Amy Fusselman doesn’t know the first thing about electrical engineering on boats, but that didn’t stop her from writing a book about it. Here, the young author, editor, publisher, punk rocker, and mom discusses her curious new book, The Pharmacist’s Mate.
texasmonthly.com: Your book was a contest entry responding to a request from McSweeney’s literary magazine for a book about electrical engineering on boats. What about this prompt spoke to you? How is The Pharmacist’s Mate connected to this topic?
Amy Fusselman: I responded to the contest because I was —and am—a fan of McSweeney’s. The fact that I didn’t know anything about electrical engineering on boats was beside the point. The Pharmacist’s Mate has boats in it, or at least one big boat. I figured that was close enough.
texasmonthly.com: Your book contains three story lines: your attempts to get pregnant, your father’s death, and your father’s diary from World War II. How are these things connected?
AF: Well, I could say something like, “Oh, the great cycle of birth and death … the awesome interconnectedness of human experience, blah blah blah.” The truth is, I don’t know exactly how they are connected. It’s a mystery. But I would say that that mystery is the primary subject of my book.
texasmonthly.com: How have your attempts to get pregnant and your resulting pregnancy affected you? Why did you choose it as the subject of your work?
AF: I am a mom now, so basically every single thing in my life has changed, but the main thing I’ve noticed is that I now have magical healing powers. It’s pretty incredible. Hopefully I can share them with some of the people who come to my reading.
texasmonthly.com: There has been some debate about how to categorize this work. In what genre do you think it falls?
AF: It’s not nonfiction in the sense that most people think of it—scholars pontificating or journalists flaunting their research. And it’s not really memoir, as in “I triumphed over blank.” And it’s definitely not fiction—nothing is made up. In all honesty, I don’t think it fits into any genre, and I’m really happy about that.
One of my very favorite things to have happen, when I look at art, or hear music, or read something, is to initially say, “What is this?!” I like the feeling of being confronted with something that has its own authority, that has nothing to do with me and what I expect. My hope is that people will have that reaction to my book.
texasmonthly.com: How did you fit so much into such a short book?
AF: Thank you, that’s a nice compliment.
texasmonthly.com: What is the difference in mission between a small publishing company like McSweeney’s and the larger groups.
AF: Nobody starts a small press to make money, and big publishing companies are run for profit. That’s pretty much it, I think.
texasmonthly.com: You used to create the zine Bunny Rabbit. What was the focus of this publication?
AF: It was basically “The Amy Show,” though I had some interviews with people: Pee Wee Herman’s former assistant, the great California visual artist Martin Kersels, and others.
texasmonthly.com: Why did you stop?
AF: It was just time. But I do love publishing. I have a Web site now that has helped fulfill that urge. It’s called Surgery of Modern Warfare.
texasmonthly.com: What are you working on now? Any plans to write another book?
AF: Yes, I’m working on another book. I don’t want to say too much about it. I can tell you there aren’t any boats in it, though.