An appropriate time, I'd say, for a story about a man with many brides, wives, exes, women scorned, and the rest. My friend Amy Stolls thought so, too, and she writes a hilarious and touching story of The Ninth Wife in her new novel available right now. It's about a woman who is dating a man who has had eight wives, and she's been asked to be the ninth. Along the way, she's got lots to say about love and friendship and growing older. Go get it. Or better yet, order it from Powell's.
Amy and I met at the National Endowment for the Arts many moons ago. She was a newly hired specialist in the Literature Program, and I knew her first through our mutual friend, Cliff Becker. And though he passed away a few years ago much too prematurely, Cliff continues to serve literature, not only through the many writers and editors and publishers that he helped, but also through the Cliff Becker Endowment for the Literary Arts at the University of Missouri.
If you love literature, and most particularly translation, lend them a hand. Cliff took Amy under his wing, so to speak, and she dedicated The Ninth Wife to that irrepressible soul.
Since we both independently worked on novels that feature the stories of multiple women, Amy kindly agreed to interview me about Centuries of June. (You'll get a sense of her humor in her questions.)
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Amy Stolls: One of my favorite things about Centuries of June is that it delves into so many interesting voices and stories and points of view, all of which I found myself getting completely drawn into. Was it difficult writing in different voices? Were there any particular chapters that you enjoyed writing more than others?
KD: I loved the challenge of trying on new voices, and I loved each woman in turn for different reasons. Like the eight wives in your novel, the eight women in mine needed to be given a separate characterization in order for the whole thing to work. To keep track, I dressed them all in different colors and gave each one a different dog. Little tricks to keep the writer in line.
Amy: Did you do a lot of research for your novel? For example, did you have to get someone to knock you unconscious so you would know what that feels like?
KD: I was actually knocked out a couple of times that I remember. The first time was in my aunt's house in Pittsburgh when I was goofing around and knocked myself out on a coffee table. I got to wear one of those bandages like the guy in the fife and drum patriot drawing you always see. And a guy once punched me in the face and knocked me out. I really saw stars. What we do in the name of research. Of course, I didn't make the sacrifices for art that you made — you and your eight husbands.
Amy: We both decided to set significant scenes in the bathroom. For me, it's where I do my best thinking. And I've always thought a flushing sound can give gravitas to any drama. What was your reason?
KD: Your scene in the bathroom was hilarious and very romantic. Spoiler alert: It involves a couple! Mine is filled with blood and scruff and danger. The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house, and it is where we are absolutely alone and sometimes wet and afraid. Like being in a womb.
Amy: If you could have a story or book written on your body, which one would it be? Whom would you want to read it?
KD: (She's referring to one of the women in the book, and the cover is a take-off on the theme.) A whole story or book on the whole body? Heaven forbid. Someone could tweet on my forehead, that would be okay. What is it 140 characters? How about: Space for rent, present owner otherwise occupied.
Amy: Both of our novels focus on eight women conjured up from the past, only yours are naked, pissed off, and wielding weapons. Do you think your characters would beat up my characters if they all found themselves in the same bed?
KD: I smell sequel.
Amy: Are you the bastard son of Samuel Beckett?
KD: Beckett is sort of a character in my book, but I had a dream once that I met his ghost while riding on the Red Line Metro. But bastard son? I doubt it. I'm sure I know who my father was, though I have some questions about my mother. The real Beckett was a funny fellow. I can't go on, I'll go on, he says. Now, that's rich.
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Keith Donohue is an American novelist, the author of the national bestseller The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. He also has written reviews for the Washington Post. He lives in Maryland near Washington, DC.
Books mentioned in this post
Keith Donohue is the author of Centuries of June