It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Amy L. Bernstein, author of The Nighthawkers.
About Amy L. Bernstein:
Amy L. Bernstein writes for the page, the stage, and forms in between. Her literary preoccupations include rooting for the underdog and putting ordinary people in difficult situations to see how they wriggle out. When she’s not writing about romance or dystopian futures, she loves listening to jazz and classical music, drinking wine with friends, and prowling around Baltimore’s glorious waterfront.
Archaeologist Pauline Marsh is convinced she’s an unlovable freak. Who else in the world shares her ability to locate ancient artifacts without a map, hear their stories, and commune with long-dead artisans? But all that changes when handsome, charismatic Grey Henley persuades her she’s the girl of his dreams. For Pauline, Grey is the family she never knew. And for Grey, Pauline’s treasure-finding skills will make him immensely rich. But the lovers are keeping secrets from one another that push their relationship to the breaking point. Grey is in league with a criminal relative and Pauline is visited by an other-worldly stranger with a message. Sometimes, it takes a broken heart to discover your true destiny—and find eternal love where you least expect it.
Author Interview with Amy L. Bernstein:
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- What is the first book that made you cry?
A Wrinkle in Time is the first book I remember crying over. Not just a little, but a lot. I sobbed every time I read it, every time Charles Wallace got in trouble and Meg agonized over finding him.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! On those rare, special occasions when I’m in the flow, as they say, and writing a scene with a sure sense of what I’m doing and where it’s going—that is energizing in a way even writers struggle to describe. But after having written, say, several pages, I’m always exhausted and have trouble concentrating on anything else.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
One common trap is assuming that your first draft is your only draft. A first draft is a beginning. With vanishingly rare exceptions, your book will need a substantial amount of rewriting—to sharpen, expand, clarify, deepen, etc.—before you can think about the next step. Another common trap is becoming too goal-oriented by, for instance, picturing yourself giving a reading and seeing your book on a bestseller list before it’s even written. Focus on writing the absolute best story you can—and don’t look beyond that.
- Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Ego is especially weird for writers. On the one hand, without ego (literally, a sense of self-esteem), I could not keep writing all alone at my desk, and I could not keep going in the face of all the rejection I’ve received (and it’s a lot!!). On the other hand, writers with fragile, easily bruised egos are impervious to constructive editorial criticism, which every writer needs to make better work. So a writer needs to know when to summon her ego to her aid and when to set it aside.
- Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I only write the stories I want to write, and that means I’m hard to pin down. I’m not strictly a genre writer. For instance, I’ve written books that are set in a dystopian future, a fantasy featuring a hybrid human-mermaid, and a paranormal romance. Plus, a YA book focused on a teen tragedy. In each case, a particular story called to me and I tried to write it in the form the story seemed to require. Thinking about what readers want does not inspire me to write.
- Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Big sigh. In my case, each book needs to stand on its own, since I’m not a single-genre writer. I have to hope that a reader who finds something to love in one of my books will venture into a novel I’ve written in another genre. There are common, if subtle, themes across all my fiction, mainly around vulnerable people grappling with injustice in one form or another.
- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
When I was in my early twenties, I began drafting my first novel—a romance. I vacillated between feeling really excited about it (and having a clear vision), and then feeling that I had no idea what I was doing, and that this was a waste of time. I so wish I could have encouraged my younger self to see it through—to trust in my imagination and take the risk of putting the words on the page. I quit as soon as I hit a typical roadblock and didn’t have anyone to prod me to keep going, anyway. So, I’d say to my younger self: You can do this. Do it for yourself.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Hiring a publicist to hold me accountable and provide a clear path to steps I needed to take to promote one of my forthcoming books. I was all over the place before hiring her. Now we talk twice a month and I feel in control of the launch process. Doing all the right things!
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I’m working on two new novels right now. By which I mean, for one, I’ve written about 25,000 words and done extensive plotting. The other is more of a pantser, with a couple chapters written and some notes. I can’t swear I’ll finish either, let alone, both. But I hope I do!
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Given my background in journalism and other nonfiction writing, I love doing research and undertake quite a bit of it for all my novels. I love to blend the real world with the unreal, in ways that make it hard for readers to sometimes tell the difference. So for The Nighthawkers, I did extensive research into archaeology, including the science of digging, important archaeological discoveries through the ages, and the black market for stolen antiquities. It’s all in the book!
- Describe your writing space.
My writing space is simple and specific to my needs and wishes. I sit at a laptop in an upholstered chair with a lumbar pillow for extra support at the end of my dining room table. The room (in an apartment) is big and open with tons of natural light coming from large windows. I live on the 19th floor, so the light is unimpeded. Natural light essential for me to work.
- If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
I would invite Emily Dickinson. I’d play Bach, quietly, in the background, to help put her at ease. I’d light candles to create a soft, relaxing, mellow glow. I would not pepper her with questions, but allow the conversation to meander, slowly and organically. I would feed her very plain food—a little roast chicken or cornish game hen, some roasted potatoes. And something simple for dessert, perhaps a custard.
To learn more about Amy L. Bernstein, here’s where you can find her: