Amanda Gowin and I met online, and now, she’s one of my favorite writers – pushing at the edges of things, challenging expectations, and urging me to be more like her. Enjoy her wisdom here.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
My first solo project, Radium Girls, came out on my birthday, June 5th. It’s a collection: short stories, a couple of conversations, and a novella called The Pink Manatee. Some of the shorts are previously published, but it’s about 70% new material. I’m really proud of the way it turned out, both with the content and the physical book itself –Thunderdome Press makes beautiful books. The collection has a little bit of everything – crime, sci-fi, love in a mental institution…
Also this summer is the Burnt Tongues anthology, edited by Chuck Palahniuk, Dennis Widmyer and Richard Thomas. The shorts are Chuck-selected from the writing workshop that used to exist under his periodic tutelage, stories revised and improved through feedback from Palahniuk and other workshop members. It’s exciting! I’m one of two women in the twenty story book, which is cool. It’s out in August through Medallion, and pre-order is going on now.
As far as in-progress, I’m currently working on several shorts as well as a novel – my 70th novel, maybe? But no, the first novel I think I’ll feel good enough about to publish. It’s called Boxing Day, and centers around a girl who falls in love with a priest from a confessional booth.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
My parents read to me as far back as I can remember, and I was a book-crazy kid. Burned through everything I could get my hands on, especially stuff like the Little House books and Anne of Green Gables. Those girls were spunky and awkward; I felt at home with them. So naturally a friend and I started writing books in, I think, second grade. By the time I hit age ten, I was hiding ‘adult’ books, sneak-reading things like Rosemary’s Baby and Gone with the Wind, smuggling them out of the library – such a rebel, right?? Soon after, my uncle gave me a stack of Stephen King paperbacks and the hiding was over. I just devoured everything. Always hid my writing, too. I know I still have folders full of novels-in-progress dating back to at least age eleven. Maybe it’s weird I didn’t start showing other humans my work until I was almost thirty. Or maybe I was smart! I wasn’t doing much good before that anyway, I count it all as practice!
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I don’t have a routine. I’m married with a six-year-old son; I write when I can and when I want to. Sometimes it’s scribbling notes on envelopes or the backs of tablets at 2am, sometimes it’s daydreaming at red lights, sometimes it’s putting on the headphones and listening to classic rock or bluegrass and not leaving the kitchen table and keyboard for a ten hour stretch except to pee or get more coffee or find a better cushion for my butt. I take it as it comes and am thankful the ideas are there and that my husband and kid are cool with it. I don’t really ‘get’ routines; it seems like a lot of self-pressure. I like snatching uninterrupted hours and purging all I can.
4. Who are you reading now?
I just finished The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan; I’m still sort of under that spell. Always reading snatches from Of Love and Other Demons by Marquez. In my to-read pile next to me, I have on deck Undead America by Leah Rhyne, Zombie Sharks with Metal Teeth
by Stephen Graham Jones and The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan. Whichever I pick up first, I guess…
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
That’s impossible! It’s like pointing to an oak and asking which are my three favorite leaves! I love too many books too much to even attempt an answer.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
Ugh. I’m new to this whole ‘platform’ idea. Up until a few years ago the plan was to just write as much as possible then let people sort it out after I was dead, having stored it all in a huge trunk I added to until I died at the ripe old age of ninety-seven. Now I just do my best to meet new writers and get word out about the work, but ‘platform’ is still beyond me. I use a lot of words but I’m not completely comfortable with that one yet.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
Kid stuff and conversation. Just picture me making dinner while my husband, son and I argue the pros and cons of becoming a fire-breather in a circus. And I’m always arguing the pro-fire side.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
Big desk, like one of those old secretaries with all the slots and cubbies, huge windows, comfy egg/space chair. Maybe it’s more a dream mental space, where I can just *know* everything’s cool and taken care of, and I’m untethered from responsibilities of the real world outside the story for awhile. That sounds more true. My dream writing space is more the arrangement of my headspace. Sometimes I can get there, sometimes I can’t.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
Oh, wow! I have a really uncomfortable and horrifying answer! I’ve never told anyone this, I don’t think: when I was twelve or thirteen, I accidentally left my big fat three ring binder full of poems and chapters of whatever novel I was working on at my grandmother’s house, either during a holiday season or summer vacation, I don’t remember. And I have a huge family, tons of cousins, and some of them were in town, the same age to a few years older than me, and they found my binder while I wasn’t there and went through all my chapters and marked the pages up with questions and corrections and general mockery, then put it back where it’d been hidden. When I found it I cried and threw up and never said anything to anyone, until now! It still makes me feel sort of clammy and sick to think about. I wonder if they even remember that…. Anyway, after that sort of soul-punching, I’ve got the skin of an elephant when it comes to critiques!
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Write more actual prose than you write about writing prose. It seems basic, but it’s an odd world, and I hear (well, read on social media) a lot of intentions and ideas that should be going directly into first draft crap prose. You have to write hundreds of pages of throwaway before you start to find your voice, and tweets and status updates don’t count! Write your ideas down in raggedy little notebooks instead of on the Internet, tear pictures out of magazines that make your brain itch for reasons you don’t understand and stick them to the fridge or the wall, eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, look at everyone’s hands and everyone’s shoes. Your everyday outside world will influence your work as much as your ideas and interpretation, so pay attention. Everything is interesting, everything is material.
Amanda Gowin lives in the foothills of Appalachia with her husband and son. Her work has appeared in various magazines and books online and in print, including Warmed and Bound, The Booked. Anthology, Burnt Tongues, and the upcoming Exigencies. She co-edited Cipher Sisters with Michael Gonzalez, and her first collection, Radium Girls, is now available. For more information in her life and work, check out her site: www.lookatmissohio.wordpress.com.