Mary Grimm

Mary Grimm has pub­lished a nov­el, Left to Themselves, and a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Stealing Time, both with Random House. Her sto­ries have been pub­lished in The New Yorker, Redbook, Antioch Review, Mississippi Review, and oth­er places. She teach­es fic­tion writ­ing at Case Western Reserve University.

Under the Hill

 

Section 1: Going Down

 

When I got almost to the bot­tom of the hill, my car died, and no jig­gling of the key or pump­ing of the accel­er­a­tor would start it up again. I opened the hood and looked inside, but it was point­ed away from the sun, what was left of it. The sky was run­ning with bands of clouds, gray and hard, a steel shine on them where the light hit. The engine was in deep shade, but even so, if I hadn’t been drunk, I might have done some­thing. As it was, my hands were too unsteady even to check the oil. I left it with the hood propped up and went the rest of the way down the hill, let­ting grav­i­ty pull me.

I had an address writ­ten on half an index card, giv­en me by the bar­tender at the Greentree where I’d end­ed up drink­ing the beers and shots that had tak­en me over the line. “She don’t like to give it out,” he said, but if you’re kin, that’ll be all right.” He’d giv­en me a look as if he knew for sure what I was and what I wasn’t. “She’ll be glad to see me, believe it,” I said. “ A touch of home, you know? She’ll want to hear about Aunt Ida and the kids.

If I had an aunt Ida, I wouldn’t know a thing about her, or care. And I might, after all. It had been a long time since I’d had fam­i­ly who want­ed to know me. Since before I could talk, as far as I knew. And I didn’t want to tell her any­thing about that, no one’s home or fam­i­ly. I want­ed to tell her what the fuck. I want­ed to make her tell me a few things. What she had done to me. Why she had left.

She don’t like strangers, I hear,” the bar­tender had said, and he laughed. “She has her ways with strangers, I hear.” The old men at the bar had laughed with him, dry and chok­ing, and then had to raise their beers to wash out the dust.

I know all about that,” I said, as hard as I could make it, because they were get­ting to me, the old men, half dead and still drink­ing, and the bar­tender with his half smile. He leaned on one elbow and looked at me as if he knew just what I’d be get­ting into, so I left before I got dis­tract­ed by beat­ing his face against the pol­ished wood of the bar.

Now I was walk­ing in the west­ern reach­es of the flats, under the hill some peo­ple called it in Cleveland, an old name that peo­ple couldn’t get over using. I was walk­ing toward the dark that starts to gath­er even before sun­set, the long reach of shad­ow from the bluff I was walk­ing away from, the twist­ing steep road that had claimed my car.

The address was writ­ten in a pecu­liar green­ish ink, fad­ed and hard to read, but I’d mem­o­rized in the minute after he gave it to me. 135 ½ Grove Street, between W. 23 and W. 26. I had only to walk the way I was going and I’d come across it, no mat­ter how drunk I was. I could always put one foot in front of anoth­er, no mat­ter how much I put away. Even when I couldn’t think any­more, when the world start­ed to gray out, I could do that. When I got there, we’d have a talk, she and I. Persis. What kind of name was that? I could ask her when I got there, although that would be a waste of time. I had oth­er things to ask. And if she wasn’t there, I’d wait. Or I’d make them tell me where she was, who­ev­er was there. If there was a man there, I’d hit him I decid­ed. That would be a good thing to do. I clenched my fist to test its readi­ness. I’d hit him until he told me where she was, or until she came.

I almost walked by it in the end, still think­ing about my fist, and of course it was a lit­tle dark­er, the gray­ness like a mist steal­ing the light. It wasn’t so much a street, xx, as an alley, a clutch of trees grow­ing across the entrance. I stum­bled through, catch­ing a hand on one of the skin­ny maple trunks. There were no house num­bers after the house on the cor­ner, but I could still count. It was the odd-num­ber side of the street, going up by twos, and I made my way along, count­ing out loud to keep my place. 135 was a tiny yel­low house, and I won­dered how small will 135 ½ be then? But it was nor­mal size, one of those old hous­es they built for mill work­ers, when steel was king of Cleveland, two sto­ries and an attic, a rick­ety old fire escape cling­ing to the side.

The yard was full of green, toma­to plants tied up to stakes, high­er than my head, raggedy clumps of flow­ers falling across the bro­ken side­walk. I tripped on a vine that sprout­ed pump­kins as big as my head, green going to orange, a col­or that made the gorge rise in my throat.

I went up on the porch, scuff­ing up peel­ing paint under my shoes, and almost fell against the door, putting up my hand to brace myself at the last minute. I used it to knock once, and then again, using the side of my fist to make as much noise as I could. I thought to call her name, but I stopped, my lips drawn back from my teeth as if I was about to bite some­thing. I drew in a breath but the air seemed thick­er just then, too thick to breathe in eas­i­ly, and I set­tled for ham­mer­ing at the door once more. I took the knob in my hand to shake it, and just like in the movies, it turned under my hand, the door slid­ing open with a crack­ing sound, and I fell inside.

I land­ed on my hands and knees, my face almost on the car­pet, which was old and frayed. Clean though, no smell of dust. I shook the hair out of my eyes and looked around, still crouched. The sun was com­ing in low through the win­dows on one side, light­ing the room in long stream­ers of light that slid across the old fur­ni­ture. A couch with lace draped across the back. A table with a lamp that dripped crys­tals. An uphol­stered chair with a stack of books beside it. No tv. There was some kind of pen in the cor­ner, beyond the reach of the light. On the old wood­en chest in front of the couch, more books, flat and bright­ly col­ored. I stood up to look at them. The Cat in the Hat was one, and anoth­er with danc­ing hip­pos in bal­let dress­es. I stood there, sway­ing, try­ing to put the cat with his striped hat togeth­er with the rest of my life and where I was going. He sneered at me, the cocky bas­tard.

An open door in front of me led to the kitchen – I could see the table and an ancient refrig­er­a­tor. To the left, a room with more books in it opened off through an arch, Another door led to a hall. The last, to my right was half open. I could see the end of a bed, its wood­en head­board, the pil­lows on it crushed and tossed.

In a rush, I went to the book room. It was dark­er back there, away from the last of the sun, but I could see right away that no one was there, only books, on shelves and piled on a long table by a win­dow that looked out to the back of the house. A wood­en box on the floor held more books. I kicked it, for some­thing to do, and then kicked it again, so that it fell over, the books spilling out.

I went back and pushed the door to the kitchen open. It was as qui­et as the bot­tom of a well, the light dim and green­ish. I opened the back door which led out to the yard, and then the cup­boards and the refrig­er­a­tor. Even drunk, I knew that was stu­pid, as if I’d find any­one or thing among the cere­al box­es or the veg­etable bin. And I wasn’t as drunk as I’d been when I left the bar. It was wear­ing off, the sick, blind rush of rage and want that had led me here. I was com­ing down. I was in someone’s house, a kind of thief, even if I hadn’t bro­ken in. I slammed the refrig­er­a­tor door, think­ing maybe I should go. Or maybe I should stay, but out on the porch, or even the alley. Wait until Persis came back from wher­ev­er she’d gone. Watch for her. I slumped against the table, and slid into a chair, wip­ing my hands down my face, then rest­ing my fore­head on my fist.

Hey,” I heard, and whipped my head up. I’d been so sure no one was here. I put my hands on the table and half stood up, swivel­ing my head to search out the direc­tion of the voice.

Hey, you.” Heat rushed my head, as if the blood in me would rise up through the hair on my head. I rose, clench­ing my fists. Here, I rea­soned, was the mys­tery behind Persis. A man, or rather anoth­er man. I could feel the beer and whiskey churn­ing in my gut and fill­ing out my veins again. I pushed through the kitchen door and fol­lowed the sound to the room I hadn’t looked into. The room with the bed. It seemed to take a long time to get there, as if again the air were grow­ing thick. I had time to imag­ine that Persis was there, too, with the man whose voice I’d heard, that they were in the bed togeth­er in the after­math of the pas­sion that tossed the pil­lows to the floor. I was so angry that I had the taste of it in my mouth, a red, cop­pery taste, like bit­ing on an old pen­ny, bright and shin­ing. A star of anger that lit me up from inside.

I pushed the door open so that it smacked against the wall and took a step inside that was more like a leap, end­ing up at the side of the bed, where I stopped. Persis was not in the bed, or in the room. There was a man, and he was in the bed, but some­thing about the way he lay there told me that he’d been there a long time. He had a look of some­one who’d been asleep, lids heavy, face creased from the pil­low. He had long hair, and it was tan­gled and knot­ted. He’d raised him­self up on his elbows to look at me. “Who are you?” he said.

Ray Dacey,” I answered, before I thought to hold back infor­ma­tion. “Who the hell are you?”

Seldon,” he said. He swal­lowed as if his throat hurt. “Can you get me a drink of water?”

I looked at him as if to say, what the fuck? And he looked back at me as if to say – well, noth­ing. There was noth­ing in his look I could take excep­tion to or be angry at. He lay back against the pil­lows, wait­ing, and I found myself going back into the kitchen, find­ing a glass in the cup­board, fill­ing it at the faucet, and bring­ing it back to hand it to him. It was an old jel­ly glass, like my grand­moth­er used to have, imprint­ed with lemons and oranges.

Where’s Persis?” I said.

He took the glass and drank from it, watch­ing me. When he stopped to take a breath, I thought he’d answer, but he put the glass to his mouth again and drained it to the bot­tom.

Persis,” I said.

He hand­ed the glass to me, and like an idiot, I took it. If he’d been stand­ing up, I could have tak­en him by the shirt­front and shak­en him a lit­tle, but he was in bed, and it would have been sil­ly. He wasn’t wear­ing a shirt, for that mat­ter. His skin was almost as white as the sheets, and I thought he might be sick. You couldn’t hit a sick man, or at least not with­out any provo­ca­tion.

No one’s here.” He lay back against the pil­lows. He turned his head toward the win­dow. “Is it night?”

But you know who I mean, right?” He didn’t turn his head to look at me, and I went on. “Persis? Hot, curly hair.” I made a twirly motion with my fin­ger. “Thinks she’s the shit.”

Did she do you an injury?” he asked, still look­ing away.

I didn’t know how to answer him. I looked around the room. It was full of fur­ni­ture, the bed, a chair beside it, a dress­er, a wardrobe so big the house must have been built around it. But it felt bare, stripped. No rug or car­pet, no cur­tains at the win­dow, no mir­ror over the dress­er. The bed had only sheets on it and one thin blan­ket, pushed down to the foot, lacy with moth holes. The wardrobe doors were open a bit and I couldn’t see any­thing at all inside.

If she did,” he said, “she’ll deal with it. She knows there are con­se­quences.”

So you know who she is?”

Selden had turned back to me and was look­ing at me steadi­ly, his eyes pinned on mine in a way that I found uncom­fort­able. I looked down at the scarred wood floor and then to the win­dow he’d been so fas­ci­nat­ed by a minute ago. It wasn’t dark out­side yet. I could see more plants out­side, green and shad­owy, pressed against the screen, whis­per­ing as the air moved

them.

I know her,” he said.

She lives here,” I said.

He shook his head.

I didn’t believe him. I didn’t think he lived here by him­self. He looked as insub­stan­tial as bath water, unable to take care of him­self.

She comes by when she feels the need. And to vis­it. She comes to see Mayliss in bed some nights.”

See to him?” I said, my anger start­ing to rise.

See,” he said. “Only see.” His voice was grow­ing fainter, and he closed his eyes. “I saw when I was sleep­ing the bowl of the Flats, spilling the riv­er into the lake. The peo­ple com­ing one by one, specks among the throng of the trees. They didn’t know to live high and they sick­ened and died. It was a hard place then. The riv­er went where it would, leav­ing a swamp behind. Children died then, by the score.”

What the hell are you talk­ing about?” I said. It was grow­ing dark­er out­side, and the room becom­ing dim, the white sheets the only bright spot, that and the bril­liant slits of Seldon’s eyes. “They ought to be back soon,” he said.

Who? Persis?”

His eyes closed all the way, and I saw that he’d fall­en asleep or uncon­scious. Or dead, a voice in my head intoned. Alone in this creepy house with a dead guy, the giant toma­to plants rustling out­side, the emp­ty rooms filled with crazi­ness and want. I backed away from the bed. In the front room, I moved until I couldn’t see Selden or the bed. It was almost full dark. The fur­ni­ture looked lump­ish and mis­shapen. The light seemed to flit, gleam­ing on the sur­face of a mug, touch­ing the frame of a pic­ture on the wall. I could hear a sound out­side, a rhyth­mic squeak­ing or wheez­ing, get­ting grad­u­al­ly loud­er. I’d been hear­ing it for some time, I thought. It ought to have been an ordi­nary noise, but I couldn’t pin it down, which made me uneasy, as if it might be some giant machine, some­thing left­over from when steel was king in the flats, one of the immense rollers from the mill some­how com­ing down the street, round­ing down the uneven bricks of the alley, the ghost of steel come to find me in this god­for­sak­en house.

I was almost sober. I put my shoul­ders back and moved to the front door, even as the sound came clos­er, down the front walk, seem­ing­ly, going to meet it.

I opened the door, hold­ing it between my body and the out­side. It was almost full dark. No street­lights in the alley, although I could see the shine of them through the trees on the street. Someone was com­ing up the walk. I knew it wasn’t Persis. Although I’d only been with her twice, I thought I knew the way she moved. And this some­one was mon­strous, mis­shapen, too short but also too broad. The wheez­ing squeak was loud­er. I fum­bled on the wall for the porch light, but there was none, or I couldn’t find it. I opened my mouth, but before I could say any­thing, the thing com­ing toward me spoke.

Who’s there?” it said. “Who’s there, I say.”

As it came near­er, it moved into one of the stray beams of light from W. xxx. A round head, furred with gray hair, cov­ered with a pat­terned scarf. Knobby fin­gers. A face seamed and fur­rowed, lips pursed tight. A fuck­ing old woman. I’d been spooked out of my mind by an old woman. “Who’re you?” I said.

That’s infor­ma­tion I don’t give out light.” She came up the steps, drag­ging some­thing, and put her hand on a switch, flick­ing it on. At once, mos­qui­toes flew into the cone of gold around us. She gave a yank, and I saw that part of what I’d thought was her mon­ster shape was a baby car­riage, com­plete with baby. It looked at me with what seemed like a sus­pi­cious look.

I ain’t let­ting you in unless you name your­self,” the old bat said.

I’ve been in,” I said. “I had a talk with your boy.” I waved my hand back toward the bed­room.

Have you?” She looked at the baby, as if about to ask it some­thing. “With Seldon.” She laughed, a witchy raspy cack­le. “Come in then, if the dam­age is done. Come in, and I’ll find you some­thing to eat and drink.”

She pushed past me into the house, pulling the car­riage after her. Besides the baby it had oth­er stuff in it, two loaves of bread, a bag of apples, and some­thing wrapped in a news­pa­per. “Come in, boy. Do you think I’m going to hex you?”

Course not,” I said, feel­ing fool­ish. Every drop of alco­hol had gone through me now, and wher­ev­er it was in my body, was doing me no good at all.

Not that I can’t,” she said. “but so far you’re a guest, ain’t you. Take him out and put him on the rug.” She ges­tured toward the baby. “Go on, he won’t hex you either.” She laughed again.

The baby was look­ing at me again, wait­ing for me to come and take hold of it. It had the look in its eye of an ani­mal, not a wild ani­mal, but one that knows what humans are like and doesn’t think much of them. I put my hands down to grasp it and it made a sound, a sucked in breath, and I froze. But it didn’t do any­thing else, nor make anoth­er sound, so I took it, hold­ing it away from my body. I didn’t like hold­ing babies. It was always as if they might fall or scream or fall apart. They were too soft. I was always afraid I’d do some­thing, squeeze too hard, maybe. I didn’t like the way their heads flopped around. The baby con­tin­ued to look at me as I set it on the floor. It sat there look­ing at me, which made me ner­vous, so I gave it the Cat in the Hat book, push­ing it over with my foot.

He likes you,” she said. She’d brought a plate with some kolachy on it, snowy with pow­dered sug­ar, and a glass of some­thing.

How can you tell?” I said.

Sit,” she said. “Is that the ques­tion you want to ask? I ain’t going to answer a great line of them. Don’t waste your ques­tions on him. He is what he is and no busi­ness of yours.”

That was true. I sat down on the couch. “What about him” — I jerked my head toward Seldon. “Doesn’t he want any­thing?”

He’s sleep­ing, ain’t he? Did he say any­thing to you?” The old woman sat in the rock­ing chair and began to rock it, short arcs of move­ment.

He said some things,” I said. “Crazy stuff.” I paused. There was no place com­fort­able to look — not at the old woman rock­ing, nor at the baby. “I gave him a glass of water.”

Did you?” She nod­ded her head as if this proved some­thing impor­tant.

What I want to know,” I said–

Ah, the ques­tion, at last.” She looked at the baby as if they knew a secret.

Where is Persis?” I’d start­ed to lose my con­vic­tion that being here would help in any way, or even that Persis had ever been here, in spite of what Selden had said. I felt as if I’d been in the house for hours, or as if I’d been there once long ago, and nev­er for­got­ten it. I thought I knew what the rooms upstairs looked like, the feel of the cur­tains at the dark win­dows, the thump of the pil­lows, the tor­tur­ing drip of the leak­ing faucet. The house felt like it was push­ing my ribs against my heart and my lungs, fill­ing up the rooms with syrup and smoke. The lights the old woman had turned on seemed to be dim­ming, or my eyes fail­ing.

Is that all?” she said. “What kind of ques­tion is that?” She looked at the baby and shook her head. “That ain’t worth our time, is it. Come back when you’ve got some­thing impor­tant to ask, if you please.”

What the fuck is this shit?” I said. I looked at the baby, and it was watch­ing my mouth, as if mem­o­riz­ing how to say these new bad words. I start­ed to say I was sor­ry, but then didn’t. Too bad, I thought. “All I want to know is where Persis is.”

You could’ve asked any of the neigh­bors,” she said. “They’re per­fect­ly capa­ble of answer­ing a ques­tion like that.”

I’m ask­ing you.” I leaned for­ward, want­i­ng to scare her a lit­tle, but I angled away from the baby. No need to scare the both of them.

The old woman sighed. She took the scarf from her head, fold­ed it and offered it to the baby to play with. “Oh, well,” she said. “We’ll say it’s con­ver­sa­tion, is it.” She point­ed to the kolachy and the glass. “If it’s to be con­ver­sa­tion, take a bite and a sip.”

I picked up the glass and sniffed it.

Only tea,” she said. “Now where did you say you’re from? And your parents—from the Irish, are they?”

I took a sip of the tea, as sweet as maple syrup, and hot. “What’s that have to do with any­thing?”

And what did you think of the gar­den? Nice, ain’t it. I don’t do it all myself, of course, not any more.”

I tensed my arms on the couch arm, ready to get up and leave, but she point­ed to the kolachy with a stern look, and I found myself sink­ing back and pick­ing one up. A cloud of sug­ar clogged my throat and I start­ed to cough.

Powerful lungs, he’s got,” she said, seem­ing to speak to the baby, who was scrub­bing at the car­pet with her scarf.

I coughed the last of it out and swiped at my mouth with my sleeve.

Persis,” she said, just as I lost the last of my patience. “She ain’t an inhab­i­tant.”

I began to speak, but she held up one fin­ger. “She comes by now and then, works in the gar­den a bit. She does for Mayliss,” she nod­ded to the baby, “to give me a lit­tle time to myself. She comes to see Selden, too, of course.”

Him?” I said, look­ing toward the bed­room. “What for?” It made me sweat a lit­tle to think of Persis in that bed­room.

They have a spir­i­tu­al bond,” she said. “Like being mar­ried, but on the oth­er plane.”

They’re mar­ried?”

Only in a sense,” she said. “It ain’t impor­tant though. If you want to see her, she’ll be at the Silence Bar three nights from now. No point in look­ing before that. She ain’t around.”

I stood up. The baby had crept across the car­pet so that it was almost under my feet, and I edged away from it. I had start­ed to sweat, the alco­hol I’d drunk com­ing out through my skin. The room was bright­ly lit, and the light seemed to fill every inch of it, press­ing against the win­dows to keep out the dark. Selden’s room was silent, but I thought some­how that he was awake in there, lying in his bed and lis­ten­ing. I opened the screen door and went out onto the porch.

When you come back,” the old woman called after me, “bring a lit­tle some­thing. Something for the baby, or a bit of mon­ey to buy him shoes or a toy.”

I’m not com­ing back,” I said, and let the door slam. The baby looked up and fixed its eyes on me, and after a moment, it smiled right at me. I could see the spaces between its lit­tle teeth. “I’m not,” I said.

 

A Brief Interview With Mary Grimm

BLIP: How do you see your work fit­ting into the cur­rent lit­er­ary land­scape?

MARY GRIMM: I always have trou­ble with this ques­tion, and I guess the answer is that I don’t know. The last nov­el I wrote (not yet pub­lished) is a sort of ghost sto­ry. The one I’m work­ing on now is relat­ed sort of sketchi­ly to urban fan­ta­sy (which I recent­ly devel­oped a pas­sion for).

BLIP: What are your thoughts on the rise in fic­tion that is heav­i­ly research-based?

MARY GRIMM: I love research-based fic­tion – one of the things I look for when I’m stand­ing in front of the library shelves (or brows­ing through Amazon) is a door to a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence, some­thing I don’t know much about. I some­times tell peo­ple that a lot of what I know comes from read­ing fic­tion – embar­rass­ing, but true. I don’t like it so much if the research is laid on with a trow­el – slabs of expo­si­tion. I’m not a fan of Tom Clancy for this rea­son: too much tech­nol­o­gy. But a book like Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days, the writ­ing of which, I expect, involved a lot of research on Whitman and the peri­od – I love that, love enter­ing that world and feel­ing the details of the author’s research set­tling in around me.

BLIP: Please dis­cuss your view on the con­fla­tion of fic­tion and non­fic­tion?

MARY GRIMM: The fiction/nonfiction con­fla­tion doesn’t both­er me too much, if you’re talk­ing about the bor­row­ing back and forth of tech­nique between fic­tion and non­fic­tion. And I don’t mind that CNF writ­ers might make up a bit here and there for verisimil­i­tude – I rec­og­nize that no one can remem­ber con­ver­sa­tions from 15 or 20 years past, and if the writer makes up words to con­vey the feel­ing of what he or she remem­bers – I don’t mind that. Matters of fact are a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. If you say it’s non­fic­tion, that should mean that it’s as true as you can make it. Here is the place where some­one should be say­ing, “let’s define our terms,” and this is the place that I lose hold of my cer­ti­tude. We can define “true” all day long, and nev­er get near­er a good answer, which I guess has to be OK with me.

BLIP: Who do you read for plea­sure and who do you read for “busi­ness”, and what sep­a­rates the two?

MARY GRIMM: Business and plea­sure are inex­tri­ca­bly mixed as far as my writ­ing life is con­cerned. The answer might be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent if “busi­ness” means the teach­ing busi­ness. I teach cre­ative writ­ing, con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence fic­tion, and graph­ic nov­el, and there is read­ing that I do specif­i­cal­ly for those cours­es. But I’m lucky enough to have been able to choose what I teach, and of course I choose to teach work that I like. I have my long­time favorites: the great Russian nov­el­ists (Tolstoy espe­cial­ly), Virginia Woolf, Updike (even if he was a sex­ist), Margaret Atwood, Charles Johnson, Alice Munro, Orhan Pamuk, Muriel Spark. I’ve loved the busi­ness-y read­ing I’ve done for my graph­ic nov­el cours­es: Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, the clas­sic Maus (Spiegelman), Fun Home (Bechdel), Black Hole (Charles Burns). As I said in ques­tion 1, I’ve recent­ly start­ed read­ing urban fan­ta­sy and have a new list of favorites that I’m con­stant­ly try­ing to get peo­ple to read: Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series, for instance, or the Joe Pitt series by Charlie Huston. I’m an omniv­o­rous and catholic read­er – there’s almost noth­ing I won’t try.

BLIP: As a teacher of writ­ing, have you come across any new writ­ers who are not get­ting suf­fi­cient atten­tion?

MARY GRIMM: Here I’d like to say a word for genre writ­ers, who often get less than they deserve because they are writ­ing in what some still see as a kind of lit­er­ary ghet­to. Just because some­thing has a rous­ing good plot doesn’t mean it can’t also have qual­i­ty writ­ing and sen­si­tive­ly writ­ten char­ac­ters. I’ve taught a fair amount of genre writ­ing, and I nev­er have to look far for good stuff to put on my course list. Last semes­ter in a class called “Vamps and Werewolves in the City” I taught Bulgakov and Auster along­side urban fan­ta­sy writ­ers like Ilona Andrews and Charlie Huston – it was fas­ci­nat­ing, illu­mi­nat­ing, and pret­ty fun.

BLIP: Are you com­fort­able with the self-pro­mo­tion that seems to have become essen­tial to new lit­er­ary writ­ers?

MARY GRIMM: I’m not uncom­fort­able with the idea of self pro­mo­tion in gen­er­al, and in fact admire writ­ers who can do it effec­tive­ly. I’m not so good at it myself – I can’t even write a good syn­op­sis, let alone an intrigu­ing cov­er let­ter. But I cer­tain­ly don’t despise it. Maybe it was in some ways nicer to be a writer in the days when all that was nec­es­sary was to sit at your writ­ing table and then, when enough pages had accu­mu­lat­ed, go to the post office, fol­lowed by a peri­od of wait­ing to be reject­ed or accept­ed, and then anoth­er peri­od of wait­ing for pub­li­ca­tion and reviews. (Maybe I’m over­sim­pli­fy­ing? Probably.) I was good at the wait­ing! I like read­ing oth­er writ­ers’ blogs and fol­low­ing them on Facebook and Twitter – I’m an unabashed fan, frankly.

BLIP: How do you feel about pub­lish­ing on the web vs. pub­lish­ing in print?

MARY GRIMM: I don’t have a prob­lem with pub­lish­ing on the web, if that’s what you mean. I’d hate to see print jour­nals done away with alto­geth­er (see ques­tion 8), but I can see that it might hap­pen, because of the ques­tions of cost and acces­si­bil­i­ty. There are some very good online jour­nals – I think that at one time there was an elit­ist ten­den­cy to look down on online jour­nals as being less selec­tive, with low­er qual­i­ty writ­ing, but this is cer­tain­ly not true any­more.

BLIP: Do you have an inter­est in e-books?

MARY GRIMM: I like e-books as a read­er. I wouldn’t want that to be the only way I read books – I’m still in love with ink on paper, with the feel of the book in my hand, the inef­fa­ble smell of paper, the crisp turn­ing of a page under my fin­gers. But since I love read­ing so much, I’m hap­py to have more ways to do it. I must admit that it’s ter­ri­bly seduc­tive and won­der­ful to be able to browse on Amazon, come across a like­ly book, order its Kindle ver­sion, and start read­ing in a mat­ter of sec­onds. Instant drugs for the read­ing-addict­ed. There are some things I don’t like about e-books. The lack of page num­bers, for one; and also it’s annoy­ing that some­times for­mat­ting is changed or lost alto­geth­er. Also, there is the prob­lem of col­or (at least with Kindle, which is the for­mat I’m most famil­iar with). I teach a course in comics and graph­ic nov­els, so col­or is impor­tant to me.

BLIP: What ques­tion do you not get in inter­views that you would like to get?

MARY GRIMM: A ques­tion I want to answer: has my rela­tion­ship with my writ­ing changed since the (long-ago) time I began?

MARY GRIMM: I hope so! I tried my hand at writ­ing first when I was 7 or 8, try­ing to emu­late a library book that I real­ly liked. (I don’t remem­ber the name of it, but it was about a fam­i­ly of five chil­dren who lived in a house in the coun­try. My 3-chap­ter homage was about a fam­i­ly of six chil­dren who lived in a house in the coun­try.) When I start­ed writ­ing I had only an idea that books were good, and I want­ed to be more involved with them than I could if I was just a read­er. I want­ed to get my hands into them some­how (the image I have here is mak­ing bread by hand – some­thing messy and heat­ed and pum­mel­ing). When I start­ed writ­ing in a more seri­ous way, around age 32, I was try­ing to make sense of my life. I was a moth­er by then, and some­one very close to me had died. Over the years since then, I’ve had some suc­cess and more fail­ure, and the one thing I know now about writ­ing is that I won’t stop. The rela­tion­ship is maybe less per­son­al and I hope less naïve, but more urgent. It’s become a way for me to relate to the world as well as myself, my inter­face with what goes on around me. If some­thing thrills me or sad­dens me or angers me, I want to put it in a sto­ry or a book. It’s a kind of dis­ease or addic­tion, maybe, but I’ve become com­fort­able with it.