Thursday, November 11, 2021

Interview With New American Fiction Prize Winning Author Amy Neswald



1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into this book?  

A few things motivated me to write I Know You Love Me, Too. First, I'd taken a hard left turn off the path of my life and decided to leave a secure career to pursue writing. To that end, I decided to dedicate a few years of my life to writing and went to a MFA program in order to do so with a writing community behind me. After I wrote a story which is now in the collection, I read Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout and fell in love with the idea of a linked collection. Originally, the collection focused on one of the two characters, Ingrid, but as I wrote further, I started thinking about her younger half-sister Kate and wondering how she was experiencing life as well, so, in part, I wrote the collection so that the quieter, more normal sister could have a voice as well.   

One major subject in these stories is the different relationship Ingrid and Kate have with their shared deceased father. I lost my father when I was fourteen and it was obviously a formative experience. As I've grown older, my relationship with my father has grown, despite his absence. Questions without answers lead to more nuanced questions without answers. I think writing this book was a way for me to explore the mystery that an absent parent leaves behind, an inheritance of sorts.   

2. What is it about and who is it for?  

These linked stories are about a few things. They're about the fear of never living up to one's artistic potential and finding a voice as an artist and as a person. They're about loss and grief and how they form people in different ways. And it's about love. And sisterhood with all its nuances.  

I dedicated this book to my sister. We have complex relationships and I drew quite a lot from my memories and ideas about how we see each other. But the book is for whoever likes short stories, for those who want to be reassured that if they keep working, eventually they will find their voice. I'm a bit of a late bloomer and I like to think that one of my characters, Ingrid, can inspire other late bloomers to keep working on their art.   

3. What takeaways might the reader will be left with after reading it?  

I hope that one takeaway is that life is beautiful because of all its complexities and the questions that arise. Other takeaways I hope readers will be left with: that none of us are how others see us, that we all keep secrets. And that love takes on many forms and functions.  

4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?  

The book had a different title, but it sounded too much like the title of a well-received book, so I changed it. I thought a lot about the main characters Ingrid and Kate's relationship and how devoted Kate is to Ingrid, despite never really getting what she needs from her sister. Still, she knows deep down that Ingrid loves her, too. And thus, the title: I Know You Love Me, Too 

The cover was designed by a fantastic book designer Alban Fischer. I sent my publisher a list of images in the book. Alban interpreted them and came out with three fantastic designs. I had a sense that the one I picked was the right cover, but I was so nervous that I asked about everyone I ran into what they thought. In the end, I went with my gut.  

I love this design because it captures the tumultuous inner landscape of Ingrid, who jumps from lover to lover, job to job, and artistic medium to artistic medium throughout the book. It also represents for me the inner turmoil of being called to live the life of a creative.  

5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?  

Keep writing. Know the story you want to tell. Learn how to filter and interpret the critique of your fellow writers. And, as I once heard someone say, be relentlessly helpful. Extending yourself and encouraging other creatives comes back to you three-fold in unexpected ways.   

6. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?  

I don't know if I see many trends. I do love how short story collections, one particular collection comes to mind right now, Deesha Philyaw's beautiful collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, are garnering large scale interest, accolades, and support. I'm also excited by entertainment industries optioning and creating series and radio play-type podcasts based on literary short stories. The trans-medium flexibility of short stories in particular, excites me.   

I'm also a fan of graphic memoirs, short stories, and poetry and I've been dipping my toe into this medium as well. There's something really magical about how a picture can echo, contrast, or conflict with the text and add additional nuance to the meaning of a story that I find very magical.  

7. What challenges did you overcome to write this book?  

One of the biggest challenges I had was finding the shape of the stories as a cohesive whole. Not only did I attempt to write a series of stand-alone stories, but I wanted them collectively to tell the story and show the arc of the relationship between Ingrid and Kate over the course of their separate lives unfolding.   

Once I had the collection, I was then tasked to really consider whether all the stories really fit into the narrative, or if I was trying to shoe-horn them in. In the end, I cut some of my very favorite stories in order to refocus and tighten the thread that ties the stories together.   

And then, of course, I struggled with how to end the collection. The last story in the collection is the last story I wrote and I felt like I needed to bring many themes home. Not only that, I truly, truly struggled with deciding what the last sentence should be! I'm still not convinced that I made the right decision.   

8. How would you describe your writing style?  

A friend of mine once called my writing style Cosmic Realism. I'm sticking with that! I am a Cosmic Realist.  

9. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?  

That's a hard question because there are so many good books to read! I suppose my answer here is: because it's new. It's fresh. It's hopeful. And it speaks about beauty and I think we all need a little beauty in our lives right now.   

About The Author: Fiction writer and screenwriter Amy Neswald was awarded the New American Fiction Prize for her debut novel-in-stories, I Know You Love Me, Too (New American Press, October 2021). Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Normal School, Bat City Review, and Green Mountain Review, among others, and her screenplay The Placeholder was awarded a Best Screenplay award at the Rhode Island Film Festival in 2008. When she is not writing, she teaches creative writing at the University of Maine and continues plugging away at her animated short films about monster children. For more info, please see:


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