Amelia Gray‘s debut novel, Threats, has received so many glowing reviews that when it was left off The New York Times’ year-end list of notable books—along with books by Gillian Flynn and Salman Rushdie—people got angry. One website, Flavorwire, could only comprehend the snub this way: “We understand: Amelia Gray is just a little too cool for The New York Times. Or maybe they’re just intimidated by her weird greatness. Otherwise, how did this bizarre little wonder of a novel, which will tickle your spine with icy fingers and then pinch your cheek, not strike their fancy?” The judges of the PEN/Faulkner Award agreed, recently naming Threats as a finalist for the fiction award.
Gray lives in Los Angeles, where you can find her telling stories, teaching, and shouting quotes from her novel from the back of a moped. She slowed down long enough to explain the genesis of her novel.
On the origins of Threats:
I remember I was doing the dishes when I had this image pop into my head, of a woman at the bottom of a long set of stairs, holding the rail, wearing a heavy jacket and a long skirt, and under the skirt, blood pooling. And in the course of considering the image, I felt myself as a person at the top of the stairs, holding the top rail, and how the two of us were connected by the rail. So that was very interesting and I decided to write it down. Over the course of writing it down—I chose a close third person point of view, because I didn’t know who the “I” would be—I saw that the other person was a man, the woman’s husband, and then the woman died, and so of course other people had to arrive and witness that. A firefighter arrived and by then I didn’t want to leave my main character, who I had named David, I didn’t want to leave his head, and so I thought about how to do it for a couple days and then realized that in his grief, David would like to leave his body and experience someone else’s life briefly. So I did that, and by then I was a few chapters in and we were off to the races.
On outlining (or not outlining) the novel:
I tried to create an outline, writing down all the plot events that had happened on a big poster board as a way to find patterns or wrap up loose ends, but it was a largely fruitless exercise. I would try outlining again, though. Right now I’m writing a historical fiction thing that kind of has a built-in outline going for it, but next time I’m in the woods with fiction I’m going to give planning a shot.
For a writing exercise based on Threats, click here.
Also, if you’re at AWP, you can catch Amelia Gray every day of the conference. For a schedule of events featuring Amelia, click here.