Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Amanda M. Lyons – A longtime fan of horror and fantasy, Ms. Lyons writes character-driven novels that, while influenced by the dark and gothic, can also be heavily laced with fantasy, romance, history, and magic. Amanda M. Lyons has lived her whole life in rural Ohio, where she lives with her fiance and two children. She is the author of Wendy Won’t Go: Collector’s Edition, Eyes Like Blue Fire, Water Like Crimson Sorrow, Cool Green Waters, Other Dangers Part 1: Slipped Through, Other Dangers: This is How the World Ends, Sacrum Umbra: The Gothic Stories of Amanda M. Lyons, In Ventre Tuo: Tales of Madness and Gore, The Lesser Apocrypha, and The Hungry Season: Three Stories for Hungry Hearts. She is also a coauthor of Feral Hearts with authors Catt Dahman, Mark Woods, Jim Goforth, Edward P. Cardillo, and Michael Fisher and a contributing author to several anthologies.
Look for titles like Other Dangers: Further Down the Spiral, Vast Ocean/Vast Sea, Night is Falling, Hollow Black Corners of the Soul, Jodie, Thy Fearful Symmetry and others in the coming future.
J. Scott Coatsworth: What inspired you to write your forthcoming book Night is Falling? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
Amanda M. Lyons: Night is Falling came about because of a few different things, actually. I had this idea in mind about writing a very strong story about one man, someone who doesn’t fit in with the world he’s a part of, being the one person that sees what’s happening around him and not knowing how he can stop it. What happens when that’s the only guy who can save everyone and he knows it won’t be easy to get the others to see? Worse, what if the whole community is marginalized and used to not being heard too?
At first I only had that original concept and a couple scenes in my head, very simple stuff about things going down at night and being both subtle and insidiously real. I thought about making it about an indigenous community around Crater Lake because the content and setting would suit, particularly with the legends centering around the region, but I kept having these starts and stops every time I wanted to get it going. Eventually I got it was because that wouldn’t be the narrative I needed to have precisely because I have no connection to those legends or its people and it wouldn’t be fair or genuine to approach something that I couldn’t convey with some aspect of my own experience and ancestry. I needed to come back to my own story and reach into what I knew of the past in my own little part of the world. That’s when it began to click.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
AML: Once I got the direction of where my focus needed to be I was better able to start. It started to be about talking about what happened to people I knew, what it was like to be very, very poor and forgotten even in the middle of the United States. So the goals started to be about truly embodying the narrative I knew from folks in Appalachia in my own family and those others throughout the region who shared that experience and maybe both bleaker or more broad sweeping experiences and how those experiences informed a person’s life and ideals and then how they’d affect the way a person would respond to something.
The intent became talking about all of these roots and the nuances of how stories inform their lives constantly, from spirituality to gossip, to dealing with others and coping with troubles that might have been inherited from your elders. These are a people with their own rich heritage who are also essentially reduced to stereotypes and pushed to abandon everything they’ve been raised to believe is their true culture and heritage as if all of it is a nasty joke because some parts of it were genuinely terrible. Yes, there are those who embody the nasty bits, but there are also so many other things going on. Stories about immigrant ancestors from all walks of life, religions, and races, genuine blending of and embracing of all of these differences in order to survive a very isolated and insular life in a tough mountainous region where everyone’s life was in peril until they adapted.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
AML: I had to build this book on an existing tapestry that could inform the nightmarish changes that were going to happen to these people and their lives without leaving that rich background behind, and that also meant embracing some parts of myself in the process. I wasn’t always terribly kind to parts of myself or my ancestry because they didn’t feel safe or comfortable when I was younger, so I was also cutting through some very tough scar tissue to heal things I didn’t even realize had been wounds to begin with. The story is the nightmare that happens, but it’s also about the resilience that came from all of the things endured over hundreds of years. I had to figure out how to tackle my own healing and learn about that part of my origins and figure out how to let it be part of the story without eating the larger narrative alive with details about it. Bobby Gene is a man who experiences a great deal to begin with, we need to know that to know why it is he cares and wants to make things right, but this story is about how he faces this great change. I had to make the balance just right.
JSC: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it.
AML: Yes, I absolutely did for this one. It all started with going on an aimless drive for cooling down a few nights before we made the trip itself during the summer a couple years ago. We happened across the right roads to head down around Chillicothe where some of my family lives to this day, and we drove over near and through the backroads of the forests around the area at night, enjoying the atmosphere, something that felt very like Bobby Gene’s energy and made me decide that I was genuinely going to set this book in that area of Ohio.
We got the kids together on a hot day a couple days later and went on a two hour drive down to Peebles to visit The Great Serpent Mound there. It’s a beautiful and simple place and the woods really do have their own mood, it’s no wonder that people have all kinds of legends about the purposes of the mounds and their origins in the Midwest. It was terribly hot that day and we were sweaty and tired after walking around for a bit, but then, shortly after we left the woods and started on the way back a big rain storm started and just deluged everything for a good ten or fifteen minutes, breaking the heat for a while. Somehow all of this made me think that I’d chosen the right path for Night is Falling, and some of the groundwork and research I had to do to really start genuinely came together in a much bigger way.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
AML: Yes, I do, but no one is ever 100 percent based on anyone as they are or somehow representative of that original person in a way that would make them nervous. These characters have more of me in them than others, so I guess they’re blended figures? A way that I’m exploring ideas through different masks? I used to worry people would read too much into my using facets of people I knew, sometimes even conversations I actually had, but I’m playing around with the feel of those things, not turning them into something rough, if that makes sense.
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?
AML: I didn’t always understand it, but it seems clear now that a lot of my books and stories are centered in processing trauma and loss through different lenses. Sort of creating a narrative for myself to work through things I don’t do well with in a more direct way. There’s a little of me in every character I write, or certainly parts of those areas of self I don’t always talk about openly, maybe a little of that Jungian Collective Unconscious going on too.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
AML: Appalachian communities feature strongly here, this one in particular being centered in southern Ohio, a region of Appalachia that was populated by people coming out of the deeper areas of Kentucky and West Virginia like my own ancestors and descending from some of the poorest immigrants from Europe having married into other families from these regions, indigenous people like the Cherokee and Blackfeet nations, and Black communities who also settled there. America’s proverbial melting pot having come to some complex ends in the current day. Bobby Gene is a man informed by that heritage, he’s got a lot of interesting differences in his ancestry, a man of blended race, blended spiritual beliefs, and homosexual identity acting as a sort of modern day backwoods shaman to his small community while also remaining a very separate person. These people are the forgotten poor, proud of their lineage but also terribly trapped by multigenerational poverty.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
AML: Typically I go with the overall Gothic label, mostly because the main constant is dramatic stories carried out in different settings. That doesn’t mean my characters are meandering through old Victorian mansions though, these are stories of the Appalachian gothic, gothic horror, sci-fi gothic, my characters wander around in the haunted houses in their hearts and minds while tackling both everyday life and the nightmares that befall them, from killer dolls (Jodie, still in the process of being written) to world ending books (The Other Dangers series) and back toward my own takes on traditional monsters like vampires (The Shades of Midnight series). Think of Shirley Jackson meeting up with Anne Rice and having a lovely dinner party with Mary Shelley who’s also invited over Michael McDowell, Harry Crews and Clive Barker.
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
AML: I thought I was making up stories for other people, and I genuinely want other people to enjoy what I write, but I was always really playing pretend with my own demons. Funny, eh?
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
AML: A good friend of mine who is a great writer and artist in her own right, Susan Simone (you can find out more about her covers, art and books here: https://susansimone.weebly.com/book-covers.html ) did the cover for me. I had an image I really liked for its mood all picked out for the cover but I am just not as skilled as I wanted to be for this cover. I showed the basic one I’d made to my friends on Facebook and she offered to lend a hand with making all the moods and atmosphere come through for me for Night is Falling. Somehow she just knows how to make it happen when you explain what you want to convey and I can’t recommend her highly enough!
And now for Amanda’s new book: Night is Falling (releasing end of May):
Bobby Gene Kandall is a man who stands out even among his people. Gay, quiet, and a practician of backwoods spiritualism, there aren’t many people who ever truly see him in his tiny woodland Appalachian community, particularly now that Z’s been out of his life long enough to assume it’s over. Being alone in most things, and more perceptive than many, he isn’t surprised to find himself the only one that sees what’s happening to the people around him. An uncertain witness who finds himself doubting his own very intense and supernatural experiences and the physical changes that come with them, he can only watch and document the darkness falling over them all, hoping that it will come to some better end. Night is Falling and it’s sure to change everything he’s ever known, but Bobby Gene may be the only one who can stop it.
In the end, they did end up getting a pizza they could split between them, the same old pepperoni and mushroom they always got, and a few more sodas to go with it. Andy was home by the middle of the afternoon, Bobby Gene made sure of that, and that he was back at his place well before dark so he could at least make the hike out to Sayre’s in the light. He was at least halfway there now; the afternoon’s light fading into early evening as he moved, the warmth of it strong on his skin, making him feel a little drowsy in its glow.
He kept his wits about him even in the half-lidded drift of his current state, smelling the dead leaves, the earth, broken undergrowth, and stagnant water where it sat in puddles abuzz with mosquitoes. He closed his eyes and let himself walk for a bit, feeling the energies of the woods move around him, ever aware of where things stood, but also delighted to open his eyes and find that he’d stopped just when he needed to for a chipmunk to pass across his path without harm. He was at peace in the woods, in tune with its current and, for the moment, unable to feel anything that troubled him about what he picked up on about his surroundings. It felt like home, like always. For a moment he even thought about diverting from his plan and just meandering a little and then heading back, but he knew better than to step off of an important path once he’d set forth on it.
Plus there was also what Andy had said.
He’d said it while they were eating, well after they’d relaxed into their normal patterns and conversation, so that Bobby Gene was thrown off by it. “You know, maybe it’s one of those old stories, man. Maybe we’ve got something weird out there. You know, like grandma was always talking about. I can’t even remember all of the stuff she talked about, but…I can’t help but think maybe that’s it. I mean, it’s not Mothman or anything, but maybe it’s something else.”
This new seriousness was beginning to bother him. Andy never seemed too pinned down by anything, not even his unrequited love for Libby, but here he was truly looping around the same things he was, maybe not the woods, but certainly Sayre’s disappearance. It had given him enough pause that he’d just shaken his head in a noncommittal way, neither negating or agreeing with his assessment, just listening.
No, not Mothman, but could it turn out be something like that? Andy was right, Grandma had plenty of old stories to tell, and even more omens and signs she wanted him to remember on top of the more formal things his dad taught him. It was hard not to try and think back to what she said and look for some hint of the things he experienced, but it also felt wrong even with the spiritualist views he’d taken on, hadn’t they laughed most of it off? Well, she was the one that said Ash was to be protected and considered good luck, that the care and the luck went hand in hand, I remembered and accepted that well enough. And it was her that always told us that owls were omens of bad luck and that’s what I thought of first even if it wasn’t exactly what it turned out to be, I-
He stopped dead in his tracks, an image poking at the center of his brain, one that he’d set aside even as he dwelled on the fear and the discomfort he’d been encountering in the woods, particularly yesterday afternoon-after he’d seen that figure that reminded him of an owl. Not in reality, not by looks really, but by its movements. He thought of the way it moved its head, the way it felt wrong and startled him into running like a doe frightened from the road. He hadn’t forgotten it, not really. After all, he’d been afraid it involved something like this at Sayre’s, but it was like he was trying to dig up an old memory instead of one that should have been fresh and clear. He didn’t like it.
He nearly turned back, his hackles raised as if it’d just happened to him all over again; instead, he began to charge forward harder and faster than before. He was still using his self-assured pacing steps that made little sound, but he wasn’t as serene or deliberate with it now, his careful steps more reflex than carefully chosen movement. He just wanted to get there, and then he wanted to get it over with and back home as soon as possible after that. A part of him was sad at the thought of it; he’d never been afraid of the woods before, cautious and aware yes, but never frightened.
Before long he’d passed through the remaining wooded acres between him and Sayre’s dooryard, stopping five hundred feet short of it to have a look over things before he threw himself out into the open and risked encountering anyone (anything?) there. This was fortunate because the Sheriff’s department was clearly ahead of him.