Chris Amenta Publishes Debut Novel

Fiction alum Chris Amenta (Fiction ’13)’s debut novel The Cold Hard Light was released this month by Blackstone Publishing! To celebrate the book’s release current program administrator Annaka Saari (Poetry ’21) was able to interview Chris via email. Read below to hear more about how Chris crafted his novel, and what it was like to create such a complicated character using Boston as a backdrop.

Annaka: The Cold Hard Light is your first novel. How does it feel to know that it’s out in the world?

Chris: I’m very excited to have published The Cold Hard Light. It’s a small book, but a challenging one, I think, and I’m happy with what it does and how it works. I didn’t have to make many changes during the editorial process, so what’s been published is what I envisioned. It’s a dark story—a tragedy—and I hope that readers find it thought-provoking.

I’ve been working to become a writer for most of my life. I graduated from the program almost a decade ago, but it took many years to develop the short stories that I submitted with my application. It’s a little surreal to have this book out in the world, especially since so much of the publishing process occurred in various states of pandemic lockdown. I’m grateful to all the teachers, classmates, and colleagues who’ve helped make this happen.

Finally, I’m not surprised by, but I am aware of, how anxious I am about the book’s publication. I want people to get something from the novel—if not to like it, then, at least, to appreciate it.

A: How did you approach writing this novel, and were there any major challenges you encountered along the way?

C: I began working on this novel in 2010, but I put it down for about five years. For one, I couldn’t find the right tone or even the right character to put at the center of the story I wanted to tell, which was a huge problem. But also, I started at BU in 2012, and so I needed to stop working on the novel so I could focus on the program.

This was a blessing. When I picked the book back up in 2016—after working on some other ideas—I was equipped with the skills and education I’d developed in the MFA. Also, our country seemed to have changed in the intervening years. We seemed to be living in a more hostile and frightened America. Some of this anxiety began to seep into the novel and shape the narrative. I had a clearer sense of the main character. I understood his problems and fears. I began to write with much more confidence.

I think I finished a draft in about a year, and then spent another two or so making revisions.

A: The novel is set in Boston; what was it like to write a city you know so well, being from here and having studied here?

C: I decided to set the novel in Boston to try to make things easy on myself. I know this city well. I’ve lived here since 2006. During the time that I was writing, I was also riding my bike to work through the streets and neighborhoods that are featured in the book. Much of what I wrote was inspired by what I was seeing and hearing.

The setting helps create the stakes for the drama. My character, H, is frustrated by his city. Boston has been under development seemingly without stop for the last fifteen years. There’s so much money pouring in, so much construction, and so many new, talented people moving here each day. Much of this progress is good and healthy, especially when it’s designed to serve the community broadly and equitably.

However, I began to imagine how someone like H might experience all this change as a threat, especially if he felt that he no longer belonged in his city. In this way, the decision to set the story in Boston gave me a clear sense of place and also helped authenticate and advance the drama.

A: Your main character, Andrew (called “H”), is a man experiencing a lot of stress – being a new father, having a partner suffering from depression, a stalling career, and being confronted with the news that the man who assaulted his sister has been released from prison. Was it difficult to create a character who is forced to navigate so much emotional turbulence?

C: H is a complicated character. I wanted him to be someone that the reader relates to and hopes for so that his self-destructive behavior is experienced as tragedy.

The conflict in H’s life actually helped with the writing process. There was always drama to explore and psychology that might motivate unexpected or counterproductive behavior. I tried to make sure that none of his issues seemed gratuitous or were trivialized. I wanted his problems to seem authentic, and I wanted the reader to feel how these issues were coming to bear on H.

But I also didn’t want to sensationalize any of H’s problems. People struggle with depression and dead-end jobs, people recover from violent crimes, every day and in every part of the world. These issues don’t cause the novel’s action. Instead, they help shape a worldview that sets H on a path towards tragedy.

I was always trying to strike a balance: H’s problems could and should contribute to his sense of frustration and alienation, but he needed to maintain agency within his world. In the end, the decisions H makes are his own.

Those interested can purchase a copy of The Cold Hard Light at this link.

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