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Friday, February 15, 2013

Shades of Amelia Gray: From Fantasy to Reality and Everything In Between

It's time to turn your real life fiction aspirations into reality, and, fortunately, Writing Pad has just the person to help set you on your way.

Meet Amelia Gray. She's authored not one, not two, but THREE books over the past four years. First out was her debut short story collection AM/PM in 2009. In 2010, she followed that with another short story collection entitled Museum of the Weird, which won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. Her first novel Threats was released in 2012 and garnered a spot on the long list for the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize. Her short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared Tin House, Poets &Writers, American Short Fiction, GOOD, Guernica, Annalemma, Sonora Review, VICE, McSweeney's, the LA Review of Books, and DIAGRAM, among others.

Having received her MFA from Texas State University, Amelia's taught writing and composition at University of Illinois, Bowling Green State University, Hamilton College, Austin Community College, and Roosevelt College – even her teaching credentials are impressive!

We recently caught up with Amelia to get the skinny on all of her success.

How does your nonfiction essay writing influence your fiction and vice versa?

The structure and rules of nonfiction writing – for starters, that it has to be true – give me a frame, a set form, rigid guidelines. I love the chance to research and organize my existing plot in nonfiction. And then, switching in the afternoon to work on fiction, I appreciate the freedom. The guidelines of reality make working in nonfiction really pleasurable, and then throwing out those guidelines for fiction is equally fun. My impulses of rebellion and obedience each have a little time to shine. 

Your writing has been described as “deliciously absurd” and “fantastical." Do you have techniques for tapping into the surreal side of your imagination and for surprising your readers?

I like to surprise myself before all. Anyone who comes to writing has probably started as an avid reader, and in reading a lot has come to absorb some implied rules – how to write a line of dialogue, for example, or even abstract things like how to describe a horizon or a tree. When I write fiction, it's important to me to pay attention to those impulses to adhere to a rule and avoid that impulse, see if I can subvert it somehow. Write the last thing I know. Tell, don't show. Throw half the dialogue out of quotation marks and see if it works. Think of the day's work as written in sand, not in stone. 

With two collections of short shorts – one of which won a coveted fiction award – and a novel published, you are quite prolific. Where do you find inspiration for all of these stories? Do you ever have writer’s block?

My inspiration comes from the intense, daily confusion I draw from life. I am confused five or six times a day. For example, I was confused this morning, lying in bed, thinking: Why did I wake up again? How many more times is that going to happen? Why am I thinking about this? From there, quiet meditation through breakfast could lead to something, or maybe I would get confused again at the coffee maker (How many people are making coffee in the building? What are they thinking about? Why are we all alone?) and then continue on. I don't believe in writer's block exactly as I think it's always possible to write something. I've had many weeks/months when most of my writing has, in hindsight, been pretty bad, and maybe that's its own block. Some self-forgiveness is necessary there. 

How did you make the transition from short story author extraordinaire to novelist?

Long before I tried to write a novel myself, I thought of each chapter of the novels I'd read as its own short story, linked to the stories around it, sure, but each ideally able to stand on its own. That compartmentalizing came into play when I was working on a novel myself. 

What advice do you have for aspiring fiction writers?
Read voraciously, write daily, forgive yourself. 

Here at Writing Pad, we're a little preoccupied with variations in writing process from writer to writer. Tell us about yours.

Mine changes from project to project but these days, I like to wake up, read the news, eat a little something for breakfast, then make coffee and write fiction for as long as I have coffee. The afternoon is for nonfiction, editing work and other projects. I'm doing a lot of calligraphy these days.

Thank you, Amelia, we've already learned a lot from you! Don't miss this opportunity to have Amelia's expertise rub off on you, as well, with her five week Fiction Bootcamp: Mastering the Art of the Tall Tale starting February 27th. She'll teach you her tricks for blending fantasy and reality and crafting story arcs that readers aren't able to put down. You'll get feedback on your work and even Amelia's advice on where to send it. Click on the link above and sign up before it's too late.

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