WORD with the WRITER
an interview with Emily Carter
Featured Books by Emily Carter
Like the main character, Glory, who infuses most of the 21 stories in the collection Glory Goes and Gets Some, author Emily Carter moved to Minnesota, which she labels in the book as “land of Ten Thousand Treatment Centers,” for drug rehab. In addition, Glory, the character, seems to inherit some very particular traits shared by the author, mainly that of being the daughter of intellectual parents and HIV-positive status. This could very well make one curious about the line between truth and fiction, an already curious topic to begin with, but as Carter assures during a recent phone conversation, Glory is “more ruthlessly honest in her declarations than I am. She’s like me with Turret’s syndrome.”
Glory is indeed a character who is honest (“I was considering suicide, but I wanted to die happy and that would take drug money, which, in turn, would take time and effort to come by. In other words, it was a normal day.” – from the story “Ask Amelio”), bold (“Danger is my acronym. Death is my boyfriend.” – from “Glory and the Angels”) and opinionated (“I know very well what happens when you run toward the horizon; you get smaller and smaller until you vanish.” – from the title story, “Glory Goes and Gets Some”). The character introduces herself in the second story of the collection, “Glory B and the Gentle Art,” as someone who talks first and thinks later.
Carter, herself, from what can be ascertained during a phone conversation, comes across as extremely amiable and down-to-earth. She was the cover subject of POZ (a magazine dedicated to the HIV-impacted community) two years ago. That was a time when her stories were being published in Story Magazine and The New Yorker, and Garrison Keillor selected the now title story of her book for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 1998. This is a time when that first book, Glory Goes and Gets Some (Coffee House Press), is about to go before the public, a time colored with hope and shaded with fear for any writer. Emily Carter spoke to collectedstories.com via cell phone from an Irish tavern in Minneapolis. She was having a coffee.
from the story “Parachute Silk” by Emily Carter
“All right then, I’ll make a list, one list with two separate headings: Things I Will Never Do, and Things I Would Never Do. The Things I Will Never Do preserve my sense of sorrow; the Things I Would Never Do preserve my sense of dignity. My sense of humor preserves itself, like a ghastly, encephalic curio sitting on a dusty shelf in the pitch-black basement of some madman’s antique store. I wouldn’t give it up, though, and you can put that under the Would Never heading — leaving space above it, naturally, for the more important things, like murder or boinking your best friend’s sweetheart.
The Will Never list is much longer than the Would Never; almost anything can give me an idea for an item. The red silk parachute that Matthew left on the porch, for instance, reminds me that I Will Never jump out of an airplane, but that’s a doubleheader — I Would Never jump out of an airplane, either. It’s a conscious decision, one of the easier ones I’ve had to make. What kind of person would do that, and what do they get out of it, except a sense of relief when the thing opens correctly?
I’m already relieved, thank you, and — considering what I’ve done to myself — happy to be alive, if somewhat cranky in the mornings. I’m cranky in the mornings because at night, when I turn out my lights, when, according to my recovery counselor, you’re supposed to concentrate on positive, relaxing images, what I get instead is a sort of cavalcade of hits: Gloria’s Most Painful and Embarrassing Moments on Parade. It’s especially bad if I remember all the times I made a fool of myself when I was drunk. Once that starts, I can be up for hours, snapping, ‘Go away,’ to my memories. Just imagine some woman you saw in a bar once, hair tumbled and greasy, eye makeup hopeful the day before yesterday, loudly tossing inappropriate remarks into the closed circles of other people’s conversations. Her charming and incisive bon mots land on the floor with an unpleasant splat, as if someone had just hurled a dead frog to the ground at your feet; you turn around, and there she is, smiling like the belle of the ball. If you wish she’d just go away, believe me, so do I. Here in the land of Minnesota, Land of Ten Thousand Treatment Centers, they’ve got a program for any addiction you might care to name, but memories are something they can’t do all that much about.”
© 2000 EMILY CARTER
cs: How has writing either been present or not present over the years?
ec: Well, I always wrote. I always had a slight confidence and an intermittent flair for language from the time I was very young. And it started out as a child, as a way to get approval.
In my late teens, early twenties, I began reading my prose poems out loud, and it took me a couple of years of doing that before I was able to develop myself as a writer and work in the short story form. So, I really started out as a prose poet, a ranter and raver. When I realized I wanted to do more and write short stories and develop a narrative arc and all those things, I was in my twenties and picked up a couple of books, like The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, just to get some technique and craft and things like that because I didn’t have any.
cs: How difficult or easy was it to write in the period between your twenties and thirties?
ec: Sometimes it was quite difficult. For me, the problem was developing the discipline, the routine and the consistency, as well as the confidence that I needed to write on a consistent basis. And, as we know, that’s the only way to get better at it — keep banging your head against the wall relentlessly. Discipline and routine were my big struggles and my big challenges.
cs: I was wondering about the transition from “The Bride of Frankenstein,” which initially appeared online at word.com to “The Bride,” which is a story in the book. The character’s name “Glory” has been substituted in the same places where your own name appeared online.
ec: Fictionalizing gave me a freedom, well, not to lie, but to embellish … I was playing with images and motifs and dialogue; I found it very freeing to be playful with fiction. I found memoirs really difficult and confining. With me, there’s always a question of what is freeing the memory and what’s a real memory, you know? And, I just felt like, with the memoir, I had to deal with the facts, and dealing with memory, I’m not sure what the facts are.
cs: The reader doesn’t learn Glory’s last name, Bronski, until we get to the fifth story, “Glory and the Angels.” I think that in spite of all her talk, it’s almost as if she doesn’t open up fully until you get to know her, or until she gets to know you, the reader, which is kind of nice.
ec: Thank you, that was certainly serendipitous. Those stories were written over a period of twelve years, and some of them were written sooner than others. I don’t think that I did that on purpose. I always find it difficult in terms of exposition to introduce a character by name, you know. There’s a variety of strategies you can use (laughs). I don’t like it when a character’s name comes clonking down into the text in an artificial manner.
cs: Right, because in real life, we often have conversations with people and don’t learn their last names until weeks later or never learn them at all. How did you go about the actual placement of the stories in the collection, particularly if they span over twelve years?
ec: Although they are not completely in chronological order, I think the first section of the book has older stories, and they reflect my voice and my development as a writer at a much younger age. So, naturally, they’re excruciatingly painful for me to read because I find them full of self indulgence and what not (laughs). But, one can forgive oneself for being younger.
cs: Which was the first story of the collection to be published?
ec: Probably “All the Men are Called McCabe,” in its original form, but that story has been altered quite a bit. I originally wrote it to be somebody else beside Glory talking, and it’s still somebody else, but the person talking has changed. After that it was “East on Houston,” which was published in a small review, called Jailfish Review.
cs: Of the stories set in Manhattan, like “East on Houston,” which did you write while actually living in Manhattan?
ec: “Glory and the Angels,” I wrote in Manhattan. “East on Houston” was written when I came to St. Paul. I was very proud of it and thought it was a great breakthrough for me. I wrote it at a very optimistic time of my life; I felt very strong and very free when I was writing it. I think the strength and the freedom gave me the energy to reflect in a vigorous way.
cs: In terms of Glory and the character, there is an incredible strength that comes across even despite the weakness she admits to.
ec: Glory is my megaphone, my mouthpiece, she can utter things that I dare not and she is probably more ruthlessly honest in her declarations than I am. In fact, she’s a great deal more ruthlessly honest in her declarations than I am (laughs). She’s like me with Turret’s syndrome.
cs: Do you have an agent?
ec: I did have an agent, but he was sending it out to all the bigger publishers in New York, all of which rejected the work, so I sent it to Coffee House Press about two and a half years ago, on my own, and I had a connection there, somebody mentioned my name; it would have never got picked up in a year and a half.
cs: Now that your first collection is published, any hopes and dreams for it?
ec: That people will read it! (laughs) That people will read it and that they will respond to the language in it. That’s my dearest hope and that someday, in spite of my college dropout status, I will get a job as creative writing teacher at a community college in an Eastern seaboard town.
cs: Aren’t you currently teaching?
ec: I just finished teaching an eight-week class at The Loft in Minneapolis, which is a place for writers, and I adore teaching.
cs: What’s next?
ec: I am currently working on the first chapter of a novel and a proposal/outline to get interest in the second chapter.
cs: What are you currently reading?
ec: I just finished reading Tuff by Paul Beatty and was really wowed by it — extremely envious of his eye for detail and vividness.
cs: Finally, is that you on the cover?
ec: Absolutely not (laughs). My boyfriend even swore it was me from the (photo that ran with the) POZ article, but it’s truly not. While we’re on the subject, I actually fought them on that cover because I didn’t want that very thing to happen. And I also thought there was something moody and fragile about the look of the cover, and I also felt that if you could go and look through the entire stock of Barnes & Noble fiction and if you find a man’s face in any way shape or form looking moodily off the cover, I will pay you. It’s not that I feel objectified, it’s just, for some reason it’s something they do more with women writers than men.
Word with the Writer: Emily Carter Interview ©2000 Dara Albanese & collectedstories.com