Friday, January 25, 2013

An Interview with Amy McNamara

Today I have an interview with Amy McNamara, who’s novel Lovely, Dark and Deep was beautiful. You can find my review of it here.

1. How did your background in poetry affect how you wrote Lovely, Dark and Deep?

Poetry has made me very aware of music in language. When I sit down to work, I read aloud what I wrote the day before. Poetry is a musical art form, more compressed than prose, and when you’re working in a compressed form, your choices — syntax, pacing, sound, even silence — become very pointed, deliberate.

For example, take a look at Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art. That first line,

”The art of losing isn’t hard to master”

evokes through rhythm and sound a sense of bluster, loss, disaster.

(You can read the entire poem here:

Poetry leans heavily on image for making meaning and it has taught me to be aware of my choices, to ensure my images are working toward my meaning, not against it.

2. What character in the novel can you relate to the most?

I relate to a few characters in equal measure. I was mourning a friend when I wrote Lovely, Dark and Deep. The nature of my loss was different, but to a certain extent I was experiencing some of Wren’s same shock at life’s callous expression of meaninglessness. Lucy the librarian has my dream job—a apparently fully-funded, beautiful library in a tight community. I related to Zara and her desire to coach Wren through the parts of grief where she’s beating herself up. And finally, I relate in some ways to both of her parents. I share Wren’s mother’s wish to have everything run smoothly, and if I’m being honest, I share some of Wren’s father’s desire for the kind of isolation that lends itself to really focusing on making.

3. In Lovely, Dark and Deep, Wren is from the city, but stays in a small town. Are you a city or a town person?

I’m a city person through and through. I love being around people; I love that my kids are just as likely to sit on the subway next to someone reading a Thai newspaper, or one in Cyrillic, as they are to sit near someone rockin’ out to something in their earphones. I was raised in a small city in the Midwest, but dreamed of New York early on. From time to time my eye wants nature, particularly the ocean, so I get out and refill with the rhythm of the natural world, but then I get restless and start to wonder where all the people are.

Lovely, Dark and Deep4. What would the playlist for Lovely, Dark and Deep look like?

It’s funny, when I write poems I can’t have music on at all. Maybe for me, the art forms (music, poetry) compete too much? But when I wrote this book I had almost a hunger for a soundtrack. That alarmed me at first; after writing for so long it’s strange when your rhythms suddenly shift. But there it was, this craving for music. I spent so much money on iTunes! I wrote at length about the music for a great British blog called BookAngelBooktopia. If you’d like to read it in full, you can check it out here:

I wrote Lovely, Dark and Deep in 2009, and the straight-up playlist looks like this:

1. “Waiting for a War” talking through tin cans, The Morning Benders

2. “Your Ex-lover is Dead” Set Yourself on Fire, Stars

3. “Simple” The End of Part One, The Violet Archers

4. “Last Leaf” Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go

5. “Zebra” Teen Dream, Beach House

6. “Burning Star” Mimicking Birds, Mimicking Birds

7. “Herringbone” In Ear Park, Department of Eagles

8. “Better than Worse” Has a Good Home, Final Fantasy

9. “To Be Alone With You” Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens

10. “Woods” Blood Bank, Bon Iver

11. “Deep Blue Sea” Friend, Grizzly Bear

12. “Honey Honey” The Reminder, Feist

13. “Under the Willow Tree First Rodeo, HoneyHoney

14. “Take Care” Teen Dream, Beach House

15. “Beach Baby” Blood Bank, Bon Iver

16. “Under and In Rocks” Mimicking Birds, Mimicking Birds

17. “We Are Fine” Tramp Sharon Van Etten, (with Zach Condon)

18. “Sailing By Night” A Johnny Glaze Christmas: Classical Snatches and Samples a Go-go 2003-2007, Department of Eagles

19. “Simple” The End of Part One, The Violet Archers

20. “Service Bell” Dark Was the Night, Feist & Grizzly Bear

5. What would you like readers to take away from your novel?

That’s a great question with an easy answer: grief is a complex constellation of feelings that run on their own timeline. Talking to other people who have experienced loss helps. There’s an incredible memoir of grief and grieving by fellow Warren Wilson MFA grad Meghan O’Rourke called The Long Goodbye. In her book, Meghan recounts the loss of her mother to cancer while also investigating what it means to grieve in modern America, how quick we are to want to tidy things up. She analyzes the so-called stages of grief and questions the utility of and in some cases the harm in turning feelings into illness when they don’t neatly conform to current expectations.

Thank you so much, Amy!

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