Amy Poeppel is not a high maintenance writer.
The Dallas, TX native said that she doesn’t need much when it comes time to hunker down and write.
“I need my laptop, and then I need coffee ... and Spindrift in the morning and wine at night,” she said, laughing. “As long as I’ve got that, I’m fine.”
It’s helpful that she can work anywhere, given that she splits her time between Manhattan, Connecticut and Germany.
Her home base is on Bleecker Street, where she lives in NYU faculty housing thanks to her husband’s job as a professor there. She also resides in a “very dilapidated” home in Kent, CT, and an apartment in Frankfurt, Germany, where her husband also works as a neuroscientist.
A self-proclaimed “book nerd as a kid,” who published her first at 50, Poeppel has a diversified resume which includes stints as a high school English teacher, assistant director of admissions at a New York City private school and an “America’s Most Wanted” actress.
Her fourth novel, “The Sweet Spot,” which was released on Jan. 31, is set in a brownstone on Waverly Place, inspired by the ones in her Greenwich Village neighborhood.
She’s already working on her fifth, a multigenerational story about two families, one in Berlin and another in Dallas, who swap houses. “They all have many reasons to want to leave home,” she said. “And find many reasons why they may never want to go back.”
When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
I really didn’t know that until I turned about 48, so much later. I published the first book at 50. I was a book nerd as a kid and taught high school English for a really long time. So books have certainly been a thing for me, but it really wasn’t until I had this idea for this book that I wanted to write and I did end up writing the entire thing. It never got published, but that was in my late 40s. But it was kind of the book that I wrote to figure out that I wanted to write books and that I didn’t yet know how to write a book.
That’s when I met this agent and she read that and said, “I like your style, but I can’t sell this book. What else do you have up your sleeve?” And I was working in admissions and had sort of been writing these little sketch comedies about parents interviewing, and I told her that. I said, “I think I could turn this into a book.” And so that’s what I did.
So you were working in admissions in a New York City school, right?
Yes, I’m happy to say that I worked in a really wonderful New York City private school. I did admissions for grades 5 through 11 and I just loved meeting these families and I loved meeting the kids. And nothing in the book is anything that happened, but it was certainly inspired by my work there. The funny thing is, when I was working there, at the end of every day, I had to write up what had happened that day with the people that I had interviewed. And that just turned out to be such a good writing exercise, because I had to sort of explain who this kid is ... and really, that’s like putting character on the page. So it was really a good job for me because it did just provide me with a lot of humor just about New York City parents and their kids and the pressure to get into the school of your choice. That turned into my first book, which was “Small Admissions.”
You appeared in an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.” How did that come about?
After I graduated from college, I did a lot of theater in the Boston area and a lot of commercial stuff. So I did this episode; I was a battered wife in a reenactment. And it’s so funny because I was literally, a month ago, at a party, and I was talking to this man and his wife. And he was like, “One of my former jobs was that I was a producer way back in the ‘80s for ‘America’s Most Wanted.’” And he knew exactly which episode it was.
I think it’s nice that you make book trailers because it’s not common.
Yes, I’ve done it for three of my four books. There are few people out there who do them. The best one I’ve ever seen is John Kenney, who wrote a book called, “Truth in Advertising.” And if you look on YouTube, that is honestly one of the funniest book trailers I’ve ever seen. And it was just really inspirational to me. But with “Small Admissions,” as I told you, I had been writing all of these sketch comedy scenes about couples interviewing for their kids at schools. So I just came up with this idea and I went to my publisher and I was like, “I want to film this thing.” And I showed them the script and they were like, “We can do that.” So that’s my most polished book trailer, because I had actual professionals doing it in a studio. The two I did after that, one for “Musical Chairs” and one for “The Sweet Spot,” those were more DIY. My son filmed them; my whole family is acting in them. I have so much fun making them.
Which neighborhood do you live in?
I live right now in Greenwich Village, maybe two blocks from Washington Square Park. I am lucky enough to live in NYU faculty housing, so I’m right on Bleecker Street. It’s a great neighborhood and I’ve been there for about 13 years now and I just love it.
You chose the Village as the setting of “The Sweet Spot,” and the family in the book lives in a brownstone on Waverly.
I have such a crush on those brownstones, and I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to a few of them. I just think that the architecture of them ... so many of them are beautiful, polished and renovated and so many aren’t. And I’m more intrigued by the ones that aren’t ... my family in “The Sweet Spot,” I didn’t want to make life too comfortable for them. So I decided to give them a brownstone, but not a renovated one.
Your husband is a professor at NYU. What does he teach?
Yes, my husband is a professor in the psychology department there. He’s a brain scientist, so he studies speech processing in the brain. And I’m definitely going to write a science book at some point and I don’t mean a science book. I mean a book that maybe takes place more squarely in academia. I just think it’s an interesting little world and lots of room for humor there too.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about fiction writers?
Well, sort of a thing that’s true and not true–it is true that when you write fiction, I really do hunker down and don’t get out of my pajamas for days. And it’s very solitary. But what’s not true is that it’s like that all the time. Post 50, I have made more good friends with more wonderful writers who are such a source of support and friendship and we celebrate each other’s accomplishments and commiserate when things are going poorly. And I just wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What books are on your nightstand now and what are you looking forward to reading?
I just finished a really fun, very interesting novel by Heather Webb called “Strangers in the Night.” I knew absolutely nothing going in about Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner’s very tumultuous relationship. And she really does a deep dive on the two of them and their dynamic and their fights. And I’m going to get a chance to talk to Heather fairly soon and I’m so excited to find out about the research process. I love Nicola Harrison’s book that’s coming out in early summer called “Hotel Laguna.” It’s a terrific historical fiction novel. I always learn so much when I’m reading these authors who do so much research. I can’t wait for Fiona Davis’ next book, “The Spectacular.” I haven’t gotten a chance to read that one yet, and I cannot wait. I just finished “Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt. That was wonderful. I actually listened to that one on audiobook and the narration is outstanding.
Well, sort of a thing that’s true and not true–it is true that when you write fiction, I really do hunker down and don’t get out of my pajamas for days. And it’s very solitary. But what’s not true is that it’s like that all the time.” Amy Poeppel, author, “The Sweet Spot”