Q & A with Amy Sue Nathan
Today we have Amy Sue Nathan, author of THE GLASS WIVES and upcoming THE GOOD NEIGHBOR, both published by St Martin’s Griffin. She is also woman behind the award-winning blog Women’s Fiction Writers, named one of Writer’s Digest’s Best Websites for Writers in 2015. Thank you, Amy, for joining us over here at WWWB! We’re thrilled to have you.
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the best place and the best time on earth. In a rowhouse, on a city street in a Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood called Oxford Circle, in the 1970s! Strangely enough (or not so much), a Northeast Philly neighborhood (although re-imagined) is also the setting for The Good Neighbor, although it’s set in the present.
What were you like as a kid? A teen?
If I remember correctly I was quiet and sarcastic. Looking back I know I had a limited worldview – as so many of did back then with three TV channels and no internet. I sometimes wonder if that was beneficial or a hindrance. I did have a penpal in Cardiff, South Wales (and still do, she’s one of my dearest friends since the early 70s) but otherwise everyone I knew was in Philadelphia. I even went to college there while living at home. It took me a while to realize how big the world was. (PS It is very big.)
I can fix toilets. Don’t ask.
Best meal you prepare?
Thanksgiving with all the fixings. And everything except the turkey is vegetarian! (Don’t tell.)
Do you always finish a book you’ve started or will you put one away you don’t like? Don’t worry, we won’t tell. J
I don’t finish a book I don’t like. Sometimes I don’t even give a book 50 pages, although I try to, considering I’d like readers to give my books a chance. (I try to do unto other books as I’d have people do unto mine. As they say…)
Book on your nightstand right now?
I keep Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass by my bed. I bet I’m not the only one.
Which writers inspire you?
I’m most inspired when I finish a book wishing I’d written it. The ol’ “why didn’t I think of that??!!” Today I’m inspired by Jess Walter because I’m listening to the audio book of Beautiful Ruins and the story telling and writing is just glorious. Pretty much perfect. The Italian narrator isn’t so bad either.
I have been inspired by Cathy Lamb for years now. I was a devoted reader and now she is a friend. After I read Henry’s Sisters I attempted fiction in first person, something I’d avoided because as a journalist and essayist, I’d only ever written in first person. I wrote The Glass Wives in deep third POV to remind myself that the main character wasn’t me. (I had sticky notes everywhere with WWED – What Would Evie Do – on them) But the novel Henry’s Sisters inspired me to attempt my own fiction in first person, because Cathy was (and is) masterful. The Good Neighbor is in first person, as is my third novel. I believe I owe that switch (which worked best for those books and feels very organic) to Cathy Lamb.
Your stories center on relationships and tug at the heart strings in a big way. Where do your ideas come from?
Target! No? That’s not what you meant?
An idea usually pops into my head in the form of a sentence or a paragraph or just the name of a character and the story evolves from there. I figure out what a story is about as I’m writing the opening, because I see, feel, and hear the main character. She tells me stuff. And things just happen. New people come into a scene. No one asks permission. Strange, but true. For example, the first line of The Good Neighbor was written long before the rest of the book. It popped into my head and rattled around until I wrote it down. I knew it would be the beginning of a book. For the emotional component, I’ve learned I have to just let it all be, let it go, let it out. Realizing no one sees it until I want them to really helps me. When scenes are tough I close my eyes and really just become the character, with no walls between us. Or between the reader and me. Not always easy, but necessary.
All that being said, unlike The Glass Wives, and my upcoming Book #3, The Good Neighbor also draws inspiration from a 1945 Christmas movie, Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck. What’s odd about that? I’m Jewish and so are all the characters in The Good Neighbor. (More on that inspiration as launch day draws near!)
What does your writing process look like? How long does it take you to write a book?
Oh wow! It took three years to write The Glass Wives before I found my first agent, then I rewrote with his help for a year, then another round or two of edits with my St. Martin’s editor once the book sold. So I guess for that initial “finished product” it was three years. For The Good Neighbor I wrote the book in about six months and then had a few rounds of editing with my editor. And I’m now writing book three…so I’ll keep you posted!
As for a writing process, mine looks like I drew it on an Etch-A-Sketch, while running a mile. On a trampoline. During an earthquake. So there are a lot bumps and starts and stops and unidentifiable markings. Right now I’m writing out of order, and using some sticky notes and index cards and a rough outline. I also have times when I write for hours and hours and hours and don’t stop and use nothing momentum. I always write a first draft that’s “light” (maybe 50k) and then I go back and fill things in, move things around, make a lot of changes. At that point I let someone else read it!
If you were to ever collaborate with other writers who would be on your dream team?
If I were going to collaborate and write with others, I’d end up with no friends! I am a solitary writer who wants everyone to be quiet. It’s especially difficult in public places (no one will shut up while eating lunch with friends, truly!) which is why I always write at home. Alone. Shh!
Which actors do you see playing lead character Izzy and her elderly neighbor Mrs. Feldman in the film version of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR?
Oh gosh, I am so bad at this. Know why? Because I never see my characters’ faces. Ever. I do think Betty White would be a great Mrs. Feldman. I don’t know any other actress close to Mrs. Feldman’s age. She’s eighty-five.
When I started writing Izzy I sometimes saw the essence or shadowy figure that resembled a short haired Anne Hathaway. Izzy is tall and I imagine her with long limbs. I have no idea if Anne Hathaway is tall or has long limbs but that’s what I pictured. Also, she’s someone who could be both serious and silly, like Izzy.
Salty or sweet?
Sweet. Unless I can have a dark chocolate covered pretzel because that covers both. Deliciously, I might add.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, but only in the morning. With half and half. I regularly try to like tea but I don’t. Not hot, cold, iced, chaied or anything.
Movies or TV?
TV. Old, new, smart, stupid. Just give me the remote already.
Eating in or eating out?
Depends who’s paying!
Dog or cat?
DOGS! I have two – and at one point I had three. I grew up with cats though.
Night owl or Early bird?
Early bird. I fall asleep while texting people at night. They’ve learned not to take it personally.
Advance Praise for THE GOOD NEIGHBOR - A heartwarming story about new love, second chances, and finding a place to call home.
“Readers won’t be able to resist rooting for Izzy Lane...” — Meg Donohue, USA Today
“…a tender, heartfelt story filled with lovable, delightfully flawed characters… perfect blend of heart and humor... Her wit had me laughing out loud.” — Lori Nelson Spielman, international bestselling author
“Characters so real, you’re glad you’re not them . . . until the end, when you want to be them. Sigh.”—Laura Drake, 2014 RITA® award winner
Thank you, Amy, for being such a good sport and indulging us. You are now an official member of the WWWB family. J We wish you all the best!