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Friday, December 09, 2016
Bethany Pierce

Bethany Pierce

After completing a master's in Creative Writing and working as a visiting instructor at Miami University in Ohio, Bethany Pierce now lives with her husband in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is a  member of the McGuffey Art Center and continues to write. Her first book, Feeling for Bones, was one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2007.
Bethany Pierce: More Imagination Than Memory

Bethany Pierce: More Imagination Than Memory

(May 2011)
With a highly acclaimed debut behind her, author Bethany Pierce looks ahead to the future—and a promising one at that. Her sophomore release, Amy Inspired, is full of the appealing characters and moving storylines that made her first novel a hit. It also hits on deeper issues that will resonate with many readers.

1. Amy Inspired takes place on a college campus full of colorful characters. What led you to write a story in this particular setting?
My editor at the time approached me with the idea of writing a chick flick series of books about an English teacher in small-town America, a sort of Bridget Jones goes academic. At the time, I was leaving the university I’d been a part of for seven years. The idea of creating a fictional town that mirrored the one I’d grown to love appealed to me; the fictional Copenhagen campus and all its colorful characters gave me a kind of home away from home during the turmoil of moving, marrying, and starting a new life in a new place.

As the book progressed it took on its own form and we eventually abandoned the idea of the serialized fiction in exchange for a single novel, a change I’m very happy with.

2. Your first book, Feeling for Bones, had an autobiographical bent. Would you say the same of this second novel?
I was 16 when I started Feeling for Bones. I had vague hopes it would be published but I had a limited concept of “readership”: I pictured my future audience as a faceless, adoring crowd; I did not imagine my own family and friends reading the book, pointing to its pages to remind me that I’d looted our lives for material. They were, for the record, very gracious about it.

I was in the middle of my second year teaching English when I was given the idea for Amy Inspired. I knew that borrowing from my own experiences as a teacher were inevitable to an extent, but I was so self-conscious about accidentally hurting students and friends I actually polled quite a few about what I should do. Their reaction surprised me: the students not only loved the idea, but several volunteered themselves as characters.

Despite their blessing, I was careful to distance myself from the story, to rely more on imagination than memory. Amy Gallagher is a character I identify with, but when I look at her I don’t see a replica of myself. She’s more like that neighbor you have whose peculiarities grow on you after a while.

3. Which character do you most relate to as the author?
I have a soft spot in my heart for Amy’s vegetarian, striped-stockinged, purple-haired roommate, Zoë Walker. Every time she gets into a fit about eating animal flesh or the Americanization of the Christian church I feel a pang of sympathy. She’s a compilation of the things I never have the courage to wear or say out loud.

And, of course, I’m very fond of Eli, the artist who comes uninvited into Amy’s life and evolves, gradually, from the object of her charity to the object of her affections. He’s an homage to every eccentric I’ve met in the art studios in which I’ve worked, that mysterious individual who never fails to surprise, who you just want to be around every day for the sheer novelty of it.

4. So would you categorize Amy Inspired as romance? Does it live up to its chick flick origin?
It qualifies…Amy is stuck in a dead end job and a stagnant love life. There’s the foreboding approach of the thirtieth birthday, the arrival of the mysterious, handsome love man (Eli), the long anticipated kiss. There’s the hope of a happy ending.

But it’s also a book about loss. Each of the characters experience loss in some way, be it the loss of dreams, of childhood ambitions, or of loved ones. These moments of grief turn the characters towards their understanding of eternity and their place in it. Though Eli and Amy and Zoe may practice their faith differently one from the other, they unanimously aspire to a greater romance than Boy Gets Girl.

5. Amy is a believer when the book opens and a believer when the book ends. Amy Inspired does not tell a salvation story, but does Amy still experience a moment of spiritual revelation readers can take away with them?
Ultimately, Amy Inspired is the story of an idealist coming to terms with the varied disappointments the world has thrown her way only to find her faith in love and in herself renewed in the most unexpected ways. I don’t know if the book provides a clear take away message so much as an attitude of hard-won optimism. It’s my ambition that it infects readers with a kind of hopefulness—while, of course, making them laugh along the way.


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