Amy Dawson Robertson is a friend and an excellent writer. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for my Spotlight series.
Let’s say you’re hosting a viewing party at your home. What music is playing when your guests arrive? What food and beverages will you provide for your guests and which TV shows, movies, excerpts, etc. would you show?
Hi Lynn — thanks so much for having me! What a great opening question. Let’s see, music-wise I usually have jazz on. I like stuff that has a very chill feel to it and I am drawn to the West Coast or Cool jazz period. So that would be early Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Modern Jazz Quartet (love that vibraphone!). As to food and libation, I would likely do the standard fruit and cheese selection. A good cheddar, a Stilton and something soft and decadent. I’d have a selection of crackers including my favorite whole grain cracker by 34 Degrees. Fruitwise, I would probably try to do whatever was fresh and in season. For drinks, I’d have red and white wine and a craft beer, mostly likely an IPA since that’s what I’ve been into lately. As for content, I think I would stick to TV since we are in such rich period for good TV. Some recent favorites are Breaking Bad, Mad Men, 30 Rock and Community. I’m always trying to get people to watch Breaking Bad so I have someone to talk it over with.
What’s the last great book you’ve read? What is one of your favorite passages from it?
I’ve read two books this year that I really enjoyed. The first is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Secret History. I didn’t relish The Goldfinch in quite the same way but it was equally unputdownable. And there were definitely memorable passages that I wish I had marked — she is amazing with language, ideas, character. And masterful at plot. The other book I’ve just read that I thoroughly enjoyed is Dave Egger’s, The Circle. I guess you could say it is dystopian fiction, which I have a weakness for. It is also quite funny. His use of language isn’t particularly interesting so I wouldn’t have any passages to pull out but I would recommend it all the same. Some friends and I torture ourselves with a classics book group. At the last meeting we discussed Medea and Electra. There was a passage from Electra, a way of describing empathy, that really sticks with me:
“And poor laboring Orestes, my brother in law in name–
I suffer his grief, I think his thoughts…”
Name three of your favorite writers. Write a one word description for each.
Henry James — thorough
Emile Zola — devastating
Ruth Rendell — delectable
Name some popular writers who you don’t get.
I’ve tried but failed to get into Zadie Smith. She seems wicked smart and very interesting but so far she hasn’t grabbed me.
I don’t get Suzanne Collins. I found The Hunger Games to be very thin in every way.
What are some pet peeves you have as a reader?
I dislike it when you can feel the unintentional presence of the author. I guess this never really happens in great books but it isn’t uncommon in average ones. I’m thinking specifically of descriptive passages, usual of places, that you just know the writer has witnessed first hand and has lost sight of how much detail to provide. For the same reason, I think it is an extraordinary talent to write a decent memoir — know just what to leave in or out.
Do you have any pet peeves about your own writing that you catch when you’re editing?
Also, using the same words or phrasing repeatedly. Returning again and again to similar images and metaphors.
If you could live in any book, which one would it be?
I’m not sure why but I am finding it impossible to answer this question. Probably because so many of my favorites books might not be fun to be in.
Do you play any musical instruments? Which musicians do you listen to?
I played the violin for many years growing up and would like to have time for it now. I listen to a lot of pop — I’ve always liked dance music so this is a great time in pop for me. If music is on in the house, it is jazz. I also like stuff like LCD Soundsystem and RJD2. I will give just about anything a try but singer-songwriters and folk are hard from me to wrap my head around.
Do you have pets? Where are they when you’re writing?
Though they aren’t mine I do have two dogs in my life (Hi Hannah! Hi Russell!) — a golden retriever and a border terrier. While I love them, dogs and people are nothing but a distraction.
You’ve published thrillers (Miles to Go, Scapegoat) and romances (Midnight in Orlando and Midnight on a Mountaintop). Does your writing approach differ depending on the genre? Provide short excerpts that you’re proud of.
It differs very much. I get much deeper into character in my thrillers. I think the writing is at a different level too. The romances are in first person POV and, I guess, are just sort of breezy. And I try to keep things light in the romances.
It’s good of you to ask for passages that I liked how they turned out.
I always liked this bit from Scapegoat, a description of how Rennie feels after the events of Miles To Go:
“Her guilt felt like an entity that had taken up residence in her body. An unexcisable and malevolent twin. She shook her head, wishing she could just stop thinking. She drained her beer and went into the studio to sleep.”
This is from Scapegoat too. I love doing multiple points of view like this. Getting into the heads of minor characters might be my favorite thing:
“Massoud Akbari sat on the balcony of his tiny garden apartment smoking and drinking weak tea. He had nothing to do. Once well-off, he now had a bank account into which a thousand dollars was deposited each month. His other bills, his rent, his utilities, his car were paid for by the American government. The thousand dollars was his to do as he pleased. Each month he converted it into cash and spent only a fraction of it on food and necessities, stowing the rest in a large zippered leather wallet. His only joy in life was to convert the smaller bills into larger ones as time passed, watching the money accumulate and hoping for what he didn’t know.”
What are you working on?
I am trying to work out the plot for book one in a new series. It’s going to be a PI crime thriller. It is based in DC and the main characters will be a female ex cop from a small Virginia town and a man whose background I’m not ready to discuss. I hope to be able to explore current issues that I find interesting.
You can find out more about Amy through Facebook and on her website.