Midwestern Gothic staffer Katie Marenghi sat down with author and editor Laura Relyea to discuss Southern vs. Midwestern regionalism, the rise of the guerrilla bookstore, Ke$ha, and more.
Midwestern Gothic: First things first, what is your connection to the Midwest?
Laura Relyea: The heartland and I hadn’t crossed paths much before In the winter of ‘96 when my family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to the suburbs of Chicago. At the time I had only seen snow once. I had certainly never seen three feet of it. We drove up through a blizzard.
When I found out that I still had to go to school despite the snow coming up to my chin?
I met some of my best friends during my tenure there though (despite being ridiculed for my Southern accent). Chicago and I still have a love-hate relationship. I spent a lot of time shivering. The spring and summers were much kinder.
Then we moved to Southern Indiana (stress on *Southern*). We were a stone’s throw from Kentucky. In fact, it’s common in that part of the state to cross the state line to save money on gas. I went to high school there and it was pretty picturesque. Lots of cornfields (and corn-fed folk, and therefore a lot of people much taller than me). From there I went to college at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana and had the time of my life (though the shivering started up again). That’s where my love of small press lit blossomed. A lot of things started there.
MG: As a writer who spent a good amount of time in the Midwest and who now lives in the South, how do you think regionality plays into literature?
LR: It plays a large role, and that makes perfect sense—each region of the United States has a completely different culture. Culture influences every aspect of writing, whether the writer is cognizant of it or not – voice, tone, setting, characters, etc. etc.
MG: You are clearly very active in the publishing scene in your area, how would you describe the overall literary scene in Atlanta?
LR: It’s beautiful. There is such a wide variety of successful reading series here—True Story!, Scene Missing, Write Club Atlanta, What’s New in Poetry, Solar Anus, Vida Voce, LostintheLetters, to name a few. The first-ever Letters Festival is right around the corner (AND HOLY HELL—the line up on that thing is something of a dream to me). It’s thriving and growing here. There are constantly new authors coming into town, or moving into town. It’s a beautiful time to be here and be involved.
MG: A lot of independent bookstores are struggling due to the economy and the rise of ebooks. What do you think makes a guerrilla bookstore like Vouched Books successful in this climate?
LR: It’s such a grassroots effort, I think that resonates with any community—San Francisco, Austin, Indianapolis or Atlanta. Also the fact that our books offered are so curated and that our inventory is so finite. People get overwhelmed by excess. The fact that we can recommend every book on the table helps our customers a lot.
MG: You’ve been the editor-in-chief of Vouched Books since 2012 and have now come out with your own book. How has being on the editing side influenced your writing?
LR: I editing work outside of your own is great exercise for any writer. A number of the stories in All Glitter, Everything are homages to small press authors that I have met through Vouched, so that’s another way Vouched made its mark – just by giving me access to the community at large.
MG: Can you tell us a bit about your book, All Glitter, Everything?
LR: All Glitter, Everything on its surface is a collection serial character-based flash fictions/prose-poems about the popstar Ke$ha. Each story is an homage to a different influential woman in my life.
MG: Your inclusion and portrayal of Ke$ha is fascinating. How did you go about taking on such a controversial figure in pop culture? Was it an intimidating subject to approach, or made easier by the fact that Ke$ha’s persona is so accessible?
LR: Well, Ke$ha’s persona is just that – a persona, a facade. I highly doubt she’s ever actually brushed her teeth with Jack Daniels. Initially it felt like I just picked her at random, in lieu of using the actual names of the women who the stories were about. The more I dug in the more I realized that Ke$ha herself was necessary. Her public image embodies a lot of things that scared me about womanhood. The narrator’s own fear and curiosity of that persona kind of drive the plot along.
MG: Much of the advanced praise draws parallels between the Ke$ha in your book and yourself as the author. Was this something you intended? What’s one quality you like to think, or maybe one you’re afraid to admit, you share with Ke$ha?
LR: Ha. No, that was not intentional. We all have something in common with Ke$ha, whether we want to or not. I think what I admire about her the most is her fearlessness, her recklessness. But that’s probably because I am neither fearless nor reckless.
We both really love glitter? Or at least, I do now…does that count?
MG: You were described in another interview as a “bibliophile.” How does it feel to now come out with your very own book?
LR: Surreal and slightly addictive.
MG: It sounds like your involvement in the literary community stems from a true love of reading. What book can you recommend to us right now?
LR: Non small press-wise, I recently read Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Battleborn by Clair Vaye Watkins and loved them both. But keeping with my roots – Kim Henderson’s The Kind of Girl is pretty incredible as is Amber Sparks’ and Robert Kloss’ The Desert Places. I’m really excited for Kate Sweeney’s American Afterlife and Ravi Mangla’s Understudies.
MG: What’s next for you?
LR: I’ve got a couple of longer-form ideas in the works that I’m really excited about. Lots more work with Vouched on the horizon, as always.
Laura Relyea is a writer in Atlanta, Georgia. She has reviewed books for PASTE, Creative Loafing, Fanzine, PURGE Atlanta, and elsewhere. She is also the Whipcracker and Momentum Chief of The Inman Park Squirrel Census, a venture that was named one of Kickstarter’s Best of 2012. Her fiction and poetry have been published by NAP, Monkey Bicycle, Coconut Poetry, BULL, and Necessary Fiction. Her chapbook, All Glitter, Everything, was released by Safety Third Enterprises in October 2013.