It’s A Book Thing Presents: An Interview with Amy L. Bernstein, author of Dreams of Song Times
Author’s Bio: Amy L. Bernstein writes stories, essays, and poems that let readers feel while making them think. Her novels include The Potrero Complex, the award-winning The Nighthawkers, Dreams of Song Times, and Fran, The Second Time Around, voted best young adult novel by the Maryland Writers’ Association. Amy is an award-winning journalist, speechwriter, playwright, and certified nonfiction book coach. She lives, works, and plays in Baltimore, Maryland. Learn more: https://amywrites.live
Deliah Lawrence: What inspired you to write your book?
Amy L. Bernstein: Dreams of Song Times grew out of a desire to push my imagination in new directions. My previous books were grounded in reality, though tinged with speculation. With Dreams, I wanted to see if I could combine my interests in socially relevant fiction with magical realism. And voila! A human-mermaid named Ell was born and became the center of a fight for the right to exist and be accepted.
DL: How do you handle writer’s block?
ALB: When I get stuck on a project, I turn to something completely different. So if I’m stuck on a novel, I’ll try to write an essay or some poetry. Or I’ll begin free-writing all the ways the story I’m stuck on could evolve and change, to shake myself loose from whatever corner I’ve painted myself into.
DL: What is your writing process?
ALB: I am a combination of a “planner” and a “pantser.” I do plan key elements of my novels, including characters, conflicts, and major plot points. I tend to write many pages of notes outlining chapters or reminders of how things need to connect. But I also let inspiration take me in surprising directions—when I’m lucky enough for that to occur. So quite often, I’ll start drafting and find that I’m Moving quite far away from the direction of the scene I thought I was going to write, but the characters are taking me elsewhere. That usually works out better than my original plan.
DL: What elements do you think make a good story?
ALB: Every good story, in the traditional sense, must involve at least one strong main character that readers root for and care about; a strong conflict, meaning, obstacles that must be overcome; and an emotional arc of change, meaning the main characters learns, grows, and changes over time.
DL: What were some of the challenges when writing this book?
ALB: Dreams of Song Times went through more extensive drafts and rewrites than any book I’ve written. The first draft had a vague, dream-like quality, a lot of poetic language, and the storytelling wasn’t deep enough. My original version of Ell didn’t share her emotions adequately, either. I changed the storyline many times before finally creating the big adventure that’s in the final version. Making deep changes was difficult, painful, and there were many times when I lost sight of the story I was trying to tell. But I’m happy with the final result!
DL: What are the keys to success in marketing your book(s)?
ALB: Book marketing is a thorn in the side of many authors—including me. But we must do it. I think the trick is to find ways of marketing that you’re comfortable with; it’s not essential to be active in every channel. Engaging with real readers seems critical to me, as opposed to relying on paid ads. I can’t say that I’m marketing my books successfully, but I’m getting better at it. I don’t try to “sell” but rather to share content. And I’m cultivating relationships with readers through a newsletter and a blog.
Anyway, I’m currently marketing my other books published last year, The Potrero Complex (a mystery-thriller) and The Nighthawkers (a paranormal romance). Plus, I’m beginning revisions to a new novel, having just completed the first draft.
DL: What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
ALB: First, you must believe in your story and your ability to tell it. Second, recognize that writing is difficult, even painful, and if you don’t feel compelled to do it—to spend many hours writing and revising—then consider another pursuit. Third, be open to constructive criticism from people who know what they’re talking about—not your best friends and family, but professional editors, other authors, etc. And fourth, getting rejected is built into becoming a writer. Don’t let it stop you!
DL: What are three fun facts about yourself?
ALB: Here you go:
1. I have almost no sense of smell and it has nothing to do with Covid. For most of my life, I’ve been unable to smell what everyone else smells. Flowers? Once in a while, if I lean in deeply, I can smell a rose. It’s weird to have to take cues from other people—watching them detect and respond to scents that I am completely unaware of. (Is this a fun fact? Hmm.)
2. I used to be a singer. Not soloist-level, but a very competent soprano and a member of many very good choral groups. Then, suddenly, I lost my voice after taking a break from music. My vocal cords simply will not cooperate. I can hear the note, understand the pitch, but my voice can’t replicate it. This is a huge loss that I’ve had to learn to cope with.
3. I have a true phobia about insects, especially spiders. My whole body goes into panic mode when I see a spider or any member of the arachnid family. I’m talking abject terror. I know my fear is irrational, but it is very, very real. (Ask my husband!)
DL: Would you like to share an excerpt from Dreams of Song Times?
ALB: Sure, here’s the excerpt:
I don’t know exactly how I landed a short while ago at the tide’s edge on this island, with its blue rocks, singing sea grasses, and powdered sand. My memory’s still a little fuzzy. I suspect I had help. I recall feeling the water propelling me as if I were riding atop a rocket. And I still feel the firm imprint of unseen hands guiding me.
Ah, yes, a giant wall of water was about to engulf me. Then everything went black. I remember that part now. I hope I remember the rest soon.
Older memories are more intact. I know who I am: Ell Gossamer, in her twentieth year of life. I know I put on this wetsuit, which I’m now peeling off, to shield me from the icy river that brought me from home to the sea and then to here…wherever here is.
I know what I’ve concealed inside the wetsuit: a family heirloom, Dreams of Song Times. I’m counting on this book to help me understand what happens next.
I’ll take a moment now to feel the hot sun on my naked skin, the color of walnuts, someone once told me. Actually, my skin looks more like the blue-gray of the ocean, sleek and smooth. The wind makes the grasses sing, a soft handful of notes gliding up and down a scale. The island is so small I can see the other shore. A speck of land surrounded only by water as far as the eye can see.
DL: Where can readers learn more about you and purchase your book(s)?
ALB: Readers can find out more information here:
- Website: https://amywrites.live
- Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Amy-L.-Bernstein/e/B001K7W94M
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/AmyLBernsteinAuthor
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/@amylbernstein
- Blog: https://amywrites.live/blog
- Book Buy Links: visit my website or Amazon
DL: Thanks so much for being here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.
ALB: Thank you!
Originally Published on https://vocalexpressions.blogspot.com