Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Accidental Interview With Author Amy Greene

Many of you know, and for those who don't, I moderate a Southern Lit Lovers group on Goodreads, which I created back in 2008. When it comes to 'genres within a genre,' Southern literature is a favorite near and dear to this Northeastern gals heart. (Something most of you know about me already as well!)

Recently we read Long Man by Amy Greene. Like her debut novel Bloodroot, Long Man is transportive and engrossing. Amy's writing once again not only ensconced me in the souls of her characters, but in the soul of the places they live. I loved it!

Last week I inadvertently turned our Southern Lit Lovers author chat with Amy into an interview. As both a reader and a writer, plus being a big fan of her writing, I couldn't help myself with all the Qs! Amy graciously gave me permission to share my part of the chat here with you when I asked.

I hope you all enjoy my chat with Amy as much as I have!

We often talk about 'genres within a genre' (for example, Southern Gothic, coastal Southern Lit, contemporary Southern Lit, etc), how do you feel Southern Lit that's based in Appalachia differs from other Southern Lit? 

Appalachia is sort of a microcosm, a world within a world. Perhaps due to the isolating effect of our mountains, we have here a rich cultural heritage, and even a language, distinctly our own. Although I write firstly for the joy of storytelling, I’ve realized that capturing some of our folklore and our dying traditions on the page is, in a way, an act of preservation. 

I know you know this from facebook, but I love that you write longhand in notebooks! This is most likely a stock question, but I'd love to know what your writing process is like? Do you find a particular idea and stick with just that or do you explore several until you focus on one? 

Writing longhand is, to me, much more intimate than typing. Putting pen to paper, rather than sitting down to a blinking cursor, makes me feel freer to experiment. I like to get the story out, however I can, and apply craft later. Often I work on two or three novels at a time, waiting to see which one will catch fire. 

Where/how did you get the idea for Long Man? How much research did you do on the area and the dam project before your started writing? How do you balance not getting lost in the research vs writing on that topic? How do you know when you've researched enough, or is it a case that you can never research enough, so just get to writing? 

I had firsthand knowledge of the Tennessee Valley Authority, so it wasn’t necessary to do a huge amount of reading before I began writing. I first heard about Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the TVA as a child. My grandparents on both sides survived the Great Depression in East Tennessee and passed down their stories of how the TVA improved their lives. Before the TVA, people here were starving and drowning in floods and dying of malaria, struggling to survive on a few hundred dollars a year as farmers. The TVA not only “modernized” East Tennessee; it saved lives by bringing flood control and new jobs. I grew up also surrounded by the dams they built. In my hometown we have Cherokee Lake. When the water is low, you can see the tops of silos rising from the middle of it. As a child I was curious about the town buried underneath the lake, but as an adult I started thinking about the sacrifices that were made for the sake of progress here. When I started doing research, mostly in the form of compiled interviews with the displaced and TVA caseworker reports, I learned land that had been in families for generations was lost underwater. The bones of people's loved ones were often disinterred and moved to other towns, historical landmarks were destroyed, thousands of families were displaced. I imagined what a heartbreak it would be to some and what a blessing to others, their best hope of starting over. Questions came up that I wanted to explore in Long Man, about whether progress is always a force for good. 

Were you concerned with how the novel may stir up bitter and hurt feelings that generations have tried to push down so they could move forward or are so few, if any, left from that time period that many may not be fully aware of how a dam project can affect an area and its' people? 

Generations later, many people here are still hurt and angry about the loss of their ancestral land. I did try to be mindful of the humanity behind this story as I was writing it, and not to paint the TVA as either heroic or villainous. The TVA displacement in East Tennessee is a gray issue, not a black and white one. 

I have The Worst time with setting! For the life of me, I don't know why, but when I try to write about where live on the coast of NJ, or where we live part time, in the mountains of NJ, I clam up. At times I feel as though I'm too close to it all, if that makes sense, and at other times, I feel as though I can't do the beauty of these areas justice (especially to compete with the ridiculous image NJ has now thanks to cable television). What are your suggestions for developing a sense of place in writing? 

The interesting thing is that I wasn’t so compelled to write about East Tennessee until I’d spent time away from it. I had never left the South until I went back to college at the age of 27, and didn’t realize what it meant to be Appalachian until Montpelier, Vermont became a second home to me. I think I needed perspective to tell in writing the whole and complex truth about where I come from.

It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, Jo. 

I want to end here by thanking both Amy, and Angelina from Vintage and Anchor Books, for being so gracious during our chat, and making the SLLs giveaway of Long Man possible! 


Brandi said...

This is so awesome! I actually bought Bloodroot on your suggestion/review on GoodReads. It's actually set very close to where my Dad grew up and his side of our family still lives.

I can't wait to check out Long Man! Thanks for sharing this! OH and living in Appalachia is pretty damn awesome - COME VISIT ME!

Bloomin'Chick Jo said...

I would *LOVE* to come down and visit you!!! Hopefully once we're outta NJ and in PA (ya know, once we hit the lottery lol) things will be easier and we'll have free time to do things like go visitin'!