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A Fiendish Conversation with MacKenzie Bezos

The First Lady of Amazon talks about her new novel, parenting, and closet writing.

By Seth Sommerfeld March 6, 2013

Image: Elena Seibert

There are literally billions of reasons why MacKenzie Bezos—the First Lady of Amazon—could shelve her writing career and recline among a pile of Kindles. But there are two overwhelming reasons why the she doesn’t: She loves writing and she’s darn good at it. Her 2005 debut novel The Testing of Luther Albright won an American Book Award. The same year she took a self-imposed hiatus from writing to raise four children with Jeff. After five years off, she began working on her second novel, Traps, which spans four days and four women trapped by their situations in life. Bezos will celebrate the book's release on March 12 at Elliott Bay Books.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation we chatted with Bezos about where her characters come from, early mornings, and closet writing.

Where did you pull the four main characters in Traps from?

It’s so funny. I always find that very mysterious, where ideas come from. Fairly similar to my first book, I just started with an image that I couldn’t really explain where it came from. I had an image of each of the four characters that came from the beginning of the book: Dana stepping into that bite suit [worn while training dogs] before getting into the fight with the dog; Jessica in her kitchen with the ringing telephone; Vivian in the attic hearing her babies cry; and Lynn searching for the girl in the yard full of dogs. I didn’t really know what interested me so much about these four people, or who they really were yet, but I knew that I was really fascinated by the images and the initial problems that they had. ... It turned out, as I wrote the book, that their stories were unified by an idea that had been preoccupying me for awhile, which is that oftentimes the things we think of as our bad luck or our misfortune or mistakes that we’ve made—things that we feel trapped by—might lead us to some of the good fortune in our lives.

Do you feel the Amazon connection affects how you are perceived as a writer?

I don’t really know. I guess that’s something I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about. Mostly I just really hope that readers find my book, and I know that once a reader finds my book they’re going to make their own decision. And beyond that, I know that I don’t have a lot of control over what happens, so I try to just focus on writing the best books I can.

Being a writer, philanthropist, and mom, what’s your typical daily schedule like? Do you have a specific time set aside to write?

I find that it really helps me to write daily. If I don’t write a little bit every day, then I can become less engaged with the story and the people become a little less real to me—in the same way the four kids that I have, their needs are so urgent and they’re so fun and fascinating to me. I have to keep up these pretend people in order for them to have space in my life. Basically, it works best for me to get up early and write a little bit before I talk to anybody, so I’ll usually write in two chunks: one before the kids get up—and then I’ll have my morning with them—and then while they’re at school I’ll write some more. I like the balance of those two things: Writing and parenting are so different. With writing a novel, nothing really comes out of the pipeline for a long time and you don’t really solve the problem for a couple years, and also nobody needs you. Parenting is pretty much the opposite—you’re solving tons of little problems and the need is really urgent.

When you say you get up early to write, what time are we talking?

It’s usually around 4:30 or 5. I’ve always been a morning person. I just love it. I’m always amazed when I come across a writer who does their writing after they’ve lived a whole day.

Beyond slotting a time to work, is there a routine to your writing process?

Yeah. Since my writing tends to be of the highest quality when I get up so early and haven’t spoken to anybody else, I’ve done different things to try to simulate that first-thing-in-the-morning brain. I can sometimes eke out three writing sessions by trying to simulate that: by doing things like taking a 10-minute nap after I drop off the kids from school. Another thing that can jog me into that state is going for a run. So I’ll finish a writing session, go for a run, come back, and for some reason I’m right there again.

I’ve also always really loved writing in sterile, windowless places, so for years I’ve written in a variety of closets. I put a desk in a small room with no windows and that really helps me as well. So quirky little things like that that you learn about yourself.

If you weren't a writer, what would you do?

I have wanted to be a writer since I was six years old. I’ve had a lot of jobs along the way: I’ve been a waitress, a dishwasher, a warehouse worker, a bookkeeper, done data entry at a test control company, clothing sales, nanny… I’ve done a lot of things, but this is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I don’t even really have any hobbies.

MacKenzie Bezos
Mar 12 at 7, Elliott Bay Book Company

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