Interview with Amanda Goldblatt
2018 NEA Creative Writing Fellow Amanda Goldblatt discusses her debut novel, craft development, and more.
I first met Amanda in the fall of 2016, as an undergraduate student in her Intro to Creative Writing course. The following semester, I enrolled in her Elements of Style course. Both courses have been critical to where I currently stand as a writer and a reader—especially when it comes to content and form. Fast-forward two years later, it is with great pleasure that I now have the chance to discuss style and craft and how it relates to Amanda’s own work, as opposed to my own.
Amanda Goldblatt's work can lately be found at NOON, Fence, and Diagram. She is a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, and teaches creative writing at Northeastern Illinois University. Her debut novel Hard Mouth is forthcoming from Counterpoint in 2019. More information is available at amandagoldblatt.com.
So, how does it feel to have completed your debut novel, Hard Mouth, completed?
Just a week ago (as of writing this) I turned in my edits. I started the novel in 2011. It feels like floating in outer space—a long-term project is (for me at least) an anchor or an office, a consistency, a habit. I have a new long project—one I’ve been working on for the last couple of years—but I’m currently I am somewhere liminal, a little in shock. It’s not unpleasant.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about some of the themes or narratives that Hard Mouth explores or follows?
I can give you the pitch: Hard Mouth is an adventure novel of grief. It’s about a young woman who can’t stand to watch her sick father die, and so she rents an isolated mountain cabin and leaves her life. She has only her imaginary friend, a jerk who believes he was an early twentieth-century character actor, to keep her company; and no survival skills of note. She wants detachment—not death, but something adjacent. A dislocated stasis. On the mountain things go awry, and away from that.
Does your writing style in Hard Mouth veer from the style that can be found in your previously published works, or are they somewhat similar?
I always begin with language. My projects often center on the subjective experience of a first-person narrator. A first-person narrator uses language not only to tell a story but to express identity, the way all of us do. I don’t think this is a revelation, but it is something to which I’m doggedly loyal. It’s my primary writerly pleasure.
The novel’s narrator, Denny, has her own voice, which is informed by her experiences. That comes out in her usage and diction, especially—she’s spent her childhood watching old movies with her father and so she can sometimes sound like Katharine Hepburn or a noir detective. My [excellent] editor, Jenny Alton at Counterpoint, was often highlighting phrases, asking, “Is this a thing people say?” And I’d say, “Yes, but mostly in movies between 1930 and 1945.” Denny has linguistic idiosyncracies, as we all do.
When writing a new draft, whether it be for a novel or short-story, is there any particular process or ritual that you find yourself following?
I am not a ritual-based creature. I do my work when I can, where I can: in the Notes app on my phone while walking or taking the bus or during a show or walking through a museum. On my laptop at the kitchen table or at my desk or on the couch or sitting on the floor in the middle of a forgotten meal. I used to be specific about it all, about my process: longhand, type up, print out, mark up, commit edits to file, etc. But I found the ritual got in the way of the desire. It made excuses and delays. Now I just write.
Is there any particular work(s) of literature that you find yourself going back to often, whether it’s for pleasure or inspiration?
I think a lot about Charles Portis’s True Grit, which is a first-person Western narrated by a vengeance-seeking young girl. When I pass it in the library, as I did yesterday, I wave. That is my favorite kind of relationship to have with a book or other piece of art. To know that I once felt potently about it, that it once felled me, and to be able to remember the feeling upon seeing it again. I think that is why most writers keep such large book collections: They are biographies or photo albums of previous ardor.
Lastly, do you have any particular words of advice that you would like to share with other writers that will be reading this?
Try not to worry about writer’s block. Last year I saw Sarah Manguso speak on a panel, and she mentioned that the U.S. is the only place where people talk about writer’s block. It’s a capitalist obsession about productivity, which has very little to do with art and how it’s made. Everywhere else, writers write when they can, and don’t make it into a pathology when they can’t. Of course, I was telling this to a friend at a party last night, and she—rightly—pointed out that in some places, writers are financially supported, or at minimum have universal health insurance. Why worry about writer’s block, in that case?
But it is likely, as a writer in the States, you will have to do something else besides write in order to house and feed yourself and take care of your body and possibly take care of others, be they elder or minor. In this case, you will probably have to worry less about writer’s block, and more about time to write. Take the time consistently, even if it is in those interstitial times, on the bus or in a waiting room, to write or at least to read. It does not have to be the same hour every day. If the language doesn’t come for a while, don’t let it drag on you. It will come back. Also: if the thing you do to house and feed yourself, etc., helps others to do the same, or to make art, or to help others, all the better.
Interview by Carlos Joshue Reyes