Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Writing Porch Author Q&A with Amy Cohen, Author of The Late Bloomer's Revolution

Meet Amy Cohen:
Amy Cohen was a writer/producer on the sitcoms 'Caroline in the City' and 'Spin City,' a columnist for the New York Observer, and a correspondent for cable TV's New York Central. She is the author of 'The Late Bloomer's Revolution', which was on the New York Times bestseller list. The movie rights have been sold to Sarah Jessica Parker (It’s so exciting, she can’t believe it either). She has been published in Vogue and The New York Times Modern Love section. She has appeared on The Today Show, The CBS Morning Show, and ABC News. She lives in New York City near her family, who still have a lot to say about everything.
About 'The Late Bloomer's Revolution':
In quick succession, Amy Cohen lost her job writing sitcoms, her boyfriend (with whom she'd been talking marriage), and her mom, after a long bout with cancer. Not exactly the stuff humor thrives on, is it? But filtered through Amy's worldview, there's comedy in the most unexpected places. In this unforgettable, engaging memoir, she recounts her (seemingly) never-ending search for love, her evolving relationship with her widowed dad, and her own almost unintentional growth as she stumbles through life. Filled with observations sweet, bittersweet, and laugh-out-loud funny, 'The Late Bloomer's Revolution' will be irresistible to anyone who believes her greatest moment is yet to come.
How did you get your start in writing?
I've always written since I was a little girl. I was never sporty or good in school, so writing books was my thing. My dad traveled a lot when I was a kid and I would write and illustrate books with subtle titles like "Look! Look! I'm over here!" with a little girl on the cover who looked exactly like me. Clearly, It was my way of coping with feeling that we didn't know each other very well. I think writing has always been my way of communicating and apparently, coping.
What does your writing routine look like?
It always involves coffee and at least a little agonizing (or more likely a lot). I try never to check the internet (which is hard for me) and always turn off my phone. For awhile I worked late at night into the wee hours, but I started to feel like a vampire waking up at 11 a.m. every day, so I switched and started waking up at 6 a.m. and working until 1 or 2, but now I'm feeling as if I have to shake things up again.
Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
I tend to love writers who can be both funny and touching.
David Sedaris, especially his book "Naked" and in particular "Ashes," which is the hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking story of his mother's battle with cancer. Zoe Heller -- incredibly funny in the most audacious, bitchy, delicious way, but also very poignant and real. Barbara's description of loneliness in "Notes on a Scandal" -- how the brush of a conductor's hand on the train is her only human contact -- always haunts me. Lorrie Moore. I love that she can make you laugh out loud but punch you in the stomach on occasion (as she does in one of my favorite stories, "You're Ugly Too.") I also adore Richard Yates, and in particular "Eleven Kinds of Loneliness" and "Revolutionary Road." He can be incredibly sad and sobering, but he's always worth it.
What are you working on next?
Right now I'm trying to figure out what I want to write about for my next book (now I know how much work it takes and how devoted you have to be to your ideas), so in the meantime I'm working on TV projects.
What made you decide to write this memoir?
I'd been wanting to write a memoir about my Mom dying of cancer. I thought that's what I was going to write about and for almost a year, that's what I did, until I realized that wasn't the book I was meant to write. I really needed to write about the fact that I was waiting for this life I thought I was going to have (marriage, children) instead of living the life I had (no marriage, no children). I kept thinking, "where's that book? That's the book I really want to read right now, " so I wrote it.
What challenges did you face with this book?
I think one of the biggest challenges for me was to get the sitcom voice out of my head. In sitcoms, the pace is fast and you need a certain amount of jokes on every page. But also, you get in the mindset that the only currency that matters is "funny," with occasional realness, but in prose there are no rules. You can make your own. Funny has a place, but too much funny can seem both forced and like you're hiding something. My first drafts tried way too hard to be funny and there was a kind of desperation to them. Finally a friend said, "You don't sound like that." And I started to use my real voice and the kinds of jokes I made in life to cope with everything that was going on. I also started revealing things I thought I never could (I had always been an incredibly secretive person). And then revealing even more. That was the turning point.
What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
First of all, everything is material. That's one of the great things about writing. Screwed up childhood? Write it. Fascination with vampires? Don't mind if I do. My advice is very "Nike ad" which is "Just do it." I cannot even begin to tell you how many rotten drafts I went through in order to start discovering my voice. When I took a break from tv writing, I took a couple of local classes. They were very "Memoir 101," which got me writing every week and getting feedback.You definitely can't just want to write, I really think you have to need it in some way if you're going to do it professionally because it's just too hard. There are so many walls and breakdowns and lonely days where you feel as if that's it. So if after all that, you're still in? Then keep going and don't stop. My whole book is about coming into your own later in life (and by "later" I mean after 25). Maybe you weren't the prodigy who published fresh out of college (I wasn't, although I desperately wanted to be). Maybe for you, it's your late thirties (like David Sedaris), forties or sixties (the late great Frank McCort was a wonderful example of this.) Maybe you're a late bloomer (telling yourself this really works -- hey, it worked for me.)

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006. Her short story 'Mum in Decline' won third place in the Smoking Poet's annual short fiction contest. Larson is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'