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It’s A Book Thing Presents: An Interview with Amy L. Bernstein, author of The Potrero Complex

Author’s Bio: Amy L. Bernstein writes stories, essays, and poems that let readers feel while making them think. Her novels include The Potrero Complex, The Nighthawkers, Dreams of Song Times, and Fran, The Second Time Around. Amy is an award-winning journalist, speechwriter, playwright, and certified nonfiction book coach. When not glued to a screen, she loves listening to jazz and classical music, drinking wine with friends, and exploring Baltimore’s glorious neighborhoods, which inspire her fiction.


She describes herself as compassionate, intense and ornery. And she can’t live without: (1) lots of bright sunlight; (2) a handful of close friends to whom she can say anything; and (3) hope, especially in dark times.


Deliah Lawrence: What inspired you to write your book?

Amy L. Bernstein: When the pandemic began, I realized we were living through a historic moment in time. I wanted to leapfrog over the present to imagine a near-future and how life might be different after a terrible pandemic has waned. Of course, my story is fiction, but it includes some predictions.


DL: How do you handle writer’s block?

ALB: If I’m stuck on a project, I turn my hand to writing something entirely different. So, if I’m stuck on a novel, I’ll write poems or essays and seek quick gratification by publishing on Medium, for instance. That way, I am still writing productively and not hating myself for getting stuck!


DL: What is your writing process?

ALB: I do my best work in the morning hours. So, after procrastinating for a bit, I will get down to it. I try to write complete scenes, or self-contained segments of scenes, in one sitting. I do not worry about word counts. I also spend time rewriting as I go, so that my first draft is not quite terrible.


DL: What were some of the challenges when writing this book?

ALB: This is the first mystery I’ve written, and I nearly gave up in the middle because I had so many puzzle pieces to fit together in a way that would make sense—without tipping the reader off to what was going on. I want the reader to believe in, and care about, the core mystery but to keep them guessing as to its origins. That’s really hard to do, and I had to give myself a number of pep talks.


DL: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

ALB: I have always gravitated toward literary rather than genre fiction. I still adore the nineteenth century novel, with all its gloriously detailed descriptions, heavy on the characters’ interior thoughts, and slower pacing compared with today’s fiction. That said, I do read fiction across cultures, and I’m in love with anything by Colson Whitehead and Min Jin Lee, among others.


DL: If you were hosting a dinner party which three authors would be your dream guests and why?

ALB: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and Henry James. If I could have a fourth, it would be Emily Dickinson. I find these writers and their fiction (and letters) endlessly fascinating. Yes, I’m well aware they are white and privileged, but I’m focusing on the depth and quality of their written work and setting aside judgment on their cultural origins and inherent prejudices. Edith and Henry were friends in real life, so that would be easy. But I think both of them would also be eager to chat with Miss Austen. 


DL: What are the keys to success in marketing your book(s)?

ALB: When I figure that out, I’ll let you know! Seriously, I try to engage with as many readers as possible, as authentically as possible, which means a mix of honest social media (I don’t get too fancy) and whenever possible, in-person readings.


DL: What tips would you give to aspiring writers?

ALB: Focus on telling the absolute best story you can, one that will keep readers turning the page, and shut out all the noise around you about the publishing industry. There’s time for all that after your story is polished and edited.


DL: Would you like to share an excerpt from The Potrero Complex?


ALB: Sure, here you go:


MISSING: A teenaged girl with lanky, blonde hair and a sunburst tattoo on her cheek. The holographic posters, brighter than day itself, lit up the air on every block of Main Street. They were the first thing Rags Goldner noticed as she and her partner, Flint Sten, arrived in Canary.


The girl’s name was Effie and she was sixteen.


Effie’s pixelated image beamed down at Rags like a celebrity unaware that her fifteen minutes of fame were up.


Rags refused to give a damn about the missing girl who, after all, she didn’t know. Nor did she know much about the town, Canary, where the driverless ShareCar she and Flint had leased for their move had brought them. But missing kids make news, and as Canary’s newly imported one-and-only newspaper editor, Rags knew she’d be expected to do something about it. Which meant she wouldn’t control the news hole on day one. Which meant all kinds of people would come at her to do one thing or another.


Rags hadn’t been in town five minutes and already she could tell things were going to get complicated—and complicated was the very thing she and Flint were trying to get away from.


DL: Where can readers learn more about you and purchase your book(s)?

ALB: Readers can get more information here:

DL: Thanks so much for being here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.

ALB: Thanks again! 


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