Steven John, Associate & Features Editor, interviews Amelia Gray about her flash fictions in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co, 2018)
I was seventeen when I first started writing short stories. I was in a philosophy class and my teacher allowed us to talk about the ideas we were studying in either an extrapolatory essay or a short story. I was a big reader before that but had never put it together until then.
SJ: In both stories in the Norton New Micro anthology you use crisp screenplay dialogue to great effect. How do you visualise and hear a story before putting pen to paper.
With all writing I’ve found there’s a little bit of understanding the work as a whole and a little bit of discovery through the writing. The two stories included in the anthology are a little unique for me because when I started them, I didn’t know where either would end. Sometimes I’ll have every part of a story that short in my mind, but in those too I only had fragments of the opening.
SJ: In AM:103 the reader can only imagine what’s in the enigmatic small carved box. How important are those vacuums in flash fiction.
I think there are vacuums like that in all kinds of fiction and in all forms of storytelling as well. You could go around a party and ask thirty people what would be in an enigmatic small carved box representing their youth and you’d come back with thirty different answers. Mine is different than yours, I’m sure. But I want to write a story that will affect you in the same way as it affects me. Who am I to know what is in your box?
SJ: The last line in 66:PM ‘She felt sure she would die alone.’ is exquisitely desolate. Please tell us how your sentences come into being. Is it a long, word by word process or do they write themselves and then only need your finishing edit.
I’ve found the most success from writing fast and editing slow, the slower the better. It’s hard to get a sentence under your fingers and the more there are, the bigger the jigsaw puzzle gets. I would say “certain” instead of “sure” now, by the way.
SJ: I can’t recall ever reading a more satisfying 100 word story than 66:PM. How much do you boil down a piece from the original first draft and how do you know when to stop?
All these little stories are from a book called AM/PM, which I made writing one story in the morning and one story at night for two months while I was experiencing intense love and heartbreak. There was nothing mystical in their creation, aside from the love and heartbreak, which was happening across multiple vectors into space and time. 66 is one of those stories that came out more or less the size it ended up, with little changes at the line level.
SJ: Relationships, and especially those in decay, are a rich seam. Are there any human interactions that you’ve found difficult to write about – is there anywhere out of bounds for a modern fiction writer?
I can’t speak for other people, but my own bounds change over time. I do find it helps to give an idea a few years to congeal.
SJ: Your most recent works are full length novels. Are the any craft disciplines in writing the short form that are transferable to the long, or is that perhaps a trap to be avoided.
Craft disciplines are absolutely a trap to be studiously avoided.
SJ: Are you a morning lark or a night owl writer?
Very much so.
SJ: Your own writing career started at a young age. With the benefit of hindsight, what single piece of advice would you give to a young person looking to develop their craft?
The greatest thing I did for myself was to go out and find my community, in Austin and Tucson and Chicago and Ann Arbor and Seattle and Portland and Atlanta and Minneapolis and New York and Los Angeles. AM/PM was published by two guys out of Chicago who I cold-emailed with a manuscript. I have always felt supported in my work, since the very start, because I felt and still feel the love from the people I have met in and through the small press. My advice for new writers of all ages is to seek out the communities that will support you. Gather some strength before trying to invade the establishment. Read living writers because it’s harder to have a conversation with the dead. Read the dead too, but try to look outside of what you were raised to respect. Keep writing, a little bit every day.
SJ: If you could pick your writing Godfather and Godmother (past or present) who would they be and why?
Nell Zink and Joy Williams. I don’t have any godparents so maybe I can’t really answer this question but the whole thing seems like a spiritual advisor who you maybe see for dinner once every few years but find their thoughts resonate all the time in between. That’s how they are for me. Sometimes when I am stuck in a scene I wonder to myself, what would Joy Williams do? Would Nell Zink like this? I very much want my gods to like me.
AMELIA GRAY is a screenwriter and the author of five books, most recently Isadora (FSG). Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Tin House, and VICE. She is a winner of the NYPL Young Lion and of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She has written for the shows Maniac and Mr. Robot. She lives in Los Angele