Interview and Giveaway with Amy Poeppel, Author of Musical Chairs

Okay, wow. This post (my last!) marks a full-circle moment for me. I first learned about today’s guest, Amy Poeppel, right here on this very site. A member of the Deb Class of 2017, Amy’s wry and real posts led me to her novel, SMALL ADMISSIONS. That laugh-out-loud story spurred me along in my writing journey and made me feel like there might be a place for my own humorous school-based novel. Later, Amy was the very first person my editor suggested approaching for a blurb. When I found out she’d agreed to read MINOR DRAMAS, I was over the moon. And now? We’re here celebrating Amy’s third book, MUSICAL CHAIRS. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it, “A delightful novel that celebrates the messiness and joy to be found in real life.” You want to win a copy, right?! Of course you do. Read on.


Amy Poeppel is the author of Musical Chairs, Limelight, and Small Admissions. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, LitHub, The Rumpus, The Belladonna, and Working Mother. She and her husband have three sons and split their time between New York City, Kent, Connecticut, and Frankfurt, Germany. They have a truly fabulous dog and an absolutely vicious cat.

Here’s Amy on Twitter. She’s hilarious, and the book trailer she’s pinned to her profile proves it.

We’ve heard a lot of rumors about the sophomore novel — that it’s especially brutal and difficult to write — was that true for you? And what about the third?

Funny you should ask because I was sitting here thinking that my sophomore novel LIMELIGHT was more or less a piece of cake to write … until I looked back and found a post I wrote on this very topic and on this very platform when I was a debutante. I titled it A Piece of Cake? Not exactly. Turns out, I struggled enormously when I wrote my second novel, so it’s no wonder I tried to erase from my memory just how difficult it was. As soon as I came up with the premise of the book—a woman moving to NYC and helping a famous popstar make it through his Broadway musical debut—I was so excited to jump in, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing the book; however, I threw out so many chapters along the way, and I had to do such extensive revisions, over and over again. It was brutal!

The good news is … my third novel MUSICAL CHAIRS was even harder to write! Ha. No, this job does not seem to get any easier with practice and experience, at least not for me. It does, however, become more and more gratifying. I’m working very hard on my fourth book at the moment and loving every painful moment.

Now that you’re a few years beyond your debut, are there any aspects of the experience that you’re seeing in a new light?

My debut novel SMALL ADMISSIONS came out on December 27th, which I remember thinking was a really odd date to launch a book. It was hitting bookstores after the big gift-buying season, and I remember worrying that my book would get lost in that weird week between the holidays and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Since no one was going be around in New York City in the very end of December anyway, I decided to plan my launch event for the middle of January. And then I thought “to hell with it” and planned a trip out of the country! — Might as well ignore the book launch altogether! That decision, I now realize, was absolutely brilliant. I missed all the stress of having a book come out. I didn’t know any better at the time, but it was so lovely to spend pub day on a beach with my family, completely oblivious to whatever was happening in the world of book sales. Phew!

Now I’m not saying that we should all run away on launch day, but I can see now how unusual and truly wonderful it was to get some distance from all the pressure.

 

How have you balanced writing novels that you’re passionate about and also fulfilling a niche your publisher is excited about?

As writers, we are expected to “stay in our lane,” and that can be very frustrating for some. I know a couple of writers who have succeeded in crossing genres, but publishers seem to prefer it when we write what our readers have come to expect from us. Lucky for me, I don’t mind my publisher’s expectations because I happen to love my lane! Whatever one calls it – commercial, upmarket, contemporary, or humorous fiction – I love writing books about complicated families, reinvention, resilient women, and everyday situations that I happen to find hilarious. So far, I’ve been able to write the books I’m excited about – with the understanding, of course, that I’m willing to do extensive rewrites to make sure my books actually work in the commercial world, not just in my head. I’m happy to have landed in a genre that I love not only as a writer but also as a reader. I aspire to write as well as some of my favorite authors, such as Elinor Lipman, Stephen McCauley, and Terry McMillan.

If you could give your debut self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I have always been an avid reader, but I would tell my debut self to go take a long, hard look at my bookshelves and acknowledge that they are filled with books written mostly by white writers. My advice would be to buy, read, and promote books by a much more diverse group of authors than the ones I grew up reading. Reading widely, hearing stories from writers whose experience is unlike our own, is so important. As Angie Thomas said, “Books create empathy. If we don’t have diversity, if we’re only showing things from one perspective, how are we creating empathy?”

Tell us about one of your proudest writing moments.

One of my proudest accomplishments — and I’m not just saying this — was the year I spent blogging for The Debutante Ball. I began my debut year at fifty years old having no blogging experience, zero social media presence, and absolutely no idea even how to post on a website. I’m not kidding when I say I was petrified to take on the duties of The Deb Ball. My only published writing at that point was a short parenting essay on kids and computers that wasn’t even especially interesting. Before we began, I would wake up in the middle of night in a cold sweat, thinking about submitting a piece every single week for an entire year! And I swear, the very first thing I did as a Debutante was completely screw up my password when I tried to log on to the website.

With the help of the other Debs, I soon figured out how to use WordPress, and I got increasingly comfortable putting myself “out there” on social media. More importantly, I started figuring out what my voice was in this new (for me) medium. I learned how to look at each week’s topic, and rather than ask myself “what is the correct way to approach this subject?” — ask instead, “what is MY way to approach it?” In the course of the year, I wrote sketches, lists, and satirical advice pieces. When we wrote about procrastinating, I wrote a piece from my dog’s POV as he watched me do anything but the task at hand. Whether our group topic was about how to plan a book launch, how to write good dialogue, or how to name characters, I found my own style, often using humor because that was what felt most comfortable to me. In other words, I figured out how to be authentic in my weekly writing.

I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to write for The Debutante Ball… and grateful to be your guest this week!

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Giveaway!

Retweet or share our interview to win a copy of Amy’s latest, MUSICAL CHAIRS.

“A fiercely funny tale of family, friendship, and later-in-life love.” —People

“Poeppel has created a story that is well thought out, well plotted, well written, and fully developed. A delightful novel that celebrates the messiness and joy to be found in real life.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A hilariously heartfelt, witty novel.” —Woman’s World

The “quick-witted and razor-sharp” (Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six) author of Limelight and Small Admissions returns with a hilarious and heartfelt new novel about a perfectly imperfect summer of love, secrets, and second chances.

Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. In the intervening years, Gavin has gone on to become one of the classical music world’s reigning stars, while Bridget and Will have learned to embrace the warm reviews and smaller venues that accompany modest success.

Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.

With her trademark humor, pitch-perfect voice, and sly perspective on the human heart, Amy Poeppel crafts a love letter to modern family life with all of its discord and harmony. In the tradition of novels by Maria Semple and Stephen McCauley, Musical Chairs is an irresistibly romantic story of role reversals, reinvention, and sweet synchronicity.

 

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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