Bloom joins the conversation at Sacred Heart University
When author Amy Bloom finished reading her short story, Between Here and Here from her recently published collection of short stories titled, Where The God of Love Hangs Out, she lifted her eyes from the pages of her book and gazed at her audience to invite questions:
"So now I'm all yours," said the Connecticut-based author of the bestselling novel Away and Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist during her talk and book-signing Wednesday, Jan. 27 at WSHU Public Radio's popular "Join The Conversation" event at Sacred Heart University.
There was silence as the audience sat motionless recovering from the poignant, often humorous, yet familiar narrative of a brother and sister. They return home following the death of their beloved mother to face the father who they had secretly had hoped would have died before their mother so that she could enjoy --¦ten or fifteen healthy years of widowhood...traveling with friends, taking courses at the Elderhostel, and winding up to her eighties on a hotel veranda sipping a tall, fruity drink with someone who looked like Mr. Rachlin." Instead, their mother died first and the brother and sister were left to deal with their father, whose mood swings ruled the household until one day, they witnessed a change in their father who had turned into "a nice old man," not intentionally, but by the unexpected turns that hinder memory in the latter stages of old age.
"It's true I was a therapist before I was a writer, so we can sit in silence for 15 minutes," said Bloom acknowledging the stillness that was a compliment to Bloom's talent as a writer whose "dazzling prose, strong voice and unmistakable and generous wit contribute to the strong following her novels, short stories and one non-fiction attract."
Once awakened to the reality that the author had brought them back to, members of the audience asked insightful and at times, probing questions. The questions sought to uncover a little of the inspiration, dedication and talent of this 57-year-old woman who spent her first 18 years in Great Neck, Long Island. Bloom is the daughter of two journalists, including a father who spoke mostly to the family from behind the pages of The New York Times and when he walked past the television set blasting a sporting event, such as a football game, would say, "grown men. Can you believe it?"
Anyone who has come to love Bloom's novels and short stories would understand she would not be surprised by the games that young men play and others watch. She is a master of observation and has the ability to transfer such observations into characters that keep readers turning the pages as Bloom so eloquently addresses her popular themes of love, sex, family and friends. While she has built her reputation as a writer as one who consistently addresses these familiar themes, in a telephone interview the day of the SHU event, Bloom said her themes are not unlike the ones readers find in other works of fiction. Maybe, she said, some fiction addresses war.
With her latest book release, Bloom returns to one of her favorite genres, the short story, and presents two quartets of short stories; one follows William and Clare, who readers meet when they are married to other people and then meet them again when they are divorced and married to each other. The second quartet of stories focuses on Lionel and his stepmother, Julia, and her family that has been described as "an irresistible tribe."
In a book review in the New York Times, Janet Maslin compares Bloom's quartets of stories to "successfully completed jigsaw puzzles...pieced together into a time-traveling novella filled with hindsight and passion and ever-evoking emotions."
Love and loss are dominating themes throughout the collection, which in addition to the quartet of stories, also includes four other stand alone short stories. The author presents the reader with strong characters and then leads up to their passing. Readers mourn them along with her other characters as if we have known them personally.
During the question and answer session, Bloom was asked if her characters were "made up." Bloom replied: "Most of my characters are made up like bits and pieces you find on the beach...I have parents and I'm a good daughter," said Bloom, implying the similarity between her and the daughter in Between Here and Here, who despite her obvious dislike for her father, continues to make sure that the house and he are well tended to by hired housekeepers and that her and her brothers make periodic visits from out of state.
Bloom told her audience that she grew up reading Dickens and Superman comics. She was interested in people and how events changed them.
In response to a question about her writing process, Bloom detailed her day that begins with her awakening and going outside to pick up the newspaper. She has several children -- three to be exact -- who she acknowledges in her book as "exceptionally literate, all straight talkers, all my favorite people." She makes sure she keeps contact with them frequently. She has a lot of cookbooks so she may decide to cook something. She checks the mailbox. The morning is devoted to the business of being a writer and also to any freelance assignments she may write for publications. After lunch, she gets dressed and "schleps to the wood shed where I do serious writing. And if I'm lucky the characters take shape. I can hear their voices." If she can't hear their voices, "I tear it up."
Bloom describes the writing process as "having a small crappy farm that you still have to show up and plow."
When asked which she likes better, fiction or non-fiction, Bloom said non-fiction is easier because, "I have the characters. Anything is easier than fiction," said Bloom, who said that she had spent two years writing and rewriting one short story.
One audience member told Bloom that her writing was "so evocative" and asked her to address the process in which she can come up with such phrases as "Love is Not a Pie."
Bloom said she works on the "simplest and most economical phrasing. I'm not interested in a lot of trim. Every sentence has a heart. Every paragraph has a heart. It is as much like poetry as possible." The author compared the writing process in finding the right words to the art of a sculptor who will chisel away the stone to form his work of art.
When asked if she reads her work aloud, Bloom said she will read for herself without inflection.
It may surprise wannabe writers that Bloom relishes the rewriting process. "The only thing you have as writer is your work, so no one else's timetable is important."
How has her training as a therapist affected her as a writer? Does she analyze herself?
"No," Bloom said. Her work as a therapist has taught her the importance of listening. "Don't presume you know someone because you see them. Don't assume that you know them."
Prior to her talk, Bloom spent some time talking with actress Joanna Gleason, who is the wife of actor Chris Sarandon. The couple live in Fairfield and next week, Gleason will be starring in the Off Broadway hit play, Loss and What I Wore for the month of February.
Gleason who had read Where the God of Love Hangs Out, along with Bloom's novels, said her writings "moves me so deeply. Her writing is so human." Gleason praised Bloom's powers of observation and levels of empathy. "She strikes a chord. She creates a world right next to you and she lets you in."
Westport's retired police chief Ron Malone and his wife Carol attended last Wednesday's event. The couple, who have been married 53 years, bought Bloom's book and are strong supporters of public radio. While he had not as yet read Bloom's works, he did go online to do some research about the prolific writer. During the audience participation Malone asked Bloom if writing her books were a catharsis for her. The author said, "I guess it must be, but I don't experience it that way. It's like someone has had a terrible, terrible bout of the flu."
Bloom said her focus in writing is on the language and the characters and the way events reveal the characters to her.
In discussing her characters, Bloom said no one can tell another how to live their lives. "People are determined to make their own way." This is quite evident with the characters in her stories. They do make their own decisions and with the individual fortitude to do so.
As the Times noted, Bloom has a "tremendous gift for imagining life as a series of choices, with the paths not taken as vivid as the ones that are."
Bloom is reluctant to talk about her personal life, yet when pressed by a member of the audience to talk about the town of her childhood, she reluctantly described Great Neck as having many synagogues, golf clubs and "57 beauty parlors."
Bloom spoke affectionately of her teachers in all the Great Neck schools and the librarian at the public library who urged the young adolescent to show her parents the book that she claimed had inspired her. The title was Memoir of a New York Madam and as a child Bloom was mesmerized by the description of the peignoirs and shoes with feathers.
"Do bring it home to show your parents," the librarian urged.