We Take Molly Apart (and carefully put her back the way we found her)Posted: October 21, 2009
There is no rest for David Erlewine or Molly Gaudry. Fresh from his own interview with Michelle Reale on jmwwblog, he speaks with Molly Gaudry about her novella in verse, We Take Me Apart, forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press, her journals and presses, and the Doppelgangers she must have helping her to be the hardest-working woman in the lit business. Okay, maybe we made that last part up.
DE: After asking you to do this interview, I checked out your blog. It said you are no longer blogging because of a busy life and not having much to talk about. Would it be weak sauce to ask you to talk about why you don’t have much to blog about? Yeah, it would, but could you offer a few words? I don’t blog myself much but have always enjoyed thoughtful bloggers like you and Brad Green, among others.
MG: I’ve been conflicted lately about why I blog; I think it’s always been a source of interest for me—why I keep a diary, more or less, publicly and online. I don’t want to blame my day job for my disappearance, but I do have young college students and, perhaps, their parents to worry about. When I blog, I tend to speak freely, profanely, as I share some of my deepest worries, doubts, and late-night, often insomniac-induced (rambling, sometimes angry, sometimes seriously upsetting) thoughts. When the term began, I consciously censored myself out of fear of potential backlash; and although it may not be a valid concern on my part, I just do not want to jeopardize my professional life in any way—especially not because of some off-the-cuff remark made in a moment of self-absorption.
Additionally, I haven’t written or submitted in months, so there is just no news to report on these fronts—certainly not with the frequency that there once was. And I’ve not been able to keep up with my online reading as much, either; and this has led to a decrease in possible blog material. I used to read the freshly launched issues of so many magazines and announce these on my blog, but now it seems everyone else is doing it faster, better (the PANK blog, for instance, and Ethel Rohan’s, among others).
As I type these thoughts now, I can’t help thinking, too, that perhaps the truest thing of all is that I’m not unhappy.
My blog was always a place to go, mostly at night, alone and lonely while I worked out whatever mental meanderings had weighed on me throughout the day. When I began blogging, I was in Cincinnati and going through a rough, post-grad-school phase, wondering what to do with my life. The blog saw me through a serious transition—from Cincinnati to the east coast, from working in a head shop to working at a university, from being relatively unknown and unpublished to now having a book, a Pushcart nomination (thanks, PANK!), and several anthologized works (thanks, Best of the Web and Main Street Rag!). And it’s safe to say that now, about halfway through this first semester, I’m feeling as if I’ve finally begun to settle in—both at work and at home in yet another new city. Life is pretty good, and, for me, that means I just don’t have much to share. For now, anyway.
DE: Kudos on all of your success – a Pushcart nomination and Best of the Web anthology in one year is damn tight. I’m thrilled to hear life is good. I am curious about your thoughts on the possible correlation between happiness and creative output (blogging, writing, reading). During my five-year break from writing, I was pretty damn happy or at least satisfied. I wrote a story about every 18 months and watched a lot of football, hung out with my kids, and didn’t really think much about literature. It’s not that I’m unhappy now, but maybe just more attuned to my former/future suffering. Ha ha. So, with that in mind, I presume that fans of your blog/fiction/poetry should, uh, hope unhappiness finds you?
MG: I think, yes, for me, there is a bit of a relationship between being lonely (which makes me emotional) and (having more time for?) creative output. This said, because life’s been so busy lately (mid-term week, Homecoming weekend, and everything else—including final edits for Issue 2 of Twelve Stories), I haven’t felt so lonely. Or, I haven’t had time to feel it as much. And I still managed to knock out a sestina two days ago. I don’t know. What am I saying?
I’m saying that there’s a slight correlation, yes. But I’m also saying that I think, for me, I need down time, away from writing, during which I just ruminate and let my ideas simmer. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t sustain the mental energy to actually complete a fully drafted project unless I can do it in a contained period of time. If other responsibilities get in the way, I get totally derailed. This means that although I’m not writing much now—nothing long, anyway—I’m at least thinking about the next manuscript(s). And, come winter break, I’d like to knock out a rough draft of this water ballet herstory I’ve been worrying about; come spring break, I’d like to start over, from scratch, this manuscript titled Rosalia, which details the women of a town called Rosalia, as they prepare for the annual celebration/orgy/feast called Rosalia. Then, this summer, it’d be great to really dig into the revisions of these mss.
Bottom line, then, is this: yes, life is good, and soon, when life (e.g. job responsibilities) settles down a bit, I’d like to get back into the habit of writing ten to twelve hours a day (as I did while writing We Take Me Apart).
DE: Keyhole, 12 Stories, Willows Wept, We Take Me Apart, working, etc. Talk to me. What is your life like? How do you edit for three journals? Do you segment your reading by night or do you sometimes find yourself read subs from all three journals in the same sitting? What is Peter Cole like?
MG: Oh, dear. And don’t forget I’m now the book reviewer for East&West Magazine, which has a monthly print run of 15,000 and is available mostly in 5-star hotels. On top of that, I’ve just signed on to be a regular contributor for a new online project, Big Other. I take on too much, and I tend to sometimes get behind schedule, but the truth is that without all these things I’d rot, mentally.
I’ll try and break it all down: I get very few submissions for WWR, and I read and respond to them immediately. For WWP, which publishes two books a year, I get to take about a four-month break, during which I don’t have to think about the press at all, but then it’s crunch time for two months, and in these two months the authors and I do everything. Currently, it’s one of those two-month frenzies. Scott Garson’s chapbook, American Gymnopédies, is a stunner, and we’re working out the cover art now. I plan to release it in January 2010.
As for 12S, Blythe and I have a great partnership and it’s become second nature how we deal with each other and the work in the inbox; I think it’s safe to say that I function as a first reader, reject most of the slush about once a month or so, and leave the promising pieces in the inbox so that she and I can discuss them together, which we try to do about every other week. In many ways, she’s more a stickler for details than I, so the workload balances out—as she’s got a sharp editorial eye and also maintains the website, all of which she designed herself (with a bit of “That looks good,” and “Okay, I like that,” and “Sure, mmhmm,” from me, occasionally). We’re not the fastest readers, but we work at a pace that suits each of us, and it’s working well so far.
And poor Keyhole. I used to read a lot more, but man do the submissions just pour in. Peter needs a team of readers to wade through the slush. I don’t know how he does it. He is absolutely the hardest working man in show biz. Don’t believe me? Volunteer to join the team and see for yourself. Best of all, despite himself, he cares about the final product more than anyone else I know. It’s inspiring. He’s inspiring.
DE: Hmm, that is all great information but now my brain is afire. I could see myself volunteering for Keyhole and being deluged! Dogzplot was insane for me, the number of people subbing and subbing and subbing. I started getting angry re-reading certain bios. I would think, can’t you change one word about this? Then I’d think why am I reading their bio again? It was too much for me. jmww is working out much better, in terms of me being able to handle it better mentally. In any event, thanks, it’s great to visualize how you handle your business. Speaking of business (hiyo!), one of the coolest things Fictionaut was seeing you solicit Kathy Fish’s piece “See Jane” for Willows Wept. I loved the story immediately, even more during subsequent reads. After which read did you post a comment with the link to Willows Wept? Was the story so good that it only took one read? I want to write like Kathy Fish. How do I do that?
MG: I read it once, quickly (as I tend to read everything on Fictionaut, when I read anything on Fictionaut), left the link, and crossed my fingers. In fact, now that I think of it, I’d closed submissions for the summer issue by then, but I liked the piece so much I made an exception and asked Kathy if I could include it. It seemed the perfect final piece to wrap up the season. As I’ve yet to put up anything for the fall issue, Kathy’s piece is still on the site’s main page, which I just love—the idea that hers is the first thing anyone sees upon navigating to the journal.
As for how you might write like Kathy, I’m just not sure exactly. She’s long been a favorite of mine, ever since I read A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness. Hers were the stories that really stood out to me. Since then, I’ve grown quite fond of Claudia Smith as well, but back then, when I was just opening up to the idea of short-short fiction, or flash fiction, Kathy really stunned me, again and again, with how brevity could be used to a piece’s benefit. It may well be Kathy Fish who is responsible for my attempting to write flash, myself. As for you, Dave, you may just have to tap into your feminine side a bit. Pluck some tulips, try a bit of mascara, and, for God’s sake, don’t trip in those heels.
DE: That’s cool that Kathy may have gotten you into flash. She definitely got me into it. When I wasn’t writing anything b/w 2003-2008, sometimes I would go onto Zoetrope and read pieces by her, Randall Brown, Alicia Gifford, and others. For a few minutes, I’d feel so deflated about not writing anything, so envious of what they were doing. Kathy was always so supportive, and remains so. Hmm, the mascara and heels image is working for me, but I digress.
Your Hobart Interview made me feel like an ant. It made me feel like I should take off another five years from writing and do nothing but read and get smart. Do you like making me feel small and pointless? If I had sent these draft questions to Amy Minton, she probably would have laughed and said, “Knock yourself out.”
MG: In fact, yes, I do like making you feel small and pointless. Of course not, Dave! I’ll tell you what, though: I read those questions (Amy’s just about the gentlest kind of ferocious there is) and about barfed. I was like, “Cormac McCarthy! Lydia Millet!” And then I died. I sort of want to just sigh right now, if that’s okay. I mean, I never got so many chills all at once before. It was a great feeling, knowing someone like Amy put that much time and effort into asking me such studied questions. Best of all, I really got the feeling she wanted to know the answers. I don’t think that sort of interviewing style can be faked, you know?
DE: I can imagine, Molly, it must have been so exciting to get those questions! Those chills are what it’s all about. When someone gets something I write or when I read something that will forever alter how I look at things, and those chills kick in, all the other stuff fades. Indeed, you can’t fake that.
Switching gears, how does Philly compare to Cincinnati? As a UC Law grad and renter in one of the big three beautiful high-rise grad apartments, I am especially curious about your move. I went from Cincy to Baltimore and was fine, but I’d grown up on the east coast. Why do I keep thinking you are in Brasilia?
MG: Philadelphia is a dirty, dirty city. I imagine all the busted up, broken down parts of Cincinnati and think, Yeah, that seems about right for Philadelphia. Is this unfair? Yes. I think the best things about Cincinnati just can’t even hold a candle to the best things about Philadelphia. I mean, Cincinnati’s proximity to Covington, Kentucky isn’t much at all like Philly’s proximity to New York. Know what I mean? Anyway, I feel oddly inspired to mention that there’s a vibrant visual arts scene in Philadelphia, and I’m grateful for it. Life seems to have become something else entirely, lately, as a result of having been in Philadelphia at the right place and the right time, which is to say, I guess, that there are a lot of artists in Philly who’ve been good for my once weary (and wary) soul.
I remember you telling me you were a fellow Bearcat. I sometimes miss Cincinnati, but I know, too, that it was just time to move on with my life. I’m glad I made the decision, tough as it was, and I’m glad I am where I am—which, ah, getting a bit out of order here, has to do with why you think I’m in Brasilia, Brazil. In any case, I plan to hit the road again in 2010. I don’t know where, but I’ll figure it out along the way.
DE: Where were you before Cincy? Cincy is a pretty conservative town, no? Did you like your time there? I know the UC campus has lots of fun stuff going on. Well, I heard that at least. I was always studying or watching TV or reading.
MG: Before Cincinnati, I was in southern California, for college. It was okay. I drank a lot. I wasn’t much of a student, which is why I took some time off before moving to Cincinnati and finishing my undergrad degree there. It is, yes, a conservative town, but the most open-minded, liberated teenagers in all of Ohio must, I’m sure, attend the School for Creative and Performing Arts, which will celebrate its final year in the heart of Over the Rhine (ah, for those of you unfamiliar with OTR, this means: the ghetto). SCPA will finally move into its brand new, state-of-the-art facility for the 2010-2011 school year. I’m hoping it works out for them. As an alumnus, I’ve got a soft spot for that institution.
Final word: I have no idea if the UC campus has a lot of fun stuff going on; I, like you, was always studying, reading, or working.
DE: I have a softish spot for the school, I think, but the law school has been calling me recently for money. I am a terrible donor. Actually, I’m not technically a donor. I told the guy who called last time that I just spent my money on Kevin Wilson’s new short story collection. He laughed, one of those big laughs, and then there was lots of silence before we hung up. Oh wow, Over the Rhine! I forgot about OTR. I saw some great shows there, including Richard Buckner. I love that guy. Next time the law school calls (always from the same number), should I let it go to voice mail? I need an answer quickly as I expect a call tonight.
MG: Oh, no. You should speak to them in a different language, Dutch, perhaps: “David Erlewine is niet hier. David Erlewine haat u. David Erlewine leeft niet hier meer. Who is David Erlewine? Wat wilt u met hem? Waarom houdt u roepend? Ga weg!”
DE: Ha ha, of course, that’s how I’ll play it.
After (or near the end of?) last year’s AWP, you wrote a touching Facebook update. You talked about many funny and sad things, including how much you already missed Blythe. How is the co-editing thing going for 12 Stories with her? When you all got started, were you both in Cincy? Have the dynamics changed since moving?
MG: I miss Blythe every damn day, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. She’s about three weeks from her due date, and then, suddenly, she’s going to be a mommy and I’m going to be her weird freaky friend who’ll be nothing but a bad influence on her otherwise wholesome family. I plan to return to Cincinnati after the baby’s born. How could I not return to Cincinnati to see that bundle of awesome? And as for AWP, it’s a little-known fact (or a well-known fact, depending on who you ask) that Blythe and I shared a room at the Hilton; originally, we’d booked a room with two beds. But then I had to go in a night early because of the Orange Alert reading, and the only room available had only one bed, which we agreed we could share without indulging in any hanky-panky. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to Blythe in Chicago, after the conference. But the coolest thing about being there with her was that she was pregnant then and didn’t yet know it. We shared that bed, the three of us—me, Blythe, and her soon-to-be baby girl. I’ll cherish that forever.
DE: Talk to me about JA Tyler. You could add up all the other writers’ credits against his and call it evey stevey. What prompted you to challenge him, even facetiously, on your blog? Will someone be updating your blog to keep track of his placements (he’s had three since we started).
MG: He’s well over a hundred publications in 2009 now, that’s for sure. What prompted me to challenge him? The simple truth is I was inspired by his 2008 year-in-review post. He’d met his goal of 100 publications, and I thought how amazing that was. To take him on, I think, was a great way to inspire myself to work harder, to push forward, to write every day.
DE: I loved your Barrelhouse piece “I Cook, I Clean.” I was happy to see your piece there. I greatly enjoyed being on the Barrelhouse group flash fiction panel with you earlier this year. Any interest in doing more panels in the future?
MG: It was great to be on that panel with you, too, Dave. Thank you for the kindness, re: “I Cook, I Clean.” And, yes, of course, I’m always down to be a panelist. Makes me feel smart or some such.
DE: Describe to me how this novella in verses came about? It’s available for pre-order now, and hits for real in December? What’s it like working with JA? One of the coolest things I’ve seen, blurb-wise, is “With language, Gaudry is as loving and careful as one is with a matchbook…when wishing to set the whole word on fire.” How does reading that feel?
MG: The novella in verse came about as a result of my move to Philadelphia in February of 2009, immediately following the AWP conference. I’d packed my bags, hit the road for the conference, moved into the Hilton, then hit the road for Philly, with a brief pit-stop in Cleveland where I slept for a few hours. On the drive from Ohio to Philadelphia, I repeated the phrase “we take me apart” over and over again. I loved everything about it—its suggestiveness, its aural qualities, and the way it prompted all these thoughts about the literal and metaphorical process of dissembling a human body, mine. Upon arrival to Philadelphia, I moved into my room-for-rent, shut the door, and wrote a ten-page, single-spaced poem that I then blogged about. I said it was too long to be a poem, too short to be a story, too weird to be either, really, and the best thing I’d ever put on paper. I knew that if anyone would get it, that person would be J. A. Tyler. I queried him for the mini-chapbook series, told him I knew it was over the 1,000 word limit but wondered if he’d make an exception. He said he’d give it a read.
I then blogged about how I thought it could become something longer, a full-length work, perhaps. He read that post, I guess, and a few days later sent me a note saying he’d like to read it again when I’d turned what I had into a longer work. We set a deadline, and as it approached I began to freak out. What I’d sent him just wasn’t going anywhere. I kept trying to force this longer storyline, and it was awful. The deadline grew closer and closer, and at the final hour I abandoned all the new pages and started over from scratch, borrowing key phrases from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. I sent J. A. a note saying, “Hey, I started over, I hope you don’t mind, and here’s what I’ve got,” and he was nothing but encouraging. I think, probably, most publishers would have pulled the plug right there, but J. A. supported the new material. When the deadline arrived, I sent him the first draft of what is now We Take Me Apart. In no way does it resemble the original poem (which is to be published as an e-chapbook titled “Anatomy for the Artist” by Blossombones), but the essence of the initial idea—the taking apart and putting back together again—remains. Without the pressure to deliver (on time) to the guy who was willing to publish my first book, and without his support and encouragement, and, later, his editorial genius, I might have given up altogether. I will be eternally grateful to him for everything he gave me—most importantly, his belief in me.
As for Kate Bernheimer’s blurb, I’m still in shock. Here’s a woman whose writing I absolutely love, a writer who ignored all my fan mail, a (now-former) professor at the university that rejected my MFA application, and what does she do for me totally out of the blue? She writes the best damn blurb a doe-eyed fan could have asked for. I want to hug her. I will hug her. When she calls security and I’m led kicking and screaming from this year’s AWP, you’ll know why.