When I met Al Riske in 1999 as a fellow ghostwriter at Sun Microsystems, I couldn’t have predicted the writing adventures and deep friendship that would follow. Over the course of the next nine years — during lunches, coffee breaks and hallway conversations — Al and I would compare notes on our fiction pursuits.
It didn’t really matter that he wrote literary and I wrote transgressive. We supported each other — critiqued each other’s pieces, read each other’s books, ridiculed each other’s rejection letters, dissected literary-agent search strategies and, eventually, celebrated the successes that started to develop.
Along the way, I was lucky enough to read a story collection Al had written, revised, added-to and massaged for the better part of twenty years. The stories were beautiful — elegant without trying, revealing without really showing why, brief in a satisfying way, scandalous with a light touch — and they stuck with you, key images and dialogue etching themselves into your subconscious.
His stories began to stick with other folks, too, including the editors at Hobart, Blue Mesa, Pindeldyboz and Word Riot. One story won a contest. But literary agents didn’t come running — the conventional wisdom seemed to be that there was no commercial market for short story collections, unless you were Tobias Wolff or John Updike.
Then Al learned about Luminis Books, a brand-new small press that wanted to publish “beautifully crafted prose.” Luminis, it seemed, was interested in publishing books it likes, and less obsessed with producing a New York Times bestseller.
Next thing he knew, Al had a book deal.
A year later, Al’s collection, Precarious: Stories of Love, Sex and Misunderstanding, is shipping from Amazon and selling at bookstores. Publishers Weekly called it “charming.” Novelist Catherine Ryan Hyde announced, “The art of the short story is alive and well in the hands of Al Riske.” Bookstores and literary groups have invited him to read from his collection. Every week seems to deliver a new first, a new adventure.
When my copy of Precarious arrived, the whole thing hit me hard in a wonderful way — here in my hands was the fruit of Al’s inspirational talent and persistence.
I couldn’t be happier for him.