Mystery, Community, and Obsessions: An Interview with Amy Glasenapp

April 19th, 2010

 

Camera Obscura associate editor Shane Oshetski got together with author Amy Glasenapp to discuss “The Object” from our first issue. She offers her views on mysterious things like community and MFA’s as well as how writing can unearth the truth and keep it from driving you crazy.

Shane Oshetski: In your bio you say you are one of those people that writes to stay sane. Can you tell us how you feel writing does this for you?

Amy Glasenapp: When certain, older members of my family read stories I’ve written, they shake their heads and think, she’s losing it, any day now. I guess what comes out when I write is a bit of the crazy that could otherwise spread into the more mundane aspects of life. I feel that’s not a unique problem. But of course the need to write strikes at inconvenient times, like when I’m out buying dog food or hanging out with my kid, and then it becomes genuinely oppressive. I dislike being on the computer for hours and hours every day, but I keep getting drawn back to my laptop, a moth to the flame, so to speak.

Shane Oshetski: Is “The Object” the kind of story that would cause the elder people in your family this kind of worry?

Amy Glasenapp:”The Object” did disturb said family members. It surprised them that any magazine wanted to publish it. “Shows how much we know,” were my grandmother’s exact words. In jest, sort of.

Shane Oshetski: Were you always interested in perusing writing?

Amy Glasenapp: Writing has been something I’ve done regularly, with varying degrees of personal and academic success, since I was eight or so. When I was in fifth grade, my horror story ‘The House of Connor” won a prize in a school-wide writing contest. I think it involved a number of decapitations, people being cut to pieces, that sort of thing. It was gross for the sake of gross, but there was a plot there, and it was scary. That may have been when my family started to worry (although most were encouraging, maybe because of the prize). I wanted to be Stephen King. I still do. I think he probably has it pretty good.

Shane Oshetski: Was there any reason you wanted to get an MFA?

Amy Glasenapp: The MFA was something I decided I wanted to do when I got bored with waitressing (actually, I’d been fired from two restaurant jobs in a row for not being a “team player”), and besides, I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. From the beginning. Maybe right after I learned to read.

Shane Oshetski: Could you talk about how you started “The Object” and why you chose to write about the obsession of an entire community instead of just an individual?

Amy Glasenapp: “The Object” started with the idea of a time capsule. What happens to the people in this town-turned-suburb when they start to unearth it? What is the time capsule, really? I wanted the story to operate as a sort of community mythos from the beginning, so it began in the plural perspective. It was only later that I realized a singular narrator would help me go deeper into the town–sort of like the digging. I think Lionel comes in on page 3 or 4? He was an afterthought.

Shane Oshetski: I like thinking of this as a story where you were digging into the town along with them. What did you find by digging into this community?

Amy Glasenapp: I was interested in the idea of digging, because that’s what most writing is. We dig, unearth, examine. It’s archaeological. But this type of digging takes place in our minds, so I wanted to find some way to visualize a town physically digging for something that would end up becoming inexplicably important. Something completely foreign that this town can’t go another day without getting to the bottom of. It’s contradictory, of course, because the townspeople in the story treat their own neighbors, the ones they they call “the foreigners,” with suspicion and resentment.

Shane Oshetski: Was there a real life mystery that informed this story?

Amy Glasenapp: The name “the object,” within the story is very vague. It is a mystery in itself, which is enough to warrant obsession. Mystery. We are all mysterious until someone knows us, but how well does anyone know us, really? They’re fascinating, other people. The characters in the story don’t really know each other at all, and yet they all crave the same thing. That is what brings them together. The object (of desire) is represented as this giant, impenetrable steel thing in the ground. Layers and layers of steel, possibly. That is what they’ll have to get through just to know what it is they want.

Shane Oshetski: Did you intended for this to be resonant with our time in some way? Or, as a larger question, do you intend for your work to comment on larger themes?

Amy Glasenapp: Yes, it is a kind of social commentary, and yes, I intended it to be. By the end, when I was going back into the story and figuring out what to emphasize, I wanted to emphasize the lack of human involvement in a community. A community that is a negative print of a community. An American neighborhood in 2010. Where people maybe know each other’s names, jobs, number of kids. Where that’s all we want to know. And if something brought us together, maybe we’d still get it wrong. We could lose ourselves seeking something outside our own lives, towns, experiences, something we’ll never understand. Seeking this concept of “happiness,” maybe, that is so simple and elusive. In the story there are people all around, all having the same experience, and there is no connection. Digging for the Object is, I think, not unlike the erection of the Tower of Babel, because it results in a loss of language and identity.

The dissolution part is, I believe, in the attempt to grasp the unattainable. It leads, inevitably, to this town’s undoing.

Shane Oshetski: A writer friend of mine classifies his influences into the writers who have informed his work and the writers he felt gave him permission to write they way he wanted to. Who has informed your work and who gave you permission?

Amy Glasenapp: I would quote Yiyun Li, the interview I did with her in the last issue of Fourteen Hills, but I don’t have the magazine in front of me. Anyway, what she said was something like this: When I write, I write to have a conversation with my masters. She is not seeking their approval or trying out their style, but looking for a dialogue. A way to incorporate their voices into her writing life. Her masters were Tolstoy and William Trevor, among others. Mine would be Nabokov, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, James Baldwin. More recently, James Welch. And then all over the map. The novelist Mark Leyner has significantly influenced my short stories, allowed me to do whateverthefuck. He’s very weird.

Shane Oshetski: You are a student, an editor at Fourteen Hills, and a parent (among other things I’m sure). Being a person who has to wear many hats, do you have any advice as to how to find the space and time for writing?

Amy Glasenapp: All I can say is, not everybody can do it. I can’t do it sometimes. You have to prioritize. My daughter, Teagan, comes first. Life is allowed to get in the way of writing. Writing will happen; there is always time if it is something you have to do, need to do. Kids grow up fast. You have to be there if you don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to have regrets. I gave up working. I’m going into debt. My partner works full time, but not everyone has a partner. I’m very lucky.

Shane Oshetski: As a person now obsessed as much as the town, can I ask if you know what is in that capsule?

Amy Glasenapp: I can’t tell you what’s inside the object. It’s a secret.

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