“Horus” is the first short story I’ve written in at least half a decade. (My focus in recent years has been novel-length fiction.) To get back to short fiction, my motivation was simple: write a story for my wife. My wife is a fan of parrots, so a story about an unemployed writer who lands her dream job, but gets more than she bargained for in the form of an African grey parrot named Horus seemed like a good way to go. “Horus” is almost the most downloaded episode of Not About Lumberjacks. I like to think that’s because the story is good (I, and others, believe it is), but I think so much of the episode’s success was the result of having my wife, Cynthia Griffith, narrate the story. Cynthia’s narration was the highlight of the episode for so many people…so for this episode of Behind the Cut, I interviewed Cynthia about reading the story.
With time to focus on her own writing and learn even more about the industry from her new mentor, everything seems perfect until the day Sarah gets more than she bargained for in the form of an African Grey parrot named Horus.
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African Grey Photo: BlondieB38
Story: Christopher Gronlund
Narration: Cynthia Griffith
You don’t think, “What does the voice of a Magic 8 Ball sound like?” until you’re faced with recording a story in which the old toy is a character. I didn’t think about any of the voices in “Mr. Knowitall” until I was sitting before the mic, recording. This episode of Behind the Cut is all about turning the voices heard in our heads when reading to ourselves into something physical for people to hear.
A little departure with this episode: no sneak peek of the next episode of Not About Lumberjacks. I don’t want to give too much away with the next story (other than it’s about an unemployed writer who lands her dream job, only to discover it comes with more than she bargained for in the form of an African grey parrot named Horus), so…you get a bonus story called “Be a Man.”
“Be a Man” is probably the shortest story I’ve written…and definitely one of the most brutal as well.
Jerry Hachard was destined for big things, but left his family fortune behind for a quiet life of adventure and travel. When his parents are killed in an accident and he returns to his hometown, he’s amazed to find only one thing left to him in his parents’ will: a plastic Magic 8 Ball.
Jerry’s brother got the family business, and his sister got the family fortune. The Magic 8 Ball seems like a strange thing to leave to the first child in the family. It’s only when Jerry’s life begins changing in dramatic ways that he understands the gift…and all that comes with it.
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Magic 8 Ball Photo: BarkBud
Story and Narration: Christopher Gronlund
They say truth is stranger than fiction. My reply to that is those who make the claim aren’t reading the right fiction. I understand where they’re coming from, though — sometimes life can get strange. Add to that writers being told to write what they know, and it’s no wonder so much fiction takes reality and skews it a bit to a point a writer can say, “What? That’s just a story,” when accused of writing about things that really happened.
I tend to not pull from my life in the fiction in my life — at least directly. With “Pride of the Red Card,” I wanted to change that. Because the story is based on real-life incidents, I decided to use this episode of Behind the Cut to share what is true and what is not in the story. I also share a preview of the next episode of Not About Lumberjacks, a story about a 40-something-year-old drifter who returns to his hometown after his parents’ death, where he discovers the only thing left to him in their will is a plastic Magic 8 Ball.
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Story and Narration: Christopher Gronlund
Talk to the greatest creators and they will have a list of people who inspired them.
Even when we find our own way and develop a voice that even inspires others, somewhere deep down are things that came before us. So I thought I’d share the inspirations behind Not About Lumberjacks.
My friend Larry was the first person I know who listened to fiction podcasts. While visiting him, once, he said, “I know science fiction isn’t your thing, but I think you’ll like what Escape Pod is doing with storytelling.”
He was correct.
It was 2005, and one of my favorite things ever recorded had recently come out. But is was so much more than a mashup of Lovecraft and It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown — it was something new to me.
Sure, I’d heard of podcasts, even though they were still in their infancy in 2005. And I’d even listened to books on tape. But the thought of someone recording short fiction and putting it online — and even better: having people show up?
That’s inspiring stuff that was not lost on me.
During that visit, Larry also played some Scott Sigler stuff for me. That was the big thing he wanted to show me: a novelist who had tried going the traditional route, not had the best of luck, and decided that he may as well record his own stuff and release it for free.
An entire novel…for free. Crazy talk?
At the time, and even today, it’s a concept that would make many writers cringe. But there was an appeal to me: if one finds themselves in a situation where they are willing to release their work into the wild, why let another person or group do it for you? Why not do it on your own?
Today Scott Sigler is doing better than most writers. And it all started recording his novels himself and putting them out there for people to listen to.
Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors
It might seem strange citing one’s own work as an influence, but I make no secret that I’m a dyslexic who grew up terribly embarrassed to read things out loud. When I decided to record my first novel, it was harder than public speaking and performing. Some lines were read a dozen times to get through without stumbling, which is still something that happens to this day.
But I did it.
And people showed up. (In fact, I don’t promote Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors — and haven’t since 2011 when I finished it — but it still gets about 3,000 downloads a month.)
Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors proved to me that I could do it. I still occasionally hear from people who thank me for reminding them how much they love their own dysfunctional families, or that listening to the story was a welcome break on their morning commute.
That’s never lost on me…
Tiny Sense of Accomplishment
Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter’s Tiny Sense of Accomplishment is the podcast that makes me drop what I’m doing and listen when I see it’s been downloaded to my phone.
Two good friends — both accomplished writers — chatting a little bit about whatever they want, answering questions about writing, interviewing creative people, and reading their works in progress. It’s their readings that inspired Not About Lumberjacks the most.
There is a rawness when they read their works in progress. I prefer reading fiction than listening to it, which is perhaps a strange confession for someone creating audible stories. But I would have no problem listening to Alexie and Walter read even half-finished stories all day.
Getting On with James Urbaniak
In a handful of days, I’m releasing the second episode of Not About Lumberjacks. I look forward to it because it’s a bit different than the fiction I normally write.
Getting On with James Urbaniak is to blame for that.
James Urbaniak’s podcast is a shared fever dream delivered in first person. A mash-up of his friends’ writing and his voice acting, the result is always a bit strange, often funny, and sometimes even heart-wrenching.
It’s Urbaniak’s show that made me consider taking some old essays and smattering them with fiction. I rarely pull from my own life in the fiction I write, so it allowed me the chance to do something new.
I’m so pleased with the first result that it’s hard not to post the episode early.
I know there are people who like hearing the story behind stories, though — or finding out what the people they listen to or read are up to. So for those people, I’ve made a new show called Behind the Cut.
Behind the Cut is the companion to Not About Lumberjacks, and this is the first episode. I talk about the inspiration that led to writing and recording “Gutterball,” and offer a sneak peek at the next story episode.
I plan to keep episodes of Behind the Cut to 5-10 minutes. If this sounds like your kind of thing and you want to know what inspired me to write “Gutterball” the answer is a click away!
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And a big thanks to Cynthia Griffith for providing the intro voice work! I look forward to working with Cynthia more soon.
I have another podcast, a weekly show I do with a friend. We’re approaching 150 episodes, so obviously it’s something I enjoy doing.
My first podcast was a fiction-based thing. (The best place to listen to that is the Podiobooks version). A friend had been telling me for years: “You should release your first novel as a podcast.” Five years after he started encouraging me, I finally did it.
Podcast Movement 2015
I’m fortunate to live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, where we have a rather large podcasting community. We have a monthly meetup that’s always great, and 3/4 of the founders of Podcast Movement live in the area. (Podcast Movement is the world’s largest conference devoted solely to podcasting.) While the conference is moving to Chicago in 2016, the first two years have been in the area. In August, I attended Podcast Movement 2015.
Before attending the conference, I knew I was ready to do a solo show — but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had ideas, of course, but nothing solid. During Roman Mars’s keynote talk (Roman Mars is the main brain behind 99% Invisible), he said he would love to see a show like his…but focused on video games. For a little while that weekend, I thought, “Okay, what about a podcast like 99% Invisible [a show that looks at architecture and design and the subtleties behind their creations] but about books?” The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought, “I’d love that show, but it would take too much time from writing books and the other things I do.”
Then I bumped into somebody who was familiar with my first podcast. They asked me if I’d recorded any other books. I told them I planned to record a novella I wrote at some point, but that I hadn’t recorded any other fiction. When I walked away from the chat, all I could think about was podcasting more fiction.
Two Favorite Podcasts
Two of my favorite podcasts are Getting on With James Urbaniak and A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment. Urbaniak’s show consists of first-person audio dramas written by cool people (and performed by Urbaniak), and A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment is a show featuring Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter talking about writing. One of my favorite things about A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment is when Alexie and Walter read works in progress (that takes guts).
Thinking about these two shows and the urge to record more fiction, I knew by the end of the weekend at Podcast Movement that my solo show would be me reading short stories I’d write.
Short Fiction Podcasts
There are a number of short fiction podcasts out there, most of which are written by various people. There are also quite a few ongoing podcasts written and performed by those writing the stories. But there aren’t many shows with short fiction all written by the same person. I had my idea — now all I needed was a title.
Not About Lumberjacks
I’d like to say there’s a reason behind the name, but there’s really not. I can’t remember a particular thing I saw, heard, or read that made me think, “lumberjack.” I just thought it would be funny to have a show with the title and run with a lumberjack aesthetic — all while saying, “It’s not about lumberjacks.”
But Christopher, you have mock endorsements from lumberjacks on the website. You have a whole hipster, lumberjack look. This is at least a little bit about lumberjacks.
No it isn’t.
(I never claimed to have a refined sense of humor; in fact, this was my favorite news headline from last week!)
So now you know almost all I know about Not About Lumberjacks.
I already want to release episode two (it will take patience to keep to a monthly schedule). I have an idea for a five-minute show in between episodes that discusses the stories behind the stories. Mostly, though, I’m just happy to return to short stories.
In recent years, all fiction I’ve written has been novel-length work. I’ve missed short stories; this is a great chance to get back to one of my favorite things in the world.
Thanks for coming along.
Welcome to the first episode of Not About Lumberjacks, a monthly fiction podcast by me, Christopher Gronlund. Sometimes the stories I tell contain truths, but most of the time, they’re made up. Sometimes the stories are funny — other times they’re serious. Occasionally, the stories are just plain odd. But you have my word about one thing: I will never — EVER — share a story about lumberjacks.
This month, it’s a Thanksgiving tale about an English bulldog named Gutterball. Gutterball (and the family who loves him) must contend with the dog’s bad habit of eating everything in sight.
I hope you enjoy this all-ages tale.
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Music: Ergo Phizmiz
Bulldog photo by Click
Story and narration: Christopher Gronlund