Today, it's Amy Mayer's turn in the Fits, Starts & Matters of the Heart hot seat. Let's see what Amy has to say about writing essays and being published. Amy is a freelance writer and radio producer in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Her website is AmyMayerWrites.com
How long have you been writing essays?
I wrote some commentaries that aired on public radio beginning 10 or so years ago. My first published essay in a print outlet was in 2007.
When and where was your first essay published?
That first essay appeared in Wellesley, my alma mater’s quarterly magazine, in the Winter 2007 issue.
Tell us a bit about the essay published in Fits, Starts & Matters of the Heart. What is it about and why did you write it?
My grandmother told me several times about the unlikely friendship she had with an African-American man shortly after she emigrated to the United States in 1933, a German-Jewish refugee. The part that tickled her most was that 30+ years later, she discovered his daughter lived down the street from her daughter, and they, too, became friends. But what interested me, was how that original friendship caused much friction in my grandmother’s family and how she chose to deal with it. I started contemplating some sort of story on the subject a full decade before this essay collection came into being. I wanted to produce a radio piece, and pitched it a few places but never found it a home. Then I decided on the essay format and wrote a few versions that I submitted to publications, again without success.
How did it feel when you discovered your essay had been chosen for inclusion in this book?
Being chosen for inclusion in this collection gave me a new confidence in the essay I submitted. Selection in this anthology validated my sense that this story could resonate with others.
What inspired you to write it?
As an adult, I became increasingly close to my grandmother…until she found out about my plans to celebrate my wedding—to a woman. After we reconciled, I began thinking again about the material I’d gathered around the subject of her friendship with Julian Steele and that’s when I came to interpret her friendship with him in a new way. From the bigoted environment her siblings created during her early years in this country, my grandmother emerged into an impressively open-minded and tolerant American. Still, that kernel of thought percolated for some time before I figured out how to write about it. My grandmother’s 100 th birthday helped nudge me into finally doing something with her story.
Had you tried the essay market before?
Besides unsuccessfully pitching this essay, I have also submitted a few other essays here and there. Wellesley has run a few and I also had a piece (coincidentally also about my grandmother) in the Boston Globe.
What does it mean to you to be published in this anthology?
Certainly it is an honor and a thrill to be published alongside such a fantastic group of other essayists. It also feels like another step in the direction of writing a book, something I am striving toward.
Do you have any words of wisdom to share with someone who says "I don't have anything to write about."?
I hardly feel qualified to advise other people. What I have discovered for myself is that essays spring up from inside, usually unexpectedly. I don’t typically sit down and say, “I’d like to write an essay today. Let me think of a good topic.” Rather, some incident, conversation, Facebook status update, interaction at the grocery store, etc. wedges itself in my brain and grows, sometimes without my realizing it, until suddenly I have an idea for an essay. If I’m able, I scratch it down right then. If not, it continues to grow and morph until I’m finally able to feed and nurture it. Everybody has stories to tell, but searching for one isn’t always the best way to find it.