It's been a long while since I posted one of these interviews. But if there's one writer I'd come out of retirement to hear more from, it's the awesome Alana Noel Voth.
Why do you write?
Because, generally speaking, I suck in person. Until I've had a few drinks or am simply in a position where I have no choice. Otherwise, I'm a hermit who prefers her own company. I enjoy hanging out with my son, and once in a while a friend or lover. Otherwise, eh. Don't get me wrong: I like people, perhaps too much. I'm obsessed with humanity. Socializing though, small talk, that's painful—sometimes a waste of time. Maybe because I'm getting older, I find a lot of people uninteresting.
I like to watch, listen. I like to ask questions. I like to record. That's where the writing comes in, you know? Anyway, once a upon a time, there was this girl whose father beat her every time she opened her mouth, etc., etc. Writing is my defense. Also, everyone needs to communicate. Everyone deserves self expression. No one likes throwing their soul out to the ether and then receiving nothing back. I've written for spite before, obviously, and as a way to reclaim a sense of power. I've also written when I was feeling hopeless, depressed, terrified, helpless. Oh and horny. Angry. High emotion mainly.
Is there something in particular that you'd like to express?
Simply humanity. But moral ambiguity for another. Those types of stories make the best ones. You know, good is also bad, and bad is also good.
I'd also like to prove if you're in tune with human rhythms, if you pay attention, if you mean it, and you do so with respect, you can write outside your gender. You can be a middle-aged woman and write as a gay man.
I say this because I often write as young gay men.
Shane Allison once told me he forgot I was a woman once he began to read my stories because my characters were convincing enough he heard them, not me. Awesome compliment. In graduate school, one of my peers said, "If I didn't know you Alana, I'd think you were a gay Mexican boy." Another great compliment, really the best. Susie Bright said much the same thing to me once.
Anyway, I'm not bragging. What I mean to do is make a point. As writers, if we take our work seriously, and I do mean serious as death, then we have this super hero type power for empathy and expression. We can take a situation and turn it into a story that presents a universal truth. That is, if we can get past all the prejudice . . .
What is the most successful piece or work you feel you've written, and why?
Far as I know, my work doesn't receive a lot rave reviews or shout outs so I can't say, "Such-and-such story has been popular." Therefore, I'll respond on a personal level, and maybe that's the way you meant it anyway.
My most successful stories are the ones in which I've spent months realizing then expressing character desire without becoming obvious, clichéd, or too vague.
My best work is always the work I've slaved over, cried over, hated. At some point, every story feels like a fucking rock in my shoe, if it's going to turn into something worthwhile, I mean. Stories are fun as drafts but then they just became painful, even tedious, until finally, I don't know . . . I arrive on the other side, so to speak.
More specifically: I wrote this story "Waif" (I is For Indecent) which I've always thought was good in that it’s simple, quiet, solid, and also written in third person, which is a departure for me. I've always felt proud of "Genuflection" (Best American Erotica 2005) for being the first story I sent through the MFA workshop, and also, I'm in love with the narrator, Manny, my number one Great I Narrator. "Benediction" (Best Gay Erotica 2007) makes me cry every time I read it. "Attempt to Rise" (Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Volume 7) was an awesome editorial experience, as in never before has one of my stories benefited more from an editor’s input. (Shanna Germain was the editor, by the way.) I've got this story called "Ivo" (Oysters & Chocolate) that I'm in love with: another Great I Narrator, and simply put, I got inside the guy's head, not to mention I stole the name “Ivo” from a friend in graduate school.
One more mention, my story "Mars with Mars and Venus," (Oysters & Chocolate) as an ode to another writer, Dennis Cooper, is successful without being a hokey imitation. To me, it’s a love letter. Anyway, the story was hard to write. Mechanically for starters.
Please name a recent thought, event, person or whatever that inspired you:
"Genuflection" was inspired by a story called "Indio" by Al Lujan and also the trailer park where my son and I used to live, and a real live place, Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. "Benediction" was inspired by Brent Runyon's book, The Burn Journals and a real boy I once knew who lit himself on fire, not to mention Joseph Gordon Levitt's performance in Mysterious Skin. (Honestly, half the boys I invent look like Joseph Gordon Levitt.) Although the boy in "Attempt to Rise" looks like Elijah Wood, The story was originally titled "Elijah Would," until Shanna Germain said, "About the title . . ."
Oh, you said recent. Dennis Cooper will always influence my work, as will Marguerite Duras' book, The Lover. I recently saw a movie, The Living End, which has impacted my novel-in-progress, as has the show Supernatural. Any two boys kissing will inspire me. I saw this movie Summer Storm the other night and became aroused by a scene on a boat dock. I mean, it was sweet, and it was sexy. You should see it.
Anyway, like every other writer, I'm a sponge; I'm forever taking notes, making observations, cataloging things. I’m nothing if not my power of observation. I'm super sensitive to innuendo as well. It's the subtle shit in life other people accuse me of over reacting to that make all the difference in a story.
Thank you so much, Alana. Read more of Alana's thoughts and work at her blog.
I'm still delighted to receive contributions to the 'Writing That Touches' interviews, although this is now more erratic feature than regular series. Get in touch if you'd like to participate! Nikki at magennis dot googlemail dot com.