Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories collected in Amphibians?
A: Twenty years! I like to take my time with these things. The stories take place in Maine, California, Italy, Grenada, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. I travelled to some of these places and imagined others. The collection represents years of wandering, writing and evolving (I hope) as a human.
Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear in the collection?
A: This took a while as well. The stories are linked, so the characters’ progression had to make sense.
I knew I wanted to start with “Amphibians” because it’s set in Maine, on a lake, and provides the backstory for a recurring character. The final story, “Good Neighbors,” is also set in Maine, also on the water, and ends with a gesture of release. These bookends made sense to me.
But I fiddled with the placement of stories in between, which are (mostly) about cruise ship entertainers or expatriates working in luxury hotels overseas. The overall arc is about leaving home and returning home. And about taking control of one’s evolution—claiming some agency over outside forces. The book has a happy ending, I think.
Q: How was the book's title (also the title of the first story) chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: Ramona Ausubel, who judged the Leapfrog Global Fiction Contest, wrote that Amphibians is about “the sensation of feeling not quite right in one’s own skin, on land and near water, at home and abroad.”
I so appreciate this synopsis. (It’s hard to summarize my own writing.) Amphibians adapt easily, from land to water. This is how they survive. And the girls in this collection are taught, from a young age, the benefits of adaptability, of being chameleon-like to please others. When their “setting” demands a change, they can forget who they are.
The title is also a reference to the various coastal places in Amphibians--the prevalence of lakes and oceans.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: Again, I’ll rely on Ramona Ausubel’s eloquence here. She said that Amphibians “celebrates home in a cross-cultural way” and that’s certainly one of my intentions. She said the stories “invite contemplation of what it means to reside in a female form.”
There’s a lot about bodies in this book: the thrill and discomfort of transforming from girl to woman and how others dictate when this transformation takes place; the threat to a female body as it evolves from juvenile to adult; the difficulty of managing the expectations (and gazes) of others; how invasive this feels and how inevitable.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on two books. One is a futuristic ghost story—a novel. It’s speculative fiction, a different kind of book for me. (Paper has been banned; books are no longer published. The main character is haunted by a voice from her past.)
The other is a memoir/biography. I’m writing about my father, Stan Tupper, who was in Congress in the 1960s. He would have been 100 this year. He would have cried with relief, as I did, during the recent inauguration.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m excited about my virtual events for Amphibians. My local library (the Becket Athenaeum in Becket, Massachusetts) will host the first one on March 20, 1:00 – 2:00 pm ET. (The spring equinox! Seems fitting.) More events to follow. For registration links, please see my website www.laratupper.com or @laratupper.
I can’t wait to connect with readers—it’s the best part of “writing” for me, the chance to interact.
And my previous novel, Off Island, based on the life of Paul Gauguin, was just released as an audiobook. The narrator, Linda Jones, is fantastic. (Lots of salty language and she nailed it.)
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lara Tupper.