Amy Impellizzeri is a reformed corporate litigator and award-winning author who survived a plane crash on her residential New York corner two months after 9/11. Her book, Secrets of Worry Dolls, while completely fictional, arises from the real life survival stories of that day. As our Author of the Day, Impellizzeri reveals how her experience shaped her writing, why she included Mayan Worry Dolls in her story and much more.
Please give us a short introduction to what Secrets of Worry Dolls is about.
Secrets of Worry Dolls is the story of a 9/11 widow, Mari, and her surviving daughter, Lu, who are estranged when the story begins, even though they are living on the same corner of Rock Harbor, New York - a fictional town loosely based on my former home of Belle Harbor, New York. When a plane crashes on the residential corner of Rock Harbor where the two women live, Mari goes missing. The story continues from the alternating points of view of each woman - set in both New York City and Guatemala - in which the long-held secrets of each woman are revealed and unraveled - with unexpected results.
You survived a plane crash on your residential New York corner two months after 9/11 - what was that experience like?
Yes. Two months after fleeing my Manhattan Times Square law office building in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks downtown, a plane crashed on my residential corner on a day I had taken off of work, and so I was home at the time. My house was the only house of the four corner houses that was not leveled or set on fire by the crash. I survived the event that five of my neighbors on the ground did not. My house, in fact, became the command center for the entire recovery operation and all these years later, I am still equal parts horrified, guilty, and grateful about that fact.
Tell us more about the Mayan tradition - why the Worry Doll angle?
I got my first set of Worry Dolls when I was 6 or 7 - from a great-aunt who had traveled to Guatemala. I was instantly enthralled by them and have loved them ever since. When thinking about a story that might arise in the context of the rumored "end" of the Mayan calendar (which is when this story begins) - I started thinking that dolls like these would hold a lot of secrets ...
Your characters are well-drawn and feel real. How did you pull this off?
Oh, thank you! These characters are the composite of many people and emotions in my own life and history, and I came to live with these characters for two years. I'm not sure I have any secret recipes for how to make characters feel REAL other than to believe they really could be - as the author.
How has your life changed since publishing your very first novel?
Well, for one thing, I have decided never to go back to practicing law! And that's not because the writing industry is more predictable, stable, or lucrative than the law biz. It’s none of those things. But for me, personally, it is just so incredibly fulfilling.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I can rap Guns & Ships from the musical, Hamilton. (Sort of.) Does that count?
Surviving loss and grief is a central theme in this book - why did you find this topic important to explore?
This story is indeed about loss and grief and resilience. In a way, it was a personal journey of healing after the plane crash that I experienced, that was over a decade in the making. But in a bigger way - it's about the losses that shape us all as people, parents, and lovers - and hopefully - the surviving that shapes us as well.
The book is told from two different POVs - why did you take this approach?
It came about somewhat accidentally - or maybe organically - depending on your viewpoint! I didn't start out with that intention - but three quarters of the way through the first draft, I saw that I was telling the story in two points of view that potentially could alternate - with some creative editing. And so that's how I started the editing process for draft two!
Readers report that Secrets of Worry Dolls haunted them after reading it. Was this intentional?
Maybe not intentional, but I think it was inevitable. I have long been haunted by the ghosts of the crash of Flight 587. They were certainly my muses as I wrote this story - along with other deceased family members - including my godmother and grandmother.
Which of your characters has been the most challenging to write for?
Well, actually, the most challenging character was in my most recent novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA. One of the main characters - Will Cann. It was the first time I ever wrote from a male point of view. I loved doing it, though, despite the challenge, and it won't be the last time!
Talk to us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
The only thing that’s typical is that it’s never typical! I write in bits and pieces whenever I can steal time away from my life as mom of 3, Advancement Director of a local school, writing teacher, volunteer, and soccer/hockey/football/basketball cheerleader.
Do you ever have days when writing is a struggle?
Of course! But mostly, I love the process of watching the story evolve so much that I view the struggle days as a necessary evil. The hardest part is actually putting the story out into the world.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new story about a power couple in Washington D.C. She's the director of a children's foundation and he's a lawyer-turned-politician. When a tragedy occurs, everything they think they know about each other and their paths twists and changes. It's called WHY WE LIE.