Monday, August 17, 2020

Q&A with Amy Poeppel

Photo by George Baier
Amy Poeppel is the author of the new novel Musical Chairs. She also has written the novels Small Admissions and Limelight, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The Rumpus. She lives in New York City and Connecticut.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Musical Chairs?

A: I love stories that bring family and friends together in heightened circumstances, whether it’s for a funeral, a wedding, a vacation, or a retreat.

I remember watching The Big Chill back in the day and later reading books like Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You and appreciating how funny, poignant, and entertaining those kinds of stories can be, especially when adult children are returning home and family members and old friends are reuniting, bringing their own problems along with them.

I have a house in Connecticut, much like the one in Musical Chairs, and I decided to place my fictional family there during a summer in which all the characters’ lives are getting rearranged.

I wanted to write a book set in Litchfield County, in part because the atmosphere is such a contrast to life in New York City, which is only two short hours away. And I wanted the house itself, neglected as it is, to play a big part of the story.

Q: The book has a large cast of characters--did you organize the book's structure before you started writing, or did you add characters and points of view along the way?

A: About halfway through the drafting process, after I had all of the characters assembled, I decided the book needed a structure that both served the narrative and also reflected the musical world of the characters.

I decided to write the chapters in trios, so that the two main characters Bridget and Will would each take a turn, and then the third chapter would be given to one of the supporting characters who would step in to tell the next part of the story.

Once I had the structure in place, it was great fun to determine which character would chime in next, asking myself whose voice was most needed. By the end of novel, the reader has heard from everyone in the family and from a few significant others as well.

Q: Why did you include music as a major focal point of the book?

A: My children are extremely musical, and while I have no talent or skills of my own, I have so much respect for musicians, for their discipline, their creativity, and their persistence.

I wanted my two main characters not only to be best friends, but also to have built an enterprise together. I decided to make them two-thirds of a classical piano ensemble — The Forsyth Trio — giving them the constant problem of having to replace the third member (the violinist) over the years.

The chemistry shifts for them, depending on who fills the empty chair, but Bridget and Will remain steady.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Will and Bridget?

A: One of the most important elements to the novel Musical Chairs is the friendship between Bridget and Will. I wanted to explore the idea of a male-female friendship, one in which there is nothing preventing the couple from becoming something other than platonic, and yet they have never been involved romantically.

Having been friends for three decades, Bridget and Will undergo major life upheavals throughout the novel, and the reader will have to see if their relationship can withstand the various changes.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently writing a novel about four women in New York City who range in age from 25 to 80.

After a terrible divorce, an unfair firing, and a very poorly planned children’s party, these characters—each having very different life experiences and every reason to mind her own business—put aside their differences and join forces when a baby, belonging to exactly none of them, lands on their collective “doorstep.” 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I really miss meeting and talking to readers in person! It is so strange to release a book in these frightening times, but I hope Musical Chairs will give readers an escape in a fictional world and a chance to get lost in their stories.

If anyone would like a glimpse into how much of myself ended up in my novel, please watch the book trailer I made with my family. I hope it gives you a laugh! Link:

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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