An Encyclopedia of Little Abominations

Emily Carter's flirtation with drugs led her from Park Avenue to a bad marriage with the festering streets of New York's Alphabet City. Now, in a collection of stories, Carter recalls the ABCs of addiction--and spells out the terms of a new life in Minnea

 

After an hour and a half of rest, Carter appears visibly refreshed, and apologetic for any irritability earlier in our interview. She even offers to sign my book, backtracking a bit to make fun of her offer to do so. It will be the first of many she will probably sign once her book tour starts. Her Minneapolis publisher, Coffee House Press, has heard that the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Village Voice plan to review the title, and based on glowing advance capsules, several paperback houses have expressed interest in the rights. Barnes & Noble has selected the book for its Discovery Program, ensuring better bookstore placement. At this felicitous juncture, it seems entirely as though Glory will get some.

As publication looms, Carter gears up for more interviews, and another trip to New York, where several readings are planned. Although New York is where she grew up, Carter reports that she has no notion of making a triumphant return home. "There's too many things for me there as a writer, and as a person. Quite frankly, I know where to get stuff there and I just don't want to be around it."

Teddy Maki

A decade ago, Emily Carter may not have suspected she would survive addiction, not to mention HIV. Yet medicine and Carter's nature--and maybe even a drop of fate--have conspired to keep her alive and working. Yet this now presents its own challenges: How many times can Carter retread the woeful path that nearly led her for good? And where to go next?

"My perceptions are expanding," she says. "There's a whole world out there. What I want to do is to write about it. I don't know anything else but my little world, my dog and my cat. As a writer, I need to feel that. For example, I wanted to write something about power; I am fascinated by electricity. Don't know how it works. Have to go on a tour of an NSP plant. Find out how the power grid works. That's part of the world that draws me into it. With Glory Goes and Gets Some, I just used the experiences and the body of knowledge I already had."

Carter's editor at Coffee House Press, Chris Fischbach, argues that HIV is merely one subject among many in the collection--and, as such, the step past her own story might not be a forbidding one. "You hear over and over that HIV is definitely not a death sentence," he says. "And the title story completely addresses that. The last couple of stories also address that same idea--living with it, and not dying with it. But there is so much more here beyond AIDS and I hope people see those things."

For her part, Carter remarks that she wouldn't mind if someone living with HIV or AIDS found solace in her tales, yet feels uncomfortable being identified publicly as a spokeswoman for the issue. "I would be appalled if anyone thought of me as any kind of advocate, because there are people who do such great work and are dedicated. I'd hate to be assuming martyrdom. In comparison to the truly awful things going on in the world about AIDS--you know, one in five people being affected in Africa, being unable to get drugs--what I have here is nothing more than a bad hair day."

And, in fact, Carter has been feeling decidedly upbeat recently. After seeking treatment for depression a few years back, she reports experiencing an emotional and creative renaissance. "It's difficult to describe the joy I felt the first day I was able to get in my car, take my clothes to the dry cleaners, and pick up a video without having to pull over to weep or smack my own face because I hated myself so much," Carter wrote in her Poz column in March of this year. "To even get through a normal bout of errands without becoming exhausted and confused was a triumph. "Hey," I wanted to shout to the world. "Get me, I took a shower, and now I'm actually leaving the house."

To what extent the publication of Glory's story will pull Carter--and her family--back into the morass of the past is difficult to gauge. "I don't even try to see with Emily beyond one moment to the next," Carter's mother says. "I know that people will see that she has a special voice as a writer. How she uses it, what comes next in her life, will be as surprising to me as it is to anybody else."

Carter seems to have reconciled herself to the fact that being in a family of writers means everyone feeds from the same trough of experience. Asked if she's anxious about the public response to what often feels like family business, Carter answers, "Yeah, there might be some of that. But what can you do? We're writers and that's what we do."

Carter shows her fiction to both her mother and sister, claiming that when they saw this book, "they responded fine. My mother did ask me to change a couple of things. Things she thought might be hurtful to my father, and I did so. I often show my work to my mother. It's nice, but at 40 years old I should also wind down the whole approval-seeking thing." She pauses, and then blows a neat stream of smoke through a winningly self-deprecating smile: "We're working on that."

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