Writer Paul Griner at work on “Hurry Please” follow-up during Aspen residency
If You Go…
Who: Aspen Words writer-in-residence Paul Griner
Where: Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar
When: Tuesday, July 19, 5:30 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: A limited number of free copies of Griner’s “Hurry Please I Want to Know” are available through Aspen Words’ Catch and Release program. Pick them up at the Woody Creek Community Center and the Red Brick Center for the Arts; www.aspenwords.org
A narrator’s mother comes back from the dead in Paul Griner’s short story “Mum on the Rocks,” but her annoying habit of spoiling the endings of movies and such has somehow been enhanced during her time in the great beyond.
This surreal, funny piece of short fiction — like many in Griner’s 2015 collection “Hurry Please I Want to Know” — doesn’t end up being about sci-fi elements like the mechanics of resurrection. It’s about a son exasperated by a mother he also loves.
Griner, who is Aspen Words’ writer-in-residence for July, said that although much of his fiction experiments with magical realism, his subject of interest is most often the peaks and valleys of human relationships.
“What ties most of them together for me is relationships, specifically family relationships — the pleasure and pains of being a parent, a lover, a child,” he said Friday outside the Red Brick Center for the Arts. “I think all great writing is really about relationships and time.”
Griner, author of three story collections and the novels “Collectors” and “Second Life,” is working on drafts of two new novels and a collection of stories while he’s in residence at Mojo Gardens Farm in Woody Creek this month. He’ll read from “Hurry Please I Want to Know” and take questions tonight at Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar in Aspen.
“Hurry Please” is a stylistically diverse collection, moving easily between absurd alternate realities, gritty domestic realism and tales of soldiers at war in stories that range from one-page flash fiction to long-form pieces.
Griner said he’s been rolling out of bed and writing immediately for several hours each morning during what’s been a productive residency.
“I don’t even look outside much because I don’t want to be distracted — it’s so pretty,” he said of his temporary home on the Catto-Shaw family’s bucolic property.
In the afternoons, he’s taken breaks for hikes on Independence Pass, around the Maroon Bells and elsewhere, along with frequent trips to Aspen Music Festival and School concerts. In the evenings, he’s been reading over his work and planning his next day’s writing.
“I wish the residency went for a year,” he said. “I’m spectacularly lucky and I know it, so I’m taking advantage of it.”
A Boston native, Griner studied history as an undergraduate and didn’t take creative writing courses until he went to graduate school at Syracuse University. Before studying writing in the Syracuse Master’s of Fine Arts program he worked as a waiter and a truck driver, toiled on construction crews and spent a year living in Portugal. A professor at the University of Louisville for the past two decades, Griner encourages undergraduates to go into the world and gather such material before diving into a Master’s of Fine Arts or into writing full time.
“You have to have a bunch of experiences before you really have anything to write about,” he said.
Griner’s time at Syracuse came in its lionized period of the mid-1980s, when Tobias Wolff and Tess Gallagher were teaching and Raymond Carver was still there. Griner’s contemporaries in the program included George Saunders, Tom Perrotta and Jay McInerney.
“My first semester I had (Wolff) as a teacher and I was so intimidated I think everything I wrote was awful,” he recalled.
Being a writer in Louisville — where he set “Second Life” — the legacy of the city’s native son Hunter S. Thompson is inescapable, much like it is in Woody Creek. Griner said he is an admirer of Thompson’s New Journalism and often teaches “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” in his creative nonfiction classes.
“It has the power of compression for me that a great short story does — he gets at the Vietnam War, he gets at race, he gets at class and money and it’s hilarious, too,” Griner said. “The secret with him is that he can skewer everyone else because he doesn’t spare himself.”
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