Amelia Gray’s been holding court for a while as a ruler of weird fiction–her brand of methodical madness unlike anything else. Her first two collections AM/PM (2009) and Museum of the Weird (2010), as well as her novel Threats (2012), had readers second guessing the efficiency of their own imaginations. Containing things like talking armadillos and a man married to a paring knife, her stories are filled with a surreal, creepy innocence that never take themselves too seriously.
The stories in Gray’s latest collection Gutshot are a touch darker and sometimes even gory, but are equally playful and wondrous. Their lengths range, some are barely a page long, while others stretch up to 12 pages, yet even those remain swift to the eyes, and don’t feel that long either. I had a chance to hang with Amelia and ask her a few questions while she was in Brooklyn recently, making a rare appearance at the Franklin Park Reading series for a read of “House Heart,” which blew the venue to smithereens.
Gutshot’s cover is striking! Beautifully grotesque yet thoroughly human—much like the stories inside. Was it one of few that were offered or was FSG like “here it is, this marvelous and exquisite cover”? Did you cry? Are you familiar with the artist?
The designer Charlotte Strick (well, half the designer team; Strick worked with Claire Williams Martinez) did my cover for Threats and so I knew she would nail it. I wasn’t familiar with Fernando Vicente’s work but have become mildly obsessed. I didn’t cry but I think I said “Whoa” or something. I was working at an ad agency at the time, surrounded by art directors with really good taste. I said, “Guys, come look at this.”
In your story “Date Night,” a “woman screams until a child slips a dessert spoon under a muscle in her neck and flings her larynx to the floor…” In the context of your characters being fed up with being helpless meat-bags, that sentence makes a lot of sense, but outside of being known in the world of fiction as an innovator of dark and imaginative hilarity, your fiction must polarize to some extent…
Sometimes I hear I’ve frightened someone, or they won’t read a story of mine before bed or something. I don’t understand it. It’s maybe like living underwater or on the moon—it feels very normal, and then someone comes along and says, Did you notice you’re living on the moon? And I’m like, No wonder my chairs were floating.
But that’s not quite right. I think everyone lives on the moon a little. But there’s no utility to it. It’s rarely profitable. I’ve found that to be true more often than not.
One of my favorite stories “Year of the Snake” is about a giant snake that splits a town in two which induces “a devastating insomnia that settled over both sides.” It’s a bit of an outlier compared to the rest of your stories being that it’s amped up in playful impossibilities as children multiply, vanish, turn sepia-toned and speak in tongues. What inspired that story in particular?
I had been reading Cesar Aira’s The Literary Conference, where a scientist tries to clone a brilliant writer and instead clones a bit of his blue tie, and then giant blue worms swarm the conference city. I also loved the tone of that story, which is told in a very straightforward way. I wanted to go deeper into the physical nature of a giant snake and also I wanted to think and talk about how any strange thing becomes ordinary if you give it enough time. I was writing at the time on assignment for a clothing company that was going to print the story in their catalog. Wouldn’t that have been cool?
I know you’re working on your second novel right now. Can you tell us anything about it?
It’s about love and loss and the ways in which we are stubborn and how that helps and hurts us. It’s historical fiction.
When can we see it?
Last night I dreamed I answered this question by saying it was Wizard of Oz fanfiction which is a bold lie perpetuated by Hollywood. I don’t know exactly when it will be ready! A year and a half at the soonest. I’ve got to give it its due.