MA: Ami Feller has written articles published in New Jersey newspapers including: The Courier Post, Gloucester County Times and Cocktails and Fiction Magazine. She published a thesis for Rowan University on the impact of communication within the media regarding West Nile Virus in New Jersey and based on her findings was a keynote speaker to the N.J. Mosquito Commissioners Association. She also was selected to have a photograph and summary become a part of an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution as part of Discover Card™ “The American Family Discovered.” Feller was a column contributor to a specialized Cooper Hospital newsletter for cancer survivor newsletter. She resides in Voorhees, New Jersey with her husband and their dog.
Welcome, Ami! When did you begin what sounds like a lifelong journey in writing?
AF: Writing for me started in high school, when I won an award for a report I wrote and started to find a voice. I was very introverted as a child and eventually developed into someone who generally has something to tell others willing to pay attention. I enjoyed learning how to communicate more persuasively in college and beyond.
Professionally, I have a very diverse background and that suits me well, as I like to broaden my horizons and learn about different industries. I have worked in transportation, freight forwarding, international education for a Princeton non-profit, professional training and development, business development for internet software, hospitality managing for the Miss America Organization, healthcare with a focus on the elderly, consulting for a few entrepreneur businesses, and working in finance for a fortune 500, etc. It keeps me challenged and engaged. It adds dimension to my bigger picture thought processes.
MA: That’s a fascinating and varied background. During your time with the Miss America pageants, I take it that you began forming your ideas about Boardwalk in Disrepair?
AF: With multiple titleholders, I spent day and night with the reigning Miss America. Each day, I faced a delicate balance between life as I knew it and managing someone’s newly found fame. Through constant travel, cultural immersion, and interaction with a variety of personalities, I learned that life on the road with a budding celebrity leads to adventures, life changes, and self-discovery for everyone.
Inspired to share tales from life on tour, I penned the novel Boardwalk in Disrepair: The Splintering of Miss Patriotic, the story of Anni Seller, newly hired Manager of the Miss Patriotic Organization, and what life is really like on the road. Although fiction, the book draws heavily upon real-life experiences.
MA: Why tell this story?
AF: The book was written as a burning desire to get a unique story out that needed to be told that no one else could tell with such precision. It oozed out over a six-month, dedicated writing process. I was in my own mad rush to get the story told while the pop culture components would be timely, relevant and interesting to the audience. The story culminates from my own experiences being hand-selected to manage the Miss America national tour five years ago. This was not a job in the typical sense, rather an entire lifestyle change requiring many sacrifices to place life as you knew it on hold. Those inside perspectives gave the structure and pieces for the story to fall into place.
MA: Tell us about your story’s characters.
AF: My main character, the narrator Anni, is named after my Grandmother, who inspired me to be a strong, independent woman. She was ahead of her time, raising kids, earning a living and being divorced more than fifty years ago, while having a sense of adventure traveling around the world on her own. She lived life on her own terms.
All of the characters in: Boardwalk in Disrepair: The Splintering of Miss Patriotic, are crafted from people and personalities I’ve encountered along the way. Some folks have identified with a couple of those characters.
MA: Who is your target audience for the book?
AF: The positioning of this book appeals to travelers, women’s contemporary literature, pop-culture and even young adult readers. There is a definite appeal to those interested in the behind the scenes existence in a high profile industry. Also, many celebrities rely on staffers to keep them on point, yet their work is under appreciated and sometimes taken for granted. These sentiments transcend industries and impact many people in their own pecking order. The public gets a glimpse into a world never expressed so intimately before.
Most people are unfamiliar with the pageant industry beyond the annual telecast. Young titleholders are thrust into a world they don’t expect. Tour Managers are faced with their own personal and professional challenges, and in this case, local volunteer followings are abandoned. This unique perspective of pageants could only be told by someone who lived through it, which is why I decided to share my story through Anni.
MA: Tell us more about Anni.
AF: The protagonist, Anni is a victimless victim. She gets caught in the middle of conflict and drama, while only trying to do her job as best as she can. It is not immediately evident that she is in a silo overshadowed by “Big Brother” complexities.
Her strengths: She exudes confidence to handle situations in many locations and with various levels of bureaucracy. Enthusiasm to blaze a trail and forge ahead with an intense schedule.
Compassion as she was like a surrogate big sister figure for the titleholders while they were on tour away from home. Leadership to handle curves balls and emergencies as they occur.
Anni’s shortcomings: Not being the best diplomat, she is not sure how often and what level of content is needed to be reported to whom. Telling the truth as she perceives it without much filtering. Since there is no handbook for this position, Anni relies on intuition frequently and finds she is second-guessed frequently.
MA: And the bad guy(s)?
AF: Ann Jo Serberus. All the characters, including this one are based on real encounters. The name Serberus is a play on the word representing a two-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell.
As told in the story, Serberus does not have the credentials to be Director, yet the rest of the team keeps their distance from her autocratic demands. It becomes competitiveness between the old and new, but Anni realizes she has to remain the diplomat and be steadfast within her boundaries. She is the newest member of this organization and has to make as good an impression primarily on Miss Patriotic and simultaneously on the team including Serberus. When all else fails, things come to an abrupt halt.
MA: I suspect some of the locations you visited during your time as a Miss America manager helped shape your story, right?
AF: Much of the itineraries laid out in the story — going to more than a dozen locales, were schooled off the travel I accomplished. Those travel adventures translated well into the way the story unfolds. It is like an invisible ivory tower of travel, being isolated from the people you know including family and friends.
Takeaway from this story: “Always be true to yourself.” Continue your self-discovery each day and avoid compromising your principles. Relish in the moment and learn from all that you do, experience and encounter.
MA: Thanks, Ami, for the great interview. I know you have a few websites and links you wanted my readers to know about, so here they are:
Publisher for info and ordering: