EXPECTING SOMETHING ELSE, the debut book from Portland writer A.M. O'Malley, chronicles a childhood of mobile homes, lip-syncing contests, and donated clothes; of trying to figure out life with the guidance of a chaotic mother; of leaving home to find something else. We discussed how to write a memoir told through distilled poetic bursts.

MERCURY: When someone asks you about your book, how do you sum it up or classify it?

A.M. O'MALLEY: You know, the word "experimental"—I used to be shy about that word. To me, experimental is often equated with crap [laughs]. You know... shit I didn't understand or like. I'm so interested in the deeper emotional hit, and experimental work often didn't give that to me. And so I've avoided that word. But with this text it's unavoidable, it comes up.... Genre to me is a moot point—it's a way to sell books.

How did working on the book alter your perspective on the events themselves?

For me, writing is really a process of figuring out how I feel and think about things. It's a way for me to move past painful things, or to puzzle out what I didn't know. So I have people in my life who are like, "You never talk about these painful things in your life. You never talk about growing up as a child of an alcoholic and a drug addict." And I'm like, "Well now you can read the fucking book."

And your mom...?

Yeah, my mom doesn't know about the book. My hope is that she could read it and see the love and forgiveness. And also my own accountability... but I don't think she will. I don't think she can do that. Not because of her limitations, but just because I can't imagine my own child growing up and writing a fucking book about me. How awful. I'm so sorry, but it had to be done [laughs]. I just had to do it. I tried not to do it, and I just had to.

Expecting Something Else
by A.M. O'Malley
(University of Hell Press)
Reading with Kim Dower and Joe Wilkins at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne, Sun April 24, 4 pm, free