Amy Sohn has evolved as a writer before our eyes. From brash young sex columnist to provocateur under the guise of mom lit. She spoke with Writer to Writer this week:
JD: How have you developed your niche as a novelist?
AS: I have always written about my own life, coming at fiction from a background in non-fiction/personal essay. When I was single I wrote primarily about dating and now that I'm a married mother it was natural for me to turn my eye toward the strange ways of modern parents. I have also been very influenced by my environment - be it the East Village in the '90s, Cobble Hill in the early '00s, Park Slope today. I've always been fascinated by the way place shapes character and the way demographics define different places. Being a native Brooklynite, Brooklyn has been inspiring in different ways over the years.
AS: I was a performer before I considered myself a writer. I was a
failed child actress - off-Broadway plays in the eighties. In college I
began writing and performing at the same time. I was dating a guy who
was writing a novel so I wrote a story about him and then read it at an
evening at a performance space in downtown Providence called "The
Cabaret of the Oddly Normal." I began doing this every week - writing a
story, putting on an extreme dress, a makeup, sometimes a wig, and
reading for an audience. It was probably a way of distancing myself
from the very raw material I was reading, which was all non-fiction. Or
I was very aware of making my work conversational and when I would repeat stories over time, I would edit them according to the audience's reaction. When I began writing my New York Press column in 1996 it was a very conversational tone. The two biggest influences were Lynda Barry, whose columns I read in Mother Jones as a teenager and who writes in a teenage conversational way, and Charles Bukowski, who taught me that writing didn't have to sound lofty to be good.
AS: I used to be more thin-skinned. I would cry at some of the reader
letters to New York Press. I started my column at twenty-two! And the
letters were judging my dating choices and sexual behavior as much as
they were judging my writing, because I was describing all my dates and
how far I went on each of them with these horrible, narcissistic guys.
But I took it as a given that all of those letter-writers were crazy. I do feel lucky that I am not writing for the Internet. In those days they could only print so many letters - so even if there were three nasty ones a week that's a lot less than you'd get today on the Internet.
I hate the anarchy of comments and think that reader comments are extremely distressing, especially toward women. As a result of those early letters to New York Press, reviews have never bothered me as much as they might. I was "reviewed" from the beginning so actual, critical, well-thought-out reviews were actually gratifying in comparison to misogynistic and violent letters.
AS:I go to a writers' space for about 5 hours a day. I put on Freedom so I can't procrastinate. I try to write 5 hours 6 days a week. Now that my daughter is in school it's a lot easier. I am finishing my fourth novel and toggling between writing the final chapters and revising the earlier ones. I love editing, struggle with writing.
AS: Last great book was The Corrections. Now reading my good friend Will Blythe's book TO HATE LIKE THIS IS TO BE HAPPY FOREVER. For Chanukah I've asked for the new Philip Roth. Even "bad" or more "minor" Philip Roth is always a treat for me.
JD: Couldn't agree more! Thanks to Amy for the interview and for more on her latest work: www.amysohn.com. For more on the craft of writing please check out my book,
Until next week, I leave you with a question: what "New York Novels" have affected you the most deeply?