Behind the Words: Michelle Auerbach

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Michelle Auerbach’s poems “Eros” and “Psyche” appeared in the second issue of Spry and her novel, The Third Kind of Horse, was released this year by Beatdom Books. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Denver Quarterly, Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained Baksun Books, and You. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press), among other places. She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. She is an editor at Instance Press and can be found here


How and when did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What drew you to writing?

I have wanted to be a writer since elementary school. In fact, my fifth grade teacher, Ms. McDowell, recently gave me the book I wrote in her class which she kept at the end of the year. It was all poetry, and some illustrations, laminated and stapled together. I treasure that book as a piece of art for art’s sake, created with so much heart and so much joy. I didn’t know anything yet, and I was having such fun. The poetry all rhymed. I learned a lot since then.

I kept a journal from third grade until 2011. Every day. And that taught me to narrate and to play with emotions and thoughts. I would write crazy stuff, not from my point of view at all, sometimes the opposite of what I felt, or what I hoped I’d feel. I told stories. It was the perfect apprenticeship.

I was drawn to writing because I loved reading and wanted to DO that. No one told me it was a difficult thing to do. I still haven’t really accepted that!…It just so happens that without writing I am much less happy. My brain chemistry or neural pathways, or something, love organizing thoughts and phrases and then plots and poems. It gives everything a place and makes it all work. I actually can’t imagine not writing.


When you’re not writing, what do you like to read? What writers and work would you recommend? Whose work has had the most influence on you?

I am a literary and poetic omnivore. I read everything. I read self-help books, detective stories, poetry, biographies, literary fiction, young adult fiction, cookbooks from Scotland in the 1800s. I hate it when people insult genre fiction, I have found Sci Fi and Fantasy to be places where really huge ideas about what it means to be human get deconstructed and worked through. Our darkest impulses show up in crime fiction and also what grace and redemption look like. Young Adult novels give hope and really plot out how to learn to be yourself. That stuff is all relevant, psychologically and emotionally intelligent, and often fantastically well written.

The first book I remember feeling like I wish I had written it myself was Madeline L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time. I love Toni Morrison as an experimental fiction writer—her use of language is wildly evocative and engages readers as intuitives. I love David Wojanarowitz’s Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration as a memoir. I worship the ground that Francesca Lia Block walks on and her Weetzie Bat series is brilliant fantasy hyperrealism for teens. I also love the poetry prose crossovers like Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson and Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje. For poetry, I love everything from Andrew Schelling’s translations of Sanskrit erotic poetry to Edna St. Vincent Millay to Joan Logghe to Eleni Sikelanios to H.D. and Kimberly Lyons. I am really drawn to the confessional and the mythological, preferably together. My biggest influence is the novelist Laurie Colwin. Her intimate novels of New York in the 80’s are small, tight, and emotional, filled with luminous detail, and heartbreaking. I am sure no one would ever find a trace of her in my work, but I keep trying.


In addition to the poetry that’s appeared in Spry, you’ve also authored a series of essays, articles, short stories, and a novel. How do you approach writing in these different forms? Do you only work in one genre at a time, or are your projects more fluid?

I was told in graduate school, over and over, by the poets Anne Waldman and Ed Sanders, “All projects now!” Which was an evocation of the way William Blake worked—everything open on his desk at once—woodcuts, poems, all of it. I am always writing a novel, sometimes very actively and sometimes reading and getting ready. But other feelings and experiences do better as essays or poems. I tend to finish an essay or a poem first before I move on to the next thing, but I always come back and edit. Maybe the way I work could be described as brief moments of really joyous creativity followed by eons of tedious editing.


Your novel The Third Kind of Horse was released this year. It takes place in a 1987 New York City that’s dealing with the impact of AIDS and sexual politics on the gay community. What drew you to write about this time period and these characters?

When the book came out I realized I was feeling incredibly protective of the characters—I wanted to make sure they felt okay, not attacked, honored by people who read the book. And it hit me: I wrote this book because that time and the people who lived through it and changed the world with their activism deserved recognition. Those characters were so real, I forgot they were fictional. It was really important for me to show that the histories of social movements in the U.S. are intertwined, and that people lived lives of real heroism with a huge sense of humor and a very personal kind of revolution. Where we are today, with DOMA gong down and on the eve of some real social justice, there is a connection from this back through ACT-UP, back through Stonewall, back into the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement.

I was there, ACT-UP, New York in the late 80’s, and so I knew an awful lot about it, but I did research anyhow. I listened to hundreds of hours of oral histories from the ACT-UP Oral History Project and I watched two full days of DIVA TV footage of demonstrations and all of that found its way in and informed the story. I just wanted to bring that all to life. The book ended up having nothing to do with my personal history, and so it was the characters who I felt needed protection from exposure.


How do you balance your day job and your family life with your needs as a writer?

I use the Scarlett O’Hara method of achieving balance in my life: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” No really, I am very, very lucky. I would be a crazy cat lady hermit introvert who washed her socks on weekends for fun if not for my family and the work I get to do in the world. They draw me out, and that can be frustrating and exhilarating. It’s complex. I wrote an essay on the poetry of kari edwards [small letters for name on purpose] partially at parent teacher night at Boulder High. I was in my son’s Chemistry class and I had this idea of how to approach the topic, which I had been asked to write an essay on. I finished the major ideas by the time I got done with my daughter’s Latin class. And the teachers probably felt brilliant. I was taking such good notes. It just all works out.


Rachael Warecki is an alumna of Scripps College, Loyola Marymount University, and the Teach for America corps. She recently received her MFA in fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Masters Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Midwestern Gothic, and is forthcoming in Connu. She lives in Los Angeles and is currently at work on a novel.

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