Alyssa Graybeal: An Interview with the author of Floppy: Tales of a Genetic Freak of Nature at the End of the World (Red Hen Press, 2023)Alyssa Graybeal

Alyssa Graybeal is my friend! She and I have also been writing together in Ariel Gore’s Wayward Writer’s Literary Kitchen for a long time. She’s written a beautiful book. Here’s the blurb I wrote for it. “With a hard won and ever-present sense of humor, this is a powerful story with a cure for the ableism that ails us all.” You can purchase the book wherever you purchase your books!

What do you want readers to come away with after reading your beautiful book?

I’d love for readers to understand that, for people with chronic illness and disability, navigating social and cultural barriers is usually a lot more challenging than whatever is going on with the body. Social attitudes and beliefs–including those that we internalize–are the bulk of what we really have to overcome.

For example, why do we believe that pushing against a body’s needs is virtuous? The “no pain, no gain” mentality is really harmful; sometimes pushing too hard for too long is what causes a chronic illness to flare in the first place. 

Floppy is a scene-based memoir, and I wanted the exposition in the book to grow louder alongside my ability to reclaim physical realities in the narrative. The more I believed I could “push through” pain and fatigue, the less my life made sense to me, and the less ability I had to contextualize my experiences within social conditions. 

And for readers with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I’d love it if they came away feeling refreshed to see some of their experiences reflected. If it helps anyone to reclaim their own histories in the face of isolation or medical gaslighting, that would be amazing. 

Are you sitting down with another book and how are you doing that, as in, what’s your process for starting a new project?

One of the most challenging things for me is managing my time and energy. How do I do everything I want to do when I only have the capacity for 4-6 hours of anything per day? Especially since I’m also trying to fit my creative practice around a day job. 

My strategy is to be very intentional about only working on one creative project at a time. And right now, that project is promoting Floppy.

When I’m writing early drafts, I get hyperfocused. It’s my favorite part of the process, that blissful immersion. I usually know what my next project will be for several months before I start, but the ideas need to simmer in my notebook for a while. Once they bubble over with too much momentum to withstand, I jump in.

But I’m careful not to start a draft until I know my life can support that kind of hyperfocus. Like at the very least I can’t be having a health crisis, and everything else in my life has to be stable enough to withstand my disappearance for a little while.

Right now that kind of hyperfocus would cause problems. So I’m still writing around the edges of my next book. 

When you sit down to write, how do you get your pen moving?

If I’m in the middle of a project, I stick an unresolved story question in my head before bed. My brain works on it while I’m falling asleep or overnight, and by the next morning I usually have a line or two, or at least the seed of an answer. And I keep a notebook within reach so the answers won’t slip away into dreamland. 

On days when I have no idea where to start, drawing helps me wake up my creative brain. It gets me into play mode, which is when I do my most interesting work. By “drawing,” I also mean doodling or scribbling. Moving the pen across the page is the thing. Or I’ll go for a walk and record ten new observations. Even if that’s all I do, it’s important to have those details.

When writing feels particularly difficult, sometimes I’ll set a 25-minute timer. But if it’s difficult because I’m exhausted, I take a break and try to do something that feels fun. The pen doesn’t have to move every single day to make progress.

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