Amy Koppelman is the kind of person who, after you admire a hairpin of hers, takes it out of her hair and gives it to you (I know because I still love that red clip.) She's also one of the most talented writers around. She's the author of A Mouthful of Air, and I Smile Back (soon to be at theaters everywhere and on demand, starring Sarah Silverman. You can watch the trailer here. ) And her new novel, Hesitation Wounds is a devastatingly brilliant look at psychiatry, the people we love and lose, and depression.
I always want to know what was haunting you when you started to write this novel? And while you were writing, did you feel more haunted--or less?
I never know what I’m going to write about when I start writing. I know the feeling I’m trying to figure out and the character but I don’t know the story. When I started I Smile Back I knew I wanted to write about fear, and the ways in which we negotiate with our fear and about inheritance, what we inherit from our parents besides height and eye color or, I guess the better or rather simpler way to say it is I was trying to figure out what is the legacy of mental illness. Can it be avoided or are we forced to repeat the trauma? Laney repeats the trauma almost as if to understand she needs to inhabit it.
What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out, or try to bribe the muse?
When I start writing I just write without any agenda if that makes sense. (There are long stretches of time when I don’t write. Usually I’m reading then. I don’t read and write at the same time because I don’t want to accidentally start mimicking the voice in the book I’m reading.) I write and write, on and off, for days and years until I write a scene that clarifies it for me-that reveals what it is I’m writing about. Then I go back and look at all the pages and pages of writing and between the crappy, awful, embarrassing writing I find sentences--sentences that when linked together tell a story. It’s really quite amazing because it’s all there-the subconscious is a powerful, powerful thing. After I gather up any writing that’s salvageable I start over. It’s daunting and frustrating because after four years I may only have five thousand words but the second time through is easier. In my second draft, I know the destination-what I’m writing toward.
Your language is just exquisite, so here's a chicken or the egg question for you--what comes first for you, the story, the character or the language?
The character and her feelings come first to me if that makes any sense. All I know going in how my protagonist’s heart hurts (the way she’s feeling) but I don’t necessarily know why. That’s part of what I’m trying to figure out I guess. How and why we find Julie, Laney, Susa (those are my three protagonists) where we find her when the story opens and where she’s going to go from here and why.
Your fabulous book I Smile Back, is a film starring Sarah Silverman which will be coming out this fall. How strange was it to see your book transformed into film?
What was the hole process like for you?
Watching Sarah inhabit Laney, (a character that I carried around in my head for years and years) was surreal. I Smile Back, is a very interior novel. It’s not something that lends easily to film. Paige Dylan (my screenwriting partner) and I had to eliminate scenes and locations for budgetary reasons. But all the pain: the crippling anxiety, self-doubt and shame Laney feels in the novel – it’s all up there on the screen. Sarah came to set, day in day out, with a willingness to access the darkest, ugliest, saddest parts of herself and by doing so she was able to capture every nuance of the character. And I am just so grateful.
What's obsessing you now and why? And will it find its way into your work?
I’m spending the majority of my days getting word out about my new novel, Hesitation Wounds (It’s coming out November 3rd on The Overlook Press). I’ve been reaching out to readers, writers, reviewers, librarian’s, bloggers, booksellers…fiction lovers like me. Hesitation Wounds, took me over eight years to write so I’m just trying to give it the best shot I can. I guess the best way to say it is right now I’m in the business of shameless self-promotion. Gosh-that makes me sound like a terrible person. But it’s just so hard to get people to read. Especially if they don’t know you wrote a book. So thank you Caroline! Getting to be on your blog is a big deal!