4 questions with Allison Amend

Tribune reporter

Allison Amend is the author of 2008's "Things That Pass For Love" and, recently, "Stations West." The Chicago native has lived around the world where she picked up a spare language or two, dropped out of Stanford three times (though she managed to graduate with honors in the end), completed her graduate work at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and now lives in New York City. The author sped through town this week to celebrate the release of "Stations West" in a joint event with local author Gina Frangello and took a moment to answer our four quick questions.

Sounds like you've been rather busy lately getting ready for the release of "Stations West." How's it all coming together?

Amend: Right now, I am scheduling readings for my new book, "Stations West," the story of four generations of Jewish immigrants in 19th Century Oklahoma. I’m also running around New York teaching fiction to undergraduates at the New School as well as poetry to public school kindergarteners. I’m working on completing my next novel, "The Cunning Hand," which examines the worlds of art forgery and human cloning. It’s set in Paris and New York (I learned from my last book to set novels where you won’t mind spending some time doing research). Also, because it’s important to have a project that you’re cheating on, I am working on some children’s books and two screenplays. One is an original story; another is an adaptation of my unpublished novel, about a single mother in Chicago.

Do you have any particular writing rituals? Where is your favorite place to write?

AA: I avoid writing as much as I can by inventing reasons why I can’t do so today. I think the basic psychology is that if I don’t write anything, I might be brilliant, but once I set words on paper my inadequacies are obvious. That said, time away from writing does make the heart grow fonder.

I write most of my new content at colonies and residencies. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had an experience almost every year, so I crunch then and then edit when I’m back home. At colonies I often set myself a word quota, usually about 2,000 words a day. Yes, that’s a lot of words in one day, but I write my first drafts quickly. They’re absolutely terrible.

What would you be doing if not a writer?

AA: I don’t know how to answer that question; I’ve always been a writer, and going to graduate school only a year after undergraduate cemented the deal. I suppose I’d be a teacher, but I already am a teacher. Teaching and writing are nearly inseparable to me.

Once, I was giving a reading on the radio at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. I had had too much wine at dinner, nervous to be reading in front of my old professors. When the interviewer asked me this same question, I blurted out that I would be an electrician. I don’t know where that came from. Some part of my id that I haven’t gotten in touch with yet. I would perhaps have turned my TVMD (the medical degree you get from watching hospital shows on television) into an actual MD.

What’s up next for you?

AA: I’d like to finish these projects, hopefully see them published, and write something new. I had a great idea for a novel, but E.L. Doctorow got to it first. Of course, by the time I get around to writing it, it may be fresh again.

Find Allison Amend at allisonamend.com.

Find "Stations West" by Allison Amend and other titles at the Chicago Tribune Amazon store.


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