Catherine Lacey speaks with author Amelia Gray about her new novel THREATS.
My awe of Amelia Gray began last winter at a noisy bar in DC. Half-drunk and totally drunk book nerds were getting rowdy at that year’s Lit Party, an unofficial AWP event that is usually more party than literature. Three readers were scheduled, and the audience feigned a few seconds interest in the first two before loudly returning to their conversations. Then Amelia Gray took the stage, and the crowd was completely rapt. She read (or really, shouted) from a stack of index cards, one threat on each card, tossing them aside as she went. “I WILL LOCK YOU IN A ROOM MUCH LIKE YOUR OWN UNTIL IT BEGINS TO FILL WITH WATER,” and “I WILL CROSS STITCH AN IMAGE OF YOUR HOME BURNING. I WILL HANG IT OVER YOUR BED WHILE YOU SLEEP,” then “LETS MAKE A BABY.”
This, of course, was just a condensed taste of Gray’s work. Her first collection of short fiction, AM/PM, came out from Featherproof books in 2009 and her second collection Museum of the Weird, was released by FC2 in 2010. She soon caught the attention of FSG, who just published her first novel, THREATS. I recently emailed with Amelia about some questions the novel raised for me.
Catherine Lacey Given your experience as a short fiction writer, I wondered if the messages that David finds around the house came first, as their own little stories. Maybe this was because I was so struck by the voice, compelled by it. Could you tell me about how the work evolved, or, more specifically, if I am right that the threats came first and the rest of the story was built around them?
Amelia Gray You’re right! I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but in hindsight, the best way to get a unique voice in the threats themselves was to write them wholly separate from the rest of the book. I had pages of them, which I wrote for a reading, and when I started writing the book I was more interested in exploring what happened to the woman who died. It was a slow, happy realization that the threats were a part of it.
Catherine Lacey on Jon McGregor’s newest collection, This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.
Jon McGregor’s newest collection, This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You will sneak up on you. What at first seems like a realistic story of everyday people doing everyday things quietly forms a little surface crack, then a fissure, and suddenly the cistern under the ordinary floods out.
The first piece, “That Colour,” sets this pattern gorgeously. A woman observes that a certain shade of autumn leaves has returned, as it always does. She points this out to a man we assume is her partner. They have a circular conversation about the leaves, their color. “Those trees are turning that beautiful color again,” she says. “Is that right?” He asks. In less than two minutes, I had chills in a way that is rare and holy. It is clear they are not just talking about leaves, but the seasons in their own relationship and their eventual bodily demise.
It is a little unfortunate that the story that follows, “In Winter The Sky,” is one of the more disorienting, albeit ambitious pieces. On one page there is a third person account of a husband’s long-kept and gruesome secret, while on the opposite page is a long attempt at a poem written by his wife. It has its moments, but I found myself craving more of the bare beauty in the opener. It probably would have been a good idea to take a walk around the block before diving into the next one.
Michael Jeffrey Lee on ugly writing and his short story collection Something In My Eye.
I read Michael Jeffrey Lee’s debut collection of short stories, Something In My Eye, this past winter, and I have not been able to shake it. Each story is delivered in a peculiar voice but all of them have a feeling of being imperative; every opening gives the feeling that a valuable secret lies in the next few pages, and Lee delivers on that promise. Some are startling or grotesque, but none are transgressive for the sake of being transgressive. Ideas and conventions around sexuality, class, violence, religion, and nationalism are taken on in narrative form, all with humor and bizarre elegance. It’s no wonder Francine Prose named this collection the winner of Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction.
Catherine Lacey Before this interview can go anywhere, I need to know about your career as a nightclub singer. Where do you sing (or did you sing) and what are your standard songs?
Michael Jeffrey Lee Well, I am really ruing the day that I ever wrote that bio for myself, not realizing how permanent it would be. That part of my life is more or less over, and I’m happy about it. No more lugging my own gear everywhere. I used to sing at places in New Orleans like the Circle Bar or Siberia—another cozy little spot—but both recently lost their music licenses and now feature nothing but improv comedy. The standards I sang had titles like, “I Will Think Much of This Kindness,” and “The Angel,” and sometimes I would sing Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” but not in a way that would have made the master proud. I regret the other things I listed on my bio as well: none of them really apply anymore.