If God exists, what will be your first words at the pearly gates?
Can I have my dog back? Her name was Maude. She was an old, cranky pain in the ass. But I really loved her a lot.
How would you describe yourself in a sentence?
Bright and sunshiny.
How would your best friend describe you in a sentence?
Edgy and possibly bipolar. I actually asked her this question on a walk this morning in preparation for my interview with you. That was her answer, which proves you really cannot trust anyone.
Crime fiction is at its best when…
… you’re turning pages. It doesn’t matter if it’s been labeled as ‘literary’ or if the reviewers hated it. It doesn’t matter if the trades and bloggers sang its praises from the rooftops. What matters is that readers cannot wait to get back to it. They’re racing through it and not wanting it to end all at once, sneaking it out of their desks at work, reading a couple of chapters on the train. That’s when crime fiction is at its best, in my opinion. Mysteries, thrillers, cozies – whatever is under that crime fiction umbrella, it just needs to engage the reader. That’s a simple thing, right? Not. At the risk of sounding like a whiny, spoiled writer with soft hands and a rather large rear, writing is hard. Poor me. I get to make things up and write them down for a living.
The worst literary vice is…
… No idea. Plus, I’m so not qualified to answer that.
The highest literary order a writer can aspire to is…
I think it’s fluid, depending on the writer. And the genre. For me, the goal is to entertain. Sure, I hope I say something brilliant. I hope there’s some nugget in there somewhere. But my job, what I aspire to do, is to provide the kind of escape and the kind of thrill you’re looking for when you plunk down hard earned money for a book. Hopefully, while I’m designing all these extraordinary circumstances fiction writers put their heroes through, I’ve somehow also created something human and accessible, gotten the nerves popping, and pulled out a laugh here and there. It’s all about the reader’s pleasure. In that regard, I’m in a service industry. And yes, there are laughs in this series. And yes, you can do that in thrillers. And I fully intend to keep doing it.
What’s your favourite word?
I love words that remind me of food. I read the little blurbs under pictures of gorgeous food because they use words like sumptuous, delicious, luscious, delectable, decadent… Everything stops when my monthly Bon Appétit Magazine arrives. Total food porn.
Which single word would you remove from the parlance of our time?
The F-word. But only so I could get through an entire conversation without accidently dropping that bomb.
Which single profession would you remove from the business world?
Breeder. As long as there is profit in animals, animals will be abused, devalued, misused. Spay and neuter, people. Rescue, adopt, and foster homeless animals. Good lord. Don’t get me started. You’ll see all my crazy come out.
Which single person would you remove from the planet?
If the question was how many asses should get kicked on the planet, I’d make you a long list. But I really can’t think of anyone I’d be comfortable wishing off the planet. I know there are some terribly vile humans out there. I’m just not authorized to make decisions about who gets to be here. And, to be honest, I’m a little superstitious about those kinds of things. Plus, this would come back to bite me eventually.
Which fictional character is going to be shot, come the literary revolution?
I sincerely hope it’s Hannibal Lecter. Not because he wasn’t fully drawn. He was. But because he is utterly evil. And because he’s unrepairable. He deserves a bullet. I’ll do it myself, and then enjoy some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet in real life?
It changes, depending on what I’m reading. I’ve just started to read Sue Grafton. I know, I know. I’m only a decade and about twenty-five books behind, but I wanted to find out what all the fuss is about. So anyway, I really like Kinsey Millhone. I think she’d be fun to hang out with.
Your five favourite party guests are…
… my best friends. I endeavor to avoid formal settings and parties with too many big shots. My idea of a good time is some great food and great friends sitting around table laughing. If there’s also vodka, hey, that’s a bonus.
Which book by another author do you wish you had written?
I want to spout off something here that makes me look thoughtful and terribly well read, but really I wish I’d written any book that had readers lining up and book clubs placing orders, screenwriters salivating, publishers cranking out fresh contracts, and agents sending chocolates. I happen to admire authors who’ve managed to be a commercial success, especially the ones that haven’t sacrificed quality.
Who or what has taught you most about writing?
My editors, without question. From the small press editor I had back in 1990, Katherine Forrest, to the fabulous freelance editor that helped me get my book in shape for Random House, Benee Knauer, to my current editor at Bantam, Kate Miciak. Incredibly talented, brilliant, and generous people. I’m still learning. I guess I will always be learning the craft. Every note from my editor, every insight, every rewrite she pushes me through, it all makes me better.
What do you like best about your writing?
It’s instinctive. It wasn’t born in a classroom.
What is your creative blind spot?
I have trouble seeing the good in my writing at times. I pick it apart. I’m a perfectionist. It doesn’t serve a writer well. I can spend six hours on two paragraphs. Makes it tough to crank out volume.
What’s it like to be in print again after several years?
Off the charts exciting. The dream realized. I hardly believe it sometimes. It’s what I moved toward and wanted and dreamed of for twenty-five years. It’s fantastic.
What gave you the confidence to try your hand at a mainstream novel?
I’m not sure it was confidence in my writing necessarily. Perhaps it was confidence in the dream and in the process. I just kept pushing toward it, kept working, kept polishing, until I felt my first mainstream manuscript was ready for an agent’s critical eye. You just do the best work you can and then you throw it out there and see what happens. Believing that whatever input comes back makes you a better writer, that it moves you closer to the goal of one day becoming a great writer, takes the fear out of the submission process because you’re prepared to use the criticism for your own betterment, rather than fold up because of it. And frankly, if you’re not willing to listen to the pros about what’s wrong with a manuscript, to rework and rethink and accept that wise counsel, you’re not willing to grow.
What part of the research made the biggest difference to the book?
I took a course in criminal profiling that was very well done. It taught me a lot about what a criminal investigative analyst does and gave me a good foundation to build on with Keye Street, who is a former behavioral analyst for the FBI. I also learned something about homicide investigation. I wanted to have a sense of how a homicide unit might approach a case and how they might work with a consultant. I also had a lot of jobs over the years. One of them was with a courier firm that had a small private investigating branch. I was a court appointed process server. I became very familiar with the city, with the courthouses, and with what it’s like to get a subpoena in the hands of someone who doesn’t want one. This job informed my writing in so many unexpected ways. My character was fired from the FBI and she used her skills to open a small detective agency. So when I have her out serving subpoenas and scouring the city, I’ve been there. It gave me a lot of confidence to write those scenes.
What have you learned about self-promotion since The Stranger You Seek came out?
Social media. Wow. What a great tool for connecting with readers and booksellers. I mean really connecting, not just promoting. And listening and answering comments and being available. These people are the foundation of your career, your partners. You want them to become involved in your career, to cheer you on. That means being a real human and actually giving a shit about their dreams and ideas and getting to know them. It’s fantastic. On a personal level, I’ve made so many friends. Professionally, connecting with readers, having booksellers hand-sell your book because they know you and trust you and feel that you’re accessible and that you appreciate them too has been really amazing. Writers who don’t have a name in the mainstream need some kind of buzz. Facebook and twitter connections are great to help get that buzz going. My website has been a great tool too. I built a page for book clubs and posted a letter to them offering to come to their discussions or call in. That has turned out to be so much fun. Readers are smart and funny and thoughtful. I also loaded my website with cool stuff, creepy book trailers, a Meet Keye Street character bio, my personal bio, some dark animation from a scene in the book, a link to order autographed books. I tried to make www.amandakylewilliams.com fun. My personal email address is on the website. I answer every letter. I value every one of them. The feedback has been fantastic and 99% positive. There was one guy who described in great detail all the ways he disliked my book. But seriously, he did it with such flair and so much passion and hatred, I found myself giggling through it.
What would you have done differently if you’d known this prior to publication?
To be honest, Len, I don’t even know. I’m such a newbie, I don’t know yet where I’ve screwed up. I probably have. I’ll probably look back one day when I get a clue and have some ah-ha moment. But right now it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Feels good. It’s been a wonderful experience.
What’s the best one-liner you’ve ever read or written?
For true one-liners, I still love the old wisecracking, hardboiled types. Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. These guys invented snark. “How do you like your brandy?” someone asks Philip Marlowe. “In a glass,” he answers. Love that stuff.
Sum up your latest book in no more than 20 words, including its title:
The Stranger You Seek: journey into the mind of a profiler, struggling to get into the mind of a killer.
What scene or theme did it start with?
I had known for quite a long time that I wanted to write crime fiction. I’d started the ball rolling as far as research. I knew I wanted to write a former profiler with addiction issues. That was all I knew. No character. No story ideas. This went on for a couple of years. Lots of stops and starts. Nothing felt real, the characters, the story. I’d trash everything and start over. Then one November night I’d taken a drive up to the North Georgia Mountains to visit my brother and his family. He had adopted my niece Anna when she was an infant from China. She was four or five this November visit and she looked up at me with those glittering dark eyes and hair, just a gorgeous Asian child, and opened her mouth and sounded like Scarlett O’Hara. I was just so knocked over by how deeply southern she was. On the way home I started thinking about what it would be like to grow up looking different than the neighbors in the American South. I started to envision my Chinese character for the first time, raised by white southern parents, a sense of humor, some demons. I pulled over on the side of the highway, just me and my little dog Bella, and I wrote this line. “I have the distinction of looking like what they still call a damn foreigner in most parts of Georgia and sounding like a hick everywhere else in the world.” And as soon as I wrote that line and heard Keye’s voice, I knew it was right. I knew her voice was strong enough to be my narrator and strong enough to carry a series, which is dedicated to Anna, my beautiful niece.
What happened next?
Funny you should ask. I pulled back onto the highway and my transmission practically fell out. My car was toast. I had no cell phone. This was about six years ago and I’d been resisting the cell phone thing. I walked to a gas station with my tiny dog and called for a truck to tow me home. Well, I was still many miles and an hour and a half from home. They told me I could ride with the driver. Something about this guy gave me the creeps. I knew if I got in that tow truck, me and my little dog would end up in bits in his freezer. It was quite chilling and perhaps only the second time in my life I’d had a feeling like this about someone. That event ended up setting a very dark tone for The Stranger You Seek. I’m grateful for this creepy-ass driver now. You really never know what the universe will hand you. My car falling apart turned out to be a gift.
What was the greatest challenge in writing The Stranger You Seek?
Being still. Just being physically still for hours at a time. Some days I feel I have to tie myself to the chair.
What helped you brave the inside of a murderous mind?
I’ve always had an interest in this. I’m really curious about the fantasies and demons and appetites that drive a killer. When I was taking that criminal profiling course, I could not wait for another assignment or to talk about a real case. The rest of the class were law enforcement professionals and I was the clueless gung-ho writer. Ok, so I’m a little obsessed with murder. That’s normal, right?
What was the greatest moment in writing the book?
Without a doubt, typing ‘The End’ was the highlight. Of course, I’d get the book back many more times for revisions and line and copy edits, but finishing the first draft and feeling in my gut it had real potential… nothing like it.
What are the greatest problems in writing today?
This isn’t going to be popular among my author friends who self publish, but that’s one of the problems in my mind – too many self-published, unedited authors. Sure there’s some real talent out there that maybe didn’t get picked up by a press and should have, but generally I think people need good editors. They need to be pushed to come up higher. They need to go through the laborious process of getting a book out in the mainstream. I think half the people on my street have some kind of self-published crap available on Amazon. It feels like the easy way out to me. How are you going to get better if there’s no one there to raise the bar?
What are the greatest opportunities in writing today?
Oh God. I don’t know. I’m so insulated as far as knowing anything at all about the industry. But on a personal level, for me anyway, the greatest opportunity in continuing to write is just getting better at it. That’s my dream and I think it’s the dream for most writers. Just to get really, really good at your craft.
What makes you keep reading or writing a book?
Well the approach is totally different. I have no patience with reading books. Reading is hard for me. I’m dyslexic. I have comprehension issues. So if I’m working hard to read and something, plot, character, some insight, beautiful language, something doesn’t grab me pretty early on, I’m out of there. Writing a book is completely different. You have to have infinite patience with the work in order to tweak and revise as many times as books need tweaking and revising.
What are you writing these days?
I’m currently in the final pages of book 2 in the Keye Street series, Stranger In The Room. I expect to turn it in this week and start book 3, Don’t Talk To Strangers.
What’s the most amusing situation you’ve found yourself in because of your writing?
I showed up at a local crematory and asked for a tour. This was research for the 2nd Keye Street novel. They were much nicer before my line of questioning led them to believe I was writing about a crooked crematory operator. And when I was trying to develop my website and find a designer that could do what I wanted to do, I called this hotshot New York City company I knew had designed this beautiful, creepy, elaborate site for a very popular crime writer. I mean her website is stunning. Animation for each book. They told me she’d paid fifty-thousand dollars for her site design. I dropped the F-bomb as in “You are fucking kidding me!” And they hung up on me.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started writing?
Sometimes you just need to relax and let it fly out. Many years ago a friend said to me after I handed her something to read: “This doesn’t feel real. Why can’t you just write like you talk? Now that’s something I’d like to read.” At the time I thought it was about the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. I mean, clearly she had no real understanding of the writing process. She didn’t. She had an understanding of the reading process. I came to realize how simple yet brilliant this was. And how difficult it is to get out of the way of yourself and allow your writing come to life.
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