Spotlight: Molly Gaudry, Writer, Editor, Charmer

As part of this week’s focus on new books, Nicelle Davis interviewed Molly Gaudry, author of the lush novella We Take Me Apart, out now from mud luscious press.

1.The flow of We Take Me Apart appears effortless. How were you able to bring all of the book’s imagistic strands together to create such a tightly woven structure?

First, I’d like to credit J. A. Tyler for his editorial contributions. Without his help, I’m sure the book wouldn’t be as “tightly woven.” We went back and forth on the ending for months, discussing the pros and cons of two possible last chapters. It was great to have him as a guide from start to finish, and I’m not sure there’s any other writer I trust as much as I do him. Another way of saying this might go something like this: my vision for this project only benefited from having an editor who was willing to trust me and my creative impulses, and I am grateful for, first, his initial vote of confidence (signing on before seeing a full draft), and, second, helping me to transform the first draft into what became the final. Additional thanks are due to several first readers who each suggested the further development of different storylines or themes. The fairy tale aspect, as well as the mother/daughter storyline, became particular points of interest after receiving feedback from these readers, and I am very grateful to them.

As for the “imagistic strands,” I can thank only Gertrude Stein and her baffling Tender Buttons. After discarding an early version of We Take Me Apart, I turned to Stein and began making lists of words from her text, which opens with “A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS.” If you refer to the opening chapter/poem of WTMA, you’ll recognize what I did with the word “glass.” Later in the novella, “carafe” and “blind” also come into play. Same goes for so many other words from Tender Buttons. In this way, WTMA‘s images emerged as a result of my desiring to recast Stein’s objects as well as recast key, recognizable objects from the well-known versions of different fairy tales.

2.Were you always conscious of when a repeating image was brought back into focus in the novella, or was the process more organic / more subconscious?

In drafting WTMA, I was very methodical. I had these lists of words from Tender Buttons, and, during the second and subsequent drafts, I had a list of fairy tales (and next to each fairy tale I wrote what I thought was its key object””for instance, “Cinderella,” glass slipper; “Snow White,” apple; “The Princess and the Pea,” pea). From the start, when I had the first lines of (what eventually became) the opening chapter—”long ago / in a different version / it was not a glass slipper but a glass dress”—I knew dresses would become an important theme. If I came to a list of words that in some way supported a particular theme, I consciously used those words to further it. The food items in Tender Buttons offered something of a challenge. So much food! What to do with it all? How to write about all that food? This, then, led me to the “this morning it is [food item],” “today it is [food item],” “tonight it is [food item]“ motif. And once I had that, I had the woman-in-a-ward storyline. I would say it was an equal partnership between conscious beginnings and organic conclusions.

3.Was your novella based on the structure of other books—I’m thinking of The Decameron?

I really like The Decameron. My favorite is the “put the devil in hell” story. If memory serves, it’s on my list of top-ten novellas (over at John Madera’s novella project, which is an online compilation of writers’ favorite novellas). This said, I don’t think I was consciously aware of any other books’ structures””at least not while writing WTMA. I simply had these lists of words, and I connected those words to form a narrative. Once I completed the narrative, I printed it all out, cut the stand-alone sections, and thumb-tacked them to my bedroom wall. I stared at all those strips of paper for a long time. Then I began rearranging them. I had colored tacks, so I used red for the mother/daughter storyline; blue for the narrator/lover storyline; yellow for the food storyline; and white for the fairy tale storyline. I rearranged and rearranged and rearranged. For about two weeks, I nursed a terrible and disgusting blood blister on my right thumb. There is still a smooth patch from the scar, but, disappointingly, it is beginning (these many months later) to reacquire the grooves of my thumbprint.

4.Your work seems to be a nice pairing of modernism with magical realism. What is your connection to these schools of writing?

I am a long-time subscriber to both, but I feel pretty undereducated and under-read in both areas. I’ve read one or two Woolf novels, a ton of Rushdie, Saramago, and Winterson, but very little of so many others—Beckett, Joyce, Grass, Cortazar, the list goes on (and on and on). Likewise, I’ve read a lot of Garcia Marquez and Calvino, one Rulfo, one Murakami, quite a bit of Bender and Saunders and Wilson, but no Allende, no Yamashita, etc. I would like to further study modernism and magical realism (and postmodernism and fabulism and new-wave fabulism and absurdism) in an MFA program, maybe even a PhD program, eventually. First things first, though; this year, I am applying to two MFA programs. My application to the first is nearly complete, and I will begin preparing my application to the other this weekend. I’ve been out of school for well over a year now (I graduated with an MA in fiction from the University of Cincinnati in 2008—it seems so long ago!), and I’m anxious to get back into the classroom. I miss it. I mean, I still read a lot. But it’s not the same experience. School, I think, is this amazing place where the others in the class make everything better. Sure, sometimes they don’t; but it’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away from it awhile. Then there are the professors, and I was lucky to have great professors at UC—Michael Griffith, Brock Clarke, Maria Romagnoli, Beth Ash; without them, I wouldn’t be the reader or writer I am today. I’m still lacking, though, and I want to be led now by other professors. I want to know these movements in and out, backward and forward, to better appreciate what the hell I’m talking about and why the talking even matters.

5. How do you think the writing traditions of the past are manifesting themselves in the literary world today? Do you see a new movement fast approaching?

I just read Barney Rosset’s “Remembering Samuel Beckett,” a personal essay that includes the letters exchanged between the two men. This essay appears in the “Not Even Past: Hybrid Histories” issue of Conjunctions (Issue 53), which also features a story by Matt Bell (go Matt!). Anyway, Rosset was Beckett’s publisher at Grove Press. When Rosset sold Grove, the buyers, Peter Getty and Lord Weidenfeld, promised to keep him on as CEO. But the next year, they booted him. Beckett, in response, “told another suppliant from Grove, ‘You will get no more blood out of this stone,’ and he never allowed them to publish anything new of his again.” He later said, “There is only one thing an author can do for his publisher and that is write something for him.” Beckett wrote Stirrings Still and dedicated it to Rosset.

How can any young writer not love that part of their story? I can tell you this: I am intensely loyal to Mud Luscious Press, and if J. A. Tyler were interested, I’d have no problem giving him first crack at all my future writing. He did a bang-up job with WTMA, and I’ll always be nostalgic about my first book and the man who made it real. I’m nostalgic already, and I don’t even have copies yet. But what I’m nostalgic for is the communication, the level of care J. A. brought to my manuscript. Absolutely, there are other presses I’d love to be published by—Rose Metal Press, Essay Press, FC2—but, at the same time, I’m in love with the idea of having a lifelong relationship with one editor, one publisher. And all of this (I’m trying, I really am!) brings me to my point:

When I see the phrase “writing traditions of the past,” I think not of great literary movements but great literary partnerships (between writer, who dared, and publisher, who believed in that daring). This is the only tradition that matters. It is the one—not manifesting, but—being kept alive today, on an awesome and inspiring scale. And it is exciting.

6.With your efforts in writing, publishing, blogging, teaching, and editing you seem to be creating a very healthy and thriving writing community. What advice would you give to new writers who are interested in becoming a part of the literary world?

I want to be very clear, and very honest about this: I absolutely came out of nowhere and dive-bombed my way into this small pocket of the literary world. I graduated from UC thinking, “I will never publish anything. All my stories suck. Everybody hates everything I write. I can’t tell a story to save my life.” But then I read Blake Butler’s “The Gown from Mother’s Stomach,” in Ninth Letter, and I loved it. I thought, “Yes! Somebody published this! This is incredible!” Blake’s bio included his blog (which was then blakebutler.blogspot but is now, well, something else) and I went to it. A lot of his other stories—online! free! free? seriously? yes, seriously!—were linked, and I read them all. I not only read all of his stories, but I stayed at those sites and read work by so many others whose names and writing began to stand out: Kim Chinquee (because you don’t see her name twice without remembering you’ve seen it before), Jimmy Chen, Sean Lovelace, Elizabeth Ellen, which then led to me buying Rose Metal Press’s A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, which introduced me to Kathy Fish and Claudia Smith. And from there I bought the Sudden Fiction anthologies, and a flash anthology I can’t remember now (because I loaned it to a student who never returned it), which was incredible. And I began hacking all my stories to bits, culling and then fine-tuning these tiny, stand-alone moments. I sent them out, and then I was publishing. A lot. Like, three, four, five shorts a month, in the beginning. And then I realized this (the single most important thing I’ve ever realized for myself)—that if it’s not terrible, a story will eventually get accepted by someone, even if it was rejected by half a dozen, a dozen, twelve dozen others. It all comes down to finding the right reader at the right time. Think of all the stories you’ve read that you don’t like. There is probably a person out there for each who thinks it’s the best thing she’s ever read. We are so selective, we silly human beings, and we should be. What’s for dinner tonight? Pizza! I’m sick of pizza, what about Chinese? Fuck lo mein, why don’t we grill? Okay, let’s grill! You know? I mean, our taste in stories and styles, like our taste in food and clothes and what color to paint the living room walls and the cars we drive or bicycles we ride or the kinds of pantyhose—control top, sheer, opaque, footless, not to mention all the colors!—all varies immensely from person to person. This realization is what led me to the publishing side of the table. I wanted to be the right reader at the right time, for a whole lot of people. A year later, I’m proud to say that so far I’ve been the right reader at the right time for twenty-four people (Twelve Stories, which recently put out its second issue); a lot more than twenty-four people (Willows Wept Review, which publishes on a rolling basis and is now in its fifth issue); likely fewer than twenty-four people (Keyhole Magazine, which is an amazing operation run by Peter Cole, who is kind enough to let me read slush at my own sad, slow pace. I’m sorry, Peter. But I will have Internet at home again soon and, when I do, I will return again to reading submissions, I promise!); and, slowly but surely, two people so far—Matt Bell and Scott Garson (Willows Wept Press, which publishes two fiction chapbooks a year). Long story short: my best advice to any new writer is to find writers you admire, read and buy their stories and books, write them fan mail!, and, if you write like them, submit to the places   where they’ve published. Don’t give up. Try harder. And if you want to be a part of the literary community, do so by becoming part of the literary community. You can start by offering to read slush. Some poor editor somewhere will take you up on it. Believe that.

7.Your last name could easily be mistaken for “prolific.” How do you keep up with all of your words? Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Oh, dear. I’m hardly prolific. I haven’t really written anything since I finished WTMA, which was way back in April, or May of 2009, I think. There was a lot of editing after that, but no real writing. Not then, not since then. It’s scary, truth be told. The book will be available soon, and what if people hate it? Before that happens, I know I absolutely need to be neck-deep in the next project. Because at least if I’ve got something new I care about, I won’t be discouraged (as much) to keep at it. My fear is that if I don’t have something new, the bad reviews or “filth!” ratings on GoodReads will stall me, perhaps indefinitely. Or maybe not. Or not really. Or who knows? Am I rambling? I’ve seen Shane Jones write, “Am I fucking this interview up?” in more than one interview. That’s how I feel right now. Truth: I’m scared. Truth: I want people to like WTMA. Truth: If they don’t, I will feel like a failure. I want this to be a truth: I will peel myself out of the gutter and not give up; I will try harder.

Truth: I have no words.

Truth: It is very difficult to put the time in to write while teaching multiple sections of freshman composition, though I am grateful for the job and enjoy it—even look forward to it.

Truth: Please, please, let me get into _____’s MFA program so I can have nothing but time to get back to some of these book projects. I mean, come on, are you kidding me? Stipend that is more money than I make now? And no teaching responsibilities the first year? A whole year? Yes, please!

Truth: I’m sort of tickled to admit that I guess I do have a ritual: because it is so hard for me, personally, to stare at a blank page (or document) and put down a single letter, let alone a single word, let alone a single sentence, I’ve happily stumbled upon a process that works (I think) for me. The list-of-words thing. Right now I’ve got 200 very short lists of words from Jeanette Winterson’s “The Poetics of Sex,” and there are quite a few repeated words in that story, which will lead, inevitably, to themes and storylines having to do with “Picasso,” “girls,” “lesbian,” “salami,” “red,” “blue,” and “mainland,” among others. I asked my housemates (visual artists) to tell me something interesting about Picasso, and they told me he was a thief. My favorite line from “The Poetics of Sex” is “I can steal her heart like a bird’s egg.” Something—I’m not sure yet, exactly, but something—is   bubbling in this vat I like to think of as my brain, which is maybe my heart.

I also don’t change my underwear until I’ve finished a full draft. Gotcha! That was not a truth.

8.When did you start writing and why?

This is a really great question! Here is the inside scoop: when I was in the sixth grade, I was way more interested in fitting in than doing homework, which means I goofed off. A lot. My teacher, Mr. Hernandez, poor guy, allowed me extra credit. I wrote a story called “The Last Rose,” which was about a girl whose father would die unless she made it in time to The Rose Garden, where she would have to pick a bunch of roses and bring them back home to her younger brother, a genius who had figured out a rose serum cure for their father’s disease. Of course, the only way to get to The Rose Garden was by bicycle, and it was a three-day journey. So she packed up her sleeping bag and a bunch of peanut butter sandwiches, and attached her brother’s wagon to her bike so she’d be able to bring all the roses back. On the way home, she runs into a bear that puts her way behind schedule. When she pedals into her driveway, an ambulance is taking her father away. The end. Fucking bear. The great part was a friend of mine, Katie Ferraro (who the hell knows where she is now?), illustrated it, and then I stapled it and made my very first chapbook! I wrote another story for Mr. Hernandez about a girl in a Catholic school who dozes off and dreams about going back in time to Olympus, where she gets to hang out with a bunch of gods and goddesses and torment mortals and race chariots. When she wakes, in the middle of some class, she’s still wearing some bracelet or something Zeus had given her. Ha! There were others, but the last one I’ll share here was about a lonely girl with rich parents who are never around. Her favorite room in her amazing mansion with like a hundred rooms is the Aquarium Room, where her pet dolphin, Missy, waits to play with her every day. Oh, Mr. Hernandez, I should find you now and send you a copy of my book. I owe you that much, probably. Thanks for not failing me. My folks would’ve flipped their shit, for real.

9.In addition to being an author, I understand that you work as an editor for several publications. Would you please say a few words about your current editorial projects—how they are different—how they may complement each other?

I touched on them a bit, above, but I guess they’re all different and seem totally separate from each other. Aside from being the right reader at the right time for people, the best part about being an editor for Twelve Stories is working with Blythe Winslow, who I first met way back when we were undergrads together, and who is, as of a few days ago, a brand-new mommy (yay! Congrats, Blythe! And welcome to the world, India Jane!). The best part about Keyhole is getting to work with Peter Cole and, now, Josh Maday. There are other editors, but our communications are rare. Peter and Josh are great, though, and emailing back and forth about stories and poems is fun, but hanging out (at AWP, etc.) and drinking together is best of all. Am I fucking this interview up?

10.How did you come up with the concept for Willows Wept Review?

Oh, its concept is fundamental to ecocriticism, which is something I’m interested in (the relationship between literature and the environment). WWR seeks submissions of any genre (and will consider writing previously published in print journals) that explore, question, or problematize the relationship between human beings and the natural world. The name comes from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”—”On the further bank the willows wept in perpetual lamentation, their hair about their shoulders.”

11.How do you balance your time between so many projects?

I drink a lot of vodka coffee and don’t sleep. Kidding! That is not a truth. Truth: I do what I can, when I can. And everyone seems to understand and appreciate what little it seems I actually do.

12.Do you have any new projects in the works?

Other than the lists from Winterson’s “The Poetics of Sex,” I’m thinking about a manuscript I’d like to submit to Essay Press, Fruit, which is about how I went back to Korea in ’99 and met my biological father, his wife, and their two kids; and a manuscript I’d like to submit to Rose Metal Press, Rosalia: A Cookbook in Stories, which is about the women of Rosalia, a town, as they prepare for Rosalia, a celebration/orgy/feast during which the people eat and drink food and beverages made from rose petals; each story incorporates a different recipe. Neither of these manuscripts is very far along, but with any luck I’ll be able to finish them while in an MFA program. MFA Gods, do you hear me? Do you? Hear me!

13.Who should we read that most people don’t know?

Mirja Unge, whose story, “It was just, Yesterday,” I discovered in Elsewhere: Stories from Small Town Europe (Comma Press, 2007). The story includes the following two passages, which took my breath away:

“Where d’you get the air from, I say once I’ve reached the back of the bus where he is sitting with his legs splayed wide and his hair slicked down and I don’t look in his direction because I’ve like seen him before. He laughs and slaps his bus pass on his thigh, I sit on one of the seats in front of him and check my hair in my little mirror, there it is jet black on my head. It’s only one stop to where Thea gets on and she’d said fucking hell it looks really cool when I dyed it and black suited me she said and pulled her fingers through it Thea did.”

and

“Oh, I must have been too pissed, I say and laugh and she laughs too and the bus rattles and I forgot the bottle of wine I didn’t think about it, I walked out, walked slowly because it was hurting somewhere it was empty and some huge damn lonely thing was just swelling and swelling and I didn’t realise I didn’t know because I hadn’t said anything, I hadn’t pushed away his body I’d just lain there on the sofa and it had felt like my belly and crotch were bursting when he came in and Iron Maiden were screaming and my head was thumping against the arm of the sofa thump thump against the arm and I didn’t say anything I didn’t do anything but I was there with my head against the arm and Iron Maiden and the whisky in my head thump thump.”

14.What is a book you wish someone else would write?

Prints. A huge, above-the-couch-painting-sized book with detachable pages inside that are, essentially, prints of images of gigantic thumbprints, except each thumbprint is made up of very finely written text. Maybe you have to squint to see the text. Or maybe you have to blur your eyes to see the thumbprint. Maybe it’s like a Magic Eye picture. Anyway, each is a story about opposable thumbs.

Truth: Came up with this as a result of remembering that blood blister. Thanks, PANK!

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