Author Allison Amend visits Avon Monday
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Books are the life blood of writers. Not just in that writers write books, but that they usually devour stacks upon stacks in the process of creating their own work. Allison Amend, who will visit Avon Public Library on Monday as a part of The Bookworm’s series of free author events throughout the valley, has done just that.
“I consider every book I’ve ever read to be influential. Everything I read seeps into my unconscious to be mined later,” Amend said.
Amend attended the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop whose alumni include some of the greatest literary masters of our time, not to mention Amend’s own classmates, which includes the most recent Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding.
“It was an incredible experience, and one which turned me into a writer,” Amend said about the workshop. “I was among the most talented writers in the country, with nothing to do but write and play pool. I formed connections there to people who still serve as my first readers today, 10 years later.”
Amend recently published her second book and first full-length novel, “Stations West,” a multigenerational, American epic about a Jewish pioneer family as they forge a future in the Oklahoma Territory. I had the chance to chat with her about her writing life and her work.
1. Vail Daily: Your first published book is a collection of short stories, and now you have released your first novel. How does writing a novel compare to writing short stories?
Allison Amend: I love writing both, and hope to continue to do so. If I think of the act of writing as a meal, short stories are tapas while novels are entrees. They both make for great food, but with short stories, you get to try many different dishes, while a novel provides a more cohesive, single-flavored experience. A short story by necessity explores a pivotal moment in the character’s life, and then leaves him or her there. Novels have more room to explore around the characters.
2. VD: If you could describe your writing style in three words what would they be?
AA: What writing style? In all seriousness, critics have commented on the different voices in my fiction –my short stories often don’t resemble one another, and “Stations West” is a different beast entirely. I’m not sure they meant this as a compliment, but I take it as one. I think each work is an opportunity to try on a different disguise, as it were. Sticking to one recognizable voice might be boring or limiting as a writer.
3. VD: In “Things That Pass for Love” you explore love and relationships. Do those aspects play a part in “Stations West”?
AA: I believe every book of fiction is about love and relationships. What else is there to write about? While “Things That Pass for Love” dealt primarily with relationships between two people (parents and children, lovers, a woman and her dog), “Stations West” takes on larger issues. I was interested in how people form nontraditional families. In “Stations West,” the Jewish immigrants become entwined with a family of Swedes, the bonds they form is as unbreakable as blood ties.
4. VD: What made you “go west” to tell the story of the Haurowitz family In “Stations West”?
AA: My mother’s side of my family is from Oklahoma (though not from the 19th century) and I was interested in a book I found in my grandfather’s house called The Jews of Oklahoma. At first, I thought it would be funny to write about a Jewish cowboy, but then began to take the topic seriously. I have spent a lot of time in the Vail Valley growing up, and my parents always took me to historical Colorado sites to learn about the history of the area. I love that the traces of boom towns are still visible in rural Colorado in a way that has been paved over in other locales: the abandoned mining shacks, the overgrown train tracks dug into the side of a mountain, the former army headquarters. Both Oklahoma’s and Colorado’s histories are under-explored in literary fiction, and ripe for novelization.
5. VD: Did writing “Stations West” require you to undergo much research?
AA: “Undergo” is an excellent choice of words. I suffered under all that research! Yes, I did extensive investigations into the history and the daily life of the time period. More than I needed to, probably. I wonder if I was using researching as a procrastination method, but perhaps I needed to immerse myself in the history in order to write the book. One danger of too much research is that my first draft read like Forrest Gump –my characters were at every major world event in the century. I had to calm down, put the research out of my mind, and see where the characters wanted to go.
6. VD: What is your writing process like?
AA: It’s a little like my apartment– messier than I’d like it to be. I try to sit down every day to write, but sometimes all that comes out is e-mail and Facebook comments. I get most of my new writing done when I go to residencies. These are like summer camps for writers and artists.
7. VD: Are you working on anything new?
AA: I’ve always got something brewing. I’m finishing a new novel about an auction house curator who decides to clone her dead son, and a Spanish art forger in Paris. It is pretty much the exact opposite of “Stations West.” I’m also working on some screenplays and children’s books. No shortage of projects, just shortage of time.