Amy Poeppel is the author of the novels Limelight and Small Admissions. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she lives with her husband and three sons in New York City. She workshopped a theatrical version of Small Admissions at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. She blogged weekly in 2017 for The Debutante Ball. Her writing has appeared on The Rumpus, Working Mother, Bookish, In The Powder Room, and Literary Mama.
Both of Amy’s novels are full of humor and heart, I highly recommend them (check out my preview, review and book club questions for Limelight, one of my favorite reads of this year). Get to know Amy as she talks favorite novels, how her experience with acting prepared her to write Limelight, crafting humor in fiction and much more!
Q: What are some of your favorite novels?
A: Just as I enjoy writing humorous fiction, I love reading that genre as well. I love books that highlight the absurdity of human behavior and show the humor in difficult situations. I recently read Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, and it instantly became a favorite ‑ I highly recommend it! Some more funny favorites include the work of writers such as Elinor Lipman, Barbara Pym, Kevin Kwan, Nora Ephron, Tom Robbins, and Stephen McCauley.
Other favorite novels include Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage The Bones, Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Kaye Gibbon’s Ellen Foster.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
A: I’ve dabbled in writing throughout all the different jobs I’ve held in my life, but it wasn’t until I turned fifty that I started to find my voice. After decades spent acting, teaching, working in admissions, and parenting, I sat down and wrote my first novel, Small Admissions.
Q: Both Small Admissions and Limelight are original, thoughtful reads. Where do you draw your story inspirations from?
A: The story behind Small Admissions came from my experience of moving with my family to New York City about 10 years ago. As we applied to private schools for our sons, I found the application process to be stressful, but also terribly funny, especially since my husband and I were so bad at being interviewed. I began to write a series of humorous scenes about parents trying to get their kids into school. A few years later I got a job as the assistant director of admissions at a school in Manhattan where I interviewed hundreds of families and read endless applications. My experiences both in parenting and working in admissions led me to write a novel about the whole crazy process.
Limelight came from my love of theater. I started thinking: What would happen if a talented teenaged pop star was cast in a dignified Broadway show and completely out of his or her depth? What if this one cast member was a train wreck, coming to rehearsals late, hungover, unprepared, and with a terrible attitude? I decided that the pop star — I named him Carter Reid — would need a good wrangler. That’s where my main character Allison comes in.
Q: How did your experience with theater help prepare you to write Limelight?
A: My background as an actress definitely helped in crafting the scenes in Limelight. I wanted theater to be the backdrop, so I wrote a book in which a new musical is being staged on Broadway, with Tony Award winner Kevin Kline in the leading role. In order to write about what Carter goes through in rehearsals and on stage (from cast dynamics to backstage etiquette, from rehearsal stress to onstage jitters), I drew from my own experiences doing professional theater.
Q: Were you a fan of Limelight the movie prior to writing the novel? Why did you choose that story for the Broadway play?
A: As I began writing Limelight, I watched dozens of old films, trying to find the one that best suited my novel. I had not seen the 1952 Charlie Chaplin movie Limelight before, but as soon as I watched it, I knew it was just the right story to stage on fictional Broadway. I wanted a show that had a love triangle in it and one that had themes that were relevant to the novel I was writing. One of the themes of the movie Limelight is that fame is fleeting. The waning popularity of performers — and the pain artists feel when their audiences lose interest in them — was a topic I wanted to explore. I often think about how difficult it must be for child stars when their careers come to an early end.
Q: I have to say, I literally laughed out loud at certain scenes in Limelight. Is writing humor difficult or does it come naturally for you?
A: I tend to see the world through a humorous lens, so naturally I try to write humorous scenes. However, making my dialogue and prose funny is really difficult! The idea of making readers laugh is very motivating; laughing is so good for us, and there’s nothing I like more than hearing from a reader who says my books make them laugh. I was contacted recently by a reader who recently underwent an emergency appendectomy, and she said that Limelight should have come with a warning label for post-abdominal surgery patients.
Q: With Limelight, what are some of the key themes you hope readers take away from the novel?
A: I have three kids (ages eighteen to twenty-four), and I believe that in raising children, mothers develop a host of skills that are applicable to many other jobs. I wanted to write a novel in which a woman’s experiences as a mom make her perfectly suited to take on a surprising and new professional challenge: managing the life of a mega pop star who is about to make his Broadway debut. For me this was wish-fulfillment at its finest because I’ve long thought that I’d be a great personal assistant to a young celebrity, although I have absolutely no evidence to support this claim, lol.
Q: Can you give any hints regarding your next book?
A: I’m currently working on a novel about a classical musician, her dilapidated weekend house outside of New York City, her successful career, and her grown and flown children who unexpectedly return to the nest. The main character Bridget places all of her bets on hosting a spectacular musical event to honor her father, a brilliant conductor, socialite, and musical legend in his own right. As she prepares to sell her home and move onto the next phase of her life, she finds that some things are worth holding on to.
Q: What books are you currently reading and what’s on your to be read (TBR) list?
A: I just finished Marcia Butler’s novel Pickle’s Progress (coming April 2019) and loved it! I also thoroughly enjoyed The Bucket List by Georgia Clark (coming this August). On my TBR list are Sally Koslow’s most recent novel Another Side of Paradise, Nafissa Thompson-Spires Heads of The Colored People, and Fiona Davis’ The Masterpiece.
Also, if you haven’t found me on Instagram yet, let’s connect @bookclubchat!