March 17, 2011
Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Allison Amend

Our fourth installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Allison Amend

Allison…meet our Readers
Readers…Allison

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

The most challenging aspect about writing fiction is actually writing it. Sometimes sitting down at that desk (or standing; I have a standing desk) and pounding it out seems a Herculean task. I find great excuses not to write: I have to alphabetize my sock drawer, pick a fight with my brother, defrost tomorrow’s dinner, research waterproof mailboxes, clean my makeup brushes….

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I am a writer because I love to read. I love the way a book can transport you to a different time, place, culture or even body. On my best days, I escape myself and succeed in seeing the world from a different perspective, in questioning the categories the world creates.

Who is your intended audience?

My mom. She is a 60-something, highly educated avid reader who belongs to multiple book clubs. She reads and pays attention to the New York Times and theNew Yorker book reviews, and, best of all, she buys hardcover books. She is also a fierce salesperson forStations West. I once saw her corner a man in an independent bookstore and practically force him to purchase my book.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am finishing a novel that combines art forgery and human cloning. It was originally supposed to be diametrically opposed to Stations West—set in the future without overt Jewish themes—but of course the plot has been taken over by Holocaust survivors attempting to recover art stolen by the Nazis. You can’t escape your interests! I’m also working on short stories, screenplays and Jewish children’s books for the PJ Library. It’s good to have a project that you’re cheating on by working on other projects.

What are you reading now?

I like to read my peers’ work—I’m reading the other Sami Rohr Prize finalists’ excellent books, and I find I’m in great company. Other recent favorites include A Visit From the Goon SquadThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetWhat the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us,Something Red

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I gave up my dreams of becoming a princess or a superhero, or Princess Superhero. I didn’t know you were “allowed” to be a writer, though, until I attended grad school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and met people who had dedicated their lives to the craft. I knew I wanted to be among them. But I think my parents are still holding out hope that I’ll go to law school.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

The “mountaintop” is a good metaphor for success. I know from hiking that often you reach “false peaks”—where you arrive at the top only to find a higher peak further along the ridge. I think being a writer feels like that. There’s always someone more successful than you. I imagine some famous writer saying, “Yes, I won the Pulitzer, but I still don’t have a Nobel!” I feel so proud to have my words in print; getting recognized for the Sami Rohr Prize is gratification galore. To extend the hiking metaphor—I’ve reached a lovely spot. I think I’ll have my lunch here and enjoy the view for a while.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Mostly I need a good ergonomic set up, lots of coffee, and few distractions. That’s not very sexy, I know. Writing is not a sexy job.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

In Stations West, I’m trying to reclaim the myth of the Old West and show the extent to which Jews helped form that history. We’ve romanticized the Wild West, but it was an unforgiving place, quick to judge, slow to accept. In a larger sense, I want to record how the history of American Judaism is emblematic of the history of America in general. Placing the very contemporary struggle of assimilation and identity in the past hopefully sheds light on our own struggles, and helps us to negotiate our daily lives. But what I love to hear most is that it’s a good read. My favorite books keep me up all night reading; I’m thrilled to think that I’ve contributed to literary insomnia.

You can read more about Allison Amend by visiting her website: http://www.allisonamend.com/