Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Amanda Krupman’s fiction piece, New Business
Sommer: You do such a great job of writing humor and satire in this story. You make it look easy! Who are some of your favorite humorists/satirists, and have you gleaned anything from them when it comes to your own writing?
Amanda: Mallory Ortberg is outrageously good. I still miss The Toast; I have to admit I think her talents are being squandered as the new Dear Prudence at Slate. Other favorite humorists include David Rakoff, R. Eric Thomas, and Alexandra Petri. I’m also strongly influenced by Shirley Jackson’s work, and I came to most of it relatively late. Until recently, I’d only read “The Lottery,” a canonical piece of satire. That blend of satire and horror is particularly interesting to me.
I really love how you make us feel slightly uncomfortable in this story, as all truth should. This story shows us that even the most open-minded, welcoming, diverse groups can become dogmatic, narrow-minded, exclusive and mean. How do you think we can practice being truly accepting of each other, not despite our differences, but because of them?
Honestly, I still feel uncomfortable when I re-read it. I don’t think I’ve ever written a story faster than “New Business.” It felt like it sprang fully-formed onto the page. I don’t know about it being truth with a capital T: it’s certainly a truth, and a complicated one.
I also don’t know if I can straightforwardly answer your question. I do think that “difference” has to be understood as it relates to power. There’s a tension between wanting one’s difference or “otherness” to be made invisible or irrelevant when it comes to the law (which is to say, correctively amended), and the celebration of one’s own difference and love of one’s own people. We know that this country lies on a bedrock of inequity and an ingrained insider/outsider dichotomy; the burden of proof, so to speak, is on the “outsiders.” Show me you’re like me and maybe I’ll recognize your humanity. So various groups are put through this testing period where they deny or downplay difference, for better or worse. I know this to some degree from my own life, as both a queer person and as a woman. It’s an exhausting dance. So I understand how a kind of reactionary tribalism can emerge in the face of that.
I also think that there is a lot of bullshit “commentary” out there in response to just and necessary protest. If you’re calling, say, a black woman “close-minded” or “angry” because she’s unflinchingly naming her oppressors, then you’re not only almost certainly projecting, but being purposefully dense.
That being said, yes: we’re all capable of being horrible and petty with one another. This story, in part, comes out of spending hours wrestling with my feelings while reading combatant comment threads on Facebook. I’ve worked in some way or another for social justice for much of my adult life. And I’ve always been aware of this call-out culture that poisons the well. I am not peddling a dismissive “oh, outrage is all the rage” line here; if you’re not outraged by enduring white supremacy, the militarization of police, and all of the cankerous –isms, I’d have a hard time understanding your point of view. And, of course: language matters. Self-determination matters. Being vigilant and protecting ourselves and those we love matters. But when the conversation becomes more about ego and virtue-signaling, or when it demands silence, or sets in place new hierarchies, or when in any other way anger becomes an endpoint rather than a tool or piece of an ongoing, dynamic process, I begin to feel uneasy.
Being offended so much of the time, as the characters in “New Business” are, seems like such a privilege of time, freedom, space and money. Plus, it’s just plain exhausting. How do you think we can guard against this trap of, for lack of a better phrase, systemic offensiveness?
“Privilege,” in this case, I think, is a loaded word; maybe that’s there, maybe it’s not. Ultimately, I think it makes sense to expect a big clusterfuck of emotions and reactions if you’re facing systemic denials of your liberty and humanity. Going back to Shirley Jackson, the first line of The Haunting of Hill House comes to mind: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality…”
I think the characters in “New Business” care about real things that matter, but they end up performing for each other instead of realizing any goal. I think the question is actually, How do we guard against systemic defensiveness? or even better, How can oppressed peoples unite to take on the worst the world has to throw at us without falling down our own little bizarro-world rabbit holes? When are semantic concerns crucial, and when are they an exercise in futility?
The rub, of course, is that we’re already asking these questions, and no one is agreeing on the answers. I hope “New Business” is not read as a hostile, smug, or otherwise distanced piece. These are outsized renderings of people I’ve known and cared about—and also maybe different versions of me at 18, 25, 35 years of age. It’s a pointed but loving critique. With some jokes.
What are you writing these days? Anything big in the works?
I have a novel manuscript that I’ve set aside while working on a collection of short stories.
What advice do you have for writers on handling rejection?
It gets better? Maybe? Ha. I don’t think you’re ever completely inured to rejection, but I do think it helps to have a system in place. When I first started submitting, I had no real plan. I just sent stories out willy-nilly to one or two journals I admired and forgot about it. In some ways, rejection was inevitable, and actually kind of easier on the psyche; I wasn’t really trying. Now I make it my business to submit widely and I do so with some strategy. So, yes, I get more no’s now, but also more yes’s. There are also some cool digital tools out there that help writers by arming them with information. RejectionWiki and Duotrope are two examples.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thank you, Sommer, for wanting to publish the story.