With this impressive new collection of short stories, author Peter Wurdock has infused new life into the literary landscape with a collection of material that is reminiscent of the pioneering narratives of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, avoiding the pitfalls of the derivative by plotting a course through the rough, unpredictable, and often isolated terrain of Michigan's natural splendor, populated with characters wrestling with emotive realization in a voice that is as equally fresh as it is contemporary.
Possessing a gift for concise, laconic, and lyrical prose, Wurdock fashions together a series of vignettes embracing the overwhelming density of the forests that often confines these characters to the haunting echoes of their past and leads both character and reader to the light of realization and epiphany that ultimately sets them free, for better or worse, in a manner that is worthy of such literary landmarks and meditations on small town life as Sherwood Andersen's Winesburg, Ohio.
Born & raised in Royal Oak, Wurdock attended Albion College and was later accepted to the renowned Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he studied music theory, arranging, composition and performance, returning to Michigan to work park time as a professional musician. He worked briefly in Nashville as a promoter with some of the top country artists of the 90s, until he returned to Michigan to help Detroit music legend & Saginaw native Stewart Francke run Blue Boundary Records, where he's played an important role in each of Francke's 15 award-winning releases since 1995. Since 2006 he has published three books combining fiction, photography, poetry, and non-fiction, as well as having a play produced. He currently resides back in Royal Oak with two adopted greyhounds.
Four years ago Wurdock began work on this collection with two short stories that evolved into twenty over the expanse of two years. After fighting a wrongful termination suit and battling a series of personal setbacks, including divorce and the loss of close friends to illness, Pete finally got his writing mojo back at the end of 2012 and began writing in earnest. “I called that time of my life my 'Hank Williams Triology', he jokes, adding that “it was a good thing I didn't drive a truck or own a dog.” Eventually, the 20 stories swelled to almost 40 and the feedback on his work kept expanding.
Replete with visual illustrations to augment the arc of his narratives, Wurdock is on a mission with this work to not only infuse fresh light, life, and talent into the artistry of short story writing; but to also prove that short story collections are economically viable. “This became one of several motivations for completing this anthology,” he relates. “To prove to people that it can and will sell. Frankly, I think this book is different than most short story collections because thematically the stories are connected, with the UP and northern Michigan serving as a backdrop.”
“Northern Michigan has always inspired me and I've been going there since I was born,” he continues, “staying at a family log cabin whose only upgrade over 75 years has been electricity for a light in the kitchen, as well as a coffee maker; and a light over the supper table & poker table. Everything else it as it was when it was built, though we replaced the outhouse this summer after a fire.”
Wurdock says the most challenging component involved with pulling this incredible work together was believing that he had the ability to write at this level of quality. “I often write in flurries of speed just to get the idea out and learned to kill the adverb,” he summarizes. “Plus I learned and always will be learning what to keep out so that the reader can connect the dots.”
This past May Wurdock convinced himself to try the crowd funding source Kickstarter in order to publish this work, having no idea if anyone would wish to participate. Not only did he achieve his initial goal for publishing, he surpassed it.
While he cites many literary influences ranging from the classics like Poe, Whitman, Graham Greene & Carver, to contemporaries like Mitch Albom and Joe Heywood, as well as musical lyricists such as Gordon Lightfoot, Springsteen, and Van Morrision, Wurdock cites his pivotal influence as fellow-Michigan writer Jim Harrison. “Discovering Harrison in 1998 was like learning to cook with garlic. I've been hooked on him ever since. If you're familiar with him you'll know he had a place in Grand Marais, which is not far from where the family cabin was on Muskallonge Lake. We'd go to Grand Marais every year and as I got older I had a romantic notion that it would be so cool to live there and be a writer, having no idea that Harrison had been doing that a long time and continued until he sold his place and his home near Traverse City and moved around 2005. Apart from that, I also re-read Stephen King's book titled 'On Writing' at least once a year as part of my nourishment.”
As an author, Wurdock's writing carries a resonance that forges long gullies and travels broad expanses, making significant connections through an economy of style that does not sacrifice any grandeur or grace to his descriptive passages.
“I think as a writer if you're being honest with your audience it shows and I think there's no better way to grow your audience then by connecting with them, being attentive to them, and appreciating them,” reflects Pete. “Circling back, I hope my writing reaches the point where it can sustain me full time and I believe it can. Self-publishing is a different ballgame now. Many of the best-selling books of 2012 were self-published and more writers continue to venture that way. There's always going to be crap in self-publishing, but it's my goal, hope and expectation that it will become more sustainable for more writers.”
Towards this end, Wurdock has also formed Blue Boundary Books as a variety of writer's co-op where Michigan based authors (or those writing about Michigan) can become part of a broader distribution network, fan base, and overall movement.
“I have a huge imagination and use my subconscious to work things out when I get stuck or reach back into my catalogue of memory, pull something out and repurpose it. No matter how banal it seems to some people, life inspires me every day and I am always jotting something down on a napkin or now rambling into my smart phone voice recorder to capture an idea I get while walking my dogs or talking to my parents and family. I am blessed with a fine tuned memory and often draw upon details I remember from the house I grew up in or the summer vacation, to wherever it was when I draw on some minute detail which can become a lynch pin in a story later on. My friends and family are always amazed at how many details I remember about my youth, from license plate numbers to who ordered what for dinner and turning it into something useful when it seemed like nothing at the time. Or as in this book with the short story Things so Hard to Part With - just relaying a simple story through my 7-year old eyes.”
This latest work by Pete Wurdock is an embracing ride that catches you like the chilling rush of dew slowly dissipating as the sun rises on a sparkling morning.