A photo of Kelly Gray.

Kelly Gray’s Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife: An Interview


Congratulations to Kelly Gray for her upcoming memoir Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife, published by Quarter Press. Filled with beautiful pros, each story twists and recurs back on the stories told before it. Gray expertly blends themes of love and abuse, birth and rebirth, and death and life. Her words are complimented by Holly L’Oiseau’s stunning illustrations.

Some of the works within Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife spark like tiny flashes of brilliance—as in “The History of Flowers that Eat Meat.” Only a page long, this surreal piece depicts a strange sort of growing up. In the short space, a single word holds dozens of meanings: “I am bog blossom pretty, which is to say, not at all. My skin is fly paper sticky and boys think it’s honey.”

Other, longer works burn more slowly but are no less rewarding. In “Serenade Switchblade,” Gray artfully describes a relationship that descends from teenage infatuation to terrible violence. The last, powerful sentences of the piece grip the reader and won’t let go: “It tasted like the moment before you scream because I am prettier dead than any poem you’ll ever write.”


Kelly Gray (she/her/hers) lives in Northern California on unceded Coast Miwok and Kashaya Pomo land. She writes about what she knows or is trying to know; parenting, eco-grief, mental health, dead things, monsters, prophetic animals, relationships to self and others, and rural life. To learn more, visit her website.


To purchase Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife, go here.

We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Kelly Gray’s book. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.


Brennie Shoup: Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife is described as a “folk-told” memoir. Could you discuss what inspired you to write a memoir in such an unusual way?

Kelly Gray: I have always found genres to be containers that don’t fit my writing. The separation of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction (which can hold memoir) seems unnecessarily clinical to me. I hope to have a level of fluidity within my work which represents my beliefs around connection in the world. I want to share my stories while being real about the people in my life. When appropriate, I want to honor and protect other people’s experiences but still be able to say these are my origin stories, this is where I come from.

When I say folk-told, that is a nod towards all the storytellers before and after me, as well as the characters within the stories. Folk-told is my acknowledgment that we have these experiences together and I just happen to be the writer this time. For instance, in Sylvia, I was drawing from my work as an abortion and birth attendant watching families grapple with loss and the logistics of death, but the character Sylvia was coming up through me and my own witnessing of an infant’s death and my desires to be held more fully by my community. The life of Sylvia and William come from a careful folding in of years of experience and influence, told through the lens of fiction, because that is how we get to the fox, which is probably the truest-to-my heart part of that story.

BS: Your memoir blends humanity with nature, often through surrealism. Could you talk about why you chose to do this?

KG: It’s less of a choice and more of an acknowledgment of how I absorb the world. Specific images will take up in my body as I am move through the world. My writing process is often an act of personal translation, from imagery to sentences to stories. My first drafts are my attempts to understand myself—I am learning as I go. The act of revision is when I begin to mold what I’ve learned and through sound and syntax and sometimes trajectories, I get to relate it to others. It comes out as surrealism, or speculative, or fantastical. But I think it’s just where my brain is blooming pictures.

As far as the nature aspect, it may reveal as much about the reader’s place in the world as mine. It’s what I am looking at every day. If you don’t see it as much, maybe it stands out more in the stories. As I write this, I am looking at a wall of trees, and the creek below my house is so loud it sounds like a storm. I can see a raven on a tree and above that, in the sky, a kettle of turkey vultures are out warming their wings after weeks of ravaging rain. This is just what I see, and as a naturalist, I have learned a langue that allows me to name what I am paying attention to.

BS: The title itself—Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife—is eye-catching in its specificity, especially with the repetitions. Why did you choose this title for your memoir?

KG: I wasn’t intending to do this initially, but tiger paws and knives come up in several stories, starting with Frank the tiger cutting off his own paw in the face of domesticity. That is the overarching theme of the book: how much we are willing to cut out to find our more authentic selves? For me, apparently, it needs frequent repeating in my life. The titles ends up
being a mantra of sorts.

BS: Many of your smaller prose pieces deal with both love and abuse, as in “Coyote Story” and “Switchblade Serenade.” Could you discuss how you balance these themes as a writer, particularly in such short spaces? 

KG: This book was always more about the impetus for change as opposed to the change itself. In “Switchblade Serenade,” the main character had to die and be dead for some time before she realized she had been tricked into foregoing love by little affections. Of course, the reader sees it. The reader is like, “Sweetie, this is a horrible situation for you, you should bounce.” But she doesn’t—she stays. I think that is relatable because many of us are in a collective holding pattern with abuse right now.

Abuse is complicated because it’s often shrouded in kernels of what we need for survival. An abuser can make you feel good or can provide you essentials like shelter or income. You may not think you can provide these things for yourself, and sometimes that is true. For instance, this is why we must look at the housing crisis when we are talking about domestic violence, or why union busting tactics often include things dispensing really great benefits in the face of a mounting campaign. My writing is as much about the misconceptions of personalized love as it is about systemic abuse, because what I am really talking about is getting rid of what we don’t need, and that is hard to do when it feels so good, or is legitimately something that you need, such as a parent.

Writing is always an act of self-love because as writers, we are saying I am worth listening to. At the beginning of any piece, no matter how small the work, we have an invisible contract with our reader that says I am taking up this space and that requires some amount of self-love. From there, we can explore all the places love doesn’t exist, and I think the reader is able to go along for the ride because it is story, as opposed to living it or witnessing it in real time. The readers understands that at some invisible yet foundational level, love is beaming up through the work. Love makes writing about abuse palatable whereas the craft makes it engaging.

A headshot of Christina Vo

Christina Vo’s The Veil Between Two Worlds: An Interview


Coming in April 2023, The Veil Between Two Worlds, published by She Writes Press, is Christina Vo’s debut book and memoir. With a matter-of-fact and poignant voice, Vo lets readers peak behind the words to glimpse her life. With the loss of her mother at a young age—and a distant father—Vo details time spent trying to heal and find a place she can call home. She draws readers in with her keen descriptions of what “home” is or can be—both as a physical space and an emotional/spiritual one. Vo writes that home is “a place we find within ourselves—warm, comforting, and nurturing.”

The memoir itself recounts Vo’s journey with one of her closest friends—David—as they go on a roadtrip together from San Fransisco to Santa Fe. While they travel, Vo thinks back on her life and what has led her to this point. Ultimately, Vo’s memoir is a deep, hopeful contemplation on how lives intertwine.


Christina Vo is a Vietnamese-American writer. She has worked for international organizations, including UNICEF and the World Economic Forum, in Vietnam and Switzerland, respectively. She also owned and operated a floral design business in San Francisco. She has degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To learn more about her and keep up-to-date on her latest works, visit her website.

To preorder The Veil Between Two Worlds, go here.

We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Christina Vo’s memoir. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.


Brennie Shoup: You’ve done a lot of traveling, and you’ve lived in a number of countries, including the USA, Switzerland, and Vietnam. How have these experiences contributed to your writing? How do you see your writing in a global context?

Christina Vo: Yes, absolutely—I believe that our sense of place, where we’ve lived, the people we’ve met, and where we call home (can be multiple places actually) have an impact on who we are and who we become. I lived in Vietnam on three separate occasions in my twenties, and as I mention when I speak about a forthcoming project related to Vietnam, living there shaped my adult identity. I didn’t graduate from college and move to a city like San Francisco or New York; I went to Hanoi. At that age, meeting and working with people from all over the world, made me realize—there’s no ONE right way to live one’s life, and I think that ultimately shaped how I thought about my whole life and career—that it didn’t have to be linear. It didn’t have to look like anyone else’s. So yes, my perspective and my writing is inevitably shaped by my travels; however, I think the theme of place really comes in more with my second book.

In regards to how I see my writing in a global context, I remember a friend of mine, who is a Vietnamese writer, told me that if I started off with the Vietnam story, I might be pigeonholed as a writer who can only write about Vietnam. Of course, I don’t entirely believe that’s true; I feel as artists, writers and creators, as we continue to live, we will evolve. However, those words did stick with me. I specifically see The Veil as a story mainly for women who are navigating their paths, so that’s how I connect it to a global context, even though obviously, depending on where a woman is living in the world, she will face different challenges. 

But at heart, we all, whether consciously or not, go through the life questions: Why am I here? Why do I hold these wounds? What is stopping me from living my full expression of myself? How do I define myself, beyond the societal expectations of who I should be? And, how do I express the fullest version of myself? Essentially, I see that these questions, which drive this first body of work, are universal to some extent.

BS: You mention creativity and expression in your memoir. When did you know that you wanted to write as a part of your creativity? Have you ever experimented with other art forms, such as drawing or painting?

CV: I believe creativity and expression is fundamental to who we are as human beings navigating this earthly world. In large part, I would classify The Veil as a spiritual memoir, so I feel that it’s natural that creativity and expression come up and through the book as a theme.

I have always been drawn to writing but never really claimed it until the pandemic, and until I really sat down to finish this memoir. Writing has always called to me, even when I was a teenager and facing the death of my mother. I remember something within me saying, “Write this now. So that you can remember it.” Of course, I didn’t, but the things that are truest in your life will always find a way back in your life. And what I’ve learned is that you have to claim them or there will be this quiet dissatisfaction which might eventually consume you.

I have dabbled in other forms of creativity, from trying to create a sustainable handbag line while living in Vietnam and also working with local craftspeople in developing countries to bring their wares to market. I also often worked on small projects helping with interior decorating throughout my career, and of course, started blogs that I also stopped after some time. In my mid-thirties, I ran a flower design business. I was pretty much self-taught, but working with flowers was a huge part of my creative life and healing (and another long topic entirely). It was beautiful—and incredibly challenging—to work with flowers on a regular basis. It taught me a lot about the natural process of life and the powerful lessons of Mother Nature herself. 

BS: The Veil Between Two Worlds deals a lot with loneliness vs. connectedness. Did you notice whether any of your topics influenced the form or shape of the book itself? If so, how? 

CV: Thank you for mentioning that and for picking up on that theme of loneliness vs. connectedness. That’s actually probably one of my lifelong dilemmas that I came to this planet to grapple with. Bear in mind that The Veil was written during the pandemic, so I also believe the external factors of all of our lives (and the inevitable loneliness of social distance) was pervasive through the writing process. 

I had wonderful developmental editing support for this book and also benefited from a six month memoir writing class I took during this time. When I started I didn’t really know what it was about, I didn’t know the arc, and while the book covers a period of my own life between 40-42, a time of deep spiritual transformation, I didn’t want to tell the story chronologically, so it weaves in and out of that period of time and also has a heavy backstory with the interactions with my family.

So, yes, I think that topics did inform the shape, as when we’re experiencing something in the moment, it’s also inevitably related to something else in the past. For example, let’s say we’re facing an ending or a break-up of some sort, we will feel the pain of that experience but it might also trigger something that happened in the past, even a childhood experience. I do believe that is probably what unintentionally shaped the way this story is told—the moving between time, and as referenced in the title, between worlds.

BS: Do you have any other pieces you’re working on?

CV: Yes, I’m working on two larger bodies of work—both of which I’m really excited about. One is what I call an intergenerational memoir, which I’m collaborating with my father on. It’s about our very different relationships with Vietnam. For him, leaving the country he loved and lost at the end of the war, and for me, Vietnam was really where I became an adult in my twenties, having lived there on three different occasions. I feel it’s a beautiful book because it touches on universal themes—intergenerational trauma, father-daughter relationships, immigration and reverse migration. 

The second body of work is similar to the first memoir loosely based on my life, but I suppose it would be classified as auto-fiction or a semi-autobiographical novel. I’m really excited about this one because it focuses more on being a woman in the world today and grappling with identity, balancing the masculine/feminine within, and very similar to my own character—being a woman that’s not shaped by society (even though to some extent we all are) but by that I mean, not living based on other people’s expectations on how we should live.