Q&A Monday: Steven Amsterdam 1 Comment

Q&A Monday: Steven Amsterdam

Steven Amsterdam. Male. Born in New York. Lives in Melbourne. Debut novel: Things We Didn’t See Coming. Out now in Australia and USA and soon in Europe. Won 2009 Age Book of the Year. Recently shortlisted for NSW Premier’s Literary Award. Publishes plenty of short stories. Has worked in a fistload of different fields. Right now is a psychiatric nurse (and writer).

Writing: necessity or luxury?

Aah. I don’t always feel particularly driven, but maybe that’s from years of not having anyone asking me what I’m working on. It just seems to happen and now I’m definitely writing with a plan. The fact that I seem to keep doing it points to a kind of need then, doesn’t it? I choose column A.

Things We Didn’t See Coming continues to provoke acclaim, and is conquering the globe. Does this freak you out?

Conquering the globe? To the extent that it’s had warm reception in two countries now, I’m pleased. I hope it continues. This may be a measure of my own mental health or lack thereof but I don’t walk around blissed out or freaking about this fact. It seems like a very good thing to me, like a big present. It doesn’t feel like planting a flag on this Everest that’s been in my mind since I was twelve, which I suppose it should. I guess I’m superstitious. Not that a good review can be taken away, but still.

You are an American living in Australia. Does this mean anything?

To my family and friends back there, yes, but I try to get back when I can.

I read somewhere that being an immigrant for a while makes you a stranger in two lands at once and I’ve started to notice this effect. There are subtle distances during my trips “home” to the US. For instance, I was once quite attached to the American political circus, watching the Sunday news shows and screaming loudly for my favourite team. But now I feel a bit of a relief when I read about it all. I’ve started to look it at with the same distance I look at say, Nicole and Keith. It’s happening to someone else. This is, of course, wrongthink, because even if it doesn’t effect me directly, it effects people I love, and in the long run, America casts quite a big shadow on the globe, so its impact may well reach me wherever I hide. Still, there’s been a sense of ease, not feeling personally responsible for universal healthcare being passed. The corollary (a word that you all pronounce differently to Seppos) is that I haven’t exactly glommed onto Australian politics. It lacks the virulent partisanship that makes American politics so engaging. Clearly I’ve used this whole immigration thing as an excuse to get my mind off of public policy and onto real things, like fiction.

Alongside writing, you work as a psychiatric and palliative care nurse. Would you quit if money was no object?

No. Emphatically not. I love the work I’m doing now and it provides an important balance to the writing and to my newer business of being a writer.

Your website bio says that you “Once got yelled at by Sean Penn.” Can you elaborate?

I was an assistant to the assistant to the producer on his first film, The Indian Runner (early Viggo Mortenson, really worth seeing). They were showing dailies early on and I walked in. Sean didn’t know who I was and started yelling at me until someone told him to stop. We didn’t become mates afterwards, but he didn’t yell at me again.

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you rifle?

I’m stunned to find that no one comes to mind. I’m writing a story right now about a girl who discovers her gift for invisibility and I have found it hard to use her power for such spying. I must be moral.

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

: )

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

George W Bush springs to mind. The next thing that bubbles up: only one?

You’re an exile, banished to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. You are allowed one book and one album of music (in a solar powered iPod) to last the rest of your days. Any preferences?

I picked my desert island music a long time ago (back when I had it in album format)—Bowie’s Young Americans—and I think that still stands. For literature, a toss up between Lolita and Jane Eyre. Of course, if the measure is what would I like not to have ruined by overexposure, it would be anything but those choices. Couldn’t my captors spring for an ipad so I could bring all my music and books with me?

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

Just saw my first cane toad a week ago in the Gold Coast. I felt sorry for it. Imported from another land, thriving in a strange terrain where it wasn’t wanted. Being thought of as destructive, invasive, a pest. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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