the writing disorder




amelia gray


Interview with AMELIA GRAY, author of THREATS

amelia gray books

Amelia Gray is not your average writer. Yes, she writes fiction, but it’s unlike most of the fiction you’ve read. And she’s quite funny, but not in the way that most people think. She’s also very smart, but smart in a way that some people don’t appreciate. As a writer, she might fall under the category of “Other.” She writes fantastic stories about incredible things that happen to unusual people. She could be a character in one of her own books. But Amelia has one gift that we can all appreciate, she knows how to tell a great story.

I met Amelia earlier this year at the Los Angeles Times Festival of books. She participated in a panel discussion with other writers who write strange, often bizarre tales of people caught up in highly unusual circumstances. When I met her, I thought, she seems so nice and pleasant, is this what she's really like? We may never know the real Amelia, but we can read and enjoy her exceptional work, and submerse ourselves in her character’s wonderfully incredible, humorously horrific lives.


The Writing Disorder: Congratulations on your new novel, “Threats.” How has life been since its publication?

Amelia Gray: Thank you! Life rolls on as usual, with a few more plane rides. I've been back from tour for a few weeks and I'm finally getting back to work.

The Writing Disorder: Tell us about your new book and how you came up with the concept?

Amelia Gray: THREATS is a novel about a man and his wife in a period of time following her death. Over the course of the novel, you learn more about the strange relationship they had. The man, David, finds threats hidden throughout the house and town. I came up with the idea when I had a vision of a woman standing at the bottom of a stairwell with blood running down both legs.

The Writing Disorder: Do you like Franny and David? Are they based on anyone you knew/know?

Amelia Gray: I like them very much. They remind me of my parents, my grandparents, myself, couples I see on the street, my dentist, the woman who gave me a facial treatment last year, my teachers, etc. There are pieces of Franny and David all around me.

The Writing Disorder: Do you perceive “threats” in our everyday existence?

Amelia Gray: We lead dangerous lives. Think of all the people moving around us, completely independent of one another, at all times. What are they thinking about? Have they ever wanted to hurt someone for fun? I think about this more now that I've moved to Los Angeles.

The Writing Disorder: Is the transition from short story writing to novel writing a difficult one?

Amelia Gray: It doesn't seem so in hindsight, but I remember some times when I felt fairly down on myself.

The Writing Disorder: Have you written any other novels (published or not)?

Amelia Gray: I wrote one when I was twenty and I have two or three half-baked starts, the longest of which is 20,000 words. This is my first published novel.

The Writing Disorder: How much research do you do before you begin a new project?

Amelia Gray: None. The more I research, the more I trip myself up.

The Writing Disorder: How do you stay focused on longer projects, like a novel?

Amelia Gray: The same way I stay focused at work — split it into smaller projects. If I have to write a thousand-word article on online education, I cut it into more manageable chunks. Of course it helps in creative work to be lost in the characters, the story. But if I'm not lost yet, I'm splitting it up in a very unromantic way.

The Writing Disorder: Your website/blog is great. Many of your stories are there for everyone to read. You also have a calendar of upcoming events. There isn’t a lot of personal information. Do you like to keep your private life separate from your writing life?

Amelia Gray: I don't spend much time documenting my farts. Also, I generally talk less about friends, family, relationships. Actually I think the blog is a very arm's-length idea of me. I do like to keep up with it in the hopes that I make a connection with people.

The Writing Disorder: What was your life like growing up in Tucson, Arizona?

Amelia Gray: I spent my first few years on Nicaragua Drive, near the Air Force base. My mom was an art teacher and my dad worked for IBM. My childhood was happy — sometimes there were coyotes.

The Writing Disorder: Did you travel much with your family, or move around a lot, or did you live most of you childhood in basically the same place?

Amelia Gray: We moved to Charlotte, NC, when I was seven and back to Tucson at fourteen. Every summer and most Christmases we would drive somewhere — one summer, we spent a month driving a long loop around the country.

The Writing Disorder: That sounds like a great trip. What music were you into growing up? And what do you listen to now?

Amelia Gray: I'm thinking about those road trips now: Talking Heads and Bonnie Raitt. The first cassette tape I bought was Paula Abdul's "Spellbound" and the first CD I bought was Paula Abdul's "Spellbound." Today, I listen to unobtrusive mixes on Spotify. Lately, the "Mad Men" soundtrack in the bathtub.

The Writing Disorder: There seems to be a kind of rhythm in your work. The sentences flow from one to the next. Sometimes it feels random, other times it’s very poignant and poetic. How do you achieve this? What is the process?

Amelia Gray: If I had a true method down, I'd be writing fiction a lot more than listening to the "Mad Men" soundtrack in the bathtub. I write what comes to me, as simply as I can. Sometimes it's junk and sometimes I keep it.

The Writing Disorder: I think it would be difficult for someone to edit your work. It’s very specific and idiosyncratic. How do you edit your own work? How do you decide what stays and what goes?

Amelia Gray: I imagine it seems less idiosyncratic to me since I'm used to it. My editor, Emily Bell at FSG, has a very similar mind to me, the same sense of humor and loudness and quietness. We can both tell when I'm reaching for something and not quite getting it. Sometimes I need someone to hold my hand and point at the garbage lines.

The Writing Disorder: Your chapters almost seem like poems. “Threats” could be a novel made up of 77 individual poems. Chapter 19 and 34, for instance. Do you write poetry? Anything published?

Amelia Gray: I have a prose poem in DIAGRAM. I don't put things in lines — never understood them. I do like reading poetry but I can't imagine improving on it with my own work.

The Writing Disorder: Many of your stories seem to just take off. Nothing quite prepares the reader for where they are headed. Do you plot your stories out?

Amelia Gray: Nope. Generally a story starts with a vague image or idea.

The Writing Disorder: Worms in our teeth. Is this something you did research on, or something you made up?

Amelia Gray: That's researched. I was looking at pictures of teeth with cavities and getting into the right mood to write about them when I found a carving of a tooth made out of ivory — it went from there.

The Writing Disorder: You now live in Los Angles. Do you like living here? What areas do you like most?

Amelia Gray: I like all of it I've seen so far, and I like that I could keep discovering new parts of it as long as I'll live here. It seems obvious to say, but there's much more to it than the plastic, moneyed sections.

The Writing Disorder: What do you dislike about it?

Amelia Gray: I've never lived in a big city before, and I'm not really used to the noise at all hours. There's something draining about it, even when you're holding still. I'm sleeping more because there's more to process when I'm awake.

The Writing Disorder: Where did you first learn to write?

Amelia Gray: The Berenstain Bears, "The Big Honey Hunt." Talk about suspense!

The Writing Disorder: What books did you read growing up? Who influenced you?

Amelia Gray: When I was too old for "Little House on the Prairie" and not old enough for a school-sanctioned reading list, I read whatever I found on my parents' bookshelves: Vonnegut, Brautigan, Robbins, Wolfe. That's a cool bookshelf. I never really thought about becoming a writer, though, since I was a girl and they were all boys.

The Writing Disorder: Tell us about your family growing up (any brothers or sisters?) Were there any creative people in your life/family?

Amelia Gray: I have one little sister. Both of my parents have visual art degrees and my mother has an MFA in printmaking. They were both the lone creative types in their respective families, but it meant that I grew up in a very nurturing household. My sister is a very visually creative person but I can't draw to save my life.

The Writing Disorder: Sounds like a great creative environment. How do you begin a story?

Amelia Gray: Generally I get a funny idea in my head, one I can't dig out with a q-tip.

The Writing Disorder: Once you have the basic story written, is the editing process longer the initial writing?

Amelia Gray: I wouldn't say there's a pattern one way or the other — sometimes the writing is fast and loose and sometimes it's slow and tight. Lately I've been really slow.

The Writing Disorder: Do you write at a specific time of day? What do you use to write with?

Amelia Gray: I like to write in the morning, on my computer, in notepad.exe.

The Writing Disorder: Have you ever published something before you felt it was ready?

Amelia Gray: Nothing is ever perfect. I always come as close as I'd like to come at the time, but I also go back and make edits, small changes.

The Writing Disorder: What is your workspace like?

Amelia Gray: I converted my largest closet into an office. It's small, there are no windows. I hung a little light and put a chair and a small table inside. It's the quietest place in town.

The Writing Disorder: Do you have other creative talents — music, art, etc.?

Amelia Gray: I've played the violin for twenty years.

The Writing Disorder: Wow, that's amazing. What is it like to be a critically-acclaimed author?

Amelia Gray: Like being any kind of human, except more people ask you for things.

The Writing Disorder: What is your home life like now?

Amelia Gray: I live with my two cats. One of the cats has three legs and is currently crying outside the door because dinnertime is more important to him than deadlines.

The Writing Disorder: What is a typical writing day for you?

Amelia Gray: Wake up, write fiction, drink milk, drink coffee, eat breakfast, write for work, eat lunch, write for work, edit, eat dinner, sleep. That's an ideal day.

The Writing Disorder: What’s the longest time you’ve gone without writing?

Amelia Gray: I don't try to keep track.

The Writing Disorder: Do you enjoy editing, or the initial writing process more?

Amelia Gray: Well now, that's like asking if discovering a new island is more fun than spending twenty hours cutting down its ugliest trees.

The Writing Disorder: How much of what you write do you throw away?

Amelia Gray: More than I should, which seems just about right.

The Writing Disorder: How do you feel at the end of a story (once it’s finished)?

Amelia Gray: Like opening my balcony door and screaming EAT THIS at the women walking home with their shopping.

The Writing Disorder: What are you working on now?

Amelia Gray: A ham sandwich.

The Writing Disorder: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Amelia Gray: Internet.

The Writing Disorder: What are the challenges of being a writer today?

Amelia Gray: Internet.

The Writing Disorder: What do you read now, whom do you admire?

Amelia Gray: Internet.

The Writing Disorder: What are you most looking forward to?

Amelia Gray: Internet.

The Writing Disorder: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Amelia Gray: Internet.

The Writing Disorder: Are you superstitious? Any writing rituals?

Amelia Gray: I don't talk about what I'm working on.


Amelia Gray grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Her first collection of short stories, AM/PM, was published in 2009. Her second collection, MUSEUM OF THE WEIRD, was awarded the Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize. She currently lives in Los Angeles. THREATS is her first novel.

Amelia Gray's books are avilable here: POWELL'S: City of Books

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