Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 28, 2013

Area woods, 2-tracks are setting for new book

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BELLAIRE — Gary Griffith’s newly published book, “A House of Stone is Forever Stories” (iUniverse, $14.95), starts in 1922 in a northern Michigan town called Blackwood, a village similar in some ways to his hometown, Bellaire.

It ends some 500 to 1,000 years later in the final story — "A House of Stone is Forever Part Two: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky" — as a glacier called Michigan creeps steadily through Canada, the Upper Peninsula and down into the Lower Peninsula toward Blackwood.

A lot happens in between.

Griffith, a 1967 Bellaire High School graduate who now teaches literature and writing in Prescott, Ariz., published his 196-page book of 13 short stories and two novellas in February. It tells a multi-generational story about family survival and blends it with fantasy in northern Michigan.

There are some parallels between Blackwood and Bellaire, but not many, he said.

The paperback's cover shows the actual family stone house in Bellaire and an old red Mustang that Griffith used to drive around town. Griffith’s older brother, Bill, lives there now.

“Some parts reminded me of home, but a lot is fiction,” said Bill Griffith, who was born in the stone house in 1938, left Bellaire in 1957, served in the Army, worked downstate and returned to his hometown in 1989 after retiring.

“He’s the youngest and the only one in the family who graduated from college,” Bill said of his brother.

Gary Griffith's stories chronicle the family of John Dee, a Welsh man, “star gazer and stone gatherer.” who builds a house made from stones he digs up from his own property. His youngest son, also named John Dee, is the narrator in many of the stories.

“The characters were poor but they don't lament it,” Griffith said. “They show the culture of what I call the indigenous Michiganders, the people who migrated into the state at the end of the 19th century.”

Griffith dedicated the book to his own father, Carl Griffith, “who built a house of stone during those lean, hard years of the Great Depression and also because he always had my back when I was growing up.”

“My father was an outdoorsman but not a dreamer,” Griffith said. “He was a more down-to-earth, simple and good man, a hard-working meat cutter at Dingman’s (the local grocery store) and sole provider for his wife and seven children.”

Griffith said the book was inspired by the works of American novelist William Faulkner and Columbian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who both created multi-generational stories and mythical locations for their books.

“Faulkner created his own Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, as a setting for much of his fiction that he drew from endlessly,” Griffith said. “I have at least one to two follow-up stories in mind that I want to write.”

Marquez, author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” crafted a place and culture parallel to real culture in a South American jungle.

Griffith said the book of stories about Blackwood and the future came to him in 2004 while attending a writer’s conference in Nebraska. He wrote the book over five years at night after work and on weekends.

He has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a graduate of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. He married his high school sweetheart, Paula Bechtold.

“A lot of Michigan writers romanticize Michigan, including Hemingway,” he said at a July 13 book signing at Traverse City’s Horizon Book Store. “The stories in my book are about struggle for survival, love, death.”

He said he already is working on a second book that will include some of the Stone House characters who take their Michigan dreams to another mythological place called the Talking Rocks in Arizona on the Navajo reservation, where they encounter a new reality that challenges their foundations.