An Interview with Amy Grace Loyd
When Amy Grace Loyd walks into the Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar on the corner of Henry and Cranberry Streets, a pink-faced venue nestled into the same neighborhood in which her novel, The Affairs of Others, is set, Loyd is not a stranger. The Byliner, Inc. executive editor is greeted with obvious recognition from the waitress, who nudges her towards the Happy Hour prosecco, then sets the flute in front of her. We all talk for a few minutes about reading and publishing, and thatís when I spill that weíre gathered to talk about Loydís debut. ďYes, I have a book coming out next week,Ē Loyd tells the waitress, and I fish out a copy of the hardcover from my purse.
The neighborhood familiarity that Loyd carries with her into the wine bar conjures nothing of Celia, the narrator in Affairs, who keeps entirely to herself after the death of her husband -- or at least means to. ďIím very different from Celia,Ē Loyd says, one of the reasons why Celiaís voice provided her an escape from the world of New York publishing in which she was entrenched while at work on Affairs. Incidentally, the same industry has kept Loyd cynical about the bookís reception -- yet as it racks up accolades, Loydís disbelief is being tested, at least for now.
How has your relationship with yourself and your work changed now being on the authorís side of things?
I know how good I am at advocating for an organization or a publication, but being an editor and knowing what makes a good story, I had to keep myself for apologizing for [my book] out of my own cynicism for whatís happening in the literary world -- about what Iíve been told is palatable in the magazine world or in short form. I didnít care about all of that as I was writing it. I really wouldnít allow myself to care. I cared as an editor, like, Amy, you might want to put a period in here, Ďcause this is an awful long sentence, but I didnít want to think about how commercial it was or wasnít. I didnít want to think about the battles I would have at Playboy, like, This is very literary, thereís no story here... I didnít want to worry about that when it came to this book because I wanted to believe that if you had a compelling voice that even if you had an unreliable narrator, if it reflected enough of a universal experience, you could go with it, even if it made you a little uncomfortable for a while.
Did you think about how the book would be experienced by readers -- by women specifically -- at different points in their lives?
I didnít. I had to assume that if I felt as isolated and bizarre a human being as I did at moments -- even as I was showing up for meetings and persuading people to write for Playboy -- that there were women in the city with regard to their relationships or their reproductive lives feeling like they were also kind of a cog in this great machine. And there was sort of a Wow, Iím suddenly this when I thought my life would be this -- I hoped there were women who shared my sense that [their lives] were much different than they had anticipated, and that they might also respond to all the ways that sensuality and sexuality could be expressed.
A lot of your themes are really interior where you go inside yourself and pull out these things, and I wonder at what point you found yourself most projecting outwardly, perhaps drawing from something that was less familiar than ingrained.
A lot of the book are the tensions between who you can be in private versus who you can be in public, between good and bad behavior. We all assume weíre going to behave well, and then [Celia] is suddenly breaking into peoplesí apartments. I wouldnít do that. I donít think that Iíd be so interested in being so isolated from others, nor that a lot of my life would be about justifying my actions. Plus, Celia doesnít have to work for a living, and you and I do... Iíll probably never experience that option to be that separate from everyday concerns and everyday survival if I choose this industry.
And thatís one of the reasons Celiaís voice was that escape for you while you were deep in publishing.
She was! And rebellious, and even though sheís kind of tragic, and flawed -- deeply flawed, god love her -- sheís just really living by her code and not concerned with convention.
You started with Celiaís voice. Had it been incubating for a while, or was it something that developed with the momentum of the story?
Both. Once she started talking, it was pretty compelling. I like her voice. You know in Marilynne Robinsonís Gilead, that wonderful voice thatís got that resignation -- I wondered could a woman at 30 have that same sort of resignation, that sense that, Wow, I think my life is going to take this shape. And can you decide that your life is going to take this shape, and then youíre done? Evidently not. But maybe you can; I donít know. In her story, no, things impact her and send her on all these detours that come up, but I think itís a fascinating question. People are always going to send you in funny directions in your relationships.
Celia is so full of longing. Poor Celia is just trying to self-contain, but she canít. Thereís so much longing when you lose someone you love like that, especially in an idealized relationship. I think we spend a lot of time longing for love instead of working on the love we have. So, he died when their love was still in full-swing, and never got tested by age, or children, or boredom.
Itís crystalized -- like being stuck in amber.
Absolutely. Itís also a refuge for her, because what a great thing to have a love that profound, even though it ended when it did, and sheís holding on to it. And itís not a bad choice, because there could be many worse choices -- but is it a workable choice? What I love about Celia is that at the end, she doesnít apologize; sheís still going to do that. Sheís just far more open to lifeís currents.
Celia has this heightened sense of how she experiences loss, as a protracted experience burrowing within the self. Is this how youíve experienced loss?
I lost a really good friend to a car accident when we were really young. We were 19, and I felt very haunted by him. I could smell him, and I could feel him in the room with me. Iím 40-something now, and I still talk to him.
Then all the breakups Iíve had -- Iíve had a pretty tumultuous love life. New York City lends itself to that, especially if youíre people who are very engaged in your careers -- when do you find the time, or make the time, or stop time just to be lovers?
You either have to break up with your city, or break up with your career, or break up with your lover.
Right!... That feeling of death when you lose someone you really love, even if theyíre not dead, but youíre not allowed to talk to them anymore and yet you know all these things about them -- you know what they smell like, you know the texture of their hair -- you know all these things you wish you didnít know. What do you do with all that closeness? Theyíre effectively gone.
Do you think this elevated sense of awareness, of humanity, of presence, is very much a part of you because youíve dedicated yourself to a writerís lifestyle?
Probably. I think Iím really sensitive to the world, and I like work thatís acutely observed like James Salter and Mavis Gallant -- not only the economy of her sentences, but the emotional economy. Thatís alchemy. Itís not only teaching you how to write, but itís teaching you how to observe, and how to live.
But yes, Iím sensitive, and I have suffered deeply -- and Celia has suffered, too, and she tries to contain it and work it into the code -- and Iíve suffered in super-silly ways, but Iím human, and you canít experience it any other way. It hurts like hell, and I really donít like it -- and I donít recommend it on one level, but on the other level, absolutely.
I want to also touch on how Brooklyn manifests in the book, which is almost as another character. Is that merely a reflection of a way you see the city?
Our neighborhoods are kind of our refuges in New York. I picked Brooklyn Heights because I couldnít afford the West Village, and when I arrived here, I thought, Well, this is beautiful, and this will make my life, which seems a little too dedicated to work, a little more palatable. This can be a home. I think in the city, the neighborhood you chose is you saying, This is where I think I can cope. I have definitely chosen Brooklyn Heights three or four times over. I had an opportunity to move many times, but it felt like home. I know about the London Plane trees in this neighborhood, I know about the honey locusts in this neighborhood, I know which sidewalks I have to be really careful on at night because theyíre not even and maybe I have high heels on. I think in a funny way the block you live on or the building you live in becomes part of your standards.
Is separating work and play spaces for you an important distinction in your life?
Yes, in terms of neighborhood. I can look at Manhattan and say, Itís over there with its giant contours and its lights. Of course, now that I work at home, itís a little more problematic. But I was working long days at Playboy... and I think in New York City, the subway lines, the views you have, the block -- itís such a hard city to feel completely relaxed in that all these things become pieces in the puzzle youíre making of home.
Whatís your earliest memory of the city where it really comes alive?
Because I lived in the suburbs and came in, my mother bought me this crazy designer dress -- I think it was Norma Kamali -- and it had this strange red clown collar and this sash. I felt so beautiful and strange in it walking Sixth Avenue, and thinking everyone was looking at me, and I thought, This is New York, you come here to be on display. But now at the age I am and with this book Iíve written about a woman who does not want to be seen, who really aspires to be invisible -- itís really interesting to think about.
Do you think you could spend that much time again with a character who is as much inside her own head as Celia is?
It would have to be a very different set of circumstances. The novel Iíve started is very different because itís a lot of different points of views. Iím enjoying it a bit less to some extent because itís new, and you have to find your way in it. But if itís a city novel, there are going to be people who are self-involved and shut-the-door and neurotic, so probably some of that, but not to this extent.
Will I write another unreliable narrator? Probably, because we all are. You show up at a party and say, This is what Iím all about, but you go home, and youíre not doing that.
Do you think the city forces you to almost refine your sense of self in that way -- to figure out who you are through what you want to present?
I do, unfortunately. I think itís too bad, and weíve got to watch our business [publishing], because people develop personas and they no longer know what their private selves are. Even that ability to sit down and get pages done and write a book all the way through -- thereís so much performing involved. Itís a culture that loves this performative aspect with Twitter and all that.
Because this is a place where people come to be ambitious and itís a place where people come to be artists, itís kind of inevitable that you develop these rules of interacting with different people that you think are engaging or compelling or interesting. Iím not even sure youíre always aware youíre doing it. The danger is: whatís left for you?
Have you been as self-selecting with your company as Celia is?
I think most people would say, Amyís an extrovert. Iím not. The truth is Iím really very careful of the company I keep, mostly because Iíve got to get work done! Youíve got to be understanding that Iím not always going to show up because Iím trying to write or finish something.
Also, the city can make of you a neurotic even if youíre not -- and in the city thereís a kind of relish in being neurotic. I edit Jonathan Ames. Heís original, but he also canít help but remind you of Woody Allen in some ways. I love his form of neuroses. Itís funny. It also reveals all these fears, and itís very honest. The drama of self -- itís wonderful in certain ways because you can vent yourself. Itís also exhausting, so youíve got to decide.
What ďdrama of selfĒ moments did you have with this novel?
I was very concerned with people not confusing me with [Celia], because I am very different, and my life is very different. Thatís why I was worried about them putting this beautiful eyeball-face on the cover -- I was like, Please! Just make sure she doesnít look like me! I was just worried because it was an interior book from a womanís voice... and that people were going to think that was the only kind of narrative I was interested in. Of course Iím interested in it, I wouldnít have written it, but that isnít all the book is. It grabs you as a reader -- hopefully -- and tests you a little bit -- hopefully -- and makes you engage with language -- hopefully -- and there are more considerations than that. But as an editor with Byliner working with short fiction and short non-fiction that can go all the way up to 30,000 words, Iím constantly thinking, Who and what is this going to be about? I wasnít thinking that when I was writing it, but [I had to] when I was done and talking to an agent. So, my hope was that her voice and her form of rebelliousness and unreliability was interesting enough, and the sex, and how these two women collide would have enough of an undertow to overcome some of the things that I knew as a woman in this business might be a concern.
Mostly what Iíve been so surprised about is how people have responded to the book given my fears, and how theyíve received it versus criticized it -- especially from my point of view of being an editor in this business and being a little cynical.