We are very happy to welcome Amy Lane to the Smoocher’s Voice blog today. Lane’s most recent novel The Bells of Times Square is available at Riptide Publishing.
Amy Lane exists happily with her noisy family in a crumbling suburban crapmansion, and equally happily with the surprisingly demanding voices who live in her head.
She loves cats, movies, yarn, pretty colors, pretty men, shiny things, and Twu Wuv, and despises house cleaning, low fat granola bars, and vainglorious prickweenies.
She can be found at her computer, dodging housework, or simultaneously reading, watching television, and knitting, because she likes to freak people out by proving it can be done.
Connect with Amy:
Jodi: Thank you, Amy for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. I am a huge fan of your writing, and I always am intrigued at the details in both setting and plot that you include in your books. The majority of The Bells of Times Square takes place during World War II. What type of research for this book?
Amy: LOL—uhm, lots. I read books about plains, and books about Jewish contributions to American culture and books about WWII and internet articles about all of the above. Of course the research that started it all was simply listening to my grandparents’ stories about the war, but yeah—I spent about two weeks in “pre-production”, not to mention all of the stuff I learned on the way.
Jodi: Did you research the Yiddish expressions in the book?
Amy: Yes I did, and I had the book beta read by people who would know and understand them. One thing I discovered is that context is everything. I had a friend who was Jewish who frequently—and laughingly—told me that her husband’s family called her a schiksa. In the book I used the term to refer to Nate’s daughter, and one of my beta readers was appalled—she told me that in her household, the world was practically a racial slur, with horrible connotations. I rewrote the part—because a gentleman like Nate wouldn’t think of his own daughter that way, no matter how irritated he was—but it did remind me that you can never be too careful with someone else’s culture. No matter how close I was with my friend, there were obviously cultural layers there that I wouldn’t get.
Jodi: At the end of the book, you mention your grandparents being spies during WWII. Were they the inspiration for this story? Is this the first historical novel you have written?
Amy: Yes—in fact they were the inspiration for this story. My grandfather published two stories about his adventures during WWII, and I have to admit, movies like Band of Brothers, Atonement, Yanks, and Saving Private Ryan have always held a special attraction for me because of that personal connection. As for this being the first historical novel? Well, yes and no. Sidecar sort of counts—it was set in the late 1980’s. I have ideas for other novels set during previous times, and WWII is always rich in potential, but I have to admit, research doesn’t turn my key as much as it needs to. I have to be really motivated to try to put all of those details into context.
Jodi: Was it a challenge to merge the flashbacks with the present?
Amy: Actually, no. I guess I listened to my grandparents (and between my stepmother and my husband, there’s a lot of grandparents to count there!) enough to recognize how much the world had changed.
Jodi: Is the concept of the Bells of Times Square complete fiction? What was the inspiration for this idea?
Amy: Oh yes—the only thing about Nate that wasn’t fictional was his job in OSS. Late one night I ran across an article about how bells were played (and I couldn’t remember from where!) on New Years Eve, at Times Square during WWII. And I imagined one soldier in the franticness and the melee of Times Square, waiting for another. And I imagined the other one not arriving.
Jodi: Nate and Walter are intriguing characters. Tell us a little about both men.
Amy: One of the amazing things about WWII is that an incredible cross section of citizenry were involved. Nate Meyer is the son of a clock-maker from Manhattan. He’s educated, upper-middle class, and thoughtful. He recognizes very clearly that he’s an outsider—not just because of his faith, but because of his sexuality, and he takes pains to fit in, to make friends—but not to become too intimate with anyone. When he meets Walter, and the become so emotionally close while he’s recovering, he sort of makes the discovery that he’s fallen in love with quiet wonder.
Walter, on the other hand, has grown up the son of a dirt-poor farmer with a hard fist. When Walter first flirted with someone, he got beaten—but that didn’t stop him from going out and getting laid. Walter’s first buddy in the war was also a lover—and he didn’t make it, and his heart is incredibly guarded. He doesn’t believe in love, and he’s very conscious that Nate grew up with more money and more education. He thinks he knows how the world works, and that love has no place in it.
Jodi: The issue of anti-Semitism is ironic. Captain Thompson dislikes Nate because Nate is a Jew. Why did you choose to incorporate this detail into the story?
Amy: One of the most common themes in literature is alienation. As human beings we want nothing more than to be accepted among our fellow humans, and yet, as a group, we’re so quick to exclude other groups. It’s this terrible dance—the individual craves acceptance but the herd is afraid of the individual. And you’d think that as we grow as a civilization, we’d adjust somehow, and find empathy to understand other people so this conflict isn’t so personal, so dire as time goes on. But we don’t. This country in particular has gotten more and more phobic about the “other” in recent days, and empathy is thin on the ground. People today look at Nate and think that he made the coward’s choice when he got back home from the war. (I’ve already gotten a review that says pretty much exactly that.) They don’t understand that his faith was his community and his comfort—but that to be Jewish in that time was to be isolated as well, in pretty much any country in the world. What would make a person forsake his sexuality for his community? The absolute painful knowledge of what it means to be on the outside. Nate had that knowledge—on so many levels.
Jodi: Blaine is a lot like his grandfather. He is afraid of being open about his sexuality despite the fact that Tony is not hiding behind a closet door. Will their lives be different than Hector’s and Joey’s because of the men like Hector, Joey, Nate and Walter?
Amy: That’s my hope. Nate and Walter fought a war against an exclusionary monster. We can only hope the world has learned.
Jodi: Carmen is in love with Nate, but clearly he does not love her with the same intensity. They are best friends, but Nate never confides his ultimate secret to her. Why does he keep that part of himself secret?
Amy: Well, for one thing, in that day and age it could have gotten him arrested, blacklisted, or lobotomized. People were institutionalized for their sexuality in those days, and during the McCarthy era, they were blacklisted and forbidden to work. Homosexuality was a crime. If Nate didn’t have a Walter at his side, what incentive did he have to risk that part of himself?
Jodi: This book does not have a traditional HEA, but, on the other hand, it does have the ultimate HEA. Did you worry about readers’ reactions while writing it?
Amy: LOL—not so much worry as know I was going to take a hit for it. It’s important to know what people are going to react badly too, so I can say, “No, I didn’t execute that poorly, it’s just not a crowd favorite.” If you don’t look at it that way, it can make you afraid to tell the story you really feel needs telling, and in this case, I think forgiving Nate for coming home and living a full life without a Walter or someone like him was a really important emotion to strive for. So, yeah. I’ve already taken some hits for the non-traditional ending. But I think it’s made people think, and that’s more important.
Jodi: What is your next project?
Amy: Well, the next thing to come out is Black John, which was a really difficult thing to write. John’s character was sort of the bad guy in Dex in Blue. He went down the cocaine rabbit hole and by the time he came up for air, he’d sold Dex in another porn scene to Dex’s ex-boyfriend. But in Black John we see where he came from, and we see him try hard to atone for his sins. The surprising thing about him was how likeable he was—even at his lowest, he’s sarcastic, snarky, and a survivor. As for what I’m writing right now, well, it’s the sequel to my other Christmas story, The Candy Man. Mary Calmes (who has had to endure some horrific pain as my beta reader) is totally in love with Bitter Taffy. She says it’s lush and romantic, and sweet without being sickening. (Yes, I know, it sounds like I’m writing ad copy! Sorry! But it’s what she said!) I only mention it because between the pain and seriousness of Beneath the Stain, Bells, Black John, and two other upcoming projects, Immortal and The Deep of the Sound, I’d like to emphasize that I still do have some happy works like Candy Man and Shiny inside J
The Bells of Times Square
Every New Year’s Eve since 1946, Nate Meyer has ventured alone to Times Square to listen for the ghostly church bells he and his long-lost wartime lover vowed to hear together. This year, however, his grandson Blaine is pushing Nate through the Manhattan streets, revealing his secrets to his silent, stroke-stricken grandfather.
When Blaine introduces his boyfriend to his beloved grandfather, he has no idea that Nate holds a similar secret. As they endure the chilly death of the old year, Nate is drawn back in memory to a much earlier time . . . and to Walter.
Long before, in a peace carefully crafted in the heart of wartime tumult, Nate and Walter forged a loving home in the midst of violence and chaos. But nothing in war is permanent, and now all Nate has is memories of a man his family never knew existed. And a hope that he’ll finally hear the church bells that will unite everybody—including the lovers who hid the best and most sacred parts of their hearts.