Consultation No.2: With James Joyce

We were very excited to, through the magic of imagination, talk with James Joyce about his writing, how he climbed down from the rarefied atmosphere of a classical education to wallow in the morass of humanity, as he put it over the telephone during our first contact with him for this talk. We were able immediately to divine that he didn’t suffer fools, so we tiptoed cautiously into his life and writing.


GFB: We understand that you were something for a rebellious student. (He held his cane between his legs as he considered the comment.)

JJ: Naughty, rather. Hardly rebellious. We would have bloody well felt the headmaster’s cane across our bums had we been outright rebellious.

GFB: There’s a difference, then.

JJ: Of course. We boys had no vision necessary for rebellion. We were simply feeling our oats, as you might have it, expressing without an objective, you see?

GFB: Yes, I think so, although I’ve never thought about the difference between the two as significant.


JJ: Such ability to discriminate is the difference between a cultured intellect and robust ignorance. One of the few benefits we gained from our approach to learning at the time.

GFB: I see. So let me skip ahead and ask you, when was it that you first came to view literature as a vehicle for personal rebellion?

JJ: What? Are you daft? I never came to view such a thing. I assume – or shall I – that you’ve read my Dubliners stories? (He began to twirl his cane, as if agitated.)

GFB: Sure have. As have almost every secondary school student of my era.

JJ: (Here, he relaxed and offered a weak smile.) And there you’ve struck the correct note. My era is different from yours, yours will be from the subsequent one. It’s the persistence of social habits that drives later generations mad. And so we writers challenge modes of thinking in what we put to the page.  If we didn’t, and later generations saw much change in attitudes, habits, and education, then our children’s children would go mad. That’s the trouble with religion, as I see it.

GFB: Trying to fit old ways of thinking into new social circumstances?

JJ: Quite so. We of dawning generations must feel something, and were we to stick with the tried and true, we would be known only for our madness.

GFB: Certainly no writer wishes that.

JJ: It’s a human trait to need something to believe in, and when the gods of our beliefs decay and turn to dust, we become caricatures of human beings. There’s no life in us, then.

GFB: Thank you so much, Mr. Joyce, for your insights. You have indeed been a giant in twentieth century literature.

JJ: Balderdash! The times compel us to do what small things we do. Were we not to accept our lot, what would come of us? Of our world?


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Let the Mothers and Fathers Speak


I’m afraid I’ve become jaded.

Rarely do the newest of fiction and nonfiction books, and even poetry, speak to me as they once have. Lately I’ve had to force myself to read them, something you might glean from the rare reviews I’ve been posting. What’s wrong? Is it me? Have I simply read too many books with recurring structures, the same-old character types, the obvious conflicts and resolutions?

Or is there something lacking in these recent, highly publicized books? Is this why reading them doesn’t excite me as they once did?

As a writer I’ve been on a crusade to adopt what I deem the most workable of the postmodern structures, but I will forever maintain that the story is paramount, whatever other tinkering I allow myself to do. We should realize that the term postmodern signifies a belief that modernity is ending, as far as literature goes, but that it says nothing about what replaces modernity in the society that literature reflects.

So am I being a curmudgeon when I diss a lot of the latest acclaimed writing? I don’t think so, really. I read other reviewers reactions to these novels, memoirs, short story collections, etc. What has been slowly emerging is a respect for the technicality of these literary efforts. Along with that, however, is a palpable dissatisfaction with some perhaps intangible thing in the books they try so hard to like and rave about.


So, what to do?

My answer is to go back to the masters of the past century. Mine is not a sentimental desire for what once was – although there’s a lot of that in the sensibilities that surround us these days. But I don’t think Twain, James, Cather, Hemingway, Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, et al, would have us dwell too long on the past. They didn’t, for the most part. But in reading those early works of modernity, you get a feel for the energy of their time, the way that energy affected lives. That’s what’s missing, I think; the passion of the moment in which we live.We writers need to be able to translate that energy, that passion, into characters and structures that all but dictate the story of our time.

And so what you’ll see of me here will for a time be my consultations with the mothers and fathers of twentieth century literature. I’ll write about their stories, but I’ll also try to speak to their underlying energy, the things that propelled those magnificent stories.

Visit our website here, where you’ll find more on books and media. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll discover more on ideas and events that matter to us — and possibly to you.

Dangerous But Beautiful


If you’re a writer, has your writing seemed milk-toasty at times? Or if you’re a reader, has a book disappointed because it is, well, milk-toasty?

Then if you have access to the January/February issue of Poets&Writers, Jan/Feb 2016, turn to Tom Spanbauer’s essay, Dangerous Writing. I’ll leave it to you to discover from his essay what dangerous writing is. But there’s a rather unsubtle hint in a paragraph on the third column of page 41.

Basic to Dangerous Writing is the belief that by going on this journey from blood to bone, by laying out hard truths, through our own intelligence, intuition, and ability we will make a personal discovery of reality. The discovery will be something that is ancient, but because it is we who have been on the front lines, this discovered reality is truly personal—completely fresh and new.


This is the reality of literature, I believe—it takes ancient truths and spins them out in the context of the time and the author. This has been the truth of literature, more particularly of our modern, secular literature than of any writing throughout the ages.

But what does this mean? What does it say to humanity?

We live in a superficial age. This bouncing about on the surface of life allows us to hide behind style, posturing, the confidence of knowing too little, especially about ourselves. But by participating  in Spanbauer’s delving, we discover, first, something enduring about ourselves, not just as a storyteller but as a human being. Then we discover how that personal something finds its place in the human condition as a whole.

It may frighten, dear writer, and it may hurt peeling away those superficial confidences, but think of the story you are deep within. Think of its value to your readers. In that light, it’s not dangerous at all, is it?


As a postscript, I had to dig deep to write a story as provocative as the one advertised on page 134 of this edition of P&W, “We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.” If you haven’t read it, take a chance with it. I believe it is at least one version of our time. If you have read it, please let your reading friends know about this book. Thanks.

Poverty and Violence


Literature is rarely taught or even thought of as a socio-political device, but it often is, has been since Homer. The best writers are the best, most legitimate observers of society, and Cormac McCarthy has been the best of both in recent years of these United States. In his novel, Child of God (click for a previous review), he grapples with the consequences of generations of abject Southern poverty, a poverty from which there seems no escape. As these generations of the poor wear on, violence becomes the overwhelming consequence, the only escape from servile humiliation.

What’s the answer to such lives? McCarthy, correctly, doesn’t say; that’s not the novelist’s responsibility. His responsibility is only to pose the problem.

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A New Ballgame


There are some changes coming in GF posts, one temporary, and at least one permanent.

I’ve been hesitant to enter this stage of self disclosure, but my family life with the missus has entered a new phase, one that has ironically drawn us closer together – – she’s been stricken with an extremely nasty and difficult to treat form of cancer,  and it’s proved consuming emotionally as well as physically. I don’t regret in the least the time I’ve had to spend supporting, transporting and ministering to her, but it has meant little time to read. So until at least summer, I’m going to reprise some of the most important or provocative books I’ve read and posted on in my 1100+ posts, ones you may have missed, but ones you’ll find worthy of a read.

I’ve posted monthly (more or less) on magazines I’ve enjoyed, and some have drawn the most reads and reader comments of all my posts. But magazines I enjoy aren’t always ones you would enjoy, so I plan changes to magazine-related posts.

If you, the reader, wish to suggest changes to GF, or support the ones I’ve mentioned, let me know. After all, this blog is as much for you as for me.

Thanks for your previous and, hopefully, your future support of GridleyFires.


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Good Fortune in Dystopia


we are strong


I’m truly fortunate in being able to keep writing and in having my work published. This Saturday, March 15, 2014, a dystopian novella of mine will be launched as an e-book. The name? We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

It’s something of a fable, a cautionary tale, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the U.S… oh, what the heck, I’ll just give you the cover blurb:

2090 A.D. — The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

 Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.


I’m rather proud of this story for a number of reasons, foremost among them that I began with a vague idea of what I wanted to write and let my subconscious lead me into the morass of modern culture and the dangers it poses to us personally and to civilization itself.

And the book trailer was developed in similar fashion by my film ace, Kevin.

If you’re interested in buying the e-book after reading this and investigating it on my website, please wait until the 15th to do so. A number of sales on a given day are something you can collectively do to help the author. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.



Learning Old Lessons Anew


The Writer’s Chronicle, March April, 2014

Sometimes the lessons writers learn keep coming back, ever new. In Sarah Ann Johnson’s interview with Richard Bausch, he tends to pan manuscript workshopping as a sort-of assembly line way of producing writing. Of course, there are ways out of that, one being to respect the writer’s work enough to amplify his/her style without changing it to titan instructor’s style. Bausch, in explaining his manner of deepening characterization, falls back on the old writer’s chestnut of involving the senses as much as possible in such a depiction. And finally, Bausch tells us once more that fiction must be about something. i.e., “the true subject of fiction, whether it’s comic or tragic or somewhere in between, is trouble.”

And you needn’t be a Southerner to give your writing a strong sense of place. Cynthia Neely, in her piece, ” Making Sense of a Sense of Place,” recognize foremost that place has a strong sense of power in all our lives – and she gives examples of how this plays out in poetry.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece in this issue is Tony Hoagland’s “Je Suis Ein Americano – The Genius of American Diction.” Hoagland reminds us that diction – even the blurred diction of the U.S.’s multi-language influences, is the main instrument of tone, that it serves to focus the story’s emotions and underlying concept. Too, besides nailing down cultural characteristics, diction can be used comically. Natsha Saje’s interview with Wanda Coleman tends to bear out Hoagland’s views on diction.

As has been the case of late, this issue focuses largely on poets and poetry. IF you’re feeling good about your own poetry, you may very well come to understand your writing in the montage of other modern poetry.



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