I know that Amanda Kyle Williams has arrived at the Georgian Terrace shortly before she enters the double doors to the hotel’s side entrance. An avid user of social media, Amanda has checked in via Facebook: “Here for an interview. Keye Street’s stomping grounds. My glasses fogged up when I got out of the car.” As we say our hellos, one of her friends replies online: “You really need to keep trying at this crazy writing thing you’re doing. I’m pretty sure it will eventually work out if you’ll just keep trying.”
The irony is not lost on Amanda, who admits to pursuing at least 20 different career paths before becoming a full-time writer in 2010. As she sits for our photographer in the lobby, I ask Amanda if she has grown accustomed to the idea that she now shows up for media interviews instead of job interviews. She adjusts her black blazer, holds a smile, and as the camera becomes silent, simply answers, “No.”
We are at the Georgian Terrace today because it is home to Keye Street, the main character in Amanda’s series of crime fiction novels. The first book in the series, The Stranger You Seek, debuted in August 2011 to critical acclaim. A year later, Amanda is nervous about the reviews for her follow-up effort, Stranger in the Room.
Keye’s creator snaps pictures of the hotel’s interior with her smartphone, making fresh mental notes about Keye’s pathways across the grey marbled floors, as we set up for our chat in the day basement bar, Proof and Provision. This is a place Keye would likely avoid since she’s a recovering alcoholic, but not to worry. I’ve stopped by the Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon to pick up a dozen assorted glazed doughnuts, a staple of Keye’s adrenaline and junk food diet. Still, Amanda grabs a bottle of Jameson’s—Keye’s former poison—off the shelf with a couple of glasses to use as props. We talk about contacting the good people at Krispy Kreme to request an Irish whiskey-glazed doughnut and dig in to learn more about odd jobs, addiction and other research that went into the character of Keye Street.
“Keye is doing a lot of the jobs that I did,” Amanda says. After writing a series of spy novels for a small press in the early 90s, Amanda cobbled together a series of jobs to pay the bills. At one point she was a process server and courier, much like Keye, who follows unfaithful spouses and chases bail jumpers so that she can afford her posh condo at the Georgian Terrace.
Unlike Keye, Amanda admits that she never had a gun pointed at her. However, she was on the receiving end of the hurled coffee cup that appears in The Stranger You Seek. She also used her author’s creativity to devise imaginative ways to serve subpoenas on deadbeat dads and others on the run.
“Fruitcake at Christmas,” Amanda names one of her tools of the trade. “Merry Christmas. Here’s your subpoena. I hid them [subpoenas] in flowers and acted like I was from the florist. You don’t make a lot of friends doing this kind of work.”
She ultimately decided that being the bearer of bad news was not for her, and sought new four-legged clientele with a dog walking business. “I went from serving subpoenas where no one is glad to see you, and then went to walking dogs where the dogs are like ‘Hi!’ Everyone’s glad to see you when you’re a dog walker.”
Readers learn that Keye Street’s career as an FBI profiler ended prematurely because she struggled with alcoholism. Although Keye has been in recovery for more than three years, she vividly recalls the way the whiskey burned the back of her throat and wrestles with a near-constant desire to drink. Amanda says that she comes from a long line of people with addiction issues and herself was a functioning cocaine addict for almost 20 years. She entered a rehabilitation facility in 1995 and has been in recovery since then. Some of Amanda’s experiences in rehab made it onto the pages of her second book, Stranger in the Room.
“When I’m writing Keye, when I’m writing about how she’s craving a drink, I think about what it was like for me in those weeks getting clean,” Amanda says. “And years after that. You know the drug commercials where they put the lines on the mirror and tell you how awful drugs are? It’s so damaging for an addict. It just looks so good and you don’t hear what they’re saying.”
Amanda says drugs played a large factor in her not writing a single word for a span of ten years. A fortunate side effect of her recovery was that she started thinking about writing again, and knew her next protagonist would be a criminal profiler. Before specialized criminal investigators proliferated the ten o’clock television lineup, Amanda was analyzing the contents of her friends’ garbage cans. It was homework for a class she took from Brent Turvey, an expert in the areas of criminal profiling, forensic science, victimology and crime reconstruction.
“I developed this whole fascination with criminals and how they think,” Amanda says. “One of the exercises was going through your own trash to see how at risk you are. We did risk assessments on ourselves and our friends and it really just made an impression. I started thinking I wanted to write a profiler.”
But she didn’t “meet” her profiler until a Thanksgiving visit with her family in North Georgia. Learn more about the inspiration for Keye Street and the sinister serial killers she encounters in the next part of my interview with author Amanda Kyle Williams. I also talked to Amanda about the learning disorder that easily could have kept her from being a published author, and how the city of Atlanta and Southern cuisine craft the perfect landscape for her novels.
If you’re in the Atlanta area this Wednesday, September 12, you can see Amanda speak alongside another Southern author, Peter Farris. The Georgia Center for the Book is hosting the reading and book signing. Details here.