Amy Bloom on Normal

Amy BloomAmy Bloom has authored two short story collections, Come to Me and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You and a novel, Love Invents Us. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic Monthly, O Magazine and countless anthologies including The Best American Short Stories and The O Henry Awards. She has recently published Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude, an investigation and rumination on varieties of gender. Amy Bloom teaches at Yale University and Brooklyn College and maintains her small psychotherapy practice. She lives in Connecticut.

Robert Birnbaum: When we talked 2 years ago, you mentioned the book you were intending to write. It seemed like an odd project. But that book, Normal, isn't odd, after all.

Amy Bloom: I'm glad. I think that's true. To me they are just interesting essays. But I understand the way people immediately are going to see it from the outside is, "Oh, weird things with gender and deviants." Of course, if it was that simple I wouldn't have bothered writing it.

Robert: Have you done any talk shows?

Amy: No.

Robert: Are they asking?

Amy: It's an interesting situation. There are two things. One is that unfortunately or fortunately, I'm not Saddam Hussein. The truth is the focus in the country is pretty heavily on the Mid East and Iraq. The other thing is that I am myself not transsexual or a cross dresser or a cross dresser's wife or intersexed.

Robert: You're just an author.

Amy: I'm just a writer. The talk shows basically said, "This is a fascinating book. If only she were one of those things herself." I think that tells you all you need to know. It's okay with me, the book will get read. My vision for the book is actually that it should be like Esther Newton's Mother Camp, which is a tiny paperback that has been in print continuously for 25 years and is used in every sociology and culture class. That would be fine with me. Her book is a great little book. I think this is a really good little book. I think people will read it, but not in a big flurry.

Robert: Where is your book in the bookstores?

Amy: I have no idea. I live in a small town and I haven't been to any bookstores since it's been out. I'm sure that there will be the usual excruciating things that they do, though I would put it in gay and lesbian or sociology or gender studies. To me, it's just people that are interesting and aspects of a culture that are interesting to me.

Robert: For all the flak that Tina Brown has caught over the years, you give her credit for giving you the freedom to do the first magazine piece that led to this book. She did what a good editor is supposed to do…

Amy: Oh absolutely! The truth is I have no complaints about Tina as an editor. I'm sure that lots of people do who had more experience with her. For both the fiction and the non-fiction she gave me a free hand. She encouraged me to do what was interesting to me and she didn't bother me very much. So, I was actually pretty grateful. I know from the reprint requests on that article on Female to Male Transsexuals how many universities used it and I know from the letters I got from young women and young men saying, "I've always thought this is who I was and never read anything about it and I read this (or my shrink showed me this) piece in the New Yorker and my way is clearer now." That was great.

Robert: What was the response to the Atlantic (May 2002) piece earlier this year? (AB laughs and smiles)

I tried to write it as I saw it and as I experienced it. The truth is I’d rather not be present in the writing. If I could have figured out a way to write this book so that I wasn’t present, that would have been my preference.

Amy: Well, I guess there are 2 categories of strong response and then a third that was gently appreciative. Which is, of course, less interesting. The strong response was letters from some heterosexual cross dressers saying, "How dare you suggest my wife is unhappy?" I did have a couple that I especially liked which said, "How dare you suggest that I am a Republican?" (laughs) The others were basically, "My wife is very happy. We are no different than anybody else and you probably have driven some very nice men to suicide by suggesting that their wives were unhappy." Those were tough to take. They were also all anonymous. And then I had letters from the wives. A lot of letters from wives including one from a woman who is a college professor and she said, "This book was really, for me, like The Feminine Mystique must have been for my mother. No one had ever described my life to me or for me. And I love my husband and I plan to stay married to him but this is what it actually is like. And I do not feel worshipped." I got a letter a transsexual woman (man to woman) who is a physician on the West Coast saying, "I'm sure you are going to get a lot of grief for this but I have worked with a lot of cross dressers and I think this is the truth." I had letters from people about whom I wrote in the essay who said, "It wasn't fun reading this but we think it is fair and good luck to you." Which I thought was enormously generous.

Robert: I saw 2 pieces on the web; one from Girl Talk was somewhat snippy and took you to task from calling cross dressing a compulsion.

Amy: I understand. I understand.

Robert: And then Nancy from Gender Radio called your essay a "glib caricature."

Amy: I do understand that I hurt people's feelings. And I felt very badly about it. I felt very conflicted about it. I would have liked nothing more than to see all the cross dressers I met—and I met a lot of cross dressers—as they wished me to see them. And I did see some that way. One of the reasons I focus on this couple, Dixie and Rebecca, was that they were truly happily married people having a great time.

Robert: Is Dixie the Alabama state trooper?

Amy: Yeah. Having a great time in mid life, third marriage for both of them. The wife knew everything there was to know and they're having a ball. And for her, whether he is cross dressing or not, he's always the same, fun-loving, charming, attractive—which he is—guy. And there you have it. Some people said, "Oh you just refer to these old fashioned stereotypes." No, not really. These were actually people that I met.

Robert: I guess when you pay attention that a specific group, members of that group believe that they own the truth about it.

Amy: Right. And who are you to observe and comment. The other thing that I try to make it clear in the book more than in the magazine that there are plenty of heterosexual cross dressers who are not oriented towards family values, who don't define themselves that way and who are not exclusive. And who are happy to include gay cross dressers, bisexual cross dressers. They don't care. The particular group that I focused on had a more conservative bent.

Robert: Perhaps you were too subtle in presenting the notion of the sexual identity continuum? (AB is smiling)

Amy: It's possible. (long pause) There are certainly things that I could have been less subtle about. But I feel that the fear that there is a continuum is very strong for heterosexual cross dressers and their great wish is to make it clear that, "We are not transsexuals, we are not gay." The truth is that there were a number of cross dressers who I met who in fact said to me, "Really, I think I'm bisexual." When I would say to them, "What's your ideal woman?" They would say, "My ideal woman would be a bisexual woman who liked to be in charge." Several of the guys had spouses like that and those were much better matches than when they were with traditional heterosexual wives who, in fact, had hoped to be the more passive partner of somebody who was going to lead the family on a pretty conventional train ride, through life.

Robert: It turns out that the woman who unhappily went along for the ride was, to me, the more interesting complicated and opaque character.

Amy: I really felt for them. I felt for the guys too. When I was with the people who were happy that was great. It may not be true that "all happy families are exactly alike" because maybe if you are a happy family with a heterosexual cross dresser in it that makes you a little different. They were really happy families. I saw these guys who loved their wives and loved their children and really enjoyed being Republican Lutheran engineers and feeling this essential part of them which they—I understand people not wanting it to be called a compulsion, but I think that when you see guys who buy $10,000 worth of clothes one year and burn it the next and then go buy another wardrobe and store it across town and then burn it and then buy it again—it doesn't seem like a hobby. It's costly. It's risky. It's anxiety provoking. It's painful. I don't think that that's a hobby. People were very open. People wanted to tell their stories, you know, as they do. It was really interesting for me and lots of times, sad. Lots of times I felt really bad for people.

Robert: It stood out for me that in describing the trailer park of Lyle, one of the transsexuals you interview, that you made a point of saying it wasn't shabby and run down or stereotypical. Not quite on point for a "study of transsexuals."

Amy: I tried to write it as I saw it and as I experienced it. The truth is I'd rather not be present in the writing. If I could have figured out a way to write this book so that I wasn't present that would have been my preference. But it was clear to me that that was not going to be an option. And that there wasn't much point in me pretending that I wasn't who I am since I was going to be an outsider to all of these groups and that I might as well write it as I saw it and understood it.

amy bloomRobert:One of the subjects accused you of getting pleasure out of theseinterviews or some such thing. What did she say?

Amy: Oh yes, she said, "You seem to reallyget involved in the lives of your interviewees." She was reallycross with me. Everybody sees through their own lens, and my choicewith the book was to pretend that I didn't—which is one styleof journalism, to pretend that I was just God, looking. The otherwas just to say, "Oh no, no this is just me with my limitationsand my biases and bad habits and what I bring to it and this ishow it all looks to me." In the end these were personal essays.They didn't pretend to be scientific essays.

Robert: Right, and you do say in Normal,"There are shelves and shelves of academic, clinical, ideologicaland autobiographical books on one or more of the subjects I addresshere, I didn't want to add to them: I wanted to tell the storiesof the people that I met…" But the choice wasn't a real choicebecause you only could have done the personal as opposed to theomniscient approach.

Amy: No, it wasn't [real], but I felt likeI had to pay attention to it, and my own inclination is to writemore in the way that I wrote in the Afterward, which is to say,"Let's think about these things." I felt that I had to face thefact that I was present in these conversations and that my presencehad meaning. It had meaning for the cross dressers, a lot of meaning.My presence had meaning for the guys who were transsexual. I hadmy own feelings about it. I don't know that I ever spent so muchtime thinking about what I was going to wear in (Robert laughs)either of those circumstances. Or with the intersexed, just my ownawareness that no one had ever mutilated me.

Robert: That was certainly a poignant timeto consider the Latin phrase, Primum non nocere, "First dono harm." What a great name for a short story collection.

Amy: Um huh. (long pause) In France theywanted to call the last story collection Mal Donnée, whichis like "badly dealt." I said that's not really what I had in mind.They said, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You is muchtoo sentimental for the French."

Robert: Sure. It's been a while since I readit, but in Justine—one of the novels in Lawrence Durrell'sAlexandria Quartet—a character observes that he can identify9 different genders in Alexandria.

Amy: Yes, I do remember that actually. Idon't think this is a new idea. What's new is that we are—itmakes us so anxious. As opposed to saying, "Oh gosh, that isa big scope." As I describe it, the Greeks, slavery notwithstanding,women notwithstanding, had a better idea..

Robert: Hemlock notwithstanding.

Amy: Yeah, there were serious problems butnevertheless they certainly understood that there were masculinemen and feminine men and people you couldn't really tell what theywere and that was the variety that people came in.

Robert: This is straying a little, but Ijust read an anthology of Cuban writing and it reminded me thata disproportionate number of Cuban writers were homosexuals. Anythoughts on that?

Amy: One possibility is that in Cuba it isso important to be masculine that even writing itself is consideredan effeminate act. Maybe if you are a heterosexual guy you justdon't have the guts to write for fear you will be branded a marecon.

Robert: What is it that modern humans don'tfear?

Amy: Well that's true.

Robert: What an age of fear. We fear everything.To quote a Joe Jackson song, "Everything gives you cancer." It wouldseem that some issues should get settled.

Amy: Some do, in weird ways. One of my girlswhen she finished reading the book, said, "You know mommy,I think this is the last frontier. Sometime in the next 20 or 30years, people are going to figure out that discriminating againstand being prejudiced against people because of the way they arewith their gender is wrong. Just like people had to figure it outabout civil rights." It does seem to me that people who are18, 19, 20 seem somewhat more relaxed about it.

Robert: I have a sense that they are a lotmore relaxed about a lot of stuff to the point of lethargy. I'mnot clear on what young adults are actually caring about today.

You could dig pretty deep and not get past homophobia. There is just still this anxiety.

Amy: That's true too. It's always hard to get people caring about stuff without seeing themselves as victims and being casual about things without being apathetic—there's that little line in between.

Robert: I have a friend who believes we are going to be the last generation to die. That the following generations are going to have a lot of time to think about everything…You made reference to Anatole Broyard.

Amy: I meant that there are easier and harder ways of passing and one of the ways of understanding why people pass—there is feeling among people who are transsexual that people who are transsexual should always announce that. That they should be warriors, they should be politically engaged. There are a lot of people who are transsexual, had very successful surgeryand they just go live their lives and that's the end of that.

Robert: What's the obligation to become somekind of badge or token?

Amy: It's not that I think it's right, butI can understand the feeling—especially if you are successfulat it. Especially if you are a lawyer or something else and youhave done a good job of it, maybe you should be a poster child forthe group as a whole. I don't think it's reasonable to expect peopleto do that. I understand why it would be nice if they did. I metpeople who transitioned as transsexuals on the job and took a lotof grief for it. I met people who nobody knew, who had transitionedquietly over the course of a year and then started again, with anew birth certificate in a new town, moved into town adopted kidsand nobody knew and nobody could tell. The truth is in America youwant to be able to tell. Whatever it is that people are, you wantto be able to tell, right away. As if to not be able to tell, isjust too alarming.

Robert: That's puzzling. What can you tellabout someone by their gender? At this point—and I clearlyhave a bias and would like someone to challenge this—the onlygroup I am willing to generalize about (AB chuckles), and it's whyI like to talk to them is, writers. I think they are smart, at somelevel.

Amy: Sometimes, yeah.

Robert: Well, I haven't talked to any dumbones. Truly.

Amy: Oh my god, I can't tell you how gratefulwriters all over America must be to hear that (laughs heartily).

Robert: Mostly, I think you have to attach6 or 7 variables (in the way that Amazon and other marketers areperfecting) before you begin to know something about someone.

Amy: You can't generalize, but it still makespeople feel safe. And the essential thing you want to know is gender.

Robert: Why does it make people feel safe?

Amy: I assume that it that it makes themfeel safe because of their own inner anxiety.

Robert: They think they know something whenthey know someone's gender.

Amy: What they really mean is, "I know howto treat them." Although that's not necessarily very different."I know who I am in relationship to them. If they are male, I knowthat I am female. If I am male, too, then I know that we are bothmen." It means among other things, "That I will not accidentallybe attracted to someone I shouldn't be attracted to." Like an incesttaboo or a sex taboo. No matter how attractive you are, if I knowthat you are a man really and I'm a guy now I can make sure I'mnot attracted to you. Or the other way around. You could dig prettydeep and not get past homophobia. There is just still this anxiety.The other thing is, "What about me? What will I find out about me?What about my own slippery characteristics?"

Robert: What about me?

Amy: Always. If you are not worried aboutyou then you don't really care what other people are or how theyexpress. What difference does it make?

bloomRobert:How do the 3 groups you talk about in Normal play out inEurope?

Amy: Well, we'll see. The book comes outin England, which is not Europe in …

Robert: I thought that was a nation of crossdressers?

Amy: They like to present it as if they haveno problems with it and it's all fun and games. Of course, thatcan't be anymore true than it is here.

Robert: And they are not racists either.

Amy: Dressing up for the music hall oncea year is one thing. But liking to walk around the living room inyour wife's underwear when she is not at home is different. On onehand Europeans see themselves as much more tolerant about sexualityof a certain kind. Which is certainly true. The feeling that youdon't marry for intimacy and therefore if you have relationshipsoutside your marriage, this is not necessarily a bad thing or awrong thing or a hurtful thing. It certainly is not everybody shoulddo whatever they want, sexually. That has to do with a certain kindof system and a lot of these people [in the book] fall outside ofit. The people who are intersexed, I was really struck by how muchour social issues around gender affect these people's physical health.

Robert: The numbers you cite are surprising.There are many more intersexed people than one would think.

Amy: That's every kind of anomaly. That'sjust not the ones that are striking. That's the ones that are minorand can easily be corrected, which lots of them can. People whowere intersexed were not arguing to never have surgery. They werejust saying have surgery when people need to have surgery and notwhen there is no medical issue involved.

Robert: Don't have surgery because the surgeonwants to?

Amy: Don't have surgery when the surgeonsays, "Well, I think there would be a good social reason forthis baby to have surgery." The baby doesn't have a sociallife. There was a study in Lancet [a British medical journal]that was very persuasive to a lot of doctors which was that peoplewho had had this early surgery were markedly less happy and lesswell adjusted than people who had had no surgery at all. That wasquite an education for me. Every time I thought I had reached acommon-sense understanding, it was clear to me that my common sensewas actually a mixture of habit and assumption and my own luckylife and blind spots. It wasn't common sense at all. If common sensewas everything then we would all still believe the earth was flat.

Robert: Hermaphrodites or?

Amy: Intersexed. Though there are lots ofhermaphrodites who don't mind being a identified that way. It'sa little like reclaiming of ‘dyke' or whatever. You're goingto have to ask me first if you can call me a ‘hermaphrodite.'But I can call myself a hermaphrodite…

Robert: They are not a marginalized group.They're invisible. It's not considered a disability or dysfunction?

Amy: As it is not. These are people witha medical condition and what's happened is that as other groupsin America have come forward around issues of sexuality—aroundthings which are private…30 years ago you didn't have peoplewho were intersexed coming forward and saying, "You know, the doctordid a terrible job. I have no sensation below the waste. And I'moutraged." They just hoped that nobody would throw stones at themor think they were too weird or creepy and they'd go about theirlives. For all the stuff that I don't like about this shift in ourculture like bad manners and Bermuda shorts and shirts in churchesand people who don't say, "Excuse me." I do think that being ableto come forward and say, "You know bad things were done to me andI'd like to lodge a protest." Seems like a good thing, especiallyif now people don't have to blame themselves. In that context youare starting to see a lot of people who are intersexed in their‘20s and ‘30s saying, "Uh, I don't think I did anythingwrong. I was born with a physical anomaly. I had 7 surgeries beforeI was 10. They were all incredibly traumatic and did very littlegood and I'd like to lodge a complaint here. I'd like to mentionto somebody that this is not a good idea." And that's really howit began. It began with people who were strong-minded, people whohad been born with this medical condition who said, "This wasn'tgood. This didn't make me happier. It didn't make me healthier.And I suffered." Even if you didn't feel shame as most people dowhen they are different most of us are not brought up to say, "Hi,let me tell you about my genital surgery." People came forward,mostly, because they were not going to let other babies go throughthis. A guy, Hale Hawbecker, whom I write about whom I just thoughtwas terrific.

Robert: The man whose parents let him bethe way he was.

Amy: Just be the way he was. As he said,the twin qualities of denial and procrastination saved his life.I think that's great. Certainly, somebody like him would never comeforward except that he could not bear the thought that little childrenwere going to suffer that fate. It's not to say there isn't a rolefor medicine, but it has to be done differently and I think it is.

Robert: This fundamental premise of medicalpractice: first do no harm. How many surgeons grasp that?

Amy: Well, as they say, if you don't wantsurgery don't go to a surgeon. I'm sure that most surgeons, evensurgeons who were doing what I consider to be bad medical practice,thought that they were doing good medical practice and that theywere intervening in a helpful way. And that the patients didn'tunderstand and were in no position to make this judgement and theywere doing what was best. We all know how reassuring that can bein a crisis and how horrible it sounds afterwards. It was clearwhen I looked at the surgical videotapes that people's lives werenot being improved. To say the least. None of us would look at thatand go, "Great. Gosh, I'm going to have my nose done and then I'llhave that."

Robert: This book has been longer than 2 years in the making.

Amy: I was fussing about with it. I did thepiece for the New Yorker and then I wrote another collectionof short stories and then I even wrote the novel after that. Andthen I worked on some other projects. I didn't really hustle throughit. I'm glad about that. I feel like I got to know more and seemore and I got to think about it more than I would have otherwise.And Random House was very patient, which I appreciated. It was verydifferent writing the non-fiction.

Dressing up for the music hall once a year is one thing. But liking to walk around the living room in your wife’s underwear when she is not at home is different.

Robert: Is this a book you write and then put on the shelf?

Amy: What else would I do with it?

Robert: I don't know.

Amy: I guess write it and think about andtalk about it every once in a while—which is what I do withmost of the books that I write. I don't know what else ever happenswith it. I hope it makes people think about things. I hope it'suseful. Even more than useful, I hope it encourages people to thinka little bit, and those are wishes I don't ever have for the fiction.

Robert: There are social values that areaffected by thinking about the issues presented in Normal.

Amy: That would please me. I would like tothink that it serves in a way, again, that I never expect my fictionto…

Robert: I was thinking for instance thatit would be interesting to have you and Richard Russo, whose best friend is a male-to-female transsexual, and some third person to have a panel discussion on some of these issues.

Amy: I'm certainly willing to do that toa point. I always underestimate how anxious this stuff makes people.I think about stuff like this all the time and it doesn't make meanxious. It makes me really interested. I always underestimate howdisturbing people find this.

Robert: Were readers disturbed by the firststory in the last collection?

Amy: Some. I'll put it to you this way: Iwas never surprised by people who came up to me and said, "That'smy favorite story." But in some important way the focus in thatstory is really the mother, not the transsexual child. So peoplecould deal with that because there was nothing wrong with her, necessarily.I know that this subject makes people just—I can see it intheir eyes as you see some one watching a car come over the horizon—"it'ssort of interesting but then you have to talk about sex, and genitals,and talk about how you actually feel about people. It would justbe nicer if we didn't."

Robert: So what do we do if we don't do that?

Amy: I have no idea. I don't know what otherpeople talk about. Gardening?

Robert: Football?

Amy: Your fitness routine? When it comesout in paperback I imagine I'll go to a bunch of universities anddo stuff there.

Robert: I would think it would be adoptedas a text.

Amy: I think that's probably what its lifewill be. That's fine.

Robert: Outside of whatever that field is,‘gender studies', I would think it would be an admirable bookto use in a writing class.

Amy: To me, it's just a book of essays aboutthings that I am interested in. It's harder to be a generalist thanit used to be. It's harder to say, "These are interesting essaysabout people."

Robert: Why do you think that is?

Amy: It's like making everybody have a collegedegree so that they can do nothing.

Robert: Answer the phones.

Amy: Right. You see it with magazines. It'sharder to be a good, interesting magazine. I'm not sure anyone isever going to bring out one more good general interest magazine.I wish they would.

Robert: I'd like to think someone will. It'shard to believe that there isn't a hunger for things—for lackof a better word—for things that are smart.
You can only consume or have shoved down your throat, junk, forso long. This country is not filled with idiots.

Amy: No, I'm ready…(laughs)

Robert: Not watching TV for 2 months andcatching the news in oblique ways has led me to perceive publicconversation as gibberish.

amy bloomAmy:Yeah, I think that's true. I certainly look forward to more smartstuff and being able to find things that are interesting and thoughtfuland where sound bites matter less and ideas matter more. It's goingto be an uphill battle. No doubt about it.

Robert: Yeah, I say that I think it willhappen but I can't think of any evidence to show that it will. Exceptthat some worthy things continue to survive in the face of…butthen other bad things continue to spawn.

Amy: (laughs)

Robert: You are teaching at the second greatestuniversity in the world now?

Amy: That might be what they say. I teachat Yale every spring. I'm also teaching at Brooklyn College in theMFA program. That's the only teaching I really do.

Robert: What about the Fine Arts Work Centerin Provincetown?

Amy: I'm not doing it this summer [2003]with great regret. Only because there are some ladies who are doinga writer's conference in Assissi, in Italy.

Robert: Who said the life of the writer wasn'ta frolic?

Amy: Excuse me, I was a waitress. So thisis not a bad life, so I feel very lucky.

Robert: How long have you been doing workshopsat the FAWC?

Amy: 4 or 5 summers in a row. I really likeit. It's a really good program. A great faculty, and for me it'svery nice because I get to ride my bike and visit people at theirhouses and lie on their patios and work on my tan…My plan isunderway with another batch of short stories and a play.

Robert: How about an opera?

Amy: If I could carry a tune even this far…

Robert: You just write the libretto someone else will do the music.

Amy: I listen to music all the time. I dida treatment of a screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola and BarbaraStreisand. You can only imagine.

Robert: I'm trying to imagine.

Amy: And lived to tell the tale. I reallyliked the treatment and think it would be a great musical. So Ihave that in the back of my mind. I woke up about six months agoand thought, "You better get a move on girl. You don't have thatmuch time. You want to do all these things, you better get a moveon."

Robert: Does that mean that you get up earlierevery day?

Amy: I go to sleep later. I got up earlyfor much of my life, getting the kids to school—getting upat 6:15. Now if I don't have to I don't get up until 7:30 or 8.

Robert: And you still have some therapy clients…

Amy: 5 hours a week. Maybe it comes out to7 hours a week in the end but that's about it. I don't take anynew patients and once in a while I'll do a consult for someone.

Robert: You say 5 hours like 5 hours is nothing.

Amy: No it's a lot. There's no way aroundit. These are people I have been working with a long time. It'sgreat work and some times I really miss it. The truth is I knowwhat I am doing as a therapist.

Robert: And as a writer?

Amy: It's like wandering around in an atticfilled with sharp objects and very little light. I assume as a writerthat most of the time I'm going to fall down and fail.

RB For a time I thought it was false modesty whenwriters would said such self-effacing things. But it's such a universalattitude I am convinced of its sincerity and of the miraculousnessof the accomplishment. Like that Steve Martin joke about startingwith just a pencil and a blank piece of paper…Anyway, you'vestarted some stories.

Amy: A batch of stories. And I started workon a play. A historical play. A play set a couple hundred yearsago. I've done a couple screenplays.

Robert: Has anything of yours been optioned?

Amy: Yeah, they come and they go. Like thesuitors in The Glass Menagerie (laughs) as far as I can tell.They're not really people you'd like to spend your life with, butthey come and you have to entertain them. And they don't reallywant you, and you don't really want them, but everybody thinks theydo. And then they go away. That's pretty much how I feel about it.I'd rather do original work. I think my work is hard to adapt andwould not be improved.

Robert: Well it would be something else.

Amy: Then you just put a bow on the babyand sell it to the highest bidder and that's fine. And there aregreat things. I think The Remains of the Day is still a fantasticfilm. They did a great job with that. I'm looking forward to TheHours.

Robert: It seems that writers, especiallythe younger ones, increasingly seem to be candidates for celebrity,though that hardly improves the literacy of public discourse.

Amy: It's part of the InStyle approachto the Universe. There will a few names of famous writers that youidentify with and a few famous people in different areas.

Robert: Does it seem like more writers arein the news?

Amy: I don't know. When I was 25 it wasn'tthis way, but I also didn't read that stuff. I just read books.I didn't read stuff about writers. Mostly it makes me feel itchywhen I read stuff about. I don't read stuff about myself and I don'tread about other people. I don't think it's to anybody's advantageto be seen that way.

Robert: I find it hard to not at least scanbook business stuff, I don't much care about whatever gossip aroundthe Booker Prize selection, but I find the spat between Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens on Stalin interesting.

Amy: That's fun. And that was fun to read.Partially because the content is not, "I don't like you." Or, "Youdon't like me."

Robert: But yet creeping into the articlewas the question asked of Amis, if he and Hitchens were still friends?

Amy: It's harder for them [the newspaperwriter] to follow a discourse that takes longer than 60 seconds.

Robert: So what are you doing for fun?

Amy: Lots of writing and teaching. I do alittle gardening. I play a lot of tennis.

Robert: Bad knee and all.

Amy: I scuttle across the court. I reallylike tennis.

Robert: I am prying because frequently itwould seem that the writerly life is without joys external to whateverone might accomplish as a writer.

Amy: I live in a small town of 6000 peoplein which there are, as far as I know, no other writers. We go tothe movies. I read a lot of books, and when we want excitement wego to the big city.

Robert: Read anything great lately?

Amy: I loved The Eustace Diamondsby Anthony Trollope. It was wonderful. It came out of nowhere forme because I never read Trollope—a terrible thing to admit.

Robert: No, no it's okay. Why do you thinkyou have come late to it and then appreciate it so much?

Amy: I was on vacation with my family andmy son was reading it and I snatched it out of his hands. Then Ijust devoured it. A great read about this corrupt, shallow, hard-heartedheroine. Then I finished a book, Dancer, coming out in Januaryby Colum McCann. He's a wonderful writer and it's a wonderful novel.That was a great pleasure.

Robert: You know him?

Amy: Yes, we are friends. Then his editorsaid, "He would never ask you but I'm his editor and I'm supposedto ask you." Sometimes in those situations it's hard to figure outwhat to do. In this case there was no problem.

Robert: In terms of writing a dust-jacketblurb?

Amy: I'd like get to the point where I couldpersuade my publisher—not for this book which probably neededit—but for the next book of short stories let's not ask anybody[for blurbs]. Which is what I intend to do.

Robert: Will they listen?

Amy: We'll see. I don't see what differenceit makes. Plenty of nice people have said plenty of nice thingsabout my work. Why do we have to go on logrolling? I can't bearit.

Robert: I wonder if the blurbs and bios onthe dust jacket mean much to the reader?

Amy: I don't think there is anything wrongwith a book jacket that says, "So and so lives in Connecticut" That'salways been my first choice for the back flap.

Robert: It's either that or you go to theelaborate tongue-in-cheek which is hard to pull off and doesn'thave a long shelf life.

Amy: I don't have the energy for that, for all that cleverness.

Robert: Well, good.

Copyright 2002 by Robert Birnbaum
All photos by Red Diaz / Duende Publishing

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1 thought on “Amy Bloom on <em>Normal</em>”

  1. What I was hoping to learn was two things. Why she didn’t bother to interview, and talk about women who were transsexual, or is that because she considers them to be cross dressers. That is unclear to me and it would have been nice to have that better understood considering she did a story on men who were transsexual, men who cross dressed and people who are intersex

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