09/23/2021

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.