Amelia Gray is the author of AM/PM(Featherproof Books) and Museum of the Weird (FC2). Her first novel, THREATS, is due Winter 2012 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. More at http://ameliagray.com/.
UF Review: Your most recent release, Museum of the Weird, is getting stellar reviews. How would you describe your book? What do you like about short stories?
Gray: It’s a collection of little stranges housed witihin individual exhibits. People can walk by quickly or press their faces to the glass. Some of them are jokes and some are freaks. One has been thinking of ways to enter your brain through your eyeball. All that is what I like about short stories.
UF Review: Does Museum of the Weird speak, in any way, to your first book, AM/PM? Does your work explore any sort of common theme or thread? As a writer, what questions are you interested in answering or perpetuating?
Gray: There are little strings of paranoia and isolation and some religion across both books. I do think the books speak to one another. Mostly at night. I try to keep them in different rooms.
UF Review: You’re noted as being a fantastic performer when reading your work. Performer — that’s a word we rarely see when it comes to writers. Do you consider reading your work an act of performance or does your presentation come naturally? Does it matter? Do you like readings? Audience interaction? Why?
Gray: There’s the kind of writing that lends itself to performance and the kind that doesn’t, and each have their good parts. I love the feeling of shouting at a room full of living people and then they shout back. It’s easy for me to forget I’m a living person, otherwise.
UF Review: As a writer, you seem to be pretty fearless. Here’s an excerpt from a short story of yours, The Death of –, “At these times, you learn it’s harder to leave your burning home if you spent too much time cleaning its floors. Watching those baseboards blacken should be enough to make any good woman lay back in bed and let it happen.” Where the heck does that come from?
Gray: That specifically comes from time spent scrubbing my baseboards. Lately whenever I start cleaning the house there’s a nagging voice in my head questioning the utility of scrubbing behind the sink pedestal if we’re all going to die anyway.
UF Review: To push the question further, the scenarios of your stories are outlandish, but the emotions and language and utter ferocity with which you write is so true to life. Do you write from personal experience? What inspires you to write?
Gray: My writing always comes from some kernel of life — I imagine it’s like that with everyone. I’m usually trying to figure something out. I notice that when I spend too much time with people I tend to annoy the crap out of them by bringing up the same ideas up over and over. My brain is an obsession factory. I’m more fun in small doses before the broken record skips to the beginning again.
UF Review: Does writing inform your life or does life inform your writing?
Gray: Becoming a writer means my coworkers are basically weirdos. Let’s all chip in and buy a water cooler we can stand around and avoid eye contact.
UF Review: Have you had any ideas that didn’t flesh out or didn’t work when written down because they were too risky, or too heady, or too, well, weird? If so, what were some of those ideas? If not, how do you turn the filter off that says, Amelia, this might not work?
Gray: I wanted to make a collection of stories that all had this very traditional realism style but in the last scene they each have this guy with two uzis who jumps through the window and wastes everybody. I got three or four stories into that plan before I realized I was the only one who was gonna’ think that was really funny.
UF Review: How do you negotiate between writing for audience and writing for self? Do you consider your audience? What or who do you write for? In your writing, what do you aim to achieve?
Gray: I don’t think about anybody reading me. At one of my book release parties people were holding my book and looking through it and I almost vomited into my hands.
UF Review: When writing, do you usually map out your ideas or are you open to improvisation?
Gray: I’ll map a long thing that’s too big for my head. I’m starting to memorize more elements of the novel I’m working on now. I want to know how it feels to work on the same book for ten years. Can you imagine the kind of memorization that would happen? It would be like being in a relationship. You know what that book’s farts smell like and what kind of pizza topping it likes.
UF Review: What does your revision process look like?
Gray: Revision is different for different things and at different points of the draft. A few days ago it looked like me standing at the counter at Kinkos wearing the same clothes I’d worn all weekend, trying to figure out how to operate a credit card machine to pay for my third printout of pages. The girl behind the counter said I could take all the time I needed but then she figured out what that meant and ran the card for me.
UF Review: How would you describe the writing life?
Gray: Have you ever sat by yourself in a room, trying to convince yourself that you don’t understand the spoken or written forms of any language on the planet? Then truly you have experienced the writing life!
UF Review: What are some books you’ve read recently? How were they?
Gray: I just read Molloy at the perfect time in my life to read Molloy.
UF Review: If you could have one question answered, what would that question be? Who would you ask?
Gray: I’d ask future Amelia about what is going to end up mattering.
UF Review: In one word, describe yourself.
UF Review: Please share anything else you would like to say.
Gray: “We must travel in the direction of our fear.” (John Berryman)