Scheibe Puts Characters in a Mess and Watches What Happens
By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris
Amy Scheibe was a new mother and a senior editor for a major publisher assigned to read a poorly written manuscript when she decided to break a ten-year hiatus from writing and begin work on a novel. On her first day she wrote twenty-four pages of what would be her first published novel What Do You Do All Day?
A Fireproof Home for the Bride
by Amy Scheibe
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While her first book was born of frustration, her latest, A Fireproof Home for the Bride, was a product of inspiration.
“I found a tear sheet of a magazine from the 20s that was a blueprint for a home. The title was A Fireproof Home for the Bride. The thought of this woman contained in this house that could not be touched by anything, even fire, made me feel claustrophobic. It made me think of The Yellow Wallpaper and Girl on Fire. Pressure makes diamonds—so I went for it,” said Scheibe.
|“When I start a book, I tell myself to vomit on the page . . .”|
The story follows Emmaline Nelson as she breaks away from her strict family and discovers her place in the world. The novel confronts the social issues of the day in a subplot related to the Klu Klux Klan.
Initially, the plot was fueled by an article in Real Simple magazine about a suicide note from a 60 year-old woman to her 30 year-old daughter. When her agent Sarah Burnes read the book, she told Scheibe that the prologue had to go because it wasn’t believable that the main character Emmy would commit suicide.
Scheibe would go on to write 20 drafts, altering the plot and dropping a ghost character.
“When I start a book, I tell myself to vomit on the page. After revisions fifty percent of what’s in the book will be changed, so I just go ahead and write all I can,” said Scheibe.
The plot of A Fireproof Home for the Bride is elaborate, involving a rich family history, compelling subplots and competing motivations.
“I hem myself in, so I can get to the depth that I want to get to,” said Scheibe.
“I massaged the tone as I wrote.”
The book’s tone is seamless, evoking the social and religious mores of the upper Midwest in the 1950s, with detailed descriptions and language that mirrors the narrow world from which Emmy emerges.
“I massaged the tone as I wrote. I read books published in that era and watched movies from that time. Marjorie Morningstar was a big influence,” said Scheibe. “My mom graduated in 1958 and told me about the clothing of the time like woolen stockings and the reversible skirt I have Emmy wear.”
She noted that eighty percent of research material ends up unused. She also encourages writers to get writing, knowing that they can research as they go, if needed.
While writing, she employed the advice of teachers she met pursuing her B.A. at Columbia, which included not killing off the parents and making sure her evil characters were not completely evil.
She advises writers to “have more happen.”
“Put your characters in the middle of a mess and see what happens,” said Scheibe.
The great challenge of the book was addressing a note from her agent that the tone of the first and second half of the book didn’t match. She kept asking herself what Emmy wanted.
“I figured out that Emmy wants the truth. Then I had to ask myself, if this is what she wants is this scene getting her there,” said Scheibe.
“Your first book is the easiest. . . “It gets harder over time . . . .”
She worked with Editor Elizabeth Beier at St. Martins to polish the book.
“Your first book is the easiest,” cautions Scheibe. “It gets harder over time because you raise your own stakes . . . Write for an audience of one, not what is selling. Your voice is what matters.”
|About the Author|
Amy Scheibe is the author of A Fireproof Home for the Bride and What Do You Do All Day? and teaches at New York University. She has written for Dame Magazine, Seattle Weekly, and many other publications. Born in Minnesota and reared in North Dakota, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
|About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
|Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.|
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This post was written by Ellen Birkett Morris