by Evelyn Somers
Amy Bloom’s credentials are as diverse as the characters that populate her novels. Educated in theater, political science and social work, she has published widely acclaimed fiction, a children’s book, and made a foray into nonfiction with Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude. Drawing on her experience as a practicing psychotherapist, she created the TV series State of Mind, a comedy/drama about psychotherapists, which aired on the Lifetime network. Her most recent book is Lucky Us (2014), and she’s at work on a new novel.
“I don’t read reviews. Not since I got my very first review for my first collection of short stories. It was in the New York Times. It was short, but very positive. And yet there was a sentence about one of the stories that I felt was a complete misunderstanding of the story. The fact that it has stayed with me for 20 years seems to indicate that I’m probably not the kind of person who should read reviews.” —Interview in Chatelaine
“I was the kind of reader in smudged pink harlequin glasses sitting on the cool, dusty floor of the Arrandale public library, standing at the edge of the playground, having broken a tooth in dodge ball, and lying under my covers with a flashlight. I read everything from the sentimental medical and mining novels of A. J. Cronin (a man who averaged 5,000 words a day) to the unnerving, delightful short stories of John Collier and Saki. My father’s post-World War II library was on the shelves closest to the floor. My girlhood was filled with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley (I still remember his piece “Have You a Little German Agent in Your Home?”), the very funny and angry James Thurber (especially ‘The Catbird Seat,’ a story that resonated deeply with the girl I was); Ring Lardner, whose work made it clear that you could love a group of people and make fun of them at the same time (‘You Know Me Al,’ much appreciated by Virginia Woolf). I was also fascinated by the Gesell pediatric guide: ‘The Child From Five to Ten,’ which I took to be descriptive and prescriptive, helping me behave the way normal children were supposed to.” —New York Times Sunday Book Review
“I still don’t know what—aside from a tremendous love of books and reading—inspired me to write, and I’m grateful for whatever it was. Although there are certain aspects of my training as a therapist that have come in handy as a writer (listening, observing, not jumping to conclusions) I think it is an interest in people’s stories, lives, and secrets that drew me to psychotherapy as a first career and to writing as a second. —Interview with In Capital Letters
“Two of my models for novel-writing are The Great Gatsby and As I Lay Dying, both very short books. I’ve never wanted to write a 600-page novel, not that I think there’s anything wrong with them. For me, there’s something exciting about being able to tell the whole story without anything extraneous. I tend to think: ‘Let’s tell the story, let’s get to it. Let’s serve the characters.’ I don’t have a wish to express myself on issues such as silk versus nylon or the origins of rice. There is some cutting. I mean, I don’t send it over to my editor at 500 pages, I tend to do it on my own. Rewriting certainly takes as long as the actual writing.” —Interview in The Guardian
“For me being a writer was not particularly glamorous because both my parents were writers. My mother was a housewife who had been a journalist and my dad was a working writer his whole life. To me a byline was not a sign you were glamorous, it was a sign you were paying your bills. It required consistence and perseverance and a refusal to be distracted — as a kid I didn’t think there was anything very appealing about that. It looked really hard. But I have to say, I really thank my father on a regular basis for a demonstration of the work ethic involved, and the fact you don’t just do it when the muse shows up.” —Interview in Chatelaine
“With the research for Away, I owed only my characters; the entire Western world in the 1920s was my garden. I could take the approach of some fiction writers, which is to reshape the world—from the number of bones in the human body to the number of suns that rise and set—or I could be a stickler for the kind of wood used in the high-heeled clogs of Venetian courtesans. I chose the middle ground. . . . I stuck to the facts when they served my story, and I changed small details of geography and chronology when they didn’t. I didn’t alter the way the world worked, and when, for example, I was exploring the ‘colored’ community of Seattle in the 1920s and came upon a 1927 issue of Seattle’s great African American weekly, The Northwest Enterprise (‘A Newspaper the People Read, Love, and Respect’), I knew that only a fool would try to improve on fact.
“I think the point of every sentence, every detail, factual or imagined, and every line of dialogue is to illuminate character and advance the story. Research has been, for me, a reassuring and intriguing line of luminarias.” –“The Writing Life” by Amy Bloom, Washington Post
“[In Lucky Us]I wanted to write about different aspects of World War II, including the bombing of Germany and the internment of Germans. It’s a rich period of change in America, and I would say that the seeds of change that took place in the ’60s and ’70s were actually planted at that time. There’s a parallel between the time my novel takes place and today, just as there is a parallel between Roosevelt and Obama. And if you want to be reassured, it’s reassuring to remember we have often endured a high level of uncivilized discourse and vitriol — Yes! We have!
Also, it’s a pleasure going back in time; it’s like going to a country, one not entirely unfamiliar but still different from your own. I like to do enough research to immerse myself so that it’s not as if I’m writing about another period but that I’m writing about the present as it unfolds in front of me.” —Interview in Los Angeles Review of Books
“Gender is not manufactured by the media. Gender is a real thing, and everybody has only one. However, the nearly demented insistence on the pink, the sparkly, and pointless for little girls and the blue, the gray, and the big wheeled for little boys does not help anybody grow up to be a happier, healthier, more well rounded and empathetic human being. The anxiety that most cultures experience over what is feminine and what is masculine tends to make peoples lives more narrow and more miserable.” —Interview at The Slaughter House
“No matter how small the farm, or poor the crop, you’ve got to take care of it, as best you can. Never give up. (Discard and delete freely; never give up and never condescend.)” —“Five Questions for Amy Bloom,” The New Yorker
Click here to read Evelyn Somers’s feature piece on Amy Bloom.
Author photo credit: bethkellyphotography.com