Exile in Guyville: Amy Lee Lillard on Her New Book and What’s Next


In the following interview, Amy Lee Lillard, author of “I am Not a Woman I’m a God,” featured in Volume 73.1 of Shenandoah, talks about her new book, Exile in Guyville, which comes out May 21. Read “I am Not a Woman I’m a God” here.



Can you tell me the story of this book of stories: When did you start working on it? What were some of your preoccupations as you were writing it? When did you know you had a full collection on your hands?


I started writing these stories back in 2019. I was deliberately looking for wild, weird worlds, and how they might show us something about our modern world. I initially thought a few of these would make it into my first collection, Dig Me Out. But those stories were primarily rooted in the familiar world of today, and they didn’t fit well.


So I pulled all six of these stories together in 2022. I recognized I was using speculative fiction to talk about gender in a way I hadn’t seen: exploring women’s complicity and collaboration in the face of oppression. Since Trump was first elected, I saw women in my own family support him, turning their back on other women to capitalize on the little power they had as white, working- and middle-class moms.  I realized these stories were taking that on, in a number of different ways, and fit together in a collection.



How would you describe your style or the literary tradition(s) you’re working in? I’ve seen the book described as speculative, as horror, as surreal. Humorous, haunting, poetic. What adjectives feel right to you? How do you position your work when you describe it, and what emotions do you hope most to invoke in readers?


All of those! I also like to think of my writing as weird. It’s crossing genres and borders to tell a full human story. Because humanity is just so weird. The times we live in are deeply weird. In my family, among friends, in communities, I’ve always been the weird one. So it feels right to classify my writing as an extension of that.


I also like to describe my writing as by and for the women who won’t smile. The ones who let their anger out, no matter that society demands they don’t. I love to hear women readers say the angry women in my stories feel familiar, satisfying and gratifying. But I also love to hear that they felt disturbing, disquieting. Uncomfortable. Then I know I’ve hit on something true.



Is there a passage you feel is a good representative of the book as a whole, or do you have a current favorite story? Can you describe a favorite moment or quote us a couple of lines?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the group of former Riot Grrrls at the heart of the final story, “Things You Say.” They’ve somehow gained an ability to act as Sirens; they open their mouth, songs from Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and other Riot Grrrl bands come out, and they can control men as a result. And they use that power to exact rough vengeance. But then the story morphs into another myth, and we see them truly come into their power.


I see myself, a middle-aged punk, an invisible entity, a GenX weirdo, in these women. And I bring a lot of my rage and dark desires to their story. It’s not pretty to look at, but I’m proud to give these women some power.



I’m curious about some logistics: How did you come up with the title? How did you find a publisher? What was your relationship with your editor like? What about the cover art (which I love!)?


All my story titles come from song titles. And in some way the story then interacts with that song. When I thought about the ideal title for this collection, I thought of Liz Phair’s 1993 album, Exile in Guyville. It’s a feminist redo of the Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. That idea, of retelling stories from our point of view, of our world feeling more and more like “guyville,” how the future feels like one of exile, made this the right title for me.


I submitted this book to the BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize, and was delightfully shocked when I won in 2022! That team has been extraordinary, with extremely light edits and wonderful support.


And that cover art? I love it so much. So so much, I tattooed it on my arm. BOA Editions has a partnership with local Rochester artists, where they bring original artwork into a gallery that authors can browse and select from. I spotted this original image by Marie Buckley, called “Morph,” and felt an immediate connection. It reminds me of Francis Bacon’s paintings, with the shadowed, terrible screams behind staid portraits. Looking at this image, my eventual cover, felt like looking into our inner world of rage and disappointment.


By the way – because songs and music are so tied into the book, and my other books, I made a Spotify playlist for readers to check out!



What do you have planned in terms of promotion or events when the book comes out in May?


I have a few events scheduled so far. In a truly crazy turn of events, I have another book coming out in June. A Grotesque Animal, from University of Iowa press, is a memoir about undiagnosed autism, generational trauma, sexuality, and much more. So I’ll be either combining events to discuss both books, or engaging in a few different events.


One event I’m really looking forward to is hosted by the independent bookstore Writers and Books in Rochester. In the virtual event, I’ll be speaking with Peter Connors, publisher at BOA Editions. You can register here.


Anything special you’re working on now or next?


I’ve been diving into the world of fiction podcasts, which is exciting, gratifying, and creatively challenging. I published my first show, Wyrd Woman, in January, and have another in progress.


Plus, my production partner and I are launching an audio literary magazine this summer. Midwest Weird is the home for strange fiction from Midwestern writers. Episodes release every other week starting in July. We’re accepting submissions now, especially for underrepresented authors who are intrigued by creating audio experiences with their work.


There’s a bunch more, and it can all be found at www.amyleelillard.com.

Amy Lee Lillard is the author of Exile in Guyville, winner of the 2022 BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize; A Grotesque Animal from University of Iowa Press; and Dig Me Out from Atelier26 Books. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Vox, LitHub, Barrelhouse, Foglifter, Epiphany, Off Assignment, Autostraddle, and more. She is the co-creator of Broads and Books Productions, home of the Fuzzy Memories podcast, the Wyrd Woman audio drama, and more coming soon.