Molly Gaudry interview

Molly Gaudry

MoGa VA18

Molly Gaudry is the author of the verse novel We Take Me Apart, which was shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil and named 2nd finalist for the 2011 Asian American Literary Award for Poetry. She is the creative director of The Lit Pub.

Our interview was conducted via email.

PRJ:
So much of your work is a mix of magical thinking and some inescapable darkness. Can you describe that special machine of magic and darkness? And do you think it is something everyone “has,” and at some level either struggles with or embraces, or is it something that surfaces only for a certain tribe of us?

MG:
I think we all struggle to find the light in the darkness—the beauty, or magic, in what we find to be ugly or dull. But maybe only a select few of us are able, at the end of the day, to find that lightness, and there are probably fewer of us still who try to capture it, not just for ourselves but, in our work, for others. To transform the ordinary into the spectacular, the painful into something meaningful.

PRJ:
Do you find your style evolving as you continue to write, or do you want to continue to explore what I would call the postmodern fairy-tale, with all its depths and complexity?

MG:
One of my current projects is another fairy tale retelling. Unlike my first book, which dealt with many tales, this new project retells just one—the original Beauty and the Beast, complete with pirates, parrots, and costumed chimpanzees. It is a slow book, and it will probably take many, many years to complete.

PRJ:
Your work is so metaphorically real, going far afield to bring home crucial truths. Have you considered instead straight nonfiction, or does that seem too . . . outright and upfront?

MG:
The project I mentioned above, titled Beauty: An Adoption, is both fiction and nonfiction—a mostly faithful retelling of Gabrielle Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s 1740 version at the top of the page, and, at the bottom of the page, a memoir in footnotes. One of my goals with this book is to be accessible, even if the form is largely unfamiliar to readers of popular fiction or mainstream memoir. I want the book to be as simple as a fairy tale, and as free as a diary.
Jeanette Winterson reminds us that “Woolf called her novel a biography and Stein wrote somebody else’s autobiography. Both women were collapsing the space between fact and fiction,” and Carole Maso celebrates the novel’s “promiscuity, its verve.” She says, “Let the genres blur if they will. Let the genres redefine themselves.” She tells us: “I love most what the novel might be, and not what it all too often is.”

PRJ:
Do you have a process for beginning new work? Do you tend to plan or see it as New Work in a Certain Form, or do you just write?

MG:
I’ve planned, and never finished, too many manuscripts to count. The only manuscripts I’ve completed and published were largely unplanned, and randomly inspired, forced to completion in the few months leading to their deadline. Stephen King says, “I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” Practice and experience, not theory, tell me now that—at least for me—he knows what he’s talking about.
I don’t know what that means for Beauty, which, as I said, is a slow book, but for every other book I want to write, I know the first draft has to be a race against the clock. After my PhD applications are submitted this month, I’m going to start a short novel, one I’ve been wanting to write for a few years now and finally feel ready to try. The goal is to start in December and finish before the arrival of the daffodils.

PRJ:
What is your current project?  How would you describe it to my grandmother?

MG:
The book I want to start is tentatively titled Fit Into Me, and it is about a young woman who is alone on Christmas Eve. It is snowing, and as she lights the candles in her windows she makes her way through her house, which was her mother’s house, and it is lovely—filled with holiday decorations, smelling of vanilla and citrus and cinnamon, with a small fire in the living room, casting the whole room in a warm orange glow. As she travels through the house, she remembers family members and neighbors, she remembers her mother’s many friends and lovers, she remembers other happy holidays and events held in the house, and she remembers moments involving the various heirlooms and objects that have filled its rooms throughout history. Surrounded by all these memories, she stays awake until sunrise on Christmas morning. I don’t know if anyone will join her in the morning. I don’t know if she’s made a new life that carries on all those traditions from her past, or if she will still be alone when the book ends.

PRJ:
When did you first know that you wanted to write?

MG:
Always. In kindergarten, my teacher gave me storybooks to read when the other children napped. In 4th grade, I took an ESL class because my newly adopted sister had to be in it, and for some reason she did better if I was there too, so my teacher just let me write stories. In 5th and 6th grade, my teachers let me write stories for extra credit. I was a B student, but those stories brought me up to As. In junior high, I did the Power of the Pen thing and my English teacher taught me, after school, how to speed read. I left home when I was fifteen and went to an arts school, where I majored in creative writing. I’ve been writing my whole life. It wasn’t until 2006, when Brock Clarke and Michael Griffith, at the University of Cincinnati, brought me into one of their offices and said, basically, We’re not going to let you wait tables for the rest of your life while you try to make it as a writer. You need to get your shit together, apply for our MA program here, and prove that you can do graduate-level work. (At that time, I was a drunk and on academic probation. Turns out, arts high school didn’t teach me how to be a student; it taught me, with the help of a lot of anger and depression, how to wait tables and be a drunk.) Brock and Michael told me, without proof of ability to attend and pass classes, I would have a hard time ever getting into graduate school elsewhere. Over the years since then, I’ve thanked them for what they did for me that day, but probably not enough.

PRJ:
Who are you reading right now? Which writers and genres inspire you? And are you a spontaneous reader, or do you have a formal reading plan?

MG:
Kazim Ali gave me Nathalie Stephens’s The Sorrow and the Fast of It. I am reading it slowly. Savoring it.
I don’t know what I’ll read after that. I have all my books shelved, new and old, and the ones I think I might want to read (or reread) aren’t pushed in all the way. Among these are Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, John Jodzio’s Get In If you Want to Live, John McPhee’s Oranges, Carole Maso’s The Room Lit by Roses, Jose Saramago’s Death with Interruptions, Brian Teare’s The Room Where I Was Born, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick.
On my nightstand, I’ve got Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona, Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts On Being a Woman, P. L. Travers’s Mary Poppins, Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and Aimee Bender’s Willful Creatures.
It is entirely possible I’ll push all those books in, reshelve the ones on my stand, and start up with something different. It is impossible to know.

PRJ:
You also edit, and have created a community of followers and writers at the Lit Pub. Where do you find the intersections between that work and your creative work, if you draw connections or lines? Is there significant bleed-through? Does one feed the other, or do you find that one takes energy the other needs?

MG:
I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the hard work and generosity of those who created the journals and presses where I’ve been lucky enough to get published. The Lit Pub is my way of trying to do my part for this small pocket of the literary community, and my authors inspire me every day to keep going, to try harder. Truth is, I probably need them more than they need me, especially now.

PRJ:
So I have to ask this question of everyone, but given your work, maybe especially you. If you could become a different animal, which animal would you be? And why?

MG:
A blue whale. Biggest heart in the world.

2 Responses to “Molly Gaudry interview”

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  1. what they are reading: reading lists from three interviews with writers « pea river journal - January 21, 2013

    […] Molly Gaudry interview […]

  2. get your Winter issue: photoessays, memoir, short fiction, interviews, and 14 poets | pea river journal - March 24, 2013

    […] Molly Gaudry interview […]

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