"Dont leave it all unsaid/Somewhere in the wasteland of your head, oh" - Morrissey from Sing Your Life
If there is one quality that will instantly set a writer apart from the rest it is their personality. In the current world of book tours, blogs, myspace, facebook, youtube, the writers can no longer hide in the corners of bookstores, coffee shops, libraries, etc. Today's writer must, on some level, entertain the public, entice the reader, engage in a dialog that may have nothing to do with the words they have written, but at the same time have everything to do with those words. There must be a certain amount of activist inside the writer. They must have ability to start regular reading events and possibly put on much larger literary events. We are starting to return to an age of writer as celebrity or maybe we never left it.
Amy Guth is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in Chicago literature. Her action packed debut novel Three Fallen Women (So New Media Books Publishing, 2006), is a stunning example of the horror and violence that lies just below the surface of every face on every street in every home. Yet, it has been her energetic performances while reading her work that has made her a legend. She is also the founder/curator of The Pilcrow Lit Fest, and the host of the ongoing Fixx Reading Series.
Now I am a clever swine but what I should have done is only ask Amy questions in the form of Smiths lyrics (i.e How can someone so young think words so sad?). Sadly, I just thought of it now while sitting here listening to Meat is Murder and eating a cheese sandwich. So without further ramblings... Amy Guth!
Orange Alert (OA): On top of all of your other projects you seem to be taking a lead role in this years Pilcrow Lit Fest. Can you tell a little bit about the history of the fest? What can people do to get involved in this years fest?
Amy Guth (AG): I founded Pilcrow Lit Fest after speaking at the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta, and at the (Downtown) Omaha Lit Fest. I found all three to be so community-building, and just terribly fun and there was a certain something present in all three festivals that I knew would translate well in Chicago. While in New Orleans, Paul Willis (Director of Tenn Williams/NOLA Literary Festival) asked me if I had any interest in taking on a festival in a production capacity and really gave me his vote of confidence that I could pull it off. I talked to Timothy Schaffert, who founded the (Downtown) Omaha lit Fest, picked his brain, and I really felt the same support from him. So, I assembled a team and have been thrilled by the community support not just here but on both coasts, as well. It's all very exciting.
There are a few ways for people to get involved this year. Merchants, publishers, bands, and the like can donate things like logo stickers, lapel pins or coupons and such for the participant goodie bags. People can speak on panels, propose an idea for a lecture or workshop, that sort of thing. We're open to ideas, so just email and well see what we can work out. Also, and I'm beyond excited for this, on Saturday of the fest, there is a cocktail party to benefit the rebuild of the New Orleans Public Library. I'm asking participating authors to take a copy of their own book, completely destroy it, and then rebuild it into a piece of art. We'll auction the remade books off through the evening. How fun is that? I'm excited to see what authors come up with. I'll be defacing one of mine, for sure. And, it's open to any author anywhere. Or publisher. Anyone who has a zine or book they're willing to reassemble as artwork can participate in this fundraiser. And, it's for such a great cause. New Orleans Public Libraries need so much support still after the damage so may branches sustained during Hurricane Katrina.
OA: How did the Fixx Reading series come about? Would you consider this a successful series?AG: I was the first author to read at The Fixx and almost immediately became friends with the owners, Gary and Laura Hartel. They're just two of the nicest, most supportive people and I really am glad to know them. When my friend, author Timothy Schaffert was planning a leg of a book tour through Chicago, he asked for ideas of places to read and he ended up reading at The Fixx. At one point that evening after Schaffert's reading, Gary and Laura asked if I wanted to curate a series at The Fixx, which I was thrilled to do. I would say it's successful, in my opinion it is anyway, because it's always such a fun night. A new small press based on the west coast is publishing an anthology of the first year's Fixx readers, to come out early this summer, which I'm also very excited about. Who is to say, really, what defines a series as successful, right? But I certainly wouldn't trade it, and I'm thrilled to see requests already showing up for as far out as this fall and winter, so it feels like a success to me.
OA: Do you believe that Chicago is a good place to hold a reading? What are your thoughts on the Chicago literary scene in general?
AG: It's hard to comment on the literary scene, per se, only because writing is so solitary. I moved here in 2001 from NYC and have known great, kind, intelligent writers since arriving. So, I couldn't possibly complain about what we have going on here in Chicago. I could stand to see a few more literary events around, but I think everyone might be feeling that, so hopefully, in the next few years we"ll see more and more of a response to that. JB: What can we expect from your upcoming novel, Light of Waters Brought?AG: Light of Water Brought feels, to me, like a calmer read than Three Fallen Women. But, that's just me, and I don't generally compare past and present works from anyone, because I try to let work stand on its own without the context of other work around. I think my nerdy pleasures-- physics, genealogy, archaology, anthropology, athletic physiology-- are still present in Light of Waters Brought, and they probably always will be to an extent in all of my writing, but the book is primarily about a young textile artist relocating to the United States from Mexico who buys a flood-damaged house and sets to repair it herself. This second book is a vastly different experience from my first. That first book is so exciting and so thrilling and all such a whirlwind, so it has felt like an absolute luxury to be able to step back and be calmer and more objective about my approach to this one.
OA: As a fellow Vegetarian I have to ask, how did you first become a vegetarian? Do you think this choice ever affects your writing in anyway?
AG: Hm, it's been such a long time, I don't even remember how it all happened! Well, I have vegetarians in my family, so I grew up aware of vegetarianism, and I don't think I was ever really gung-ho to eat meat, just in flavor preference terms, so it was, as I remember, a pretty seamless transition and I was pretty young at the time. I don't know that vegetarianism informs any of my writing, but theoretically, everything that makes us who we are informs our creative output, so on some level I'm likely not even aware of, it probably does.
Maybe in a roundabout way, though. In 2004, I was in a serious car accident, and though I'd been a runner for a while, I ran my first marathon in 2005, mostly to be an asshole to this naysayer of an orthopedist who dealt with my left knee after the accident. This doctor was convinced I'd never even jog around the block comfortably again, and that I'd never heal properly as a vegetarian, which, well, that's fucking silly. First, Carl Lewis is a vegetarian, so hello? Olympian? Hello? Anyway. So, I took on a marathon, finished and it was a great experience. I think running certainly has a lot to do with my writing in that procrastination and hang-ups and story blocks don't stand a chance after a good run or cross-train. Silly crap has a way of falling away after a few miles. It sounds hokey, but after a good ten- or twelve-mile run, I feel like everything is doable in my life. The most prolific times for me as a writer have always been when I've been training for a race event.
OA: What's next for Amy Guth?
AG: Well, I have six manuscripts lying about in various stages of completion, so I'm just out to keep writing books. I enjoy editing, and have tested the waters there a bit, most recently with Katie Schwartz's forthcoming title from So New Media later this spring. So, I wouldn't mind having a hand in both the writing side and the editing/production side. Not at all. I have a few more announcements before the year is up, so keep an eye on my blog. I can't let the cat out of the bag quite yet.
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your drink of choice and where is your favorite coffee spot?
AG: Sure, I love coffee. I'm a little of a health nut, so I don't live on the stuff, but a nice cup of good, fresh coffee in the morning is lovely. Nothing fancy along the lines of the mocha-frappa-macci business, just coffee. I have a few spots I hit around town, but table space is at a premium at all of them, so I'm not talking. Not even a hint. No way.
OA: It is extremely obvious that you are a Smiths fan, and as we all await this year's Morrissey release, let me ask a two part question. First, what is your favorite Smiths song of all-time, and second, if you met Morrissey tomorrow what one question would you ask him?
AG: I got a sneak preview of the new release! I was so excited to hear it. Let's see, my favorite Smiths song, well, as any Smiths/Morrissey fan would probably say, the best one is the one that's playing. That said, I'm always very glad to hear Bigmouth Strikes Again and William, It Was Really Nothing. (You realize this is like asking which kid I like the best, right?)
As for meeting Morrissey, well, I already have, in a way. I saw him in a music store in Manhattan. When you live in New York, you just sort of don't get starstruck, but this was Morrissey! I was very startstruck, almost teary, even. Isn't that silly? Anyway, there he was and I wanted to go to him and say thank you and tell him I appreciate what he does. That's it. No screaming or autographs, just a simple thank you. I inched to him and he was looking at a Squeeze CD that I own, and I thought that might be a nice icebreaker. I remember this whole sequence in slow motion, mind you, but I reached over and put my finger on the corner of the CD in his hand and opened my mouth to say, "That's a great CD." But, I hit panic and what came out what "Huurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" like a big honking squeak. I was mortified and ran out, Monty Burns-wristed. Mortifying! Maybe one day I'll get a do-over and he and I can laugh about it, but for now, I'm perfectly happy to see him in concert when his concert tours and my booktours cross paths. At this show at the Aragon in Chicago a year ago November, my friend laughed and said I looked somewhere between a teenage girl with Beatlemania and audience member at a Christian Rock show. Which is fine by me when it comes to Morrissey.