By Steve Guntli
An old man places an impossible phone call to the past. A mysterious phenomenon causes time to slow to a crawl, turning a man’s commute to work into a nightmare. A man’s clever children bring him back from the dead, but at a terrible cost.
These stories and more can be found in “The Phone and Other Short Stories,” a new book from Blaine resident Gary Paul Bryant. The short story collection was released on Amazon.com on May 15, and the author said he’s sold a few hundred copies so far.
Bryant, who has lived in the Blaine area off and on since 1989, likes to tell darkly humorous stories with hints of the paranormal. He describes his influences as “a battleground between Hitchcock and Twain.”
Bryant’s career has been as unusual and varied as his stories. He worked as a web designer in the early days of the Internet, writing code for Silicon Valley startups. In his secondary career as a musician, he’s released 16 albums and had a few minor jazz hits in Europe.
The bulk of his musical contributions aren’t often credited to him: Bryant produces public-use background music for video editing software. Bryant estimates around 5,000 videos on YouTube feature some of his music. These days, Bryant splits his time between his short-story writing and editing completeworldnews.com, a news-aggregating blog.
His first published work, “The First Ride,” came out in 1992. The story, which is included in “The Phone,” takes a realistic view of Santa Claus, recasting the holiday icon as a humble ranch hand in the 1870s. The story was a success upon its release in Bryant’s hometown in rural Connecticut, and inspired the local library to open up a “local authors” shelf.
“It was just me,” Bryant laughed.
Bryant said one of his goals with his writing is to discuss social issues in a subtle way, without being preachy.
“I don’t want to tell people what to do,” he said. “My primary goal is to be entertaining, while drawing attention to certain apolitical social issues.”
For example, titular story “The Phone” draws attention to the plight of Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers, while “Gleason Snickel and the Search For Love” comments on the growing importance of technology in our daily lives.
Bryant said the biggest challenge for him as a writer is editing.
“The editing process is basically sculpting, chiseling away all your ideas and seeing what’s left,” he said. “The trick is knowing when to stop.”
Bryant said he’s lucky to have a large network of friends and family to act as sounding boards for his work.
“People may think about writing or art as ego-building, but they’re not. It’s humbling,” he said. “You start off with a great idea, but to get it to work, you need support and cooperation from a lot of different people. You need to be able to accept criticism well, but you need to hold on to the core of what you want to do.”
Bryant said his son Benjamin, an environmental economics teacher at Stanford University in California, is usually his final editor.
“He’s very nitpicky, and he’s not afraid to tell it like it is,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s goal is to release compilation books like “The Phone” once a year, using his back catalogue of about 75 stories. He also wants to write a novel.
“Writing a novel is complicated,” he said. “There’s a lot to keep up with. I have an idea right now to marry about 10 of my short stories together into one long story, but I’m still playing around with it.”
“The Phone and Other Short Stories” can be found on Amazon.com.