I met Gary in my first critique group. The soft spoken gentleman submitted short stories based on his life and transported our group back to a Philadelphia from the past. When I learned he recently published a collection of his short stories, I was excited to get a copy and interview him for the blog.
Gary is a lovely person, a supportive friend and a talented writer. His words do not just paint a picture. They immerse you in his world. His subject is his childhood, but his themes are universal.
Check out Gary’s book, Bits and Pieces on Amazon.
And keep reading for my interview with Gary.
Gary, what made you decide to release this collection?
It was never my idea to wait until I was eighty years old to get my book published. If any of the people along the way (who had promised to help get me published) had done anything at all, my book might have been published a long time ago. When I was in the final stages of getting Bits and Pieces published, I sent an email to one of those people. I thought or perhaps just hoped she would be happy for me. Her lack of a response would tell me all I needed to know. She couldn’t have cared less.
In the back of my mind for years I toyed with the idea of writing a book, but never seriously thought I ever would. At the time I was rather content just reading my stories at Open Mics. Instant gratification without any concern for run on sentences, misspelled words and improper punctuation is a writer’s idea of heaven.
My life was to change the day I joined the Mainline Writer’s Group led by Gary Zenker. The group had just published an anthology written by the membership titled “Unclaimed Baggage”. Anxious to learn more about the writer’s group I had just joined I purchased a copy. For the most part I was in awe over what I read. Down deep inside me I was a little jealous but never once thought I would ever be a good enough writer to have something of mine published. Several years later with dogged determination Gary Zenker wouldn’t leave me alone and kept insisting that I needed to put my stories into a book. He said he thought my stories needed to be preserved in something other than his sometimes inadequate memories of them. I was unaccustomed to someone like Gary with such a giving nature who didn’t make empty promises, I must admit I did wonder what his motives were.
Perhaps with a little kicking and screaming on my part I finally agreed to put some of my stories into a memoir. I hadn’t made it easy for Gary to gain my trust but he certainly did. He was my champion, mentor and good friend. Countless emails from me asking perhaps stupid questions must have had Gary asking himself what he had gotten himself into. To his credit he never lost patience (with pain in the ass me) and almost always answered my emails immediately. Gary was doing all the real work to get my book published and without him in my corner it would have never happened. All I did was to write the words.
What is your favorite story in the book?
Good question, but not an easy one to answer. My stories are like my children. As a parent I am supposed to love them all equally. If I must pick one story as my favorite it would be “In the Beginning”. Each time I read one of my stories I am somehow transported back in time as if I was experiencing the events for the first time. The few years I lived with my aunt Betty were perhaps the only time in my life where I felt unconditional love. Taking a line from the last story in my book “even at my young age I knew as long as I was with her, I had nothing to fear”. From a literary standpoint I think the best crafted of my thirty stories in the book is “Marvin and Me”.
You’ve received a great response so far. Your stories really resonate with your readers. Why do you think that is so?
Without any formal training as a writer the short answer is (it is a gift from God). Over the years my writing style has been compared with other writers. Some of whom are actually famous. Instead of giving my opinion I will defer you the Introduction that Gary Zenker wrote for my book, which I think hits the nail right on the head. I was flattered by Gary’s kind words, but I protested saying: “I didn’t deserve such praise”. When I shared Gary’s Introduction with friends they said the praise was well earned and for me think it wasn’t was just me being foolish.
My friend Gary Buehler is something special, as is this book
To me he is the Norman Rockwell of writers. An accomplished artist uses his or her canvas (in Gary’s case, words) to do more than merely create a scene; he transports the audience to a different time and place. Gary places me right into his stories as a close observer, just to the left or right of him as he recounts many of the events that have made up his life.
Anyone can describe the sound of a baseball bat hitting a ball in stickball or the smell of hay on a hayride using nouns and adjectives. Gary can make you feel the emotion behind the panic of a pre-teen hitting a ball that veers toward a building window and the angst of young love, sitting in the cart on the hayride, drowning in unrequited romantic feelings.
Many of Gary’s stories come back to me weeks or months after hearing them while driving in my car or talking with someone on the phone or taking a shower. They are the sleeper agents of story-telling. They make me feel – really feel – happiness, sadness, joy, hurt, surprise, regret, rejection and a dozen other feelings as surely as I had personally gone through the events he describes. And he does that all in the space where lit fiction authors are typically merely setting a scene.
Gary’s emergence as a writer came late in life. Maybe, in order to get these stories out, they needed to marinate… for a couple of decades. Many of them are not easy-to-tell stories and some distance was probably needed. Whatever the case, I am glad they are out now, collected and preserved in something other than my inadequate memories of his reading aloud at the writers group we both attend. I like the idea of being able to reread his exact words and time travel back to his world.
These are stories that you will want to read and read again. More than that, you should let your friends read them, as well. I think you’ll agree that something this ‘special’ is better shared.
What is your writing process like? How do you get yourself writing?
My writing process is haphazard at best. Due to the diuretics I must take, a sound night’s sleep often escapes me. On nights like that I sometimes just lay in bed waiting for sleep to overcome me. While waiting I often revisit the latest story I have been working on, doing mental edits. I often write them down on the back of old envelopes. When that becomes too cumbersome, I get up and sit down at my computer. The next thing I know the first rays of morning sunbeams are creeping into my bedroom. Another sleepless night that has become all too common. The upside is, on a good night I have added a few more pages to my story.
Guilt over not accomplishing anything worthwhile is usually what gets me writing. I am old school, believing that one must have something to show for the last twenty four hours. If not I feel that I am just being lazy. I dislike that feeling and will do whatever it takes to get rid of it.
Is writing something you’ve done all your life or did you pick it up at a certain point in your life?
Writing is probably something I have done since my first recollections of my life. First my writing was only mental. But back then my young mind was like a sponge that could retain a tremendous amount of information that I wasn’t likely to forget. Eventually (probably when I entered junior high school) I began writing things down in a composition book. In between I wrote letters to my brother Jack who was serving in the army. My life was nothing special, but I somehow I had the God given ability to make ordinary events of my humdrum existence sound interesting. Jack thanked me for my letters always adding that his army buddies who he had shared my letters with were eager for more. That was probably my first real audience. With the exception of my talent in art, I probably was never thought of as a gifted student. I preferred being seated in the back of my classroom where I hoped I was invisible and wouldn’t be called on. That was all about to change the day when my English teacher asked me to read a story I had written as a class assignment. Never being the sharpest pencil in the box, I wondered why she had called on me and no one else. After a day or two it finally dawned on me that I could write. That probably started the ball rolling to where I am now (a published author). I know I am, but I still find it hard to believe.
How did you develop your writing style?
It must have been through osmosis or perhaps some other process that I don’t understand. I like to think of my stories as being a one sided conversation with the reader. I endeavor to keep my stories simple and try to avoid confusing the reader with too many details. To keep a story interesting it must have some details. It is kind of like putting salt in a stew. That is a very fine line that to this day often confuses me.
I think my writing style came about mostly because of the public readings I do. The audience usually will often tell me how much is enough. When no audience is available I read my stories aloud for only me to hear. The lesson I learned from doing that is, what looks good on paper often doesn’t sound good when read aloud. There was a time when our long gone family dog Little Bear was my only audience as I read my stories to him. Perhaps he didn’t appreciate my stories, but he did love the sound of my voice. There aren’t too many days when I don’t think of him. I miss him dearly.
Thank you so much, Gary.