AMELIA GRAY is a writer living in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of AM/PM (Featherproof Books), Museum of the Weird, (Fiction Collective 2) and Threats (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in American Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, Tin House, The Chicagoan, and DIAGRAM. She’ll be reading at FA September 25 and we are more than delighted to have her.
You mentioned somewhere that the origin of THREATS was an image that came to you of a woman standing at the foot of a staircase with blood soaked ankles. Is this how most of your pieces are generated? By an image you feel compelled to capture that you then wind into a story? Is there any consistency to the genesis of your pieces–long or short?
Most often it’s an idea that translates into an image. I had a story that started when I heard someone talking about how they were like a fisherman but with women, and I wondered what that would be like, and the first image was of a man hooking a mermaid kind of woman, but then I thought of the opposite, where the man is confused as to what a woman is, and then that brought up this image of a man holding a cooler with what he thinks is a woman inside, and that ends up being a bag of frozen fish. And then I thought, that’s a funny image, that’s interesting, I should write about that. I’ve had plenty of ideas that don’t translate to images or images with no substance behind them. I usually don’t write on those, or I do and it’s crummy.
Now that you’ve been through the process of both story collections and novels, is there a form that you prefer?
I wish that a banner emerged over the computer when I was writing, declaring THIS IS A NOVEL. That would make things a lot easier to plan, I think. Sometimes when I write with a novel length in mind, I end up with a bloated short story. It took three or four tries to get a novel that was actually a novel, in THREATS. I do like getting lost in writing a novel, I like that very much. I also like rappelling into a short story and then running out the moment it seems over. Hard to pick favorites really.
What are you working on now?
A few short things, a short thing that I think could become a longer thing, and a romantic comedy screenplay.
A rom com? Do explain! It’s not what I’d have guessed, after THREATS.
Oh! I like writing comedy and my partner had the idea, so we tried it out and it’s working well so far. It’s a fun change. People have come up to me after reading THREATS and said they found it to be a romantic comedy of its own kind, and I love that idea and agree with it. It’s very slapstick in places.
What are you reading right now? What was the last great book you read?
Two answers in one: right now I’m reading Big Breasts & Wide Hips by Mo Yan. He’s hopefully going to win the Nobel Prize this year. The book is incredible in idea and execution, and it’s wild and sexy and visceral. It is thrilling. I’m reading it slowly and savoring. Saving some of it for my flight this week!
Most of your writing seems to be characterized by an unconventional structure. Are there writers/books that you have considered models for your own writing, even in the earliest stages? Or if not structurally, what writers do you feel you’ve drawn the most from in other ways?
In terms of structure I like to look towards writers who play with the idea of structure — DFW, James Joyce, Cormac McCarthy come to mind. My models are the anti-models. Playing with the form is much more satisfying than following it, so I look at those writers as more in terms of inspiration than as guides in any particular way.
What does living in LA do for your writing, if anything?
There’s a fun community here, not just around the industry. I started working with a writing partner and found that it’s a similar nerdy kind of feeling to playing Dungeons and Dragons; pour a couple glasses of wine, engage in this fantasy world. It’s fun in a different way than fiction writing alone in the room. The actual writing alone in the room thing hasn’t changed, though. A room’s a room’s a room.
THREATS is your third book, out with a third publisher. How has the experience of writing and publishing each book changed for you?
It’s fun to experience different publishers, different editors, promotional arms. I learned some things from the small press about making relationships with booksellers, connecting with readers. If you’re not publishing to be read by people, I guess you’re just publishing to make money, in which case, write ad copy, do something more lucrative. At all levels of publishing fortunately I’ve found that the sentiment of connection stands and is valuable.
You have taught creative writing and been through any number of writing classes yourself–in an MFA and previously. What were the most useful things to you on both sides of the experience?
I’ve only led a few workshops, never a full creative writing semester. I teach composition or business writing when I teach. Across all classes I’ve learned or taught others to generally distrust and challenge authority.
If you could pick out a single piece of advice someone gave you that most drastically changed/improved your writing, what would it be?
Write every day.
You did a reading from THREATS on a moped in LA a few months back. What was the impetus for that? Just because?
Yeah, that was for a reading called No Perch, where the creators had writers reading in grocery stores and other strange places. They had the idea that some writers would read on a moped, and my friend Angeline took that idea and made it look and sound really good. It was my second time on a moped and certainly the most memorable and terrifying.
Last, but not least–Why do you write?
It beats armed robbery! OR DOES IT.