Jamaica Plain's Christopher Amenta's debut fiction novel The Cold Hard Light was recently released by Blackstone Publishing. Amenta fielded questions about the new book, his inspiration, the Boston locations the story is set, and more.
Q: What is The Cold Hard Light about?
Amenta: The Cold Hard Light tells the story of a young father, named H, who becomes obsessed with the man who assaulted his sister. The novel takes place a decade after the crime occurred, when the assailant is released from prison. H is a semi-professional hockey player who pays the bills by driving for a rideshare company. His girlfriend is suffering from postpartum depression, and he’s struggling to balance the pressures of fatherhood against his own professional aspirations.
It’s a novel about obsession, fear, resentment, and the folly in seeing violence as a means to anything but more violence.
Q: What inspired you to write The Cold Hard Light?
Amenta: As a younger man, I attended a retreat during which a woman shared her family’s story: they’d been the victims of a violent crime. She responded to this tragedy with compassion and forgiveness, but I was struck by how clearly and specifically, even many years later, she described the perpetrator’s face. I realized that even though she’d found a way to move on, she continued to picture this man in her mind.
I wondered what might happen to a person who was incapable of this woman’s grace. I imagined a character, a native of Boston who’d failed to achieve his goals and who might be frustrated and frightened enough to let his personal tragedy lead him on a very destructive journey.
Q: Was any of the book inspired by personal experiences?
Amenta: I have lived in Boston for about 15 years, and so many of the scenes are inspired by neighborhoods, businesses, and places I’ve visited. Also, I’ve played hockey since I was a kid, though never near the level that H does. At best, I’m a decent beer league player. But it was a lot of fun to write a few scenes in rinks and to draw on my memories of the game. H works as a driver for a rideshare company, and I had worked—briefly—in the corporate office for a rideshare company. Finally, H has a baby daughter. I have two girls myself—both under the age of two—but I’d completely finished writing the novel before my oldest was born. Luckily, I think I was able to get some of the details of fatherhood right.
Q: Where in Boston does the novel take place?
Amenta: The novel contains scenes in the Seaport, in Roxbury, along the Esplanade, in Somerville and in Brighton. H goes to bars, churches, constructions sites, and apartments that are inspired by real places. When I was writing this book, I was bike commuting to work—first from Cambridge to the Seaport and then from Jamaica Plain to the Back Bay. I tried to incorporate some of what I saw and heard into the novel’s settings.
Q: What would you ask yourself if you were interviewing yourself?
Amenta: When I attend readings, I always like to know more about the author’s writing process. Everybody works differently, and it’s interesting for me to hear what works and what doesn’t.
In my case, the novel was written over several years very early in the morning. I’d write for about 45 minutes, then head to the office to work at my day job. I went through many drafts—too many to count—to make sure the narrative worked and the sentences were as tight as I could make them. I was lucky to find a publisher—Blackstone Publishing—through my agent after about six months of pitching the book.
Q: What else would you like people to know about yourself, the novel, or anything else?
Amenta: I’m the beneficiary of Boston’s very supportive and empowering literary community. For years, I took classes at Boston’s Grub Street. After that, I attended the amazing MFA program at Boston University. I’ve shopped at lots of great local bookstores, many of which—Papercuts, Tres Gatos, Brookline Booksmith, Trident, Harvard Book Store—have supported the launch of this novel. There aren’t too many contemporary books set in Boston, and I’m grateful to have support from local institutions as I try to find my audience.