frequently asked questions
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.
Speaking of pregnancy, would you say the process of “conceiving” a novel, “carrying it to term” and “giving birth to it” has been pretty much exactly the same as having a baby?
Why yes, exactly the same. I’m pregnant with my second, and around my due date, I plan on clicking a button and downloading my newborn. I’m hoping the new e-baby upgrades have built-in butt paste.
Btw, can I take this opportunity to ask a favor? You know how, when you have a baby, everyone remarks how cute he/she is, even though he/she might look like a pissed-off Yoda? It would be lovely if everyone – especially reviewers – could take that approach with my novel while I’m still pregnant. At least until my hormones are back to normal and I can once again drink alcohol.
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’m not sure I have a writing process anymore now that I’m a mom with a 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 Facebook 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, several of whom are still writing buddies (two are in my writing group), 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 excerpts from our fellows 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.
But okay, in an effort not to be vague about my own taste, I’ll name a few (more commercial) favorites here: George Saunders’s Pastoralia, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Nabokov’s Lolita, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Jon Stone’s The Monster at the end of this Book, and Shel Silverstein’s Don’t Bump the Glump. Wait, there’s also Garcia Marquez, Jose Saramago, Chekhov, Akhmatova and Dean Young (oops, those last two are poets) … oh, and did you ever read Nora Okja Keller’s trilogy about Korea’s outcast children in the wake of the American invasion? Chilling. I should also mention John Irving’s early books because they made me want to try writing. Also, David Foster Wallace’s essay in the January 1996 issue of Harper’s Magazine called “Shipping Out,” which has to be the most vivid and hilarious piece of humor writing out there. You’re right, it’s not a book, but it’s so so good, and made me want to meet him. (Which I did, years later, in one of the highlights of my career.) I really could go on, which I’ve been known to do, but I’ll stop.
Instead, maybe I’ll mention some of my favorite movies, tv shows, and musicians. Let’s see there’s LOST, True Blood, Flight of the Conchords, and Dexter … The Graduate, Harold and Maude, and anything written by Charlie Kaufman or directed by the Coen Brothers … for music there’s The Crane Wife by the Decemberists and Sleepless by Kate Rusby … and, and, and ….
You talk a lot. And I noticed you have a deviated septum. Does that hamper your writing?
Not as much as my big ears.
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.
Can you tell us the names of the others?
Invite me to your book group and I’d be happy to.