Interview: Amanda Kyle Williams

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Not long ago we brought you a review of Stranger in the Room, the second Keye Street novel by Amanda Kyle Williams. Set in the US state of Georgia, it’s fast, dark and populated by strongly written characters you’ll really end up caring about. The first book in the series, The Stranger You Seek, was nominated for a Shamus Award. The author joins us today to talk about here writing.

Tell us about Stranger in the Room…
Well, we find Keye Street doing all the things she has to do to pay the bills — detective work, serving court documents, bond enforcement. It’s a holiday weekend in steamy Atlanta and she’s hoping for some down time with her partner, homicide Lieutenant Aaron Rauser, but things always seem to go wrong when Keye plans for time off. Her cousin Miki is being stalked, Rauser is up to his ears in open cases and there’s a crematory in the North Georgia Mountains that appears to be putting something other than human cremains in the urns, which leaves Keye with one big question: what’s happening to the bodies? And Rauser needs her profiling skills to help unravel the murders of a young athlete and an elderly man. Keye signs on once again with Atlanta Homicide as a consultant, given her background in behavioral analysis with the FBI profiling violent repeat offenders. Are these cases somehow linked to cousin Miki’s drug-infused, institutionalised past?

This is your second Keye Street book, how different has the writing experience been this time around?
Completely different. I’m a full time writer now, which is a dream come true for me. I’m so blessed to have realised this goal. On the other hand, let’s just say I have a new and deep appreciation for the discipline it takes to work on deadline. And for successful, prolific writers. I used to have a lot of snarky opinions about what I’d do differently when I read books. Now I’m just in awe of the process and very clear I’m a newbie with a whole lot to learn from these people. I really had no idea how to do this when I started book two as a professional writer for the first time. It was a push every day just to tie myself to the chair and sit still. I think it took me a year to get a grip and get a schedule and generally just calm my ass down.

Keye is something of an outsider, being Chinese American in the Deep South and adopted. What inspired her background?
My niece Anna is adopted, Chinese and deeply southern. I liked the idea. I wanted my detective to be a little outside the circle.

Was it important to you to have a strong woman at the heart of your work?
I wanted to write a woman who is very much like the women I know and love, like my mother and grandmother, friends. I wanted to write someone with all the strengths and frailties that come with being human. We all have failures, then rise from the ashes in our lives in large and small ways. I wanted Keye to be real even though I am putting her in extraordinary circumstances.

You and Keye have a similar employment history – how much do you draw on those experiences?
I use it all the time. Especially the process serving work I did. My editor says writers use everything, every person, every experience in their lives. I think that’s true. We are all a compilation of our experiences.

Where do you prefer being, in the mind of the investigator or the killer?
That’s a great question. It depends on whether we’re talking about my own human comfort level or the writer in me. It’s easier to write a killer. You can let the crazy fly with no concern at all about making a likeable character with appropriate responses to stressors. Can’t do that with your other characters. But I can tell you one place I don’t like being at all and that’s in the head of a victim. Terrifying. Don’t like it there.

Addiction is a strong theme in the book, where does your interest in the issue stem from?
Again, I wanted to write a character with some demons. I’ve had a few. I wanted to be able to talk about it in a non-preachy way, to write a survivor, someone who made the decision to stop killing herself, and who has to remake that decision every day. That’s the truth about addiction. You get to decide if you want to continue to indulge it. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it is a choice.

And the food! Are you trying to make all your readers obese?
Well, I’m a frustrated cook. It’s one of my passions in life — food and cooking. I have no time anymore to really have fun with it. So I put Keye’s mother, Emily Street, in the kitchen to create beautiful meals. I send Keye to restaurants so I can describe the food. Hey, I’m just trying to spread the love.

What’s coming up next?
A deadline. Yikes! Book three in the Keye Street Stranger series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, is nearly at the halfway mark. Keye’s acting as a consultant to a small town sheriff’s department. Two bodies are found in the woods. One had been there a few weeks. The other a few years. Both victims were 13 years old. Both of them disappeared on their way home from school. And we know something else about them too through the miracle of forensics — they’d both been kept alive for months after their abduction.

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