5 questions with…associate professor of English, author Mary Grimm

Mary GrimmFor Mary Grimm, writing is all about creativity. An associate professor of English, she teaches courses that demand imagination: fiction writing, urban fantasy, graphic novel, science fiction, and contemporary American literature. But her favorite to teach is the aptly named creative writing course, which focuses on long-form writing.

But sometimes, creativity isn’t enough—a lesson Grimm learned when writing her latest work.

It started as a story about ghost hunters in a small Ohio town. But Grimm, never having tracked down the spirits herself, realized she didn’t know enough about the actual mechanics of ghost hunting to write a story on it—no matter how creative she is.

“I stopped writing the story to do a bit of research, just to get some terminology that I could use,” she said, “but I ended up reading perhaps 30 or 40 books or parts of books and spending too much time on the Internet. Finally, I had done so much research that it seemed silly to be writing only a story, and I made the jump to the novel.”

Grimm, the chair of the Department of English, hopes to complete the novel, The Dead Have Dreams, by the end of the year. This is her second novel; she’s also written Left to Themselves as well as a short-story collection called Stealing Time.

She began writing at the early age of seven and has been writing off and on ever since. “I think I wanted to write because I loved to read so muc­h—I wanted to be able to do that, to write something that other people would want to read,” said Grimm.

When Grimm isn’t teaching or writing, she usually can be found with her nose in a book. “I like to read a lot, of course—more than is good for me,” she said. “I like to garden. I have periods of intense interest in this and that, sometimes associated with whatever I’m writing—the ghost hunting, for instance—often short-lived.”

Beyond hardbacks and haunts, what more is there to know about Grimm? She tells us in this week’s five questions.

1. What was the first album you ever purchased, and what was the medium (record, cassette, CD, etc.)?
A record, Meet the Beatles, in 1964. One of my regrets in life is that I didn’t get to go to the 1964 Beatles concert in Cleveland. You had to win the tickets in a lottery­­­­­­­­­­­­—my friend Dolores Cmolik won and offered me one, but my mother wouldn’t let me go because she was afraid I’d be trampled. Still mad at you, Mom.

2. What do you think should have won “Best Picture” at the Oscars—whether or not it was nominated?
This year, Lincoln, although I also loved Argo. I didn’t go to see Les Miserables because of a bad experience in a French class long ago where I had to read the Victor Hugo novel, untranslated. It’s very long, and seems even longer in French. I’ve never been able to forget the French word for candlestick (chandelier, if you’re interested).

3. What moment at Case Western Reserve stands out as most memorable (so far)?
One day that is memorable for me is walking into Guilford House for the first time in September 1989. I’d been hired to teach creative writing, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence that I would actually be able to do this. I was following in the footsteps of a much admired and loved teacher, Lee K. Abbott, which made me very nervous. I met my first class and somehow, it went well, or at least not too badly. I remember watching them file out of class after we’d talked about writing and literature for an hour, shuffling my papers to look busy, and feeling triumphant. It was a great first class by the way. One student, Angela Patrinos, went on to have her work published in The New Yorker; another, Will Allison, has published two amazing novels.

4. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Hmmm—not sure. I know how to shoot a rifle? I never managed to learn how to whistle? I have two middle names? I fear I am not a very surprising person.

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
Two favorite things: I love the students, who are smart and funny and talented. And I love University Circle, which is both beautiful and terribly educational.