Thursday, 23 September 2021

I Interviews

Interview: Amanda Cox

Can you please tell us about your debut novel, The Edge of Belonging?

The Edge of Belonging is a contemporary dual-timeline novel set in rural Tennessee that centers around the lives of Harvey James, a homeless man who is hiding the fact that he found an abandoned newborn; Pearl Howard, an elderly widow who recently lost her son; and Thomas and Miriam Lashley, a young pastor and his wife who moved to a small town to nurse their wounds. They all seek to help Harvey, but it soon becomes apparent that they need him just as much as he needs them. In the present day, Ivy Rose is looking for the truth about where she came from, and she suspects there are things about her adoption that her family has not been upfront about. As she digs into the past, Amanda Coxshe begins to see the truth about the people she calls family. The Edge of Belonging is a story about finding family in unexpected places and reconciling both the broken and the beautiful elements of one’s past.

In The Edge of Belonging both of your main characters struggle with identity. How are their struggles different and how are they alike?

Harvey defines himself by what his experiences in foster care taught him—that he is incapable of love and real human connection and that complete isolation equals safety. He believes it is the only way to have control over his life.

Ivy, on the other hand, has had an idyllic childhood, surrounded by stability and love. She seems to have had everything she needed to be a well-adjusted and successful individual. When you meet Ivy as an adult, she’s trying to separate herself from her family in an effort to find out who she is without them by her side. When things in her life start to implode, her confidence is shaken, and she starts to doubt everything she’s always believed about herself. Compounded with that is the discovery that her family might have known more than they let on about her biological parents and her life before her adoption.

Because of these missing pieces in her history, Ivy feels that her definition of selfhood is incomplete.

Though Harvey and Ivy have had vastly different experiences in life, both have faulty ideas about their identity, showing what a universal struggle defining one’s identity can be. All of us face moments in our lives when we have to reevaluate who we think we are because of life experiences or words from others. And we have to determine who gets to decide what our true identity is.

One of the main themes in your book is sacrificial love. Harvey James gave up his independence to care for an infant. In what other ways did he show sacrificial love?

A big part of Harvey’s character growth involves him understanding the meaning of love. The message spoken over his life as a child was that he was not capable of giving or receiving love. So, in a way, learning to accept is a form of this sacrificial love. He trades “safety” for love. Learning to trust others with the truth about himself is another form of this sacrifice. But the greatest sacrifice of all comes when he has to choose between the plans he has made and the people he loves.

 

Another theme running through The Edge of Belonging is the theme of restoration. How did Harvey and Ivy grapple with their need for restoration?

Harvey has a skill for repurposing everything. He doesn’t want anything to be wasted or thrown away and makes sure nothing is considered useless. Everything has a purpose. It becomes important for him to transfer believing this about discarded things to believing it about himself.

Ivy suffers loss in a few different areas of her life early in the novel. So her need for restoration involves understanding the difference between the things she needs to hang on to and the things she needs to let go of in order to heal and find her way forward.

 

The Edge of Belonging is a dual-timeline novel? Can you provide some information on the timing of your book?

Unlike many dual-timeline novels, both timelines in The Edge of Belonging are considered contemporary.

The past timeline takes place primarily in the mid-nineties. The present-day timeline occurs twenty-four years later. The reader gets to meet a past and present version of many of the same characters. While reading, they will discover how life has changed these characters and what happened that caused them to become the people they are in the present timeline.

 

Do you have a favorite character in The Edge of Belonging and why?

Each of the characters has a special place in my heart, each for different reasons. But Harvey stood out to me from the first lines I wrote of his story. He’s a complex character with very simple desires in his life. Or so he thinks. His life has taught him that extreme independence is the same thing as safety and that love is something he can witness but never experience for himself. But the story quickly develops to show that, though he struggles to express himself and despite all he’s been through, Harvey has a huge capacity to love. There’s a tender nature beneath his rough exterior that I find so endearing, and I think readers will not be able to help loving him too.

What was the inspiration for your novel?

The idea for the story emerged out of such an ordinary moment. I was driving home on a long car trip and noticed, of all things, a baby The Edge of Belonging coverbouncer sitting in the median just like it had been placed there. I can’t really explain my connection to that moment, other than knowing it felt significant. It was just the sort of thing my storyteller mind needed to occupy it on the way home. While I drove, I spun out all sorts of scenarios of the types of people that might be connected to this discarded baby bouncer—who would have lost it, and who would have found it. That quiet drive birthed the idea for this story.

Recently, when my five-year-old asked me about the book, I gave him a quick summary of the story in words he could understand. He nodded decisively and said, “Oh, it’s like lost and found. Because the people are lost and they get found. I think that’s what your story should be called.” His alternative title, Lost and Found, made me smile so big because underneath all the moving parts, the idea of lost things being found really is the inspiration for The Edge of Belonging.

 

What do you hope readers will learn from The Edge of Belonging?

I hope that The Edge of Belonging inspires readers to look beyond the surface of people who others have dismissed. And I hope they are encouraged by the idea that it is never too late to find that sense of belonging we all deeply need. It might even come in the most unlikely times and places.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on my second novel for Revell, another stand-alone dual timeline that comes out in the fall of 2021. This is a story about three generations of women whose lives revolve around the happenings at a rural grocery store that has been in their family for decades. When it seems evident that this store must close due to the changing times, tensions rise and ghosts of the past resurface. It comes to light that each of them made seemingly small choices that altered the course of each other’s lives. The grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter try to figure out how to make things right, or even if they can be made right after all these years. While the characters, their lives, and the events that unfold are one hundred percent fictional, the grocery store itself is based on a family-owned store tied to my own family history.

How can readers connect with you?

Readers can connect with me on my website, www.amandacoxwrites.com. I am also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as Amanda Cox Writes.

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