The acclaimed author of I Smile Back, Amy Koppelman is a novelist of astonishing power, with a sly, dark voice, at once fearless and poetic. In Koppelman’s new novel, Dr. Susanna Seliger is a renowned psychiatrist who specializes in treatment-resistant depression. The most difficult cases come through her door, and Susa is always ready to discuss treatment options, medication, and symptom management but draws the line at engaging with feelings. A strict adherence to protocol keeps her from falling apart.
But her past is made present by one patient, Jim, whose struggles tear open Susa’s hastily stitched up wounds, revealing her latent feeling that she could have helped the people closest to her, especially her adored, cool, talented graffiti-artist brother. Spectacularly original, gorgeously unsettling,HESITATION WOUNDS is a novel that will sink deep and remain—like a persistent scar or a dangerous glow-in-the-dark memory.
Thanks Amy Koppelman for taking the time to answer a few questions!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer. The first contest I entered was an essay contest sponsored by The Daughters of the American Revolution. I didn’t win but I remember my name being called at the spring assembly and walking up onto the stage in the multi purpose room of our elementary school. I remember I was wearing a lavender smock dress and I remember feeling proud. Just for entering. I kept the participation certificate taped to my bedroom wall for years and years. In fact, I don’t think I took it down until after I graduated college and we sold our house. Anyway, for many reasons I kinda put the writing thing aside until I was in my early twenties. I kinda became a writer by accident. I had gone through a really bad period of depression and as I got better I began to write, so for me writing was and remains a receptacle for sadness. I purge my ugliest thoughts and feelings onto the page which is a vast improvement from my old style of purging.
What is your quirkiest writing ritual?
I don’t have a ritual really. I wish I did but I kinda fumble along.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I was 30 by the time I finished the first draft of my first book. I started writing it at 25. It takes me about 7 years to finish. Hesitation Wounds took nine. I’m very slow (one of the reasons I need to get myself a ritual! :))
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Well I have the most fun when I’m with my family but if I can’t be with them well – well I love watching TV. A big bowl of ice cream. An even bigger bowl of popcorn. A juicy plot. Almost nothing is more fun. And I’m not a snob about it. I love Mad Men but I also have a great time watching Vampire Diaries. When I’m especially anxious I binge watch. The month before Hesitation Wounds came out—FIVE seasons of Homeland.
Where did you get your idea for this book?
Most of the time my stories begin with a feeling. When I started Hesitation Wounds I knew I was writing about grief: how we recover from unbearable loss or perhaps more importantly why we bother recovering. Why we bother to continue. I also knew that I was telling a story about a brother and sister who loved each other –loved each other as much and as purely as it’s possible to love. But that’s all I knew when I started. I had faith that the characters would reveal themselves and slowly (it took about a year) but surely the characters did reveal themselves.
What do you think makes a good story?
I’m not sure how to answer this because there are so many different kinds of stories. I think if you’re writing a suspenseful story plot is vital. With magical realism being able to transport the reader to an alternate universe makes all the difference. For me, the stories I like most are fueled by emotional honesty. I am drawn to a character’s journey. How they see the world, how that world effects them and invariably the people they love.
What was the hardest part in writing this book?
The hardest part for me was figuring out the structure. I wanted to write a memory book meaning a book that mimicked memory. Memory isn’t linear. It’s also not always played out in scene. Bits and pieces flash through our mind. Subverted feelings appear in the dark. A detail: a red mug on the kitchen table. In addition I wanted to balance the whole novel on the last scene in the book: when Susa is deciding if she should stick out her tongue and taste the snow. I wanted to show how everything in her life, how everything in all of our lives, informs even the smallest of decisions. The problem doesn’t take longer than a second or two to decide and it simply wasn’t long enough to balance a whole story on. Ultimately I settled upon a single day-specifically the five/six hours it takes from Susa to journey with Mai from her apartment to the graveyard where she visits her brother.
Amy Koppelman Bio:
Amy Koppelman is a graduate of Columbia’s MFA program. Her writing has appeared in The New York Observer and Lilith. She lives in New York City with her husband, Brian Koppelman, and their two children. Her previous novels are A Mouthful of Air and I Smile Back, slated for the Toronto Film Festival and general release in Fall 2015.
Amy also wrote ‘I Smile Back’ which was adapted into a film in 2015 starring actress/comedian Sarah Silverman. Sarah was recently nominated for a SAG award based on her performance of Laney.
You can see the movie trailer for ‘I Smile Back’ here: https://youtu.be/YIBqq-AQcE0