Amy Bloom on Writing, Byline Gaps, and 'Away'
Didn’t get enough of Amy Bloom when she came to Cambridge last month? Me either. So it was a pleasure to invite the author of the new novel Away to share some words on how she came to make her life as writer, how her background in psychotherapy influences her work—and what she thinks of that nasty gender byline gap.
Amy Bloom is the author of two novels, two collections of short stories, and a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and numerous anthologies here and abroad. She has written for the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among many other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. Her first book of nonfiction, Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude, is an exploration of the varieties of gender. A practicing psychotherapist, she lives in Connecticut and teaches at Yale University—an experience she draws from in her role as writer and producer for the Lifetime television show, ‘State of Mind.’
Having just finished Away this weekend, I can testify that it’s a tremendously smart, gorgeous, and innovative piece of fiction. If you don’t believe me, check out the terrific reviews following Amy around—from NPR to The Guardian to the LA Times and far beyond.
You had a long career in psychotherapy before your first fiction collection was published in 1993. How did you come to make your life as a writer?
I was on my way to be a psychoanalyst when I stopped short, as if I’d driven into a gas station and fallen madly in love with the pimply-faced kid cleaning my windshield. He and I have been living together,in a tumultuous, inconvenient relationship ever since and I’ve been writing.
You write in so many genres, publishing novels, collections of short stories and essays, screenwriting, and magazine journalism. How do you adapt your voice to these different forms?
My guess is I always sound like me and in the collaborative mediums, the voice takes on some of th shaping of the other needs (visual, editing, time,money,etc.)
Writing Away, what was your process like?
My process is lots of research so I can pick and choose the right image and then an outline—or outline first and then research. Nothing very inspired.
How does your experience in psychotherapy influence your writing?
The habits of listening, of not finishing people’s sentences for them and of observing their behavior are all good ones for writers (and other voyeurs).
As a fiction editor at Ms. Magazine and a judge in literary contests, you’ve had the opportunity to champion the writing you love. What does that work look like? Read anything great lately?
The work I love tends to have thoughtful,well-written sentences about something that matters, without being sentimental or bombastic. Read Jane Hirshfield’s After—I loved that.
You’re a writer and producer for the Lifetime television show, “State of Mind,” featuring Lili Taylor as a Connecticut psychotherapist. Lifetime, which boasts the tagline “Television for Women,” has been challenged to the messages it sends about what women want and need. What do you think that the channel offers to its audiences when it’s at its best?
I think it might be possible to have programming that was of particular appeal to women—“Prime Suspect” with Helen Mirren comes to mind as something brilliant, clever and intriguing, that appeals to men and women with a an extra fillip for women
What do you think of the byline gap in literature and journalism? While writing programs in graduate schools are largely filled with women students, Ruth Davis Konigsberg found that 98 male bylines appear for every 27 female bylines in major magazines.
To whom is this surprising?
Has your life as a writer been influenced by this byline gap?
I’m sure there have been articles/essays I have not been asked to write because some guy was asked first. As there’s not much I can do about it,short of shooting all the guys on line ahead of me,I try not to dwell on it, be glad for what comes my way and not step on the fingers of the women climbing up after me.
What are you working on next?
Screenplay due at Christmas. Novel due in two years.