Excerpt: Destiny. That’s what I’m thinking about tonight as I look at this gorgeous—more than yellow, not quite golden—sunset. No, that’s a lie. I’m thinking about loss. Choices. Destiny. But mostly loss. Oh, and one more thing. That dress. I can’t stop thinking about that damn dress.
Amy Impellizzeri’s debut novel, Lemongrass Hope (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2014), is a 2014 INDIEFAB Book Of The Year Bronze Winner (Romance), a 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist, and the #1 Reviewed Book in 2014 by the Literary Connoisseur. Kirkus Reviews called it “A layered, bittersweet romance that questions consequences and explores second chances.” Impellizzeri spent 13 years as a corporate litigator in New York City before leaving to write and advocate for women entrepreneurs. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Glass Hammer, ABA’s Law Practice Today, and Yahoo Shine. She is also the author of the non-fiction Lawyer Interrupted (American Bar Association Publishing), due out in 2015. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.
I finished the book yesterday and I really enjoyed it. Time travel seems to be a particular niche with readers; there are readers who go back to it time and again.
Thank you! It’s funny for me because I love the idea of time travel but I don’t read a lot of science fiction. So, I really wanted to write a book that was sort of time travel but real. As the book was evolving I thought this is actually turning into a time travel book. Now I’ve totally embraced it. I really wanted the book to be something that you’d say this could happen or that could happen, that was my goal.
Can you introduce your book for us? What is it about to you?
Which is the question I get asked the most and the question I have the hardest time answering. I never lead with the time travel element. I want people to be taken on the journey and surprised a little bit. I usually call it an unusual love story; an unusual look at second chances and the road not taken, and hopefully, a book that will surprise you. I’d like to think the characters are relatable and real but still have extraordinary things happen to them.
What do you hope readers come away with from the book?
I think my favorite compliments are that it felt natural, that it didn’t feel so outlandish. Book clubs have found it and embraced it and are probably my largest reading demographic. I love when I get emails and Facebook messages from a reader in the middle of the night who say ‘I just finished it and I need to talk about this book.’ I love when people say that it’s a book that stays with you for a little while and makes you think about your own second chances and what-ifs.
Without giving too much away, I was surprised by the effect of the prologue/epilogue and the time traveling element on my impressions of the characters as a reader. Was that intentional?
I think what I want you to come away with and what I want you to think about is evolution. I’ve had readers say to me ‘How many times do you think this has happened? How many times did they go back?’ I’ve had one reader in a book club say to me ‘Well, I mapped it all out in the book and I could tell you it happened six times,’ and I said ‘That’s awesome that you did that but that’s not true.’ My answer to that question is I think they went back a lot. I want you to have this idea that she has evolved, her relationship has evolved, because their marriage is different each time around. At the end, I want you to think that it happened enough times that it’s believable that yes, she’s making this decision. But there’s still the question whether it’s enough.
Which poses another interesting question: What are the possibilities of a sequel?
Well, I have toyed with the idea of not a sequel but a related book. If I ever figured out a way to do it, I would love to do it, but I haven’t figured that out yet. I am working on my next book and it’s completely unrelated.
How is writing the second book similar or different than writing Lemongrass Hope?
It’s different in a lot of ways. Lemongrass Hope came about sort of by accident. I was a corporate litigator for over 13 years. I took a sabbatical to catch my breath. I had always written. I’d always been a creative writer, but I’d sort of stifled that side of myself to be a lawyer. I wrote for a living but I wrote what other people paid me to write.
When you say you were a creative writer, what did that look like? Were you writing stories on the weekend? Were you submitting anything?
Not while I was practicing law at all, but in college, I was taking creative writing classes. I always had a journal. They run from when I was 11 until I was 20, and then they just stop dead. I went to college knowing I was going to be a lawyer. I was going to write on the side. I was planning on always keeping my journals, writing stories. I never had this dream to write a novel. But in college, I made this decision at one point that this was too distracting. I had to pick one in my mind, so I picked law.
When I took a sabbatical I started writing again. Now it was 20 years later, and I was writing essays on a computer. I had never done that before. It was a time that I was very much thinking about what have I done? I’ve totally pushed this whole side of myself away. I abandoned a whole path I could have explored.
And I had this dream one night that I went back in time and my children weren’t there. There was nothing more fleshed out than that. I sort of woke up and I thought yeah that’s what it would mean to go back and do everything differently. Everything would be different.
When I started writing Lemongrass Hope, I didn’t set out to write a book. The writing process is so different because now, I have set out to write a book. And for good or for bad, that is a totally different process than just sort of exploring an idea.
How does that affect the actual writing process?
I’ve been much more structured about this from the outset. I’ve been more structured about plotting out the characters and the plot. But I still keep putting it down, coming back to it putting it down, coming back to it.
I almost can’t focus myself until I know exactly how it’s going to end. That’s how I was with Lemongrass Hope. Once I figured out exactly how it was going to end, then I was able to really focus myself on the rest of it. That’s how it is with Secrets of Worry Dolls (my second novel). And the last month or two I’ve figured it out. I know exactly how it’s going to end now. Now I can be very focused about it.
A writing mentor recently told me “Look, no one knows how to write a novel.”
I didn’t figure out how to write a book until after I wrote a book. So many people say I have this idea for a book. And I encourage everyone, because I think everyone who says they’re writing a book should write a book. I think probably 75% of those people think you write the words. You write them from beginning to end, and you create a story. And that’s not really how you write a book.
On Secrets of Worry Dolls, I have not been writing it linearly, nor will it look like it does now when I’m ready to submit it. It’s a lot of different pieces. I need to make them all fit in a way that is compelling and will tell the story in the way that I want it to be told, and let it unfold for the reader in the way I want it to unfold. That’s really the hardest part of writing the book; not just getting the words on the page but getting them in the right order.
With Lemongrass Hope, how much did the story change when you got into writing the characters and putting their words on paper?
It didn’t change so much as a lot of blanks got filled in. I had a very skeletal idea of the story and that’s what I started with. I knew Lemongrass Hope was about second chances and what-ifs. This woman was haunted by her first love, and she’s in a terrible marriage, and she reconnects with her first love and what does that mean? But I didn’t know how her marriage was going to break down. Those things sort of evolved; those details and those scenes. Rob changed a lot. I had to really work on him.
Can you describe the moment you got the news that you found out it was going to be published?
I know exactly where I was. I was at my son’s hockey rink at hockey practice. I actually pitched this book without an agent. I had sent the book to a couple of agents, then I was introduced to this publisher directly. I had pitched her the book the week before. She had said to me let me see the manuscript and I’ll get back to you next week. It was Monday morning, and I said to my husband that maybe I’d hear today and he was like, ‘No.’ She emailed me that night. I opened the email at the rink, and she’d attached the first draft of the publishing contract. It was very exciting!
What would you say is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve received?
The one piece of advice I got hands down was to change the ending. An agent told me the book really wouldn’t be commercial unless I changed the ending. I still think there’s a lot of people who think the only books that are commercial are formulated books.
I try to tell people, when you are writing your first book, focus on the writing first and getting it published last. I think people who do that are the ones who end up getting their books published more quickly. I think people who are so focused on ‘I need to get this book published, I really want to get it published,’ completely lose sight of the writing, the editing. That’s one of the biggest hang-ups new writers have is to get too focused on the publishing and forget about the writing.
Did you have a favorite book or author growing up?
My favorite book of all time that stands the test of time is Gone with the Wind. Recently, Beautiful Ruins is probably my favorite contemporary book. It’s tied with Jo Jo Moyes. I love the way she writes.
Is there a particular book on craft or what was most useful to you in improving?
What aspects of craft do you struggle with the most or what do you feel you have a really good handle on?
Probably what I struggle with the most is the editor’s favorite admonition: show don’t tell. There are scenes where I get caught up in exposition and I want you to know every single thing going on in my character’s head. And I think, this is awful. I have to do this with dialogue. I have to do this with action. I have to make this more powerful. That’s what I still struggle with and probably will never ever master. I don’t know that I would say I’ve mastered anything. That would be crazy
How important is your writing community and how did you forge that?
I am a fan of critique groups. I’m not in a live critique group, but I do a lot of workshopping of my writing. You have to think about if you’re going to align yourself with a genre or not. The plus side of that is there are going to be communities that are readily available to you. If you clearly write science fiction, romance, thrillers, mysteries, there are usually associations. I belong to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and they do a lot of great online workshopping and online critique groups. I do writing retreats when I can, but I do have three small kids, 11 and under. I really don’t travel that much. I try to do a lot on line. Social media has made writing so much less lonely. I don’t know what people did 20 years ago. It’s such a notoriously lonely career.
How do you handle the social media pressures and time sucks; do you have a certain schedule?
I am a terrible offender of getting distracted by social media. But I have two books out now, Lemongrass Hope and Lawyer Interrupted. A huge part of being a writer is marketing your book. So, you end up on social media a lot, but I do try to limit myself. When I’m writing, I really try to reign myself in, especially in the summer. I really try to do morning and night, check everything and check off all the boxes. Some days I just get into it. The truth is there are real benefits to it as with everything.
What would you say has been the most surprising part of becoming a published novelist?
I can’t say I expected any of it. The way book clubs have embraced the book has been such a wonderful surprise. I was in a book club, I still am. I put it out there on my website that I would come to other clubs. I can’t believe how many have emailed me. I’ve lost count. I think I’ve probably been to 50 book clubs live or by Skype. Every single discussion has been different. Every single experience has been different.
There is a fierceness and determination in Kate and in your essays on your blog. Do you think this quality helped you become a published novelist? Did any of that influence your choices for Kate’s character in the book?
It’s always interesting for people to try and read me into her. You have to read me into her, I wrote her. You have to read me into all the characters.
I have this notion, like my personal mantra, if you say something out loud, if you really want something and you say it out loud, and you work towards it, you really can make it happen. If you have a real goal for yourself and it sounds crazy in your head, say it out loud and it will sound less crazy. Of course, part of that is written into Kate. I hope it is, because I think that’s a great way to live your life. I would like to write strong female characters who have that quality. But I don’t want anyone to read all my characters and think they’re completely autobiographical.
Was it a little scary for you, thinking everyone was going to think this was your life?
All of my friends pre-ordered the book. Three days later my feed was just filled with pictures of them with their copy of Lemongrass Hope next to their morning coffee. I remember being so weepy, ‘This is so beautiful. My book is in the hands of all the people who love me.’ Then, I didn’t sleep for three days. I was sick to my stomach. I thought You didn’t think this through. Now, everyone you know, everyone in town, is reading . . . your . . . book.
A little bit of stage fright?
A lot of stage fright. A lot of exhaling as the reviews started coming in. My favorite compliments were from people who knew me who said ‘You know, a couple of pages in and I forgot you wrote it.’ That’s the best compliment.
How did it feel to make something out of nothing?
I loved the whole process. I actually finished editing the book in October and I had a publishing deal by January. That’s very unusual. The reason is, I didn’t try to shop it to larger houses first. I’ve talked to many people who say you start with the bigger houses and agents, and then you work your way down. As an emerging author, you see where you land and that’s a valid methodology. I wanted this in print. I found a publisher very quickly who was enthusiastic about the book and said all the right things, and said don’t change the ending. In hindsight, I’ve been able to see this to conclusion, and it has empowered me to write another book. I want this book to be even better. I’m petrified of not writing a better book, but I’m going to try.