What was the biggest challenge in writing The Ninth Wife?
When I first started, it was making Rory believable and likeable enough that Bess would consider his proposal. My husband was one of those people who told me the idea of eight wives was too far-fetched, that I should stick to half as many. I thought: what fun is that? I loved coming up with his back story. When I decided to have him tell his tale, in his own voice, it just kind of flowed. And the more it flowed, the more he became real to me.
But then, once I conquered that problem, others surfaced. The structure of the novel, for example – alternating the Bess and Rory chapters was a real breakthrough. Most of all, though, it was finding the motivation to stick it out with these characters. They felt like bad houseguests. “Get out, people! You’re annoying me!” I wanted to yell. I’d put the manuscript down for a month, then I’d start to miss them and invite them back. Also, my issues changed along the way. I started the book when I was single. But then I got engaged, married, pregnant, tired. By the end I was conjuring up old feelings that – albeit still strong – were not foremost on my mind.
Your first novel, Palms to the Ground, was a young adult (YA) novel. Did you find it different to be writing for an adult audience?
You’d think it would be different, but for me…not so much. Mostly because I didn’t write the first one with any particular audience in mind. That said, I felt more vulnerable writing The Ninth Wife. I couldn’t hide behind a 13-year-old boy. This time my protagonist was roughly my age and a lot like me. Well, not entirely like me, obviously. I’m pretty sure I have bigger boobs.
What’s your writing process like?
Sadly, I don’t have a writing process anymore now that I’m a mom with a demanding, full-time job. I try to keep a little notebook at hand to jot down thoughts and ideas when they come to me. If any of them translate into even just a social media status update, I consider that a successful writing day. It used to be that I’d write each morning in a comfy chair in a sunlit corner of my home, then I could still be thinking about whatever it was I was working on as I took my shower or walked to work. Which is to say, I write mostly in my head. But the real truth? I don’t really love to write. I like to have written.
My spell check says your name should be Amy Stools.
That was my name before I became famous.
If Cricket walked his dog, Stella, for .7 miles and Stella peed 5 times at an average rate of 1.4 ounces per second, making a puddle approximately 9.8 inches in diameter and 14 inches away from Bess’s size-7 shoe, how many wives would it take to physically hold down 465 unfortunate strands of Donald Trump’s hair in 80-mile-an-hour winds?
Are you glad you attended an MFA program in creative writing?
I really am, yeah. I had great teachers and made terrific friends, but what I loved most about the program at American University where I went is that it encouraged me to dabble in other genres, like screenwriting, creative nonfiction, translation, even scholarly writing on the pedagogy of teaching writing. These classes taught me a ton about new ways to see my fiction – how to write effective dialogue, for example, or pace my story or choose my words more carefully.
What are some of your favorite books?
Yikes, that’s almost too difficult to answer. I’m discovering amazing new books and authors all the time, particularly from small, non-commercial presses. Best advice I can give? Check out the Writer’s Corner on the NEA’s Web site. Read through some of the fellows’ excerpts and if any catch your eye (which one or more no doubt will), try a book by that author. It’s a great way to discover new talent.
I heard you sprinkled The Ninth Wife with actual serial spouses. Is that true?
It is. I think I dropped in the names of a dozen real-life famous people who’ve had at least five spouses. Some of them are more famous than others, like Henry the VIII (Rory sings about him in Part One) or Elizabeth Taylor (Cricket mentions her as part of Lassie Come Home). Others, like Norman Mailer (a cashier is reading one of his books in Part Two), you might not know about.
You talk a lot. And I noticed you have a deviated septum. Does that hamper your writing?
Not as much as my big ears.