I was packing my bags in New York after attending ThrillerFest this past summer and nearly left Amanda Kyle Williams’ The Stranger You Seek as the hotel maid’s gift. Don’t get me wrong. The cool-book-take-away is a major perk of writer’s conferences. But I was using all of my might to close my overstuffed suitcase and refused to pay the $30 fee for checking it. (A matter of principle. Besides, wouldn’t you prefer books in lieu of cash tips?)
But then I read the first page. And the next and the next… I couldn’t put it down. The “stranger” I nearly abandoned kept me enthralled through a subway ride, airport security lines, a layover and a lengthy flight to Los Angeles, so much so I jumped when the flight attendant asked whether I’d like a beverage.
If you love thrillers, mysteries, suspense, captivating characters, supreme wittiness, great stories and great writing…Heck, if the last book you read was that dilapidated phone book in the back of your closet…I suggest you read this book. It’s so fantastic, I feel guilty having not shared it with the hotelkeeper and my bookworm heart aches at the thought of nearly missing it. (Reaches for a tissue. )
What others are saying about The Stranger You Seek:
“An electrifying thriller debut, The Stranger You Seek introduces a brash, flawed, and unforgettable heroine in a complex, twisting novel that takes readers deep into a sultry Southern summer, a city in the grips of chaos, and a harrowing cat-and-mouse game no reader will ever forget.”—Random House
“This is a character-driven, nonstop thriller with flashes of wit and romance that builds to a harrowing climax; fans of the genre will want to get in at the start.” —Booklist
“An explosive, unpredictable, and psychologically complex thriller that turns crime fiction cliches inside out….Those looking for a strong female protagonist not a sexpot and as intelligent, tough, and flawed as any male thriller hero will be richly rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly
Now, without further ado, Ms. Amanda Kyle Williams…
AM: THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is what one might call your “breakout” novel. How does it feel to move from pre-published mystery novelist to celebrated author?
AKW: Well, it is my first major market novel so I’m pretty excited. It’s okay to walk up and down the street wearing a sandwich sign advertising it, right? To be honest, I’m still a little amazed. I’m a new name in mainstream crime fiction, but I’ve been blessed with some really fabulous reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and The New York Times. And some wonderful established writers have taken me under their wing and been very kind in helping to promote the book. I have a great publishing house that supports me and is willing to invest in the success of this series. We’re hoping word will spread about a new kind of thriller with a very different kind of protagonist.
AM: Your main character is unique and likable. We really feel as though we’re in her head. How did you come up with Keye Street?
AKW: She’s in my head too. Can you make her go away? Seriously. Okay, I’m kidding. Kind of. Truth is, Keye sort of just arrived on my doorstep fully formed. It’s the only experience I’ve ever had like this in creating a character. I heard her voice, her irreverent tone; I saw her face. I knew a whole lot about her without doing any of the preliminary work I would normally do in sketching out a character. I really have no explanation for this. Keye was handed to me. But it took a bit of inspiration to get to that point.
I knew I wanted to write crime fiction. I’d been doing my homework for years to prepare to write a criminal investigative analyst intelligently. I wanted to understand how an analyst or profiler would approach a crime scene, an investigation, how one might work with a police department, and how a police department would work with a consultant. So all this had been running through my head, but I hadn’t found that voice, that right character. I ended up finding it in the most unusual place.
I was at my brother’s house one Thanksgiving. He had adopted my niece Anna from China as an infant. She was four or five that year. So this gorgeous Asian child looks up at me and says something. I don’t even remember what because I was so knocked over by her accent. She’d learned her English in the hills of North Georgia and she sounded like Ellie May Clampett. I started thinking on the drive back to Atlanta that night about what it would be like to grow up looking different from the neighbors in the South, while being a full-fledge Southerner.
I began to envision a character with these differences: Chinese, adopted by white southern parents. I pulled over that night on the Interstate and wrote the early lines for the book. Everything else about Keye Street just landed on me. Her insecurities, her sense of humor, her propensity for inappropriate laughter, and her Krispy Kreme habit. And the dark side— her other addictions and demons, her past with alcohol, intimacy issues, and her ability to make sense of behaviors evidenced at a crime scene. I was working two and sometimes three jobs at the time so it took more years to finish the book, but it began for me that night when Keye was born on I-75 South to Atlanta.
AM: What’s your writing process like?
AKW: Well I can tell you that it was much more disciplined before The Stranger You Seek was released. Publicity is a welcome distraction. I’m so grateful for it. But it is certainly a distraction. I’m fighting now to get back to my usual, which is treating it like a job, showing up after morning dog walks and chores by about ten a.m., and putting in a minimum of six hours, more if I have it in me. I’m a slow writer and a relentless content editor. I’m that writer that will spend an hour tweaking one sentence and feeling unable to move forward until it’s tweaked. This slows the process. It’s not recommended. I’ve read all kinds of books about silencing the editor within but it’s not happening for me.
AM: Please tell me you have a cat named White Trash! What role do animals play in your writing?
AKW: That’s so funny. Actually, my first cousin had a cat named White Trash many years ago. I thought it was hilarious. I was committed to bringing her to the page one day, this cat with the bad attitude and a mighty sense of entitlement. Animals are part of my life and, in fact, every one of my friends has animals. I had a pet sitting and dog walking business before I was a writer full-time, and I’m a founding director at a local no-kill shelter, which I link to on my website www.AmandaKyleWilliams.com. When I’m traveling, I miss my dogs and my cats. Besides bad coffee, I’m finding it’s the hardest part of leaving home.
It feels natural to bring this to my writing in small ways. Keye’s mother, Emily Street, has been working in the humane community for years and is kind of the crazy cat lady on the block. I will bring a dog into one of my character’s life by the end of the second book, Stranger In The Room. I don’t want to distract from the fact that I’m writing a thriller series. The books are creepy as hell. But it feels natural for my characters to have to think about getting home to feed a cat or hire a dog walker or whatever. And I will never, ever harm an animal in fiction. Never. I heard writers on a panel not long ago saying they do this to illustrate the disposition of their killer. Whatever. I’m not doing it.
AM: What do you find most challenging about writing?
AKW: Just f-ing doing it, man. (Laughing) Sitting down. Being still. Being calm. Clearing out the cobwebs. Listening to the story, to the characters. Slogging through the first few hours of writing total crap to get to the good stuff. The good stuff will come if I just trust the process and nail myself to the chair. Some days this is easier than others.
AM: What do you love most?
AKW: Reading back through something and discovering it works, that it flows, that it’s smarter than I am, that somehow my writing took flight. That and hearing my editor say the draft was approved.
AM: Any tips for up-and-coming authors?
AKW: Don’t wait for the big idea. Don’t wait for a rush of inspiration. Just sit down and start building a foundation brick-by-brick, word-by-word. The inspiration comes for me after I’ve pushed through building some kind of framework. That’s when you get to write the fun stuff.
AM: Can we look forward to more Keye Street adventures soon?
AKW: Absolutely. Stranger In The Room is being polished up right now and will be released sometime summer/fall 2012. The third book in the series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, comes out in 2013. Bantam will publish the next two. I have many more books planned in the series. And we’re fielding offers to adapt The Stranger You Seek for a television series… Did that sound cool or what? Like this kind of stuff happens all the time. I’m practicing being all casual. Apparently squealing like a little girl and jumping up and down is embarrassing to my friends and family. Go figure.
Any thoughts to share with the fabulous Amanda Kyle Williams? Favorite books you almost didn’t read? I always love hearing from you.