Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Q&A with Amy Neswald




Amy Neswald is the author of the new novel-in-stories I Know You Love Me Too. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Rumpus and The Normal School. She worked as a wigmaster on Broadway, and now teaches creative writing at the University of Maine in Farmington.


Q: What inspired you to write I Know You Love Me Too, and why did you decide to write it as a novel-in-stories?


A: The first story I wrote was "Friday Harbor" and I thought it was a one off. After I showed it to my friend and mentor Tom Paine, he suggested that I read Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout.


At that time, I also revisited J.D Salinger's short story collection. Having been a fan of Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Franny and Zooey, I fell in love with the idea of being able to tell characters' stories at key points through the lens of time. 


Originally this was going to be Ingrid's story with Kate as a character in Ingrid's life, with no "on-stage" life of her own, but when I wrote "Sweet Jesus," I started thinking of Kate's life and how Ingrid thinks she's perfect and what a burden that would be.


I began wondering what she thinks of Ingrid and their relationship. Kate helped me realize that these stories are not only about an artist afraid of never finding her voice, but about sisters and how relationships grow over time and find their voice as well.


I think I decided this was truly a novel-in-stories when Kate revealed herself to me as a character in need of a voice. 


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Ingrid and Kate?


A: Their relationship is fraught for many reasons. There's the linear age gap of eight years, and then the subsequent death of their shared father when Ingrid is 20 and Kate is 12. Both sisters have really different experiences and memories of their father and very different ways of grieving the loss over time.


For me, this is one of the main reasons for the tension between them. They simply had very different experiences with a primary influence in their lives and can't agree on who he was. 


The sisters love each other, though Kate seems to be the only one who can express the love in healthy ways. She admires Ingrid deeply and at points wishes to be like her. She also knows that Ingrid is cold and shy and incapable of effusiveness.


Ingrid often dismisses Kate, since on the surface Kate's life looks easy, but truly she loves Kate and by and by comes to let Kate in.


For me, Ingrid is protective of her feelings and her art. She keeps her cards close. Throughout the stories, she is reticent to let people love her. And yet, for her the biggest shift is opening herself up to love. And Kate finally, if subtly, allows herself to be vulnerable and raw.


Q: The stories are told from different characters' perspectives. Can you say more about how you developed the book and the points of view you examine?


A: When I first started writing the book, I had no idea how it would develop. Sometimes, I was simply working on another character in another story unrelated to Kate and Ingrid and saw an opening in which I thought one or both of the sisters could play a role. 


When I realized I was writing a novel-in-stories, I started to think about what points in each of their lives I wanted to investigate so that the reader could get a sense of lives lived and fill in the years between. At that point, I started making more informed decisions about what characters I needed to help tell the story. 


Q: The writer Judith Claire Mitchell said of the book, "I thought sometimes of Elizabeth Strout's work while I read, but even more of Laurie Colwin's linked collection Happy All the Time..." What do you think of those comparisons?


A: I'm honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Elizabeth Strout and Laurie Colwin!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on way too many things right now.


I'm into a fourth draft of a novel and hoping that it'll be good enough to start asking readers for notes.


I'm also conceiving a novel based on [French chemist] Marie Ann Paulze Lavoisier. I'm not sure where that will go, but I'm in the early stages of research.


Lastly, I'm working on a few short graphic memoir pieces to experiment with the form and see where it'll take me. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I want to thank you, Deborah, for reading the book and sharing it with your readers. I'm deeply grateful for all the people who helped make this happen.


Some people think that writing is a solitary act, but it's really not. It takes so many people to help create a book. And then, of course, it's the reader who completes it. So simply: thank you. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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