Illusory Flowers in an Empty Sky

Barry Graham, Scottish Novelist, Essayist and Poet

by Barry Graham

What some warmly call “community,” others may experience as a mob. In 2019, a friend of mine who’s a crime fiction author told me they were glad that the Mystery Writers of America had withdrawn its Grand Master award from Linda Fairstein, who, before becoming a novelist, was the prosecutor of the Central Park Five.

“I don’t think there’s a place for Fairstein in the community,” my friend said.

This told me I didn’t want to be part of “the community,” though, in Gary Snyder’s terms, my friend is probably mistaking network for community, as community includes people who don’t like or agree with one another. In an interview in the 1970s, Snyder pointed out there are networks of poets and networks of dentists. He said he had “followers” in the poetry network and the Zen Buddhist network, but not in the community in Northern California where he made his home.

No one could dislike Linda Fairstein, prosecutor, more than I do. I have no opinion, positive or negative, about Linda Fairstein, author, because I haven’t read her books. But I do know her books haven’t prosecuted anyone, innocent or guilty. And the books that made the MWA decide to give her the award have not changed since the decision to withdraw it. In giving in to pressure from those who dislike Fairstein the person, or their idea of her, in making a judgment ad personam rather than literary, the MWA showed itself to be not a literary community but a personal network.

Community is inclusive, not about who is “in” and who is “out.” In community, no one has the authority to exclude, to say who belongs and who doesn’t. In community, by definition, we’re all in it together. A network may be about cool kids and outcasts, Brahmins and Untouchables, but community can’t be.

My friend fell out with another crime writer on social media. The other writer had posted a quote from Mike Tyson, about boxing, and my friend responded by reminding them Tyson is a rapist. The other writer blocked my friend, who didn’t explain how a quote about boxing was invalidated by the criminal history of the former world boxing champion who said it. It seems no matter how authoritative a person might be in their field, if they don’t meet a certain moral standard in their personal conduct, then not only they, but their work and their expertise, are to be shunned. Whether or not they are proven guilty, whether or not they are imprisoned for a period of time, their livelihood, and their personhood, are to be denied indefinitely.

We should hope whoever finds a cure for cancer isn’t a rapist.

#cancelculture #virtuesignalling #socialmedia #community #lindafairstein #garysnyder #barrygrahamauthor

by Barry Graham

The latest book from my publisher, Dockyard Press, is Black Body and Other Stories by Bart Lessard.

Work in a neglected flower garden unearths a vengeful corpse. A drunken executioner befriends a voice from a bottomless pit. Gangster pals indulge in psychopathic pranks. A hoaxer pretending to be a ghost gaslights tenants into health and happiness until a sadistic exorcist calls. Actors in toon costumes wage a cold war against amusement park security. A woodland enclave conspires to vanish from the map. An assassin plays games with a hotel concierge on the swinging ’60s Las Vegas Strip. A wet nurse finds that the infant in her care is far from toothless.

There goes the ordinary in this new collection by Bart Lessard, home to god, fraud, crook, and devil. In these yarns, frightful and funny dwell side by side or are one and the same. Lessard’s books have shown him to be a master of the elegant grotesque whose fearsome imagination rejects all fetters—and this brilliant, audacious volume may be his best to date.

If you buy the e-book direct from Dockyard Press, you'll also get his previous collection, Full of Days and Other Stories, free.

#bartlessardauthor #fiction #crimefiction #horror #books #dockyardpress

by Barry Graham

winter morning — daylight arrives without a story

snow plunges from tower block ledges like falling bodies

duckling left behind paddles to catch up with mother and siblings

children playing in ruins of mill me 40 summers ago walking by today

young woman pushing pram bruise beneath her eye morning rain

zazen together, one breath 4000 miles but no distance between us

winter street — dog turd on pavement shape and colour of autumn leaf

First published in Northwords Now, spring/summer 2020

#barrygrahamauthor #poetry #haiku #zen #glasgow #scotland #scottishpoetry #mononoaware

by Barry Graham

I like Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I love this graphic short story published in The Guardian. Beautiful, sad, compassionate and unsentimental.

#markhaddonauthor #graphicfiction #comics #socialdistancing #covid19 #coronavirus #shortstory #barrygrahamauthor

by Barry Graham

I first read this novel two years ago, and thought it one of the best I'd read in the last decade. Last year, I went to Reykjavik, where it's set, to get married, and it turned out to be my favourite city I've ever visited. That love of Iceland, and the awfulness of COVID-19, made me decide to reread it recently, and I liked it even better the second time.

It's set in 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic. The protagonist is an orphaned teenage boy who lives with an elderly relative, sells sex to local men and visiting sailors, and has two obsessions: cinema, and a local girl. Then the virus arrives and spreads through the cinema crowds.

This is a short novel that tells a huge story of loneliness, class, secrets, love and friendship. It's grim and beautiful, and a book for the present time.

#sjon #barrygrahamauthor #books #fiction #bookreview #reykjavik #iceland #pandemic #covid19 #spanishflu1918

by Barry Graham

A few years ago I read a personal essay by the author of a popular book in the “misery memoir” genre. In the essay, the author described their lowest moment as being when they were jogging past a McDonald's and saw the employees watching and laughing. The author was horrified that “even” people working at McDonald's felt able to mock them. If only those proles knew who they were laughing at!

This kind of grandiosity is, in my experience, more common among authors than not. I've long suspected that the reason authors are so self-important is that we know how unimportant our work really is.

If there's anything positive about the pandemic, it's that it brings home whose work really matters. You can't eat books.

#classism #elitism #narcissism #personalessays #miserymemoirs #covid19 #pandemic #authors #writers

by Barry Graham

It's a mystery to me that there's so little discussion of Banshee. It might be the greatest TV show nobody knows about.

I heard about it a few years ago when I lived in Portland, Oregon. My friends Bart Lessard and Johnny Shaw lived there too (we've all fled America since then because Trump). The three of us would have breakfast every Sunday morning. The venues varied, but what they all had in common was that they served stout.

Johnny Shaw has an uncanny ability to recommend films, TV shows or books his friends will like. This is partly because, unlike most people, he bases his recommendations on his understanding of the person he's talking to rather than on his own tastes, and partly because he's... Johnny Shaw, John Andrew Fucking Shaw to his friends.

He's never once been wrong in recommending something to me. Our tastes are very different, but there's some overlap, the best example of which is Banshee.

“Imagine if Witness had been written by an insane person,” he said. He then gave an epic description of it, finishing with: “That's just the first episode.”

I won't give any plot details here, because I think the best way to watch it is to go into it cold, but I will say if you're at all squeamish or prudish, it won't be your thing. In Banshee, no one gets a tooth knocked out when they can have each of their teeth removed one by one, shown in baroque detail. No one has a tastefully-shown makeout when they can get completely naked and have sex that's shown in detail more explicit than what used to be found in “soft porn.” It's funny, dark, and strangely moving. At one point, I laughed out loud, even though the scene I was watching wasn't funny; I was laughing not in amusement, but in sheer delight that something so brilliant, and so original, got made.

#banshee #quarantinetvviewing #johnnyshawauthor #bartlessardauthor #barrygrahamauthor #crimefiction #neonoir #sexandviolence #crimedrama

by Barry Graham

Holding Back the Dawn is a short film from 2001, from a script by me based on a short story in my 1992 collection Get Out As Early As You Can. Shot in Phoenix, Arizona, it was directed by MV Moorhead, who also plays Tom. It depicts the last night of a relationship, and the game of psychological cat-and-mouse between Tom and Kate, who plans to leave him in the morning.

#shortfilm #indiefilm #fiction #barrygrahamauthor #mvmoorhead #heartbreak #relationships #emotionalabuse

by Barry Graham

There seem to be two categories of people who look for me online: those who're interested in my novels and poetry and general opinions, and those who're interested in Zen practice. I understand the two often don't overlap (though they sometimes do), so I decided to create a site for my specifically Zen stuff...

So for Zen teachings, or if you're interested in practicing with me, go here. Scroll to the bottom to subscribe by email.

by Barry Graham

I lived in Portland, Oregon, for my last five years in America. One of the most venerated icons there is Powell's City of Books, a new and used bookshop whose main branch occupies an entire city block.

I never understood why it was so beloved as an “independent bookstore.” For years, it fought against its staff attempts to unionise, and it sells used books at rip-off prices. (Disclosure: before I learned about the reality behind the image, I spoke at an event there, and did a book-signing.)

Now it has closed indefinitely because of coronavirus, and its staff have received no severance payment and no continued health insurance.

They're still selling books online. Please boycott them as you would Amazon.

#powellscityofbooks #portlandoregon #coronavirus #covid19 #workersrights

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.