Since I began teaching in the PhD Creative Writing Program at University of Utah 15 years ago, I have become increasingly aware of the explosions, fusions, and transformations of fictional forms. My colleagues and students are brilliantly innovative, and their work challenges me aesthetically, intellectually, ethically, spiritually, and emotionally.
The stories of Girls in the Grass emerged between 1977 and 1989, and the piece that made the invention or re-imagining of all others possible is not included. “Catch You Later” appeared in Ploughshares in 1987. It’s a simple story: a woman dumped by her boyfriend and dizzy on downers staggers into a restaurant, hoping for a glass of white wine and a moment’s peace.
In October 1989, Charles Stuart shot and killed his pregnant wife Carol and wounded himself after attending childbirth classes at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He claimed they’d been victims of a violent carjacking attempt as they drove through the mostly African American neighborhood of Roxbury. The shooter, he said, was a “black man with a raspy voice.”
Writing, like prayer, must be a daily practice. For almost thirty years I’ve kept what I once called a “Book of Wonders” and now, in my age of awe, refer to as “The Gospel of Grief & Grace & Gratitude.” I have no rules or purpose: my apocryphal gospel includes songs of loons and visions of owls, flowering saguaros, hungry grizzlies — the last words of my father’s last days — my sister Wendy playing Beethoven on our grandmother’s piano.
On the third day of October, 2002, my father entered Swedish Hospital in Seattle and began his final journey, heart and liver and kidneys failing. He loved life, and loved his family. Even in the last days, filled with toxins and heavily sedated, our father was teaching us to rejoice in every living moment.
The 7th Man is a prison guard’s fevered confession to his role in 131 executions. As a member of the strap down team, he is compelled to rehearse, to perfect his timing and skills, to synchronize his movements with the precise choreography of the team. Each member takes his turn playing the role of the condemned, the 7th man, “because no body is the same, and every man responds differently.”