By Emilie Murphy
Portrait Photography by ChiChi Ubiña
Amy Poeppel has been a high school English teacher, an assistant director of admissions, and even appeared in an episode of America’s Most Wanted. But these days, Poeppel sports a different title: that of best-selling author. Her first two books – Small Admissions and Limelight – were critical as well as commercial successes, both included in lists like Town & Country’s ‘Books to Give Every Book Lover on Your List’ and BuzzFeed’s ‘Top 6 Books You Need to Read.’ Now, Poeppel is back with her latest novel, Musical Chairs, set for release on July 21.
Musical Chairs is a family drama that explores what happens when a complicated family is thrown together for the entire summer (something many of us can relate to amidst the Covid outbreak). Set against the backdrops of New York City and Connecticut, the novel also delves into the singular world of leading classical musicians. This subject matter presented a new challenge for Poeppel. While her first two novels covered areas that Poeppel knows intimately – school admissions and acting – Musical Chairs has brought her into unfamiliar territory.
“I started writing this novel knowing very little about the schedules, finances, repertoire, and chemistry of a small chamber ensemble,” explains Poeppel. “Fortunately, I have a son who is studying musicology and classical composition at NYU.” Poeppel asked her son for suggestions, making sure she was accurately portraying the particulars of the musical world. She also sought out the advice of close friend and fellow author, Marcia Butler. “As a classically trained oboist, she was my first reader,” says Poeppel. “She gave me so much helpful feedback on my first draft, which led to some significant rewriting.”
When it comes to the writing itself, Poeppel’s process is not linear. “I’m what you might call a binge-writer,” she says, exhibiting a sense of humor that can be found throughout much of her work. Aside from putting words on a page, Poeppel’s creative process also involves researching and gathering insights from relevant sources, as well as finding inspiration through other works of fiction. “My heroes, like Elinor Lipman, Jesmyn Ward, Elizabeth Strout, and Stephen McCauley, make me want to work harder and be a better writer.”
Inspiration can come from unexpected places, too. For Musical Chairs, Poeppel was intrigued by a line from Norah Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally. “I wanted to explore a longtime relationship between the main characters, Bridget and her best friend Will,” explains Poeppel. She thought of the line in the iconic movie when Harry is musing about why men and women can’t be friends. “The sex always gets in the way,” he says. As Poeppel began writing Musical Chairs, she wondered at these words. “I asked myself…does it have to? Maybe it does. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens in the case of Bridget and Will!”
For more details on Poeppel’s forthcoming novel, visit her website or watch her book trailer. Fans can also attend a virtual launch event, hosted by The Strand, on Facebook Live. Fairfield County LOOK is also planning a live, socially-distanced event in Greenwich on August 26th with authors Amy Poeppel, Fiona Davis and Susie Orman Schnall. Please email us here, if you are interested in receiving an invitation, as space will be limited.
LOOK Literary, An Interview with Author, Amy Poeppel about Her New Book, Musical Chairs, by Demetra Ganias