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American Book Review speaker discusses experimental writing

By APRILL BRANDON
Oct. 21, 2010 at 5:21 a.m.

Flash fiction writer Amelia Gray, who was the speaker at the American Book Review reading series Thursday, is the youngest writer ever featured on the series.

Upcoming American Book Review speakers:Nov. 4: Ann Weisgarber, the author of "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree" and who is working on a novel about the 1900 Galveston hurricane

Dec. 2: E. Ethelbert Miller, a literary activist and the board chairman of the Institute for Policy Studies

Considering that Amelia Gray, 28, was the youngest speaker ever for the American Book Review reading series, it was fitting that the audience who came to hear her speak Thursday was composed mostly of the younger generation as well.

In fact, during the question and answer portion, a young girl who looked no older than 11 and was an aspiring writer peppered her with questions such as, what can a kid who writes do to be taken seriously? And, when did Gray start writing?

"It's a frustrating time in life at that age. It's horrible," Gray responded. "I would suggest finding a community, even if it is just a friend who writes too. There are communities out there for young writers. And don't be afraid to enter writing contests. There is no age limit on those. I started playing around on the typewriter when I was 6 or 7, but my first real writing was when I was a senior in high school. But I feel that whenever you come to writing, that's a good time."

The author of "AM/PM" and "Museum of the Weird," which was recently published through Fiction Collective Two, an independent press housed at the University of Houston-Victoria, Gray is known as a writer of flash fiction, humor and experimental works.

"Flash fiction is just a new term for an old tradition. It's short pieces, somewhere around 600 words and it's like a novel condensed into the smallest possible form," Gray explained. "So why do I do it? I feel a novel should be read in one sitting but that's hard to do if you have a job or a life. When I was reading 'Infinite Jest,' I just wanted to sit and read the whole thing but then I had to go to the grocery store. To really connect with the story, one needs to read it all at once and that's what makes short stories appealing. You read it, you have it and it sticks with you."

Gray added that flash fiction and experimental writing has been around a long time, from Aesop's fables to a 14th century Chinese experimental novel to even back in the times of early Egyptians.

"The traditional novel as we know it, the ones that shoot up the New York Times bestseller list, are actually the strange ones. Experimental writing has been going on a long time," she said.

Although she may be young and have a hot writing career that is taking off - "Museum of the Weird" recently received a glowing review in the New York Times - Gray does still have to slough her way through her day job as a marketing writer. So how does she manage to write fiction after writing for her job all day?

"At first, I was a little worried my job would kill my writing, but it helped immensely," she said. "It feels so good to write and get a paycheck for it, no matter what the words are."

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