Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Q&A with Amy E. Casey




Amy E. Casey is the author of the new novel The Sturgeon's Heart. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Split Rock Review and Psaltery & Lyre. She lives in Wisconsin.


Q: What inspired you to write The Sturgeon's Heart, and how did you create your characters Howard, Sarah, and Jo?


A: I’m still learning so much about my own writing process and how it works. The mystery of creative invention is something that lurks deep in the subconscious, so it’s tough to point to one specific moment of inspiration, but I will say that it definitely started with the setting.


I’ve always been in awe of the North Shore of Lake Superior, which has held real magic in my own life. It has the perfect kind of power for a book like this, and my love for the place itself was the soil where the story germinated.


At its core, the book is about monsters–the physical, mental, and emotional struggles that we all try to conquer in our lives. The three central characters each reflect one of those categories, which I think we can all relate to… those fears about our bodies, minds, and hearts.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: It’s very common for books to go through many different titles on their way to the one that ultimately ends up on the cover, but this book has always been called The Sturgeon’s Heart, even from the very beginning.


The lake sturgeon serves as a narrative guide who appears at the start of each major section of the novel. He’s kind of the voice of the natural world positioned against the day-to-day concerns of our human lives.


The lake sturgeon, by the way, is a remarkable creature! It’s a masterpiece of evolution and another kind of monster in its own right, as the largest fish in the Great Lakes.


Even before I knew the full trajectory of the book’s plot, I knew there was something important about the story that could be echoed in the sturgeon’s history as a species. There’s an instinct and inevitability to the sturgeon’s annual movement upriver that parallels certain elements of the story.


Q: The author Peter Robertson said of the book, “I loved the poetic weirdness and stark sense of place in this gutsy first novel, from the first fluid transformations to the somber realism of the conclusion.” What do you think of that description? And did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it?

A: I take Peter Robertson’s words as a massive compliment! I try to work in similar ways to the writers that I most admire: right on the edge.


To me, one of the most exciting things happening in fiction today is fearlessness, especially when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what’s expected. You’ll see people doing this lyrical, high-concept kind of literary writing and blending it with the type of speculative elements that used to be regulated to pulp science fiction or fantasy.


People are still figuring out what to call this kind of writing–fabulism, genre-blurring, even “the New Weird.” If I’m in that camp, I’m doing something right. It’s a thing that excites me as a reader, and I try to create that excitement in my writing as well.


As far as whether or not I knew the end of the book when I started writing it, the answer is a resounding no! My husband can attest to the many long walks that we took together as he listened patiently to me agonizing over it, wanting so badly to get it right.


One summer day, we were enjoying a backyard bonfire while out of town for a relative’s wedding. I was listening to the birds with my eyes closed, and the solution just plummeted into my brain. I scrambled to write it down, and that was that. It’s my favorite part of the book. Endings are a big deal for me.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I hope it makes people think about the things we don’t see, either because we’re not around to see them or not paying attention. It’s a book that really focuses on the unseen small dramas that make up the world, largely without our notice.


These private struggles work silently in nature, in the way the earth turns or a tree weathers the cold. For people, they are the things happening behind closed doors, the things we don’t tell others, that we only admit to ourselves.


It’s the reason people never see monsters but still believe in them…we all have things about our lives that are unknowable. Why wouldn’t the world hang on to some secrets of its own, too?


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on another novel! It’s a new story, and I’m still in the earlier stages of developing it, but it’s about a world where the fine arts are on their dying breath, and an underground troupe of performers are trying to reckon with that. Essentially, I’m exploring the question of what power the arts can still hold in an imagined near-future world shattered by climate change and war.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: First off, thanks so much for listening! More about my writing journey and The Sturgeon’s Heart can be found on my website www.amyecasey.com


Second, I want to encourage readers everywhere to patronize their local independent bookstores. It’s such a great way to invest in something positive. These shops are hubs of literary community. Independent booksellers provide unique opportunities for personalized service, community outreach, author events, education, and other wonders that the warehouses could never provide.


If you don’t have one near you, pick your favorite city and find their independent bookstores online, or visit bookshop.org.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb 

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