Molly Gaudry discusses the birth of The Lit Pub—a publicity company, online bookstore, and an e-space for readers to gather—and explores luck and death in her most recent work, Portrait of a Modern Family.
Tell me more about the “post-AWP blues” in relation to the birth of The Lit Pub. What is it about book selling that makes you happy?
I am always so bummed out after AWP, which, to me, is like the best summer camp ever. You get to see people you haven’t seen since last year, and you get to meet all these new people, and it’s just never enough time to hang out with everyone the way you want.
This year—AWP DC—was new for me because I worked the Mud Luscious table pretty much full-time. I’d never worked a table like that before. I used to sit at the Keyhole table with Peter Cole, but I never had to be responsible for it. So this year, when J. A. Tyler asked me if I could fill in for him and manage the Mud Luscious table, I said I would. After going through so much trouble to staff the table with extra hands, get the books to the table, make the table look pretty, buy bottles of booze as a giveaway, organize events for the table like author signings and daily giveaways, I wasn’t going to just sit there quietly and let people walk on by!
My favorite line to say, as people looked at the books and walked by, was, “You should come touch our books. They like it.” And darned if they didn’t come over and pick one up. That made me happy—whether they bought a book or not. Ultimately, I just liked reaching out to people, and seeing them reach back. Once they came to the table, I’d ask who their favorite authors were, if they were in school, how long they’d been writing. If they gave answers that indicated that maybe Mud Luscious books weren’t the right books for them, I did my best to send them to a table/publisher that they might like better. That made me happy, too. Just trying to help people find the right books for them. But ultimately, I realized I was only able to sell the books I really loved—or was able to answer questions about.
So, after AWP, I was home and miserable, missing all that human contact and all that human interaction, and six months later here’s this thing I’m doing called The Lit Pub, where I’m trying to relive the glory days of AWP by talking as much as I can about books I love, hoping others might at least like them too.
What is the biggest difference between ‘reviewing’ a book and ‘representing’ a book?
Well, the way I see it—a book review is a one-time thing, and it’s comprehensive in that it covers, in one swoop, the reviewer’s feelings about the book as a whole.
My campaign for Lidia [Yuknavitch]’s book will run for three months, and I post every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which means that I’ll be writing 54 articles about Lidia’s book during that time. There were 2 introductory articles—a welcome article and an interview—but after that, I’m writing about each chapter (there are 52 chapters), a chapter a day.
This way, others can read the book along with me, and discuss each chapter as we make our way through the book together.
At the end of each book-representation post is a section called “Let Your Voice Be Heard” where readers interact with you, Chris, and a guest publisher of the month (this month the guest publisher is Mike Young of Magic Helicopter). Readers can also interact with each other, responding to a question sparked by the post, sharing their own stories. Why do you think it’s important for readers to share their stories?
We’re writing about the books we’re representing, finding topics and themes (like bravery) that we can talk about with others in order to make the books more relevant to the people who haven’t yet read them, people who might like to read them, people who might choose to buy them from us, based on what information we’re able to provide them with. At the same time, of course, we relish the discussions we are having with those who have read the books. And this is where your question comes into play…
When we launched The Lit Pub, I hoped and prayed people would leave comments. But I swear to you I had no idea that people would find us and leave the kinds of comments they are. Our readers are sharing the most incredible stories—stories of loss and suffering, pain and grief, survival and hope. This has been the single most rewarding part of The Lit Pub—being able to provide a safe space for others to share their stories with us.
And I think readers want to share their stories to feel less alone. That’s the reason I share what I share in every post. That’s the reason Lidia’s book touched me so deeply—because when I read it, I felt less alone. And that’s the reason I’m representing it, because I want others to read it, and I want them to feel less alone, too.
I imagine Chris has his own reasons for selecting the books he represents, and you should ask him!
When representing Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, you write, “But I will tell you that the ending [of chapter 5] is, quite simply, one of the bravest few paragraphs of writing I’ve ever read.” What does bravery look like to you, sound like? Break this word down for me.
Regarding my use of the word “brave” in that context, I meant, simply, that Lidia could have ended Chapter Five about 2 paragraphs before she did. The chapter was about how her father refused to let her go to college, refused to let her accept any of the swimming scholarships she had been offered. Her mother signs the papers behind her father’s back, and for the rest of the summer both mother and daughter are forced to suffer all kinds of physical and mental abuse. Ultimately, there is a showdown between Lidia and her father. She writes:
“It seemed we’d die in that moment. But all it took to leave that room was this body I had. Though I did hear him breathing—out of breath—at my mighty back. And I did consider what being punched in the back of the skull might feel like. I believed I could take it.”
I thought the chapter could have ended there, but it doesn’t—it ends with Lidia going into her room and masturbating. Not just masturbating but female ejaculating.
That’s what I meant by brave: writing fearlessly. Baring yourself so freely. Not caring what anyone thinks about those extra paragraphs. Caring only about what matters to you, what you need to write, what you need to tell, what you want to share.
You recently came out with a new book, Portrait of a Modern Family, which is published with Featherproof and is part of their Light Reading mini-book series. What inspired the story?
A Philadelphia City Paper. I was sitting in a coffee shop and one of Philly’s weekly zines was on the bartop, so I just started paging through it. I noticed a few interesting phrases popped out at me, so I started highlighting a phrase on every page. Then I paired up the phrases and started connecting the dots, writing little scenes that made sense of two random phrases together. Like, the last paragraph? The two phrases were “Fox & Roach” and “Isabelle Meyer.”
P.S. “Portrait” was written a long time ago, but Featherproof finally put it out of its misery and published it, which I couldn’t have been more thrilled about, as I’d been dying to get a foot in the Featherproof door for years.
In the opening paragraph of Portrait, the father “Knew how lucky he was.” Who would you consider the luckiest character in this piece and why? Tell me about this lucky character.
I would say that the teacher is the luckiest. The father, the mother, and their daughters are all tied for most miserable, that’s for sure. Hmm, that sounds depressing. But the teacher is lucky because she’s free. She’s untouched by this tragedy—well, she’s not touched by it in the same way that the father, mother, and sisters are. So while it impacts her, it actually frees her to explore what she could have been, or might have been. And I think, in many ways, she’s the central figure in “Portrait.” Maybe she’s the only one who gets a second chance. I don’t know.
“Everywhere I go people are dying.” The “pretty woman” says this in the story. How does death affect your writing, specifically your relationship with this character? What is the difference between the death of a story and the death of a character? Which one hurts more and why?
I think that was one of the phrases from the City Paper: “Everywhere I go people are dying.” I had to use it. So that inspired the pretty woman’s job—military. Everywhere she went, people were dying. And in that scene, she was trying to convince her husband that the military wasn’t the best choice for her anymore (possibly because she was pregnant by then?).
But death definitely plays a huge role in all of my writing. I’m haunted by it, scared of it, don’t quite really understand it, and I think that’s why I write about it—to try to make some sense of it.
Absolutely, the death of a character is worse than the death of a story. If a story isn’t working, cut it loose! That’s my motto. Give it up! Move on! Try another one that might work instead. But a character? I can’t bear it, you know? But I’ll tell you something—all of the characters in “Portrait” are lost. They may not be dead (yet) but they’re lost. They’ve lost some part of who they were, who they wanted to be, and they’re not happy. And maybe that’s what hurts most of all.