Anne Yoder released her first novel, The Enhancers, in October 2022. I had the opportunity to interview her about how she juggles her pharmacy job and her writing to make the most of both worlds.
In addition to being a writer, you’re also a pharmacist. Why did you decide to pursue this field? How do you juggle the two jobs?
AY: I always wanted to write. I was perhaps more aware than the average child of the practicalities of this, given my parents were both trained in the sciences and didn’t see writing and the arts as a viable career path. I almost fell into pharmacy school if one could —I thought I’d use the degree as a stepping stone to work in public health, mental health, or some related field. In the end, I followed through for reasons both simplistic and mercenary. I’d always excelled in math and chemistry, and I realized that as a pharmacist I could work part-time and have time to write. Until a few years ago, I’d only worked in hospitals and in long-term care, ie, in pharmacies that never closed, and so I worked mostly evenings and weekends. It’s often intense work when on the job, but it’s shift work, so not work I take home with me. This leaves time for writing.
When did your writing journey begin? Share your writing process.
AY: As soon as I began to read. I had such wonder for books and stories as a child. My mother and father, and even extended family, made a point of reading to my brother and me — Curious George, The BFG, Danny Champion of the World, (I adored Roald Dahl’s imagination — his grotesqueries and underlying misanthropy hinted at a reality that didn’t usually line children’s stories), The Chronicles of Narnia. God bless Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.
Regarding my process, I either have a clear idea of what I intend to write and that I can write rather swiftly, or I have a sense of intrigue — with an idea, a phrase, a situation, a sense that requires excavation and attention paid to discover where it’s leading. The second situation is more common for me, and I write many messy drafts to find my way through. In writing The Enhancers, I found that creating time for this process consistently, even if nothing is written, is quite generative.
What is your favorite piece of writing? Why?
AY: I’m a promiscuous reader who loves too many books and pieces of writing too intimately to choose favorites. Books, to me, have always existed in a chorus of sorts. I find joy in the cacophony. A library is a wonder precisely because of the multitude of voices and language and ideas contained within. What if I select a favorite piece of writing from my youth that still delights me? “The Owl and the Pussycat,” which I first encountered in the wondrous Random House Book of Poetry for Children.
I just listened in on a full-length reading of Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day on solstice — organized by Leann Brown/Tender Buttons Press. The epic poem takes daily life as its subject and was composed on December 22, 1978. It awed me in its fullness and play and seriousness and timelessness, which are qualities in much of Mayer’s work. It’s a new favorite.
In relation to The Enhancers and its encounter with pharmaceuticals, Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie is vital and bears reading and rereading.
The Enhancers is about three teens navigating the pharmaceutical world. Was it your intention to include your other job experience as part of the story?
AY: Yes. I hadn’t found a way that I wanted to integrate my experience as a pharmacist, and working within the healthcare industry, into my creative work until I started The Enhancers. In part because my creative time had been a reprieve from that world. It wasn’t until I stopped working as a pharmacist for a few years and was enrolled in art school for my MFA that I was able to approach the experience and specific catalog of knowledge with a sense of possibility and play.
How do you feel about publishing your first novel?
AY: I didn’t realize how literal the words “release” and “launch” would be in relation to the experience of publication as an author. After ten years of writing the novel and ample rejection, I feel lighter and free, and grateful to have some readers on this endeavor.
What message do you hope readers will take from your book?
AY: A reader has so many options of books to read and possible ways to satisfy an appetite for language and narrative that at the very least I hope that reading The Enhancers gives a sense of satisfaction of having completed the journey — linguistic, narrative, existential — within its pages. My favorite books leave an impression that returns within the days and weeks after reading or that alters my perception in some way. I hope The Enhancers leaves readers changed in a similar way via the encounter.
Many authors read books in the genre they write. Do you find that to be true? If not, what genre(s) do you read?
AY: Sure, although I think many authors read beyond the bounds of the genres they commonly write within. Also, each writer has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. I happen to have an education in the health sciences and parents who have advanced degrees in engineering, metallurgy, and computing, so I have an intimate knowledge of the sciences that many writers do not. Drawing from the sciences within fiction in my case is easily classified as science fiction, but I’ve always been more drawn to psychological narratives, literary fiction, poetry, and language. I studied in the graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for an MFA in Writing. One didn’t select a specific genre to write in, and taking classes across the arts disciplines was encouraged. (I studied performance and art history and TA’ed a class in art and technology.) I’m more interested in possibilities that occur when collapsing boundaries of genre or where they are exceeded, innovated upon, and transformed.
What are your future plans for writing more novels?
AY: I’m about to leave for a month-long residency where I will return to a manuscript that I started writing when first submitting The Enhancers. I have a few more ideas in the pipeline — I generally have more ideas in my reservoir than I can take on. This current manuscript is a psychological narrative, written in first person, and is quite intimate. It’s in many ways different than The Enhancers, and this is deliberate. I would love to finish this novel within a year or two, so that I can move on to what I anticipate will be the next book. I’d love for the next books to come more readily than The Enhancers did, not dramatically so, but so that a decade from now it has more company on the shelf.
Praise for The Enhancers:
“Fans of Ling Ma and Jennifer Egan, here is your next book. Anne K. Yoder, in a lyrical voice of the many, gives us a haunting tale of pharmacology and a story of boundaries: human, chemical and industrial. Where are those boundaries again? Where does a body start and end? Or, as Yoder puts it, How much information could one memory hold? In a text that is itself a wild, wonderfully written ride through a wormhole, The Enhancers thrills and horrifies with profound ramifications.”
–Samantha Hunt, author of The Unwritten Book and The Seas
“The Enhancers asks, “How do I distinguish between what’s me and what’s chemical?” Animated by the absurdity of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, The Enhancers is a wildly original and contemporary tale about chemical augmentation, memory, yearning, and loss. Imagine the fearlessness and wild imagination of Jenny Erpenbeck if she had a background in the pharmaceutical industry and you might come close to approximating the tremendous brilliance of Anne Yoder.”
–Patrick Cottrell, author of Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
“The Enhancers experiments with language and ideas the way its characters experiment with chemicals, leaving the reader dizzy with excitement, asking: What is a fact? What is natural (and can it be saved)? Is self-enhancement also self-erasure? In a world where every activity is regimented yet ever-changing outside of one’s control, Anne Yoder cautions to be careful what you wish for (especially since you’re always being watched and tested). My brain feels like a honeycomb full of bees after reading her latest work.”
— Sarah Gerard, author of True Love and Sunshine Stat
…is a polyvocal novel that follows three teenage friends coming of age in a techno-pharmaceutical society. Hannah is born and raised in a town whose industry revolves around Lumena Corp., maker of the supplement Valedictorian. When Hannah and her friends start taking Valedictorian, or V., a mandated mental augmentation, they start to witness its untoward effects–Celia is institutionalized after an accidental drug-induced psychotic break, and not long after Hannah’s mental stability begins to slip. When a factory fire halts production, it threatens to throw the entire town into withdrawal. The Enhancers questions who we are when defined by our ability to process information. With mental augmentation as a baseline: how do we know ourselves, and what does it take to break free from this alienation?
Anne K. Yoder’s fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in Fence, BOMB, Tin House, NY Tyrant, and MAKE, among other publications. She writes, lives, and occasionally dispenses pharmaceuticals in Chicago.
Article originally Published in the February / March 2023 Issue: Connection.