Interview with Amy Voltaire
I first met Amy Voltaire in Aroma’s Coffee Shop in February of 2019. I was co-running the launch of her debut contemporary YA novel, My Name is Erin, and My Mom’s an Addict, and we had scheduled to take publicity pictures and brainstorm her social media campaign. Amy came prepared with a stack of books and her welcoming personality that made us feel like friends from the beginning. We bonded over coffee drizzled with caramel and awkwardly posing on stairs, in coffee shop booths, and in the aisles of Barnes and Noble for a plethora of Instagram-worthy publicity photos. In the months that followed, we worked closely together to connect her with influencers, reviewers, and the local community. It was so gratifying to watch her novel connect with readers across the country, and her successful and heart-warming launch cemented my desire to be a part of the publishing world. It was my pleasure to speak with Amy last week about her writing process, the profound impact her novel has had on her readers, and her novel’s inspiration.
If you had to describe yourself as an ice cream flavor, what would it be and why?
Amy believes that she embodies the spirit of vanilla ice cream, and while you may think vanilla is boring, you have fallen into the classic trap of misunderstanding its complexity. Vanilla is a cherished and adored flavor. It’s the ice cream of choice for apple pie a la mode, brownie sundaes, and ice cream sandwiches. It has layers of flavor but is subtle in its presentation. It is not flashy or demanding of the spotlight. Amy, like vanilla ice cream, is shy and quiet when you first meet her. Her favorite place to be is at home with her pets, and adventure, unless it’s within the pages of a book, is not her cup of tea. However, Amy has a huge heart, enormous empathy, and a laugh-out-loud brand of humor. Once you’ve become her friend, you can easily spend an hour swapping stories and wonder how the time has flown by so quickly. Also, it doesn’t hurt that vanilla is her favorite flavor.
What inspired you to write My Name is Erin, and My Mom’s an Addict?
Amy did not initially intend to become a contemporary young adult author. Rather, she wanted to write an adult paranormal or fantasy book. Amy is a big Stephen King fan (more on that later), and she was hopeful that she could create a narrative in a similar genre to her writing idol. Unfortunately, Amy struggled with the age-old writer’s predicament: she couldn’t come up with a compelling idea.
That all changed when Amy reflected on stories that hit close to home for her. One of Amy's family members began taking care of their grandkids because their parents were addicted to heroin and were unable to properly care for their children. Amy’s heart went out to her family, and she began to think of how hard it must be to feel that your parents have chosen drugs over loving you. Of course, Amy adds, addiction isn’t a straightforward choice, but when you are a child, it certainly feels that way. She was determined to write a book for those children who felt alone, betrayed, and confused by their families’ addiction. She wanted children to see their situations represented in a relatable way in young adult literature and to know, without being lectured, that resources and support systems like Narateen are available for them.
Amy’s mother died when she was 11 years old, and her father was an alcoholic. Amy drew from her emotional memories as a teenager to further bring Erin’s story to life. She remembers that she felt like anything she did could influence her father to start drinking again. A bad grade, in her mind, could trigger a downward spiral, and she felt guilty for her father’s actions. As an adult, she has come to realize that she could not control her father’s addiction, and she wanted to include this lesson in her book as well.
What inspired you to write a sequel?
Amy was pleased to learn that her readers loved Erin and wanted to know what happens next, so she began to brainstorm a sequel. Inspiration struck her in September at a farmers’ market where she was selling her novel. A 15- year old girl was purchasing Amy’s book with her foster parents, and Amy could not help but think about the girl’s story. Why did the girl have cuts on her arm? Why did she end up in foster care? How have her foster parents made her feel safe and loved? Amy put these questions to paper on her blog last year and decided without a doubt that the mysterious girl would become a character in her sequel. In fact, the story was supposed to center on her. But then Jimmy, the boy who bullied Erin, had other ideas. At the end of the book, it was revealed that Jimmy’s father is an alcoholic, and Amy knew that Jimmy’s story needed more attention and depth. The sequel, she reveals, will follow these three teenagers, and while it deals with heavy themes, it will still be infused with every day, relatable milestones and humor. Jimmy, she also says, is surprisingly a funny character, and she is sure that we will grow to love him.
Tell me a little about the impact your novel has had on your readers.
Amy wrote My Name is Erin, and My Mom’s an Addict because she wanted to help teenagers, and she is so pleased and gratified that her work has been touching lives. Amy sells many of her books at markets, fairs, and book signing events and said that readers will disclose to her that their families have gone through situations that mirror her book. Amy says that people open up to her about their struggles because they “know I’m not judging them or anything they’re telling me about.” Because she is not a drug counselor, Amy acts as an empathetic listener. Addicts are very hard people to love, Amy says, and she knows from experience that the fall-out between parents and children can have a huge impact on teenagers. She is amazed and touched that readers have reached out to her over Facebook and email to share their stories, and she was especially moved to learn that a therapist keeps her book in her office.
Tell me about your writing and publishing journey!
As I previously mentioned, Amy’s writing idol is Stephen King, and On Writing has immensely influenced her craft. Amy took King’s advice to heart and wrote two thousand words every day. As a result of her strict writing rule, she completed the first draft of My Name is Erin, and My Mom’s an Addict in just thirty days. Amy confesses that if she was not writing every day, she lost her momentum and couldn’t pick the story back up again. As she wrote her first draft, she did not allow herself to edit as she wrote. Instead, she locked the manuscript in a drawer for 6 weeks (on the advice of King) and asked her sister to read it for the first round of edits. Once she took the manuscript out of the drawer, she edited her work three or four times and submitted it to twenty-six agents. Each and every query came back as a rejection, but Amy did not want to give up on her novel. However, she became discouraged when she learned that novels take an average of two years from becoming accepted by an agent to being released in a bookstore. She worried that the long wait would prevent her book from helping teenagers effected by the opioid epidemic, especially when she still had not secured an agent. Her plans changed when two of her friends recommended that she work with Dawn Brotherton, a local hybrid publisher who was accepting manuscripts. Amy sent Dawn an email, and after a meeting, she was she invited to submit her manuscript to Blue Dragon Publishing. Dawn accepted the manuscript, and the rest is history.
What have you been reading recently?
Amy just finished reading Cilka’s Journey. She had listened to The Tattooist of Auschwitz on Libby and purchased the sequel when she found it on sale on Amazon. She’s currently reading Jane Eyre on Kindle Unlimited. She prefers to read with her Kindle propped on a pillow in bed so she can pet her dog with one hand and turn the pages with the other. She’s looking forward to discussing The Island of Sea Women on July 10 in Living a Life Through Book’s virtual book club.
What have you been doing to pass the time during the pandemic?
When Amy isn’t working, she’s been completing home improvement projects. Now that her son has moved out, she’s been busy painting and redecorating his room in a mermaid theme. She’s also been cleaning out her attic and baking.
If you are interested in purchasing a signed copy of Amy’s book with accompanying swag (I still have and love my promotional sticker and button), you can do so here. Amy’s blog is filled with compelling insights into her writing and life, and she is active on Instagram. I’ve loved watching her mermaid redecorating process recently, and her dog pictures are adorable. I will be beta reading Amy’s sequel novel in the coming weeks, and I can’t wait to meet her new cast of characters and find out what happens to Erin next!