INTERVIEW WITH AMY MYERSON

The Bookshop of Yesterdays

Amy Meyerson

Harper Collins Pub.

June 12th, 2018

              

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson is part mystery and part drama involving family dynamics.  It is a shout out to those who love books and bookstores since the main mystery is centered around both, and comes about with riddles from book quotes. Clues to the scavengers’ hunt are found in the classics of the past, The Tempest, Jane Eyre, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Fear of Flying, Persuasion, The Grapes of Wrath, and Bridge to Terabithia.

The story begins with Miranda Brooks’ twelfth birthday party.  Her beloved Uncle Billy is a no-show and to make matters worse that night she overhears a fight between him and her mother.  She sees Billy only once more and then he cuts himself off from her life. Fast-forward sixteen years later where Miranda finds out Billy has died and the fond memories of their times together sweeps over her. He took her to his Los Angeles bookstore Prospero Books, where they would read, solve riddles, and have elaborate scavenger hunts full of surprises. After the funeral Miranda learns she inherited the financially challenged bookstore and Billy has left her one more scavenger hunt: a quest to provide answers about the mysterious family’s rift that no one wants to speak about.

This heartfelt debut novel explores loss, healing, and family with all the tensions, misunderstandings, and estrangements that are sometimes part of it. Books and the bookstore are an added bonus allowing readers to understand the importance of forgiveness.

Elise Cooper:  How did you get the idea for the story?

Amy Myerson: I read this article about strange things individuals put in books.  I was really charmed with these hidden messages of people, the idea you could learn about somebody because of what they left in books.  I kept it in my journal for a few years and eventually decided to write this novel.

EC:  This is a shout out to classic books?

AM:  I chose the stories of the scavenger hunt to resonate with what Miranda was being told.  I also wanted to choose quotes from the books that had some meaning.  I put a lot of work in picking the titles.  First, I had the story and then worked backwards to choose the books, and to make sure they had some thematic or narrative ties.

EC:  The Shakespeare play, “The Tempest,” plays a role?

AM:  I picked this play because it is primarily one of my favorites. Not to mention that Miranda was named after the main character of the Shakespeare play. But also, because there is a scene that facilitates Miranda’s journey into the past. She was sent a package by Billy where he highlighted a statement of Prospero, ‘understanding prepares us for the future.’  It has a similar theme to my story, beginning with revenge but ending up with forgiveness and healing.

EC:  How would you describe Miranda?

AM:  At times Miranda appears self-centered but it comes from her frustration with her parents who are tight lipped about the family’s past. She grapples with the question of how well we can truly know another person?  When she was young she romanticized about her Uncle Billy, but in her adult life she saw him as a tragic figure. She is bright, a little restless, inquisitive, and somewhat nerdy.

EC: How would you describe Billy?

AM:  Selfish, at times a blowhard, not forthright, and emotionally inept.  Even his last scavenger hunt was a little selfish.  He could have made better choices and is very much a flawed character.  I think he tried to explain his life to Miranda through the books in his bookstore and not directly as in a letter.  Scavenger hunts were a way Billy communicated.  It enabled him to explain his emotions and through the riddles he was able to talk to Miranda.  In a sense, it was their own private language.

EC: How would you describe Miranda’s mother, Suze?

AM:  Miranda’s confidant, cheerleader, and adviser.  She was very much scared of losing Miranda.  She realized holding back secrets makes it progressively more difficult to tell the truth.  I wrote in this book quote, ‘It’s difficult seeing parents for who they are, rather than who we want them to be.’ I wanted to explore the way we can and cannot know our parents.  I know I feel this way and I think others do as well. It is hard to fully understand who they were before they became parents.  We only know what they chose to tell us and how they chose to tell us.

EC:  The bookstore plays an important role?

AM:  I love books about books.  I wanted to set a story in a bookstore.  The reason for the bookstores’ name, “Prospero Books,” is because “The Tempest” has a scene where he gains magical powers through books.  Also, Billy would take Miranda there as a way to connect with her.  Since it was originally his late wife’s he thought Miranda might also connect to her.  I think it was a way for Billy to share his late wife, Evelyn, with Miranda and keep the memory of her alive.

EC: History is also a large theme here, both general and family history?

AM: I have a book quote, ‘Every day has a yesterday,’ meaning our future is always related to our past.  “The Tempest” has a quote, which I used, ‘what is past is prologue.’ The past informs our decisions in the present and sets our stage for the future. Personal history and national history do affect our lives today.

EC:  There are many references to Thomas Jefferson, including his quote, “I cannot live without books”?

AM:  He is one of our Founding Fathers who helped to establish our morality but his personal life was at times amoral. Miranda also has a contradiction in her life, when she became a history teacher because she is very interested in it, yet she does not investigate her own personal history. I don’t think we should be judging people of the past by contemporary standards.  I have to admit I am fascinated by Jefferson who was a huge reader. I think I read somewhere he preferred books to people.  He had a rich literary history.

EC:  Did you base Prospero Books on any particular bookstore?

AM:  I did a lot of writing in a bookstore in Echo Park.  It has the feel of a used bookstore.  My bookstore visually looks a lot like the one in Echo Park.  I borrowed a lot physically from it, but not any of the actual character struggles. I also spoke with some managers of bookstores that helped me to understand how they work. Silverlake, the community in Echo Park, has changed a lot.  I wanted to make Prospero Books an earlier relic of the neighborhood that is disappearing.

EC:  You also have scenes centered at Dodger Stadium?

AM:  It is located in Echo Park so it became part of the community and my characters could walk there just as I do with my husband. Baseball is also used to have Miranda connect with her father.  She played it to make him happy. Baseball fits into the theme of past history since it was America’s sport.  I wanted my book a celebration of East Los Angeles.

EC:  Is that why you made Billy a seismologist, studying earthquakes?

AM: Again, connecting with Los Angeles. But it also goes along with the book’s theme.  Billy studies the earth’s history and in attempting to prevent them, he learns from them; thus, able to learn from the past. I put in this scene, ‘The earth had moved here, beneath my feet, and that meant Billy wouldn’t have to travel to some other distant land to study the damage. He would stay here with us. That was the best gift Billy gave me as a child.’

EC:  Have you felt an earthquake?

AM: Since I grew up in Philadelphia I never had to experience earthquakes until I came here to teach at USC.  My first experience, I was in a movie theatre and I was terrified.

EC:  Your next book?

AM:  It will be another family drama about past histories.  It is based on a real story about a 1919 diamond that goes missing and after the grandmother passes away is found among her jewelry.  I explore how she ended up with it.

THANK YOU!!