Author Interview: Amy Poeppel

Meet Amy Poeppel and learn more about her and her latest book, The Sweet Spot (Jan 31 2023 – Atria/Emily Bestler Books). 
From Amazon:
Amy Poeppel is the award-winning author of the novels The Sweet SpotMusical ChairsLimelight, and Small Admissions. Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe RumpusLiterary Hub, and Working Mother. She and her husband have three sons and split their time between New York City, Germany, and Connecticut. She would love to hear from you on Twitter or Instagram: @AmyPoeppel or at AmyPoeppel.com.

 

Amy Poeppel brings her signature “big-hearted, charming” (The Washington Post) style to this wise and joyful novel that celebrates love, hate, and all of the glorious absurdity in between.

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Happy to have you here, Amy! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your well-received, fresh story about family chaos (my favorite genre!), The Sweet Spot

Thank you, HenLit Central! I’m a reader, a writer, and a mom to three grown sons. I published my first book Small Admissions after I turned fifty, so being an author is a fairly new career for me. My latest book The Sweet Spot is a story about three women in New York City who do not know each other at the outset of the novel. As the story unfolds, the women find they have every possible reason to despise and resent each other. As Melinda deals with her rage over her recent divorce, Lauren with her sky-rocketing career, and Olivia with her need to get her messy life together, the women begin to bond over a common cause. I chose Greenwich Village as the setting for this book because it’s my favorite neighborhood in New York; it’s busy and noisy like the rest of the city, but quaint and charming like a small town. I put Lauren and her family in a large, unrenovated brownstone with rusty air conditioning units in the windows and a loud dive bar in the basement where all kinds of happenstance and serendipity can occur. I hope readers will find joy in the story, friends in the characters, and many reasons to laugh.

What seems to be the inspiration behind all your very funny and warmly written novels? 

The common thread through all four of my novels is probably my endless fascination with how well women are able to reinvent themselves in the face of change and challenge. I always ask myself: What if a character’s life isn’t what he or she thought it was? How can a character find the strength to move forward under completely altered circumstances? In my own life, I always try to find the humor in difficult situations because seeing the absurdity in life’s toughest moments always makes me feel better. We all need to laugh more!

When did it dawn on you that you wanted to become a novelist after spending time in your acting and teaching career?

I have always been an avid reader, and my time on stage as an actress and in the high school classroom as an English teacher allowed me to share my love of great stories. In my late forties, I tried writing a novel for the first time. I had a story in my mind, one based very loosely on some autobiographical curiosities about my grandparents, so I made up a story about an older couple in East Texas who build a house with separate his and her bedrooms. The book was never published, but I was able to find an agent because of that flawed manuscript. The agent asked me to put the Texas story aside and start a new book, which is exactly what I did. Small Admissions was published after I turned fifty, and I knew then that writing books that make people feel happy was all I wanted to do.

Fans of yours love your novels that focus on modern family life and love with all the messy stuff in between. Are/were any of your books based on family or friends?

None of my books are based on actual people; rather I come up with a premise (a messy, intriguing “what if” question), and I create characters one by one as I need them to move the story forward. As I begin writing I have no idea who these people are! But as I keep writing, I make some decisions about how they think, why they behave the way they do, and what their voice sounds like. It’s the best part of writing in my opinion! – Creating people, figuring out exactly who they are and how they tick, and then putting them in situations in which they’ll have to react, communicate with others, and find a way through. The reason I have to rewrite so much is because I seem to work out the particulars of a character after I’m about halfway through the book. So then I have to go back to the beginning and make adjustments to dialogue and plot based on my clearer understanding of the character’s psychology.

Have you always been so funny and charming in life as you as shown in your writing?

Oh, gosh! You’d have to ask my big sisters… 🙂

Which novel was the easiest to write? What about the most difficult? And why?

I have struggled with each novel I’ve written for different reasons! – I never find writing easy. The hardest part for me is keeping all of the various storylines aloft and moving forward, and making sure that every character is well-drawn so that the reader will come to love them over time, even with all their flaws.

My favorite genre when it comes to TV, series, movies and books is ‘dramedy’.  Do you feel your writing fits in with this genre? Why or why not?

For our readers, What’s ‘Dramedy’ Anyway? Read about it here!

I think my books fit squarely in the dramedy genre. As you said in the article you referenced above, “grief and misery are best paired with joy and humor” — That is exactly what I try to do in my novels! Melinda is enduring some very painful life circumstances in The Sweet Spot. But her outlook on the world paired with her mission of revenge create situations that will—I hope!—give reader a laugh.

In your latest book, The Sweet Spot, who would you cast if it became a movie or series?

The Sweet Spot on screen? How fun would that be?! I can imagine Allison Janney playing Melinda with John Slattery as her ex-husband Russell, Drew Barrymore as Lauren, and Zendaya as Olivia.

What line or passage in your new book, The Sweet Spot stands out for you the most? Do you have any other passages in your books that really stand out for you?

The Sweet Spot touches on our need for community and the joy of being part of a family, whether it’s a given family or found.  As Meg tells her daughter Olivia, “Each and every one of us will land in a crisis at some point, and that’s when we need to accept all the help we can get.”

In Musical Chairs, I wrote a long toast that the grandfather Edward delivers at his own wedding near the end of the book. I put a lot of thought and countless hours as I came up with the remarks Edward would share on that occasion: “Life is a perfect combination of chance and choreography.”

How long does it take you from idea to the time you finish your final edit on most of your books? Any secrets behind your process?

It takes me about two years to write a book. My process—binge writing for hours on end without getting up to walk the dog or get dressed—is a bit messy, so I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone. I think the only secret though is to sit down and put in the hours and hours it takes to write and rewrite a compelling book that has a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. The first draft will always be rough, but that’s okay. Editing is where the real work gets done: when you adjust characters, delete sections that don’t serve the story, and make the scenes more propulsive and the dialogue more believable. 

Besides spending time writing and traveling, what else do you love to do?

I love to spend time with my family, go to plays and museums, take walks with my dog, and read!

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

I love Terry McMillan for her ability to make readers care so deeply for her characters. Elinor Lipman, Emma Straub, and Stephen McCauley are such good storytellers and they create families that are flawed and fabulous and that feel very real. I also love Steven Rowley and Julia Claiborne Johnson for their humor and heart.

Any advice you’d like to give to aspiring writers today given the tough competition out there?

Find a smart reader/editor (not a friend or family member) who will give you harsh feedback on your early drafts. Be willing to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. And be patient!

For your loyal book fans, is there anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m currently working on a book about two families— one in Texas and one in Germany—who swap homes for a year as they try to escape their problems. It’s a comedy about Cadillacs and Smart Cars, scandal and embarrassment, reckoning and reinvention.

Thank you so much for visiting us Amy and for your sound advice that writing can be messy and involve lots of rewrites, so be prepared!

All the best with Sweet Spot!

You can connect with Amy here!

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