It’s possible that if Amy Grace Loyd hadn’t served as Playboy’s fiction and literary editor for 6 1/2 years, her debut novel, The Affairs of Others, might be entirely different. Not likely, she says—but possible. Lushly written and suspenseful, the novel is about privacy and intimacy. Celia, a widowed landlord, becomes entangled in her tenants’ lives despite her best intentions to keep herself separate. It’s also about physical intimacy; about sex that is definitively not Playboy-esque.
And those two elements—sex and privacy—are a direct response to her duties at Playboy, Loyd says. “The job required of me all sorts of being out there in the world, lots of being on the phone, and lots of persuading, lots of wooing, because I had the other content of the magazine to overcome a little bit,” she says. “It wasn’t the Playboy of the 1950s and ’60s.”
And Loyd says the wooing was often successful, even if the general public missed her successes. “I was really hired to resuscitate, and I think I managed to do something of that,” Loyd, who has also worked for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, says. “Wonderful Denis Johnson wrote an original novel for me in four installments. It was called Nobody Move, but I don’t know if anybody noticed.”
But since Loyd’s career was so high-profile and so public, she longed for its opposite, finding it in her narrator Celia’s obsession with privacy and anonymity. “Playboy was a challenge, and it was fantastic, but it was exhausting, and I think the privacy that Celia longs for was a little bit of wish fulfillment for me and a little kind of rebellion,” she says. “I wanted to believe I could create a world of my own.”
And there was also the question of sex. Her male co-workers, whom she adored, joked about it a lot: “We had to make fun of it—it was the elephant in the room.” And, she says, they also loved porn; Playboy-style porn. Instead, Loyd wanted to portray sex between women that wasn’t staged, that wasn’t necessarily even about lust. “I wondered if two women could have a physical moment and be surprised by it and have it be about tenderness, about trying to rescue each other.”
The questions the book wrestles with, she says, are universal. “I think that’s something we all navigate to varying degrees: sex and intimacy, good behavior versus bad,” Loyd says. “Celia was a great vehicle, as it turned out, for me to look at all of that.”
Loyd says the book probably would’ve existed with or without Playboy, as the questions the novel asks have long interested her. But she admits that writing became a haven: “I actually really enjoyed my time at Playboy, and I don’t think I’d be the writer or the editor I am today without it, but there were tensions that made my needing that refuge and my enjoying the refuge of Celia and her odd world all the greater,” she says.
Loyd’s retreat is the reader’s benefit—even while maintaining suspense, the book still takes the time to hit psychological truths square on their heads, one after another. Those truths are the stuff of experience: Though Loyd researched the novel some, heading to the New York locations in which scenes are set and delving into the city’s history, she says most of her research was more personal. She talked to a few widows, but she adds, “I’ve felt widowed when relationships have gone awry and ended, because what do you do with all that intimacy and knowledge and tenderness, and where does it go? How do you heal something that feels so irretrievable?”
Loyd often worked on the novel on the subway in New York, on what she calls the slowest train in the city, the R train. She commuted into work after rush hour and stayed till 8 or 9 p.m. While on the train, she’d read manuscripts, and she’d write. It took her somewhere between three and four years to finish The Affairs of Others, but that was due to that fact that she was not only busy with other work, but she also had her inner editor to deal with.
“There was an editor in the process looking sternly at the other me and saying, ‘What the hell is this sentence?’ ” Loyd says, laughing. She adds that being an editor has both advantages and pitfalls for her writer-self. “If I weren’t an editor I would still be exacting, but I wouldn’t necessarily have all the words for why I need to be that exacting, but I do get really cross at myself, and that slows me down.”
But Loyd has always been both editor and writer. She nearly published a debut back in 2005, for Pantheon, but at the last minute, the deal fell through. “It was something internal,” Loyd says. “Someone there didn’t like it, and I just put it away.” She was hurt, but she kept writing, although she worried about what kind of writing she wanted to put out there, in public.
The other potential problem about simultaneously editing and writing is that Loyd edits “lots of very established, very beloved people.” She stresses that “it’s their work that comes first.” She doesn’t go to work thinking, as she puts it, “ ‘Oh, God, Margaret Atwood, it’s such a burden for me too, the semicolon issue.’ I feel like it’s my choice as an editor” to keep her own writing life separate from that of the authors she edits.
Loyd still juggles both jobs, both selves, in her current position as executive editor at Byliner, Inc., the online platform that started out delivering single-serving nonfiction essays and has since expanded to publishing fiction, from short stories to novellas.
“It’s still improvisational, and there’s still a lot of experimenting” at Byliner, she says. “It’s wonderful to be free from ‘you’ve got to cut it to make it fit.’ ”
In her other job, Loyd is at work on a new novel about a migraine doctor, which she says involves much more research. Loyd has suffered from migraines since she was 4. “I wanted it to be an investigation into this thing: You want so much to help someone, to make them feel better, and often you can’t,” she says. She’s not certain whether she’ll tell the story in first person, but she knows that this story too will marry psychological questions with human, even erotic elements. “I’m a little daunted,” she says, “but I hope I can pull it off.”
Jaime Netzer is a writer and editor living in Austin. She was the 2012-2013 Clark Writer-in-Residence at Texas State University and her fiction has been published in Twelve Stories and Corium Magazine.