An Interview with Amy Greene
Red Room Library caught up with Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot, a masterful first novel published January 2010, to talk about what inspires her to write, Scarlett O'Hara, and why Southern literature has so many fans.
1. What inspired you to write Bloodroot?
It’s a story that has been with me my whole life. Some critics have asked me if I did research before I began to write, and I didn’t. The story came from the people around me and from Appalachia, from the beauty of the land. I absorbed the voices and the landscape. This was something that I was compelled to write.
2. Have you always been a writer, or did the land and the people around you inspire you to write this specific book?
I’ve always written – since first grade. In fact, in my basement, there is a Rubbermaid box filled with manuscripts that I have been working on my whole life. All of these were a kind of preparation for writing Bloodroot, but these will never see the light of day.
3. Some critics have suggested that your novel is about the mother-child relationship, while others have argued that it is about a broader search for love. How do you describe the central theme of the book?
For me, this novel is more about a question of whether or not who you're born to, where you're born, and where you come from dictates who you become and where you end up. This is the central theme that everything revolves around, but the novel raises a lot of questions; there were a number of questions that came up in the writing. But the basis is: does your blood dictate who you are?
4. How did you decide on the novel’s structure? Why did you choose to tell the story from 6 different points of view?
I don’t start with a plan when I write because I find that if I have too much of a vision when I begin, I am always disappointed. I don’t know if it’s ever possible to satisfy yourself if you have a rigid plan, so I sat down – I write longhand in a notebook – with my pen and paper, and I had an image of Myra and her twins in my mind. I started thinking about them – I was so intrigued by them - so I started exploring them, and then other characters grew from there. I found myself creating more and more characters and getting into the heads of these multiple characters in order to try to know Myra. What I ended up with were these voices that each felt so important to me that it was hard to lose any of them. I felt like they needed to be heard in order to speak to the heart of the story and to make Myra more real. It was too hard to let go of these characters, but, actually, Mr. Barnett had his own voice for a while, and that was one of the characters that my editor and agent said needed to be absorbed. He was so much like Byrdie that it was easy to absorb him that way. I believe you have to tell a story however you can; you have to drag it kicking and screaming into the world, and this was how Bloodroot came out.
5. Southern literature has a strong tradition in American letters and many of American literature’s most notable novels are Southern in origin. Your novel is strongly rooted in this tradition. Why do you think Southern literature is so influential and popular?
Southerners have historically lived hardscrabble lives. We’re kind of downtrodden, particularly Appalachia, and some of Southern literature is tragic, like some of our people. When you live a harder life, you’re forced to confront many of the questions that Southern literature raises, and I think that readers are intensely interested in the type of literature that investigates how people rise out of these types of lives. Who doesn’t want to read about the underdog overcoming the odds?
6. If you could have a conversation with any character in literature, who would it
be and what would you talk about?
Gone With the Wind was the first book that I read – I think I read it when I was 16 – that made me cry. It made me feel deeply, and Scarlett has an indomitable spirit. She didn’t start out as a strong woman, but she ended up as one, and I think she’s fascinating, even though she’s a romantic heroine. We would talk about perseverance and the will to go on because I think this theme is at the heart of so much of literature.