This year saw the release of Amelia Gray’s second book, a collection of texts from FC2 called Museum of the Weird. More than a simple consolidation of stories into a single body, or even a creation of texts within the confines of one body and a strong mind, Museum of the Weird seems an object bent out of the mysterious and new, taking foreign objects, mysterious relations, freak peoples, and bringing them together in a wilding chorus of the strange and, holy shit, the entertaining, addictive. Last month I traded a bunch of emails with Amelia re: the new book, how she works, the function of belief, fate, trying, and just what the hell is with all the eating of the hair that shows up all throughout her writing.
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B: Amelia, your prose has an interesting quality of being at once familiar and intuitive, while also at a seeming kind of remove: beyond just using objects and animals as active elements, there is at all times a feeling that you are way back in there somewhere, narrating your way your way rationally out of these intensely messed up, or as you say “weird,” prompts. Do you think your writing is a kind of emotional propaganda? Is all writing emotional propaganda?
A: The phrase “emotional propaganda” strikes me as redundant because any effective piece of rhetoric contains some emotional element. In propaganda and in writing there is an actor with an intent and an audience, a communicating element and a receiving element. Effective propaganda sets up a world in which only one outcome is possible in the same way that a great tragic story drives its characters towards an inescapable fate. So sure, in the way each genre stands as a completed product, writing is a kind of message propaganda that ultimately stands to aid or question a cause/idea/person. Fiction tends to attack or support ideas like love or trust or babies via scenes and characters, while war propaganda, for example–thinking of WWII posters here–attacks or supports a country or cause using ideas like love or trust or babies. There’s an emotional appeal in each, driven towards a point or points.
The biggest difference is that war propaganda or motivational speeches tend to get created with a message in mind beforehand, while fiction doesn’t have to be created in the same way (though it can be). When I write, I tend to start with a very basic idea or image (all these could be described as prompts, sure) and write my way out of it. Someone creating a political image might do the opposite–begin with a larger point and work to seek out its supporting evidence–but we end up in roughly the same place.
“Propaganda” doesn’t insinuate emptiness, nor does it have to suggest a singular message, nor does it have to be negative, but it does suggest that there’s ultimately a point to every message. Same with fiction or poetry or advertising or journalism: if a string of letters doesn’t make any words, the point might be that there’s no point, or there might be a different point, point is there’s a point.
B: Once you have your idea, say, babies, how do you go about “writing your way out of it”? How do you know when you are “out”?
A: In the story I wrote about babies called “Babies,” I started with an ordinary fear of accidental pregnancy and unwilling parents and put it into the context of an irrational fear, where the baby is immediately there and there’s no time to have serious conversations or hold a baby shower or make a doctor’s appointment. The ordinary fear combines with the irrational fear and sets off a rational string of events. Obviously the woman is going to want to clean everything up. The baby is hungry, there’s no food in the house. That’s a more comic story, things are lightly touched. I could have made it more about umbilical cord infections or traumatic blood loss or flesh ripping or whatever, but I wanted to keep the real bumping up against the unreal, babies floating inside balloons. At the end I felt the impulse to make it a happy story, where the relationship is saved and the individuals are improved, and then I felt the impulse to crush that impulse in as few words as possible, and then I felt I was out. I had the plot of that story down fast, so I remember the impulses shifting. That’s not how it always goes but it’s how it went then.
November 29th, 2010 / 1:22 pm
Thanks to everyone for watching, to Amelia Gray for reading, and to Mary Hamilton for handling the internet questions.
At any point you can pick up a copy of Amelia’s brand new Museum of the Weird here.
“‘Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over.'” – Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
“’49 Wyatt, 01549 Wyatt.” – In Parenthesis, David Jones
“‘Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,’ she said.” – “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” Amy Hempel
Openings simply establishing who speaks and/or when and where we are in space and/or time:
“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.” – Stoner, John Williams
“When I am run down and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer to the end of the pier where the old liars are still snapping and wheezing at one another.” – “Water Liars,” Barry Hannah
“I am Gimpel the Fool.” – “Gimpel the Fool,” Isaac Bashevis Singer READ MORE >
Jeff T. Johnson’s got an essay on “The New Hybridity” at Fanzine.
Castro thinks Ahmadinejad should stop slandering the Jews. You can add that to the list of things Castro and I agree about.
Mathias Svalina has been writing Book Proposals for Broadway Books. From “My Year on a Moving Sidewalk”:
This book will be popular among readers who enjoyed such books at Mary Roach’s Stiff, Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars & the City of Portland, Oregon’s downloadable pdf “SIDEWALK REPAIR MANUAL: How to Repair and Maintain a Sidewalk.”
Tender, imaginative, wry and wise, the poems in Stone’s first collection take the reader from the bottom of the ocean to the orbit of the moon. In between, the geography of the heart is mapped lyrically and unexpectedly.
Not a lot to complain about in that description, is there?
At the Faster Times, Kyle Minor absolutely loses his shit over Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird. I stopped pretending I could follow what he was talking about somewhere toward the middle, but the upshot seems to be that he likes her book very, very much.
And finally, as if you needed me to tell you, the launch event for Richard Yates is at BookCourt tonight. It begins in about ten hours, which means that I am going to leave my house in a few minutes to head down there and claim a seat.
Today, at Community Thrift on 17th and Valencia, I bought these books for $2.50. The first page of Dear Mr. Capote says “Ed Seifert” in pencil. Wonder if he’s related to George, who won the Super Bowl. Jaroslav won the Nobel Prize. My family farmed the rim of the Dust Bowl and nearly made it stinking rich off a bunch of black sand but didn’t. It seems “Seifert” comes from “cipher.” Encoding words is a form of mathematics. “Mathematics is the supreme nostalgia of our time.” – Michael Marcus
Tomorrow I’m reading at Amnesia, at nine o’clock, with Lindsay Hunter, Amelia Gray, and Aaron Burch. Wearing a coonskin cap and a corduroy suit, I will read from my novel for the very first time. The novel is called A Dog On Onondaga. I vow to never finish writing it, but to self-publish new handbound editions whenever I feel like it. Maybe you think that’s vain. Sometimes I stare in the mirror for oceans of time, for no reason. Your opinion of me is so much sand on the beach of yesterday. Three days ago part of me did something immoral; the rest of me has only begun to feel bad. Another part of me wants desperately to be lost in the desert with a backpack full of books; but that can probably wait until the winter of my content. I plan to go to the community pool tomorrow, so that my body will remember what it was like when it was a word. READ MORE >
1. New online edition of Gigantic Magazine is now live for May.
2. DC’s exhibits 50 treehouses
3. Mark Baumer is walking and blogging across America from coast to coast (for real, he just started this weekend)
4. Amelia Gray’s constraint writing & media for this week at Everyday Genius