Today, we have an opportunity to talk to Sam Gridley. Sam has written the book The Bourgeois Anarchist, a novella. First, let me thank you for joining me. I absolutely love Novellas and think they will really be popular over the next few years as I watch the reading habits of my friends and family. In particular, I have noticed younger readers like the serial or the novella size read.
"What led me (to writing) — who knows? Perhaps trying to figure out where I belonged after so many moves."
I appreciate you giving me your links and I want to share those with our readers.
That is great. And today we are promoting The Bourgeois Anarchist. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to start writing?
My family moved around a lot, a product of my father’s frequent job-switching and wife-switching. In succession I lived in Pittsburgh, Camden, Providence, Bristol, Westchester, Palos Verdes Estates, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Northridge, Culver City, Berkeley, Oakland, Cambridge, Brighton, London, Palo Alto, Bellefonte, Baltimore, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, and perhaps a few other places I’ve forgotten. This was before the age of 29. Since then, I’ve settled in Philadelphia, PA, and scarcely budged.
"It usually takes two such “hits” for a story to develop, an intersection of two ideas or themes, before I sense the “arc” of an actual story."
I first started writing a bit of poetry and creative nonfiction in elementary school, probably in Torrance. What led me—who knows? Perhaps trying to figure out where I belonged after so many moves. In high school, after two more moves, I developed the idea of writing fiction, though at that point the ability to do so eluded me. In college, two additional moves later, it seemed I was destined for an academic career as an English professor, but during a summer seminar on Milton I spent a lot of time reading Milton criticism, and at that point realized that a career that compelled me to read other critics would bore me to death. (From that summer’s reading, only a single bit sticks in my mind: a critic’s assessment that the opening lines of Paradise Lost tell us that something grand is about to begin. Okay, grand, but how and why? And so what? Is that useful criticism?) Soon after graduation, therefore, I took an equally boring job in book publishing, and that industry is how I’ve made a pseudo-living ever since.
Even a pseudo-living can open doors and create possibility though. Do you get any inspiration in your day to day life?
I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Often it comes from reading—a particular phrase will hit me and suggest a theme for a story. But it usually takes two such “hits” for a story to develop, an intersection of two ideas or themes, before I sense the “arc” of an actual story.
Information about stuff I don’t already know comes—of course—from the internet, plus books. My interest in anarchism began initially with a book I helped produce about the Spanish Civil War. Then I read other books on that era. When I got the idea for The Bourgeois Anarchist, I did a lot more reading online in the history and current practice of anarchism.
I've heard you mention reading and research. What is your favorite part about writing?
I've heard you mention reading and research. What is your favorite part about writing?
That’s hard to say. The feeling of being so absorbed in the story that the characters come alive and the words just flow out on the page. (That doesn’t happen too often.) And then the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a day when you feel you’ve written something good. (Although when you reread it the next morning, your illusion may be dashed.)
"Marry a rich person who believes in your genius. Then be a very, very devoted spouse so you don’t lose your financial backing."
What are your hobbies and do they ever play into your writing?
My hobbies are reading and taking long walks with the dog. For reading, see above. For dogs, see many of my published stories, including “Dogs Welcome” and “The Goodbye Dog” (links to both on the About page of my website). The Bourgeois Anarchist, however, does not include a dog; I’m afraid that’s a shortcoming.
Well, as a dog lover I must say they are always welcomed presences in a story. I think there is a joke in there somewhere about a dog and an anarchist? Something about dogs and cats, communists and capitalists... but I don't recall it off the top of my head.
As someone who writes but also makes a living inside the world of writing, I'd be interested to know what advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
(A) First choice: Marry a rich person who believes in your genius. Then be a very, very devoted spouse so you don’t lose your financial backing.
(B) Second choice: Find a day job that allows you time and energy to write during your off-hours. But keep looking for that rich soulmate.
Whether you choose (A) or (B), take all advice with multiple grains of salt. For instance, if people tell you that good writing eschews adverbs, respond graciously and ignore them thoroughly. But if the advice happens to be useful, embrace it. Be both openminded and utterly stubborn.
That is strong advice. I had a mentor once say something similar: "You can marry more money in a day than you can make in a lifetime." Assuming you did not go down path "A," what is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer that you use?
Wallace Stegner suggested my hair was too long, which I suppose was advice that I cut it. Twenty years later, I did.
"Persistence, that’s the key."
(chuckles) Do you write full-time or around another job? How do you schedule your time to write?
Work in book publishing still provides most of my small income. For a while I tried a rigid part-time schedule: writing in the morning, work for pay in the afternoon. My production was slender, so I gave that up. Since my work for pay is freelance, I now write whenever and however, no fixed schedule, and this seems to fit my fitful imagination. For people who need a lot of structure, this wouldn’t work, but it suits me.
How many hours a day do you write?
Between zero and five hours a day, more on occasion. Really, it depends. Beyond five hours in one day, I start to fade. But if I have something going, I’ll devote at least some time to it every day, six or seven days a week. With The Bourgeois Anarchist I would put in at least two or three hours daily, probably averaging about 25 hours a week. Persistence, that’s the key.
What does literary success look like to you?
Groupies! But where are they? Why don’t I have any?
Maybe they will arrive as soon as you tell us about your current release.
The protagonist of The Bourgeois Anarchist, Susie Alioto, is a longtime political militant. After college she spent two decades in an anarchist commune, and at age 66 her beliefs haven’t wavered. She protests with young people to demand justice and human rights. She marches for gun control, for Black Lives Matter, for action against climate change. A portrait of her special anarchist hero, Errico Malatesta, hangs on her refrigerator with an inspirational quote of his: “Impossibility never prevented anything from happening.”
Yet Susie now teaches at an expensive private school, and her life is comfortably middle-class. Her son Eric, a budding mathematician, mocks her as a “bourgeois anarchist.”
As the story opens, violence breaks out at a peaceful rally, and Susie is injured. A young woman dressed in Antifa gear rescues her, and Susie is drawn into a mysterious intrigue involving angry activists and devious capitalists, gentrification, arson, even mobsters. Cops pound on her door to demand information. Though Susie tries to hew to her principles, the true nature of justice becomes muddled, and her anarchist heroes—including the grizzled Malatesta on her refrigerator—provide no clear answer. People’s lives are at risk, and she doesn’t know what to do. The dilemma escalates into an existential crisis.
In the midst of this turmoil, Susie stumbles into unexpected romance. But is the new man any more reliable than the ones who’ve failed her in the past? Meanwhile her son, the apolitical math geek, adds an offbeat and comic perspective that may offer a clue to the personal and political intrigues.
Can you share a sample?
Here’s the very beginning:
NOT ONE MORE!
—a sign hand-lettered in red, white and blue, lifted high above the marcher’s shoulders.
I want to read BOOKS, not EULOGIES
—stark black on white, poked aloft on a wooden cross.
Susie Alioto, a tiny woman packed in by the crowd of marchers on Market Street, strained to see past the welter of signs and banners bouncing around her—what block was this? how much farther to City Hall?—as she proudly hoisted her own handmade contribution, drawn with markers in the anarchist colors of red and black. It aimed straight at the National Rifle Association, which funded the politicians who refused to adopt commonsense gun-control measures. The latest attack in the wave of mass shootings across the country—16 dead, 19 wounded at a high school in the Midwest—had prompted this outpouring into the streets of Philadelphia, semi-coordinated with demonstrations in other cities.
KIDS’ BLOOD on YOUR HANDS, NRA!!!!
read Susie’s sign, the “blood” red and drippy, the “NRA” a shadowed, ominous black with the outline of a semiautomatic rifle behind it. A longtime teacher as well as activist, Susie knew the value of dramatic presentation.
What exciting story are you working on next?
My current story-in-revision is an exploration of the stereotype that men never discuss their feelings with each other.
Not sure how I feel about that one. Sorry... the opportunity was too good. Continue.
It features two middle-aged guys who were “best friends” for 20-odd years until a seemingly minor incident drove them apart. One dies, and the survivor thinks back to the incident and realizes how little he understood his friend. I don’t know that I’d call this story “exciting,” but I found the bantering, man-to-man dialogue a lot of fun to write.
Who are your favorite authors?
Too many to list! Current ones: Elise Juska, Liz Moore, Richard Russo, Colm Toíbín. Lates: William Trevor, Brian Moore, Wallace Stegner. Oldies: James Boswell, Jane Austen, W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford.
That's good. I always ask that question and am surprised when authors don't read. I am glad you do and it will speak well for your own work. In the same line of questioning, what’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel.
I'll have to look for that one. Maybe a holiday read. Speaking of, This interview will publish as Halloween approaches. Any plans?
If a holiday involves a family get-together, I treasure it. Otherwise, I ignore holidays, partly because I dislike crowds. What’s the appeal of a beach when it’s so crowded you can hardly see the sand? Or a park when large parties of picnickers are blaring music? Being a freelancer means I can work on a holiday and then take another, quieter day off.
Does a dislike of crowds make any part of marketing difficult??
Appearing in public to promote my writing. Still difficult.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
My first computer! It was a—wait, can I remember the name?—have to turn to the internet to jog my memory—yes, there it is, a Leading Edge! A brand long forgotten, like most of what I wrote back then..
"The first unsolicited comment from a reader of The Bourgeois Anarchist: 'Your book was hard to put down and done in three days. I disagreed with Susie quite a bit, but I feel like she’s someone I know. Even me at times.'”
What is your writer’s kryptonite?
Noise! Can’t write when there’s turmoil around me. Can’t listen to music while writing. I’m amazed by people who write in coffee shops.
My writer group had a long discussion the other day about music they listen to while writing. I am with you. I prefer
My writer group had a long discussion the other day about music they listen to while writing. I am with you. I prefersilence. Are you involved in any writer groups?
The Working Writers Group in Philadelphia, founded in 1986 and still going strong. Bravo, WWG! The Bourgeois Anarchist is dedicated to the group.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
The first unsolicited comment from a reader of The Bourgeois Anarchist: “Your book was hard to put down and done in three days. I disagreed with Susie quite a bit, but I feel like she’s someone I know. Even me at times.”
That sounds like your first groupie!! One more time, where can someone go to purchase your book?Add your links here again