moved to Winesburg after he was accused of pedophilia in the town he used to teach in.

“Mother” – In which George Willard’s mother Elizabeth, very sickly and near death, is moved into a passion by her husband’s pushing her son into respectability and normalcy instead of towards his dreams.

The four-part Bentley Saga consisting of “Godliness Pt. 1 & 2”, “Surrender” and “Terror” – The small epic of a religious fanatic with greed for expansion of his farm, the unstable and unloved daughter he was given as he prayed for a son, and the grandson he views as a form of a divine gift. A terrifying reconstruction of Abraham and Isaac. The best in the book.

“Adventure” – A young woman who, while waiting for a man to come back to town who told her he loved her, has slid into “spinsterhood”. Now, unsatisfied, half-depressed, she passes her time with a secret burning sensation for a different life – a less lonely existence.

“The Strength of God” & “The Teacher” – A two-part tale of a tempted preacher who has fallen into voyeurism and the spied upon schoolteacher whose confused affection and artistic aspirations grow for her former student George Willard.

“”Queer”” – A dark tale of growing resentment and alienation as the son of a failing shopkeeper strikes out with rage against his family’s oddness and lack of place in their community.

“Death” – An absolutely heartbreaking emotional climax as two characters we’ve met before are revealed to share a secret backstory. Of friendship and love and chances not taken.

There are many more stories in the book and they’re all good, even if some of them are more character studies than full-blooded tales. God, this book is great.

Appalachian Crime: The Big Pinch

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My new crime story “The Big Pinch” is up at Story and Grit. It’s a small-scale sleazy affair of two hillbilly stoners trying to rip off their dealer. Inspired by the dumb low lifes of Coen Brothers and Elmore Leonard and the spare prose of minimalism.

The story’s skeleton is at least five years old. I first came up with it as an idea for a short film. Me and my very talented documentarian college professor Steve Middleton had been talking about doing something maybe and this was the idea I had.

At that time, the idea went nowhere. We were both busy and we both lost interest in it. But years later I was able to repurpose the idea into a short story.  I find that happens a lot to me – sometimes my ideas need to fail once and gestate more to live again.

Death of an Unnecessary Pseudonym

I created a pseudonym for the classic reason: not enough markets. There several prose humor markets but not many in the grand scheme of things and sometimes I’m sitting around waiting for my various submissions to move through the slush before I can submit again.

Thus Glenn Woods was born. Well, the name Glenn Woods was born a long, long time ago as a potential pseudonym. My grandparents lived in Glenwood Hollow and it seemed like a nice Stephen Kingian name for potential pulp horror stories.

I used the pseudonym twice. The first time I used it to submit to an online magazine a friend of mine co-edited (I didn’t want to only get accepted because she knew me). Ultimately, I used my real name when it was published. That story is “The Hoop” on The Ginger Collect.

The second (and last) time I used Glenn Woods was for an online humor magazine in which I’d already been published two times in basically that many months. I didn’t want to seem like I was hogging all the space. That piece is “How About You Or You Or You” on The Dirty Pool.

But then I found out there was another writer named Glenn Woods and that was the end of that. I’ve got another pseudonym I haven’t used yet but I’ll keep it secret just in case. Sometimes I write things so horrible I don’t want my name attached to it, both in content and quality. Maybe I should’ve done that with this blog post.

Sam Gavel in “Fuel of Fools”

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Illustration by L.A. Spooner (courtesy Crimson Streets)

 

My new short story “Fuel of Fools” is up at Crimson Streets. It’s the second part in my Sam Gavel series after “Smoke Is My Shadow“.

Sam Gavel is a private detective who chased a crook into a chemical warehouse that exploded. But he survived! The exposure of experimental chemicals gave him the power to transform from a man of flesh and blood into a plume of living smoke.

In “Fuel of Fools” Sam tries to find out just what was in that factory that caused his transformation and stumbles upon a tale of espionage and conspiracy.

I hope that Sam will return in a future story because it’s so fun writing in a homage to both film noir and early pulp superhero comics, a dash of Hammett and Chandler with a touch of The Spirit.