Interviews / Novelists

Interview with Stephen Amidon: “I am always at work on the next novel.”

Stephen Amidon is an American author who was born in Chicago and grew up on the East Coast. He lived in London for 12 years before returning to the United States in 1999 and now splits his time between Massachusetts and Torino, Italy.

His books have been published in 16 countries and include two works of non-fiction, a collection of short stories, and eight novels, including the critically acclaimed Human Capital and Security. Amidon’s novels have appeared on many books of the year lists and have been adapted into films.

Paolo Virzì’s Italian film version of Human Capital won several awards and was selected to represent Italy as best foreign language film at the 2015 Oscars. Amidon also co-wrote the script for Virzì’s film The Leisure Seeker, which premiered at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

In February 2015, Amidon’s serial play 6Bianca premiered at Teatro Stabile di Torino. A film adaptation of the novel Security was released in Italy in May 2021 and worldwide by Netflix in June 2021. Stephen Amidon’s new novel Locust Lane was released in January 2023 in the US by Celadon and in Italy by Mondadori.

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Give a brief introduction of yourself and provide an overview of your background as a writer?

I was born in suburban Chicago and raised in New Jersey and Maryland. After college and a short stint working as a journalist in North Carolina, I moved to London, where I met my wife Caryl. Together, we had four children and threw lots of dinner parties. I wrote my first four novels while in the UK.

I also worked as a film critic for the Financial Times and the Sunday Times (UK). I moved back to the US in 1999 and wrote my next seven books, two of which – Human Capital and Security – have been made into films. I am also the co-screenwriter of The Leisure Seeker, starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. I am currently putting the finishing touches on my tenth novel. I divide my time between Massachusetts and Italy, where I am a professor of creative writing at the Holden School in Turin. 

How does your experience living in different countries and cultures influence your writing and the themes in your novels?

To be honest, it has had less of an impact than you might think, given the fact I’ve spent around 16 years of my life living overseas, 12 of them continuously in London. (The remainder of my expatriation has been in Italy, as a student in Venice many years ago and currently as a teacher).  

I have never set my fiction overseas, except a few chapters of my first novel. I think the deepest and most lasting effect of living overseas has been to allow me to have more distance, perhaps even a bit more objectivity,  when I look at America. 

Can you talk about the creative process behind your latest book, Locust Lane

Although my books have fairly complex plots, told from multiple points-of-view, I don’t spend very much time creating outlines. I fear that outlines can stifle my characters and make my stories programmatic. Instead, I tend to write many, many drafts.

The goal is to work intuitively at first, then go back and apply the rational mind to what’s been done. If I’m not surprising myself as I work, I’m probably not going to surprise the reader. I prefer to let my characters grow during the writing process, until their personalities become so strong that there can only be one possible storyline for them. 

For instance, in Locust Lane, my two favorite characters turned out to be Patrick, an alcoholic banker, and Danielle, the working class mother of the murder victim. In the original conception of the book, both were secondary characters, but as the drafts piled up, they took on increasingly central roles, until they became the book’s emotional pillars. 

Can you tell us about your writing routine and how you structure your day to make time for writing?

I wake early (not always happily) and get writing straight away, doing as little on the internet as possible. I don’t eat breakfast, although I do drink coffee, too much of it. I write until I run out of steam. Sometimes this moment comes after an hour; sometimes I work through lunch. I’ve never written all day in my life and am a bit wary (or jealous) of people who say they do.  

What does the process look like for you when adapting your novels for film and theater? 

It might be a stretch to say I have a ‘process.’ The first thing I do is try to get into the head of the person or people paying me to do this job, especially if they are a director. My true vision of the story had already been expressed in my novel, so in a funny way I feel less protective than I do of my original screenplays. 

I’m always open to fun and improvisation, provided it doesn’t go against the book’s spirit. I’ve been lucky to work with some very powerfully-minded directors – Trevor Nunn and Noam Murro, to name two – so I’d be a fool not to figure out what they were looking for and use it. 

For me, the challenge is not to be too much of a purist. I know from my days as a critic that film storytelling is very different from narrative fiction.  It’s almost as if you’re translating it into a different language.

How do you balance your work as a novelist with your involvement in film and theater projects?

I’m primarily a novelist. Every good thing that has come to me professionally – film work, theater work, journalism, teaching – has stemmed from my work and identity as a novelist. With that in mind, I am always at work on the next novel. Always. 

Can you share with us your experience of publishing your work in multiple countries and languages?

I’m very lucky in this regard. I’ve had sales in 17 countries. By far, my best overseas experience has been in Italy, where I’ve been published by Mondadori for twenty years, longer than any US publisher. I can always count on them to come out with a beautiful, well-marketed edition of my work. 

They are the reason I have a second life in that country, as a film writer, professor, and consumer of fine cuisine. My main contact there has always been my publicist, Cristiana Moroni, who is one of the best in the business.  Outside of my agent Henry Dunow, she is my longest-standing and most trusted ally in publishing.  

What does your writing workspace look like?

My office is a small former bedroom in a remote corner of the house.  I don’t keep many books there – they would be too distracting. But there is a bed for crucial napping. The best thing is the window above my desk, which affords a view of a constant parade of wildlife (bunnies, foxes, turkeys, all manner of birds, the world’s fattest groundhog) marching past.

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