Amy Hempel

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I'm not first and foremost interested in story and the what-happens, but I'm interested in who's telling it and how they're telling it and the effects of whatever happened on the characters and the people.
- Amy Hempel
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I had a mother I could only seem to please with verbal accomplishments of some sort or another. She read constantly, so I read constantly. If I used words that might have seemed surprising at a young age, she would recognize that and it would please her.
- Amy Hempel
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I wanted to be a veterinarian, but slipped up when I hit organic chemistry.
- Amy Hempel
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I started writing by doing small related things but not the thing itself, circling it and getting closer. I had no idea how to write fiction. So I did journalism because there were rules I could learn. You can teach someone to write a news story. They might not write a great one, but you can teach that pretty easily.
- Amy Hempel
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Obviously, in journalism, you're confined to what happens. And the tendency to embellish, to mythologize, it's in us. It makes things more interesting, a closer call. But journalism taught me how to write a sentence that would make someone want to read the next one.
- Amy Hempel
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I do feel that if you can write one good sentence and then another good sentence and then another, you end up with a good story.
- Amy Hempel
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I probably have less revision than those who have that wonderful rush of story to tell - you know, I can't wait to tell you what happened the other day. It comes tumbling out and maybe then they go back and refine. I kind of envy that way of working, but I just have never done it.
- Amy Hempel
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I've always known when I start a story what the last line is. It's always been the case, since the first story I ever wrote. I don't know how it's going to get there, but I seem to need the destination. I need to know where I end up. It never changes, ever.
- Amy Hempel
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We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Alive
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Sometimes a flat-footed sentence is what serves, so you don't get all writerly: 'He opened the door.' There, it's open.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Writing
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Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Heart
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Good leaders being scarce, following yourself is allowed.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Leader
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Sometimes I can better describe a person by another person's reaction. In a story in my first book, I couldn't think of a way to sufficiently describe the charisma of a certain boy, so the narrator says, "I knew girls who saved his gum."
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Girl
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In my head there's a broken balcony I fall off of when I speak.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Fall
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I leave a lot out when I tell the truth
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Telling The Truth
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They say the smart dog obeys but the smarter dog knows when to disobey.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Dog
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Just because you have stopped sinking doesn't mean you're not still underwater.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Mean
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An idea might spark an essay, but never a story.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Ideas
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I meet a person, and in my mind I'm saying three minutes; I give you three minutes to show me the spark.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Giving
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I exaggerated even before I began to exaggerate, because it's true — nothing is ever quite as bad as it could be.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Exaggerated
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I want to know everything about you, so I tell you everything about myself.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Want
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I sleep with a glass of water on the nightstand so I can see by its level if the coastal earth is trembling or if the shaking is still me.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Sleep
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if it's true your life flashes past your eyes before you die, then it is also the truth that your life rushes forth when you are ready to start to truly be alive.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Eye
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It was like that class at school where the teacher talks about Realization, about how you could realize something big in a commonplace thing. The example he gave--and the liar said it really happened--was that once while drinking orange juice, he'd realized he would be dead someday. He wondered if we, his students, had had similar 'realizations.' Is he kidding? I thought. Once I cashed a paycheck and I realized it wasn't enough. Once I had food poisoning, and realized I was trapped inside my body.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Teacher
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He could not wait to get rid of them so he could enjoy remembering them.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Waiting
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I have written letters that are failures, but I have written few, I think, that are lies. Trying to reach a person means asking the same question over and over again: Is this the truth, or not? I begin this letter to you, then, in the western tradition. If I understand it, the western tradition is: Put your cards on the table.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Lying
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I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands. In the course of the experiment, that chimp had a baby. Imagine how her trainers must have thrilled when the mother, without prompting, began to sign her newborn. Baby, drink milk. Baby, play ball. And when the baby died, the mother stood over the body, her wrinkled hands moving with animal grace, forming again and again the words: Baby, come hug, Baby come hug, fluent now in the language of grief.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Mother
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Journalism taught me how to write a sentence that would make someone want to read the next one. You are trained to get rid of anything nonessential. You go in, you start writing your article, assuming a person's going to stop reading the minute you give them a reason. So the trick is: don't give them one.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Reading
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Dreams: the place most of us get what we need.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Dream
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Just once in my life--oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Wanted
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The only time the word baby doesn't scare me is the time that it should, when it is what a man calls me.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Baby
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I get rational when I panic.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Panic
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I'm not good at small talk; I'm not good at big talk; and medium talk just doesn't come up.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Bigs
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The worst of it is over now, and I can't say that I am glad. Lose that sense of loss—you have gone and lost something else. But the body moves toward health. The mind, too, in steps. One step at a time. Ask a mother who has just lost a child, How many children do you have? "Four," she will say, "—three," and years later, "Three," she will say, "—four.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Mother
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I could claim any number of high-flown reasons for writing, just as you can explain certain dogs behavior... But maybe, it’s that they’re dog, and that’s what dogs do.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Dog
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The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Men
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It is possible to imagine a person so entirely that the image resists attempts to dislodge it.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Imagine
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And I see that not touching for so long was a drive to the beach with the windows rolled up so the waves feel that much colder.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Beach
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I assemble stories-me and a hundred million other people-at the sentence level. Not by coming up with a sweeping story line.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: People
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I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Thinking
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My job ... I do nothing, it pays nothing, but - you guessed it - it's better than nothing.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Jobs
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I often feel the effects of people only after they leave me.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: People
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There’s so much I can’t read because I get so exasperated. Someone starts describing the character boarding the plane and pulling the seat back. And I just want to say, Babe, I have been downtown. I have been up in a plane. Give me some credit.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Character
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I know when a story is finished when there is not a single thing more I can think to do to it. And since I know at the start what the last line will be, I know when I've reached that point as logically as I can that it's finished. As for the rewriting-it's not foolproof, of course, but if you're honest about having thought of every possibility and you still come back to what you have, what more can you do?
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Writing
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A five-hour flight works out to three days and nights on land, by rail, from sea to shining sea. You can chalk off the hours on the back of the seat ahead. But seventy-some hours will not seem so long to you if you tell yourself first: This is where I am going to be for the rest of my natural life.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Night
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As soon as I knew that I would be all right, I was sure that I was dead and didn't know it. I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence. I waited for the moment that would snap me out of my seeming life.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Would Be
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I thought, my love is so good, why isn't it calling the same thing back.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Love Is
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I know that homes burn and that you should think what to save before they start to. Not because, in the heat of it, everything looks as valuable as everything else. But, because nothing looks worth the bother, not even your life.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Home
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A love affair begins with a fantasy. For instance, that the beloved will always be there.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Love
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When my mother died, my father's early widowhood gave him social cachet he would not have had if they had divorced. He was a bigger catch for the sorrow attached.
- Amy Hempel
Collection: Mother