Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Amy Engel talks about THE ROANOKE GIRLS, the obsessive personality writers share, and so much more

Amy Engel is the author of the young adult series THE BOOK OF IVY. She's also a former criminal defense attorney, which always makes for an interesting writer, no? I'm thrilled to have her here to talk about her gripping new adult novel, THE ROANOKE GIRLS.  Thank you so, so much, Amy!

I always say every book starts with a yearning. What was yours?

What a great question! I’d say for this book the yearning was two-fold. First, I wanted to write a dark, character-driven suspense story. Those are my favorite types of books to read and I wanted to try my hand at creating one. And second, I wanted to explore a very specific setting: rural Kansas. My mother was born and raised in a small town in Kansas and I visited it often as a child. The town, its traditions and people, made a lasting impression on me and I always wanted to set a story in that insular, slightly claustrophobic, world. Amy is the author of the young adult series The Book of Ivy. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. The Roanoke Girls is her first novel for adults.

So this is your first adult novel. What made you want to do an adult novel, and what changed for you as you were writing?

I had the idea for THE ROANOKE GIRLS as I was working on IVY, so I was itching to get started on an adult novel. THE ROANOKE GIRLS is definitely much darker than my YA novels, so I had to get into a slightly different head space while writing. But I honestly don’t know that I approached the actual writing any differently than with my YA novels. For me, character is always king. So whether I’m writing a novel geared toward teenagers or adults, I’m always focusing on the characters: the who, what, and why of them.

So much of this fascinating novel is about the power of secrets, but wouldn’t you say that the truth is much more powerful, and the thing that stops us is fear of it?

I would say that both secrets and the truth have great power. Secrets can be incredibly powerful, albeit usually in a negative way. They require silence and collusion and denial. Secrets tend to fester and feed on themselves so that the longer they are kept the more difficult they are to reveal. The truth is powerful in that it allows us to begin the process of moving forward. However painful the truth might be, it’s what allows the light to begin filtering in.

I happen to love unreliable narrators. Was there ever a point when you were so deeply into the writing of this novel that you half didn’t believe in her?

I actually always believed in Lane. I knew that whatever awful or dishonest things she did were in direct response to the life she’d been forced to live. Lane’s life was horrific in so many ways, but I always had faith in her and her ability to come out the other side. I find her incredibly strong. Maybe not always likable, which frankly doesn’t matter much to me, but always interesting.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Like a lot of writers, I have an obsessive personality, so there’s always something I’m fixated on. Right now, book-wise, I’m loving Tana French’s new novel The Trespasser. I’m in awe of both her writing and her plotting. And I’ve been re-watching “The Wire,” which is one of my all-time favorite television shows. Every time I watch it, I catch something new.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have.

I don’t know, maybe something about my next book? It’s going to be another adult novel, psychological suspense again. I’m done with the first draft and now I’m working on turning it into something readable!

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