Amy Hempel quotes:

  • I think you would like Warren. He drinks Courvoisier in a Coke can, and has a laugh like you'd find in a cartoon bubble.

  • 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.

  • I wanted to be a veterinarian, but slipped up when I hit organic chemistry.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Since his mother died I have seen him steam a cucumber thinking it was zucchini. That's the kind of thing that turns my heart right over.

  • 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.

  • The other day I was playing Scrabble. I saw that I could close the space in D-E- -Y. I had an N and an F. Which do you think I chose? What was the word I made?

  • 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."

  • There's no such thing as luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

  • I like radio personalities, and I like to change lanes. And losing yourself on the freeway is like living at the beach--you're not aware of lapsed time, and suddenly you're there, where it was you were going."

  • Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women good night, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women's cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought stay.

  • 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.

  • We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive.

  • Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A famous artist is approached by a studentYou don't remember me," the student says correctly, "but years ago you said something that changed my life. You said, 'Photography is death.' After that," says the student, "I threw out my camera. I began again. I want to thank you for changing my life.""Leave me alone," says the artistPhotography is life."

  • For example, the questions that say, Would you prefer... Would you prefer (a) Answer questions about what you do, (b) Answer questions about what you know, (c) Answer questions about what you think?My answer is Depends. But it's not one of the choices. I am having to think in terms of Always, Sometimes, Never.

  • 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.

  • Sometimes a flat-footed sentence is what serves, so you don't get all writerly: 'He opened the door.' There, it's open.

  • They say the smart dog obeys but the smarter dog knows when to disobey.

  • Good leaders being scarce, following yourself is allowed.

  • 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.

  • Just because you have stopped sinking doesn't mean you're not still underwater.

  • I'm not good at small talk; I'm not good at big talk; and medium talk just doesn't come up.

  • 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.

  • In my head there's a broken balcony I fall off of when I speak.

  • The only time the word baby doesn't scare me is the time that it should, when it is what a man calls me.

  • Just once in my life--oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?

  • Dreams: the place most of us get what we need.

  • 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?

  • I thought, my love is so good, why isn't it calling the same thing back.

  • 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.

  • I want to know everything about you, so I tell you everything about myself.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I get rational when I panic.

  • 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.

  • I assemble stories-me and a hundred million other people-at the sentence level. Not by coming up with a sweeping story line.

  • An idea might spark an essay, but never a story.

  • I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands.

  • I told him about the way they get to know you. Not the way people do, the way they flatter you by wanting to know every last thing about you, only it isn't a compliment, it is just efficient, a person getting more quickly to the end of you. Correction - dogs do want to know every last thing about you. They take in the smell of you, they know from the next room, asleep, when a mood settles over you. The difference is there's not an end to it.

  • The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I would like to go for a ride with you, have you take me to stand before a river in the dark where hundreds of lightning bugs blink this code in sequence: right here, nowhere else! Right now, never again!

  • Maybe this is not a come-down-from-the-ledge story. But I tell it with the thought that the woman on the ledge will ask herself a question, the question that occurred to that man in Bogota. He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn't good?

  • It is possible to imagine a person so entirely that the image resists attempts to dislodge it.

  • I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence.

  • I meet a person, and in my mind I'm saying three minutes; I give you three minutes to show me the spark.

  • 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.

  • He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn't good.

  • 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.

  • I leave a lot out when I tell the truth

  • I often feel the effects of people only after they leave me.

  • All those years on the psychiatrist's couch and suddenly the couch is moving. Good God, she is on that couch when the big one hits. Maidy didn't tell you, but you know what her doctor said? She sprang from the couch and said, "My God, was that an earthquake?" The doctor said this: "Did it feel like an earthquake to you?

  • What I think," Chatty says, "is that if a man loves a woman more than a woman loves a man, then they're even.

  • Thereâ??s so much I canâ??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.

  • consolation is a beautiful word. everyone skins his knee-that doesnt make yours hurt anyless.

  • He could not wait to get rid of them so he could enjoy remembering them.

  • I am not quite myself, I think.But who here is quite himself? And yet there is a way in which we are all more ourselves than ever, I suppose.

  • My job ... I do nothing, it pays nothing, but - you guessed it - it's better than nothing.

  • nothing is ever quite as bad as it could be.

  • For peace of mind, I will lie about any thing at any time.

  • A love affair begins with a fantasy. For instance, that the beloved will always be there.

  • When the beer is gone, so are they -- flexing their cars on up the boulevard.

  • Look at me. My concerns-are they spiritual, do you think, or carnal? Come on. We've read our Shakespeare.

  • 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.