Sunday, February 19, 2023

Amy Poeppel

Amy Poeppel is the award-winning author of the novels The Sweet Spot, Musical Chairs, Limelight, and Small Admissions. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Literary Hub, and Working Mother. She and her husband have three sons and split their time between New York City, Germany, and Connecticut.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I thought of the title for The Sweet Spot early in the process of writing this book. I wanted a title that worked on multiple levels, and most importantly, one that set the right tone for the novel. Greenwich Village, the setting of my story, is in many ways the sweet spot of New York City; it’s beautiful, a little gritty, and very lively at any time of day or night. In the novel, there’s a dive bar in the basement of the family brownstone called The Sweet Spot, and it’s a place where all manner of fun and happenstance can occur. The many characters in the novel are trying to find their own sweet spots, the exact place where “duty and delight” converge, as Thomas Mann said.

What's in a name?

I love coming up with character names – and I often change quite a few once I realize the names don’t quite fit the characters as well as I originally thought. I spend a lot of time naming my characters, even the pets. (In The Sweet Spot there’s a hamster named Pixel, a dog named Bumper, and a deceased guinea pig named Milkdud.) Two children in the book, Waverly and Horatio, are named after streets in Greenwich Village as both a tribute to the neighborhood and as a kind of wink to highly original names. How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel? I think my teenage self would be quite surprised! My book is irreverent in ways that my rebellious younger self would definitely appreciate.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings much harder to write than beginnings. I rewrite my endings over and over again to make sure I have the exact mood and closure I want for that last chapter, last paragraph, last sentence. In The Sweet Spot, Felicity is our (3rd-person) narrator for both the prologue and the epilogue, the only two chapters I wrote from her perspective. I had to balance my desire to give all the characters satisfying outcomes, while having Felicity, a woman who is wonderfully ambitious but also quite egotistical, stay true to herself. The question was could a hint of her potential warmth come through in the very last moment?

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Some of my characters are a lot like me. I write about women of all ages and want to show them as they find humor and strength in difficult situations. I’m the kind of person who needs to laugh, even when I’m upset about something. I always try to keep my sense of humor in the face of absurdity, hardship, and even pain. Like my characters, I’ve had to reinvent myself many times in my life.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was inspired during my formative twenties by female-centered movies of the late eighties, stories in which strong women are in situations that force them to start over, rethink their choices, and rebuild their lives. I remember watching Baby Boom, Working Girl, Moonstruck, and Broadcast News and thinking that I wanted to write stories featuring women on the brink of change. I am also inspired by my family. From my kids to my pets, my grandparents to my in-laws, my family provides me with are an endless supply of ideas.
Visit Amy Poeppel's website.

The Page 69 Test: Musical Chairs.

--Marshal Zeringue