TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has the distinct pleasure of introducing author Amanda Kyle Williams to all of our readers. Mysteries are the mainstay of our magazine, and Amanda has struck gold in the release of her first book in her Keye Street series through Random House/ Bantam Books.
TAEM- Amanda, before becoming a writer tell us about some of the unrelated positions that you held in the past before seeking your career in writing.
AKW- Thank you for that kind introduction. I’ve watched your magazine grow with a great deal of pleasure. I love the stories and interviews. So thanks for having me. Okay, jobs. Hmm. So many jobs over the years (laughing). Might be easier to think of a job I didn’t have, like flying commercial airliners or something. Though, I did spend a summer learning about ultralights and traveling to air shows with an old guy who built them when I was in my twenties. I did a lot of things to keep the lights on while I was figuring out where I wanted to be as a writer and what I wanted to write. I think this is true of a lot of writers or artists who need to earn a living while they’re waiting for their dream. We’re not looking for a career. We just want to pay the rent. Writing, being a full-time writer – that was my dream. Some jobs ended up informing my writing in unexpected ways. I worked as a courier and learned Atlanta inside-out. It allowed me to bring this city to life in my writing. And it gave me an excuse to talk about a region I’m passionate about. The American South is about the prettiest place in the world, by my way of thinking. There’s something gentle about the south, about the soft air here, the sensibility. It makes it seem all the more cruel when it turns on you. And it will turn on you. But I love it here, and I wanted readers to get a sense of the real south, warts and all. I worked as a process server, which gave me an opportunity to spend time in the courthouses, use creative ways to get a subpoena in the hands of someone that doesn’t want to be served. The company that employed me had a private investigating branch which was enormously helpful when I developed this character, Keye Street, a former FBI criminal investigative analyst turned private detective. I’m writing fiction around a lot of my own experience, which is fun and, I think, lends some authenticity.
TAEM- You also were a contributor of short stories, written small press novels, and were a freelance writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. How did this work wet your appetite to create your novel ?
AKW- I was about 28 when the writing bug hit me. I came to this dream a bit late because I came to books and reading late. I have a learning disability that wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my twenties, so reading books was something I’d never had an opportunity to do until then. I fell pretty hard for the whole idea of fiction, of people reading for pleasure, of escaping into a novel. This was life changing for me. I tried my hand at some small press books in the early 90s. The books weren’t very good, I’m afraid, but the experience was great. A chance to get my feet wet. But I wasn’t finding the character or the voice that could take me to the next level. I wanted to get better. I didn’t feel I was growing where I was. I stopped writing for a long time, nearly a decade. I did some freelance work for the local papers, including the AJC. I started a pet sitting business that grew and supported me when freelancing wasn’t. I finally decided I wanted to make the move to crime fiction and take a stab at the mainstream. My agent and the editor at Bantam saw something in the work. They pushed me hard to come up higher. It was exactly what I’d been looking for—someone to push me out of my comfort zone, make me a better writer, propel me forward. My editor’s brilliant and so much a part of my process now that I live in fear she will retire.
TAEM- Tell us about the training that you had taken to make your writing so believable.
AKW- Once I decided I wanted to write in the crime fiction genre and create a character with experience in the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI, I knew I needed to get educated on the subject. I wanted to understand the basic principles of criminal profiling, how a profiler might work with local law enforcement and how law enforcement might approach a case from the time the first officer arrives on the scene until the crime scene tape comes down. I got into a couple of study courses conducted by a respected profiler, essentially Criminal Profiling 101. I followed up with a course in practical homicide investigation. I’m a hands-on learner. Reading and research is still hard for me, because I still have trouble reading with any speed at all, so these courses were invaluable. We discussed real cases in real time via the Internet. I was able to interact with a lot of law enforcement professionals in these courses. We had exercises developed to give us some perspective about violent offenders, what they look for, distinctions in signature behaviors and MO. I’ll tell you what, it totally debunked the television view of profilers, of how behavioral evidence is collected, and of how a clogged system lumbers along in real life. A couple of my consultants, a GBI agent and a regional GBI medical examiner and a homicide Sergeant at APD are an enormous help to me. I know what the morgue looks like now and how it smells, what the labs look like at GBI. In addition to being absolutely fascinating to someone like me who is a little obsessed with crime in general, all this gave me a level of confidence I don’t think I could have brought to the books otherwise. To be honest, I might use ten percent of my research. I don’t want my books to read like manuals. Or sound like CSI. I want page turners, quick reads. If I can give someone a couple of days of nail-biting and page-turning, a few laughs, maybe even a tear or two, I feel like I’ve done my job. But doing the research, learning what you’re capable of learning about your subject, whether you use the details or not, gives you a solid foundation. Readers are smart. If you’re self conscious about a subject, they see it in your writing.
AKW- Keye Street lives on one of our famous streets in Midtown Atlanta, Peachtree Street, and in one of our historic hotels, the Georgian Terrace. Her parents live in Decatur, Georgia, which is gorgeous and popular for great chefs and restaurants and The Decatur Book Festival, which is the largest independent book festival in the country. In three days, seventy-thousand fans and six-hundred authors moved through here this year. It’s scattered all over town. It’s fantastic. This series is set in the city and in the state in which I’ve been having an ongoing love affair. Atlanta is a big, thriving metropolitan area, a gorgeous glistening city. But Atlanta has another face. Like all big cities, it can be a dangerous place—murder and serial murderers, binge and spree killers, drug-related crimes. And it’s friggin hot here, too. We have long, long summers. Walk out at ten on an August morning to 80% humidity and 90 degree temps, and you understand why southerners have a relationship with their weather. We’re involved in it. It seeps into your pores. My Atlanta is a beautiful, alluring and deadly city. What’s not to love about that? I take my drama where I can get it.
TAEM- Tell our readers about your main protagonist and describe her character for us.
AKW- Keye Street is Chinese. She was adopted by white southern parents. She finds a lot of humor in this. “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.” A lot of things are funny to Keye. She especially enjoys laughing at others. She has a little bit of a potty mouth, wrestles with addiction issues, is unapologetic about a healthy sex drive, and she sometimes experiences inappropriate laughter and walks a bit of an ethical tightrope from time-to-time. She’s a brilliant investigator and a full-on mess. She wants to do the right thing. She wants to be a good person. Sometimes she fails. But I think people root for Keye because she owns her shortcomings. And because she can laugh at herself, too.
TAEM- What is the theme behind the story?
AKW-We open in Atlanta with Keye doing the work she always does to pay the mortgage—bond enforcement, process serving, routine detective work. This is where her life is now. She’s trying to make peace with the choices she’s made. Keye was fired from the FBI, something she had devoted her life and studies to working toward. But no one wants an investigative analyst that can’t stay sober. She went into a rehab program after dismissal and came out clean. Her best option for making a living at that point was to return to the city she loved and apply what she’d learned at the Bureau to her own investigating business. When a particularly sadistic killer begins taunting the police and the media with letters, Keye’s good friend from the Atlanta Police Department asks for her expertise in profiling the killer and helping law enforcement predict his next move before there are more murders. This sets up a ticking clock and a cat and mouse game that will hurl Keye into the center of the action and, I hope, get some hearts racing.
TAEM- Tell us about your publisher and how they have supported your work.
AKW- Well, first of all let me just say that the folks at Random House are nothing like how I’d imagined a huge publishing house in the big city. Nothing. I’d read those snarky, whiny writer’s stories about getting lost at a big house or not getting the individual attention they wanted or getting screwed or whatever. But this was my dream publisher, specifically the Bantam imprint at Random House. That little logo was on almost all the books I’d loved, the ones that kept me up too late reading. I was pretty much prepared for them to be total dicks. You know what they really are? Just people with kids and families they love and animals they care about. People who love writers and words and books and who dedicate themselves to them with amazing passion and energy. They not only made my dream come true of becoming a fulltime writer, they’re just plain nice to me. The publicity and marketing people walk me patiently through what I don’t understand. And no one there cares about where I came from or my education or lack thereof. They care about my ability to tell a story. They want me to write great books. They’re all about helping the writer get to whatever level that writer’s shooting for. And they gave me Kate Miciak, who is one of the great editors in the business and a legend. She is my better, smarter half. And someone I’m privileged to call a friend. I cannot say enough about how wonderful my experience has been at Random House.
TAEM- ‘The Stranger You Seek’ is the first segment in your Keye Street series. We understand that there is a second, and third, book that will join it shortly. Please tell us about these and how they fit in with your first novel.
AKW- The Stranger You Seek is the first book in the Keye Street series. Stranger In The Room will follow, then Don’t Talk To Strangers. So we will spend more time in Keye’s head. I write the series first person. We’re looking at the world and Atlanta from Keye’s point of view. We’ll see more of Keye’s detective agency, her weird group of friends, her gay, African American brother, her southern family. And we’ll see her consulting with local law enforcement in the areas she specializes—behavioral analysis. I have more books planned for the series. Bantam will publish at least three of them.
TAEM- When will our readership be able to purchase these books, and where can they find ‘The Stranger You Seek’?
AKW- Well The Stranger You Seek is available now everywhere books are sold. It’s so nice to say that. Just another perk with a mainstream publishing house. The book is also available in an eBook format for Kindle or Nook and there’s an audio version at Audible.com. It’s also currently available in the UK, Germany, Holland, Australia and Norway. Next year, there will be a French translation in print.
TAEM- Amanda, this must be very exciting for you and The Arts and Entertainment Magazine is a lover of mysteries. Your work is well represented, and I hope that you keep us up to date as it progresses. We want to thank you for your time for this interview and wish you much luck in the future.