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 at The Lit Pub.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, We Take Me Apart, changed everything for me. Suddenly I had a book! I could hold it in my hands! My name was on the cover! It was magical, transformational—I had left home at fifteen to go to an arts school that I graduated from with a vocational degree in Creative Writing, I was an English major in college, got an MA in fiction from UC. I had devoted so much of my adolescent and YA life to writing that when WTMA came out I finally felt as if I had accomplished something, as if I had met my secret, unwhisperable goal.
My most recent work, Ogie: A Ghost Story, is the immediate sequel to WTMA and book two of the longer series. The narrative voices are similar (mother narrates WTMA, daughter narrates Ogie), but the books feel like different genres to me. I feel as if WTMA was a poetry project and that Ogie is more of a fiction project. But that’s just me overanalyzing things. The books’ forms are nearly identical, so all I can really say to back that up is that the language of Ogie is not as “poetic” as it was in WTMA. There’s more meat in Ogie.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I didn’t. I studied fiction for years—at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, then at the University of Redlands for a few years, then with Brock Clarke and Michael Griffith at the University of Cincinnati. On my own, outside the academy, I began to gravitate toward writers like Kathy Fish, Claudia Smith, Kim Chinquee. They were/are writing in these gorgeous, distilled forms. My own writing began to shrink. I started publishing flash fictions and prose poems. I thought I should learn more about the line if I was going to go around calling myself a poet, and I got my MFA in poetry from George Mason University. And now I’ve written a book called Ogie that I think feels more like a fiction project than anything I’ve ever written. Go figure.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I don’t know, honestly. After WTMA came out, I felt a lot of pressure to finish the next book, whatever book that might be. But then one day it hit me: I wouldn’t let other people make me feel bad about myself, so why would I do it to myself? I adopted the philosophy that I would not feel guilty for not writing, I would not feel the pressure to write every day. I would go out there and tend to the tasks of my life and when the next book came I would be willing and ready to receive it. WTMA was written in April 2009. Ogie didn’t come until April 2013. For those four years in between, I’ve just been tending other tasks—guilt free, not writing.
In terms of process, both books spilled out quickly. I think a hundred pages of poems might take a poet a much longer time to finesse, but I have that fiction background and it powers me through my first drafts. I also fully embrace something Stephen King said, which was a draft must be written in a season—if it takes any longer it will stall out and fail. With Ogie I seem to have confirmed at least to myself a theory that began with WTMA—that I am a spring writer, and not just a spring writer but an April writer.
The final product closely resembles the draft as it becomes what it needs to be. Both books’ first 50 pages were heading toward becoming different books entirely, but then I essentially started over both times—taking into account what I knew of the characters, their voices, their situations—and revised and rewrote drafts that very closely led into their final products.
I think it helps me immensely when I am writing—only when I am writing—to fill pages and pages of journals every night and every morning. At night I journal about the work I did that day, what went wrong, what went right, what I hope to accomplish the next day. Then I sleep on all that. And in the morning before returning to the manuscript I journal where I think I went wrong the night before, and where I think I was on to something, and detail precisely what I hope to accomplish over the next several hours. The journal is a living document, and I even take notes during the writing. (e.g. The last three manuscript pages took twice as long to write today as three ms. pages yesterday. Maybe because this scene was more difficult to write. I guess it’s not really getting at the heart of things, it’s not doing the work it needs to be doing. I think I’ll cut the first two pages and start rewriting after the third. If what I’m trying to say is that it’s difficult to be a ghost in this world, unable to access the living except with the help of the narrator, then the narrator has to find a way to communicate this. She should touch the ghost, or try to. Let her philosophize about what it is to be a ghost, untouchable, and what it is to be among the living, untouched. Begin with an attempt at touching, the sadness of pretending to be touched.)
4 - Where does a poem or a story usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I used to write short pieces. I don’t anymore. Now, when I am writing, I am always working on a book from the very beginning. The only exception is for solicitations. If someone asks for a short piece I’ll try to write one.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings. Love them.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I’m interested in form. I’m always interested in having the work lead to questions about the function of white space. I’ve been reading some YA verse novels and cannot honestly understand the decisions behind the line breaks in some of the most successful bestselling ones out there. I hate to say it, but the books feel lazy to me. I wanted to fall in love with those books. I hope people don’t read my verse novels and think I’m being lazy. I take seriously the prose poem’s mission to be subversive to prose, subversive to poetry. Likewise, I hope the verse novel is subversive to verse and subversive to the novel and what it should/could/can be. I hope I am disrupting the expectations we have when we come to something that is labeled “verse novel,” but that at the same time I also deliver some pleasurable rewards for the risks I am taking. That doesn’t seem to be happening in so many of the other ones out there. Which, I’ll just add, is fine because what they do seem to be doing, that I don’t care a hoot about, is creating these YA characters with realistic YA problems and giving these YA readers these books with a whole lot of white space to help them just read read read and flip flip flip the pages. When I was a YA, all I ever wanted to do was read and flip pages. I didn’t care about “literature,” I just wanted a character I could relate to. So I get it, you know?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
To write, right?
I don’t really get the question. And I really don’t want to attempt to answer it. It’ll just make me sound foolish.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. God bless editors everywhere.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Michael Griffith told me once that any thing that appears in a story, any thing that gets a physical description or even the merest mention, can be made stronger by giving it some emotional reason for exiting—so that the thing does double duty in the work.
(e.g., from a chapbook of mine called Portrait of a Modern Family: The coat was fur and belonged to her mother. It might have been raccoon. She wasn’t sure. One of her mother’s lovers gifted the coat and killed the furred things himself. Her mother liked manly men. Most hunted. All wore a uniform of some kind. Official men her mother liked. Men who wore flannel on weekends. The teacher was the opposite. She liked a man with a sensitive side. Whose job required no uniform. She would never let a man who took the lives of animals with his hands touch her with his hands. She was a vegetarian. Wore the coat because it was her mother’s and because it was warm and made her uncomfortable. All of it. The raccoon skins. The thought of men’s hands on her mother. The thought of men’s hands on her. Her mother’s many lovers. Her own lack of lovers of late. The warmth of the coat. Yet she delighted in the discomfort. At the comedy event she would laugh it off.)
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s all the same, isn’t it? It’s just words and an attempt at communicating some thing. People who don’t get this, don’t get that writing is writing, whether poem, story, essay, Tweet, love letter, or whatever, are trouble in my mind. Why the need to separate, block off, enclose? Carole Maso says it best: “Let the genres blur if they will. Let the genres redefine themselves. . . . I love most what the novel might be, and not what it all too often is.”
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Coffee, email, as much sitting in the sunshine as I can get, reading, and then whatever else there is that actually needs to be done.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I’m either writing or not writing. When I am not writing I am simply just not writing. I have no need for inspiration. When I am writing, there is no excuse for stalling. I turn to the journal and work it out fast.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Fog for my first home. Freshly mown grass for my second home. The ocean for my home away from home and where my heart is.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Music more than anything else I think.
This is a hard question. When I’m not writing I’m probably feeling and absorbing all the influences of all the life that is happening around me. When I am writing I am basically only writing, or journaling while trying to make time to eat and sleep, and balancing in whatever work actually needs to be done (job, etc.).
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
All of them. Let me read all of them. They are all important, always, at all times.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Live in a home from which I can see and hear both mountains and ocean.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Dancer while physically able, then choreographer.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The need to communicate. I had no other way.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Madame Bovary, Lydia Davis translation. Life of Pi.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Nothing. Ogie is done. I’m back in a not-writing period and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;