AN INTERVIEW WITH AMY FUSSELMAN
When McSweeney’s organised a competition asking readers to write a book about electrical engineering on boats, Amy Fusselman was the winner. Here she talks about her novel, The Pharmacist’s Tale, pregnancy and punk. “The pregnancy and the book and the tour and becoming a parent and burying a parent and labor and dying and traveling are all one. But it sounds idiotic to say it like that, in one sentence. I like trying to get at the big things in small ways. I'd say that's what I have been trying to do.”
Andrew Gallix interviews Amy Fusselman
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3AM:You used to publish your own fanzine, Bunny Rabbit, and have a master's in English/Creative Writing from Boston University: how long have you been writing for? Could you also tell us about your website and the other publications you are involved with?
AF: I've basically been writing forever and have been involved with a few New York literary things, including the Poetry Project at St Mark's, Ugly Duckling Press, Nights with VCR, etc. Right now I am editing a website of writing and art called Surgery of Modern Warfare, which I update once a week. It's not entirely my own work, which is a nice change, since Bunny Rabbit was exclusively my writing and drawings. I am really having fun with it, and am open to publishing pretty much anything, so please tell your readers to submit to DearSurgery@aol.com.
3AM:Why did you subscribe to McSweeney's from the first issue?
AF: Because of my experience with Bunny Rabbit. Whenever I hear about a new independent publication, I try to buy it. I like to support the home team.
3AM:As an early McSweeney's fan, isn’t there something almost miraculous about being published by them?
AF: Actually, no, it doesn't seem miraculous to me. What would be miraculous is if Random House or St. Martin's Press held a contest for someone to write a book about electrical engineering on boats. But I do think there is something about McSweeney's in general that is amazing, which is that the entire enterprise seems to be running on this giant engine of "Why not?" Why not have a journal with a CD in it? Why not have a publishing company where authors get more control? and so on. It's this overwhelming sense of enthusiasm and possibility that makes it so great.
3AM: In The Pharmacist's Mate, the narrator establishes a link between pregnancy and her father's death: would you go as far as to draw a parallel between the publication of your book and your pregnancy?
AF: Yes. The pregnancy and the book and the tour and becoming a parent and burying a parent and labor and dying and traveling are all one. But it sounds idiotic to say it like that, in one sentence. I like trying to get at the big things in small ways. I'd say that's what I have been trying to do -- particularly around the subject of pregnancy -- in my tour diary for McSweeney's.
3AM: The Pharmacist's Mate is, among many other things, about your father's death: aren't you afraid that some people might think it is reminiscent of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?
AF: No, I was never worried about that. It's too simple an analysis. Dave's voice and my voice are very different -- you could never mistake one for the other. And there are a lot of books about fathers dying; it happens to everyone. Hamlet's father died as well but no one is saying my work is too similar to Shakespeare's. Although that would be funny.
3AM: Eggers has created a new literary genre through McSweeney's which is a great achievement, but many authors who are now published by them seem to be conforming to a preconceived idea of what a McSweeney's type story is: do you agree with this criticism?
AF: No. I would be hard pressed to find four authors with four more different writing styles than myself, Neal Pollack, Lawrence Krauser, and Jonathan Lethem.
3AM: The Pharmacist's Mate has been described as a non-fiction novel. Do you accept that description? How would you define a non-fiction novel?
AF: I hadn't heard that description, but I like it. I think it's expressive of the fact that non-fiction and fiction are not that different, structurally. The only real difference is that non-fiction is factually true. I have always been attracted to the rawness and realness of non-fiction, probably because it is closer to contemporary poetry, and I started out wanting to be a poet.
3AM: What are you going to write next?
AF: I'm working on several things right now: another, longer non-fiction work, a piece for Jane magazine about my pregnancy and labor, and, as always, various poems and stories.
3AM: As an old punk, I'm interested in your days as a punk guitarist. Could you tell us a little about that?
AF: I was the rhythm guitarist in a five-member band called The Bread Group. My now-husband was the lead singer, and the two of us wrote most of the songs. This was in Columbus, Ohio, where I went to college. We had some pretty memorable gigs, and often played with Scrawl and The Great Plains – two fantastic local bands who went on to record and tour extensively. But I'll never forget our third gig ever: we opened for The Minutemen. It was like a dream, because I really -- especially in the beginning -- could barely play guitar. I knew three chords, and the rest was enthusiasm. The whole experience was also something where the "Why not?" factor was very high. In some ways I think it influenced my writing more than any schooling ever did. I got a taste of that freedom and I never got over it.
Read an excerpt from The Pharmacist’s Tale. Take a look at Amy’s tour diary. 3am Magazine wish to congratulate Amy Fusselman who has given birth to a little boy called King. SEND CORRESPONDENCE TO: