Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Tricia Amiel’s fiction piece, Rain
I love the way the story opens with Grace. In one sense, she seems to typify all of the miseries of poverty: unpredictable, capricious, and violent. She is simultaneously believably, overbearingly human, and a really effective symbol of hopelessness and despair. That’s a hard combination to pull off. How did you do it?
Grace wasn’t included in the first few drafts of the story; I added her to a much later draft. I’ve never edited any part of her story, and I didn’t think about how to create her character at all, so she’s not something I worked on. I don’t see her as purely hopeless and despairing. There is that aspect to her character, and she is someone Deidre certainly fears, but in my view, Grace knows exactly who she is. The “dark space” behind her represents her circumstances, and those are bleak, but Grace herself is not. She emerges from that space regularly, seeking light and making herself known to people. I think it’s important that she knocks that guy out for mocking her. He hurt her feelings, and she wouldn’t stand for it. Personally, Grace embodies my fears, yes, but also my ferocity. Circumstances aside, it’s important to stand up for yourself when others would knock you down.
I think the structure also works really well here—the episodic, plotless nature of the events helps illustrate the rootlessness of the narrator’s life. Were you ever tempted to provide a more standard narrative structure to this piece?
I never thought of creating a more standard structure for this story. It’s one of the first stories I ever wrote, and I didn’t know anything about structure back then. I admit, I still don’t focus on structure for my stories. I find it difficult to do, and very limiting. I don’t think about it; I just go where the story takes me.
The narrator struggles against Grace throughout the piece. Any advice on how we can all avoid succumbing to our inner Graces?
Grace does that one very powerful thing by standing up for herself. Of course, I don’t condone punching someone out because they hurt you or put you down, but that’s Grace’s way. Again, I think you have to put your circumstances aside sometimes and fight for the self you know. I think that kind of tenacity can lead to a change in those circumstances that are holding you back.
Is the duck happy? Does it matter if it isn’t?
I don’t know whether the duck is happy, and no, it doesn’t matter if it is or not. It’s all in the perception for Deidre and the old man. Deidre questions the duck’s happiness, and the old man changes her perception so that they both find a reason to laugh for a moment. It’s a laugh they both need, and sharing it connects them to each other. I just wish Grace had been there to laugh too.
I often feel that we writers are fighting an uphill battle—readership is declining, and writers don’t seem to be held in very high esteem in our culture. Why do you write? Would you keep writing even if you knew nobody would ever read your work?
The uphill battle for me has always been a personal one; how to dedicate time to writing and still provide for myself and my family. I was never able to do it all, and my writing life had to be put on a shelf most of my adult life so that I could study, work, and raise my children. I’ve written in spurts over the past 20 years in between trying to do all that other, really important stuff. Declining readership and the esteem of writers have never been on my radar. Writing without a readership is exactly what I’ve been doing all these years. I do it because I feel compelled to do it, so yes, I’d do it no matter what.
Do you have a daily writing practice? How do you fit writing into your life?
I do not have a daily writing practice. For most of my writing life, I simply couldn’t write every day. I suppose I’m conditioned by now to do it in spurts, and the space between those spurts, no matter how long that may be, is extremely important for me. Currently, life is such that I have time to write every day, but I still don’t. It just doesn’t work that way for me. I’m most compelled by deadlines, so being a part of class or a writing group is important for me. I have that now, and I easily schedule days for spurts, days for revision, and days for just thinking about my writing with a deadline in mind.