06 November 2012

LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP Author Amy McNamara finds inspiration in words, motion and images

It's election day, and I considered holding this interview… but I can't wait to share it! I've been waiting since December 2010, believe it or not! That's when Amy first told me about her book and I put her on my "authors to be interviewed" list. At the time, Fall 2012 seemed sooooo far away. But here it is, and I could not be happier to see Amy's book out in the world. On bookshelves! 

Amy McNamara
Anyway, if you're like me, you'll be wanting a pleasant distraction from today's polling news. Right? (But first, GO VOTE!) So, here she is: Amy McNamara, author of LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP (Simon & Schuster books for Young Readers, Oct. 16, 2012). Amy holds a B.A. in French literature and an MFA in poetry. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her "honey" and two kids. You will often find her with camera in hand, documenting her city for pay and for pleasure. 

Though without heat and electricity for many days following Superstorm Sandy, Amy found time to answer a few questions. 

Q: Hi Amy! Every author I've interviewed has followed a unique path to publishing, and I'm curious to learn about yours! You studied French literature and poetry... how did that lead you to YA? 

A: I fell into it by accident. I wrote the novel during a period in which I wasn’t writing poems. Those are always hard, the fallow times of not writing. Then one morning I woke up with the opening scene in my head. I put it on the page.

Why is Wren a teenager? I think because that’s a time where life is full of transitions and decisions and moments that really begin to form who you become. You’re still mostly free to feel however you feel because you’re largely only responsible for yourself.

Q: What was the experience of writing your debut novel like? And can you also share the story of finding your agent/publisher?

A: I was lucky. Wren and her story kind of rushed through me. I never felt stuck or wondered what was next. I don’t recall dreaming it up, it was just there. I completed the first draft in a little under three months, and revised it another three months after that. At that point I was doing it for the joy of making something. Initially I had no intention of sending it into the world. I was telling myself a story. It needed a lot of work after the first pass. It’s not easy to sustain a narrative about someone who is trying to shut down. But feeling like that happens for some people and it seemed like a story worth telling.

My experience finding my agent (Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger) was also charmed. I spent about a month (felt like it at least) on my query letter, then sent it out into the world. Sara was a critical, passionate reader and gave me good advice. I am so lucky to be in her hands.

After I revised the novel with her, Sara went out with it. A few months later we had a deal with Alexandra Cooper at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. I was thrilled. I knew finding a home for a story about a deeply sad and stuck person who wasn’t supernatural in any way might be tough. I celebrated for a month, solid.

Q: The cover of LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP is lovely, indeed. Since you are a photographer as well as novelist and poet, were you able to give input into what image they would use? Did it capture the feeling of the novel as you'd hoped? 

A: I was incredibly fortunate to work with Lizzy Bromley. Lizzy is an artist (check out some of her other covers - Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains and Forge, or Nora Baskin’s Anything But Typical) and I owe the many compliments I’ve had on the cover design to her.

For a while I imagined trying to shoot a cover image myself, but I didn’t make that request partly because I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off—shoot something that felt right—but mostly because book designers know what they’re doing, and I don’t. My instinct would have been to make it dark, a blurred photo of a girl running in a woods or something else equally literal. As you can see, my cover’s neither dark nor blurry. Thank heavens. That would have been utterly unremarkable. The cover design process is really the book’s first step into the larger world. By that point, the author’s job is largely done.

Q: The title, LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP comes from the Robert Frost poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." How did poetry... of others as well as your own... affect the writing of this novel? 

A: Yes, that’s right. I memorized that poem in eighth grade and the marvelous dark quiet and rhythm of it have never left me. I wrote this book a few months after losing a friend. I read poems like I was begging them to make some kind of connection between us again. That meant reading and rereading the work of Philip Larkin, who was one of her favorites.

I suppose writing poems for so long has made me more attentive to the sound of language, to how words work in concert to influence larger meaning.

Q: You have two kids, a hubby, and many outlets for your creativity. I'm guessing there is no such thing as a typical day... but I'm curious what your writing process is like. How do you get your ideas and inspiration onto the page?

A: Before I wrote this novel, my process included going for a run in the morning without listening to anything. I find motion to be really fertile in terms of listening for language that I might follow. I also read everything. Poems, novels, art criticism, picture books, magazines, cook books, shampoo bottles, anything I can get my hands on. Then I try to fill a lot of pages with whatever shows up. You never know what’s going to turn into something. I’m a natural night owl, but family life means that I need to work in the earlier part of the day. When I don’t feel like reading or writing, I’ll walk around with my camera or make strange pieces of mail to send to friends. I am talentless for drawing or painting, but I love image, so I try to make things with images.

Q: What are you working on now? Will we see more YA fiction from you sometime soon?

A: That’s a good question. I hope so, but I don’t know, to be honest. I wrote a draft of another novel, but it’s not working. I’ve tucked it away for now. I’m in a period of not-writing at the moment which is always a little excruciating. I’ve been here many times before and at this point I know to just shut up and trust that something will come to me another day. I find every time I try to force anything in life, it fails. Better to let go a little and trust something will come again. I’m reading a lot and before Hurricane Sandy was going to look at a lot of art. I’m also doing corporate writing-for-hire jobs that fill my time and more importantly help pay the bills.

Thank you, Amy! I'm inspired by your approach to writing, and to stimulating your creativity in so many different ways. 


About Amy's Book:


Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somehwere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.

You can buy it here, here, and here! (And, of course, at your local bookstore. Here's mine. It's are tiny with a small YA section but they always order up whatever I request and have it there within a couple of days!)


  1. Great interview. I already have LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP on my TBR pile (really - it's sitting only a few feet away, on the pile of new books next to my bookshelf). Haven't gotten to it yet, but this interview makes me want to dive in immediately. It was especially fun to hear the cover story. The cover of the book was what grabbed me first. Amazing! So simple and gorgeous.

  2. I loved it. I wish there was a sequel to it...