Please introduce yourself and your book(s).
Hello, I’m Amy Briant – thanks for having me here at NFReads! I’m the author of four novels published by Bella Books:
- SHADOW POINT (the ghost story set on a remote San Diego beach)
- ROMEO FAILS (the quirky Midwestern love triangle)
- HEAVENLY MOVES (the 1980s rock ‘n’ roll murder mystery)
- THE BOOK OF KELL (the post-apocalyptic survival adventure coming in February 2020)
All four are works of queer fiction. I consider them all to be mysteries, although I’m clearly not averse to genre-hopping. Follow me on Facebook, my blog, my website and on bellabooks.com for all the latest!
What are the real-life stories behind your books?
There’s a lot of me in my stories. If my protagonists are all too often smarty-pants, I have no one else to blame. SHADOW POINT is set in a fictionalized version of the part of San Diego where I grew up, Point Loma. (where, in real life, I encountered zero malevolent phantoms) I’ve also spent some quality time in the Midwest where ROMEO FAILS is set. HEAVENLY MOVES has many autobiographical elements – a run-down apartment building by the beach where I used to live, my dearly departed Camaro, my first real job at a public defender’s office.
THE BOOK OF KELL is a very personal book to me – but no, I haven’t fought my way through the post-apocalyptic Northern California wilderness. Not yet, at least.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book?
Usually, one of the best things for me is writing the first act, which tends to just pour out of me faster than I can type the words. That did happen with THE BOOK OF KELL, but then I loved the second act so much, I could hardly bear to leave. And without a doubt, writing the very last page of any book is pure joy.
The worst thing I encountered while writing KELL was that it took a long, long time during what was perhaps the most challenging seven-year stretch in my life thus far. Which makes its upcoming publication in February 2020 all the sweeter.
The most surprising thing: Stories tend to take on a life of their own when you actually put them down on paper. Plots take unexpected turns, characters make unforeseen decisions. There is an inanimate object in THE BOOK OF KELL that somehow became a kind of character, much more important than I anticipated. That’s right, Mr. Giovanni’s wool socks – you have stolen my heart.
Have you ever broken a bone, been knocked unconscious, jumped from an airplane, driven a motorcycle, taken tap dance lessons, lived in a tent in the woods for a month, relinquished your window seat on a flight from Dallas to a porcupine and/or won a spelling bee?
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I’ve always been an outliner – I don’t see how one could write mysteries without them. The more I write, the more detailed my outlines have become. This greatly helps me to avoid writing myself into a corner. There’s nothing more deflating than having to unravel – or worse, delete entirely – several pages because you forgot that the villain was wearing an emerald green smoking jacket in Chapter 37, not a paisley sweater vest.
I know I’ve also lost my fear of writer’s block over the years. I know it’s simply part of the process for me. I know I always find a way to overcome it. I do get stuck all the time. That’s when I know I should go for a walk or sleep on it. I almost always have the puzzle solved within twenty-four hours.
The most important thing is to write every day. You can trick yourself into doing that when you’re too tired, too busy with those pesky family/friends/day job obligations, or simply not in the mood by saying, “Just give me five minutes of writing.” For me, more often than not, two hours later, I’ve written another serviceable chunk of my work in progress. Even if it didn’t emerge from my fingertips fully formed and stunning in its beauty, it’s at least a good start that editing will bring to life.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I wouldn’t call this a trick so much as a philosophy. In my twenties, I knew that I wanted to write a novel, but I couldn’t think of a plot with strong enough “legs” to last three-hundred pages or so. I couldn’t even imagine how someone came up with such a plot. But I started carrying a pen and a little notebook with me everywhere I went, and I opened my mind to all the crazy and interesting stuff the Universe kept coughing up: a name, a conflict, a bit of overheard dialogue, a random occurrence. Bit by bit, I jotted it all down. Eventually, I realized that (for me, at least) a novel is not just one idea – it’s a whole world. It may start with one idea, whether that’s a character, a setting, a situation. But for me, it’s a process of accumulating lots of ideas, many of which get discarded, but when enough of them stick together, so to speak, then that’s the beginnings of a novel. Sort of like the oyster adding layer after layer to build the pearl. Or – I like this sea creature simile even better – like the baleen whale cruising the depths for krill.
THE BOOK OF KELL sprang from three main krill and a thousand more:
- a Bruce Springsteen lyric about dreams (that initial idea was tossed and is nowhere to be found in the book)
- a lifetime of thoughts about identity and a loner’s place in society
- a summer job working on the crew at a music festival
As I said, there’s a lot of me in all my stories. Although I daresay the most exciting bits are likely to be the made-up ones. How did I get from those three core ideas to the post-apocalypse? You’ll just have to read the book and find out!
Do you have tips on choosing titles?
I guess not, although of course you want the title and cover art to attract potential readers. Titles seem to organically take care of themselves for me:
- SHADOW POINT is the name of the setting for that novel
- ROMEO FAILS is almost the name of the setting, which is Romeo Falls in an unnamed Midwestern state
- HEAVENLY MOVES is about a girl named Heavenly who moves into a new apartment
- THE BOOK OF KELL chronicles the post-apocalyptic adventures of the protagonist, Kell Dupont
But since you asked, now I’m worried I should put more thought into my titles…
What are the last three books you’ve read?
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but right now I’m working my way through John Gardner’s “The Art Of Fiction.” (which involves a lot of pauses for contemplation, squinting at the ceiling and a highlighter) Prior to that, I recently reread Robert Galbraith’s “Career Of Evil.” The most recent new-to-me fiction I’ve read was “Once Upon A River” by Diane Setterfield.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m in the thick of writing my fifth novel which is completely different from any of my previous efforts. I’m very excited to take this new direction. Well, 99% new – it’s set in San Tomas, my imaginary version of Santa Cruz, CA. HEAVENLY MOVES took place in 1980s San Tomas, while THE BOOK OF KELL begins in a post-apocalyptic San Tomas. Novel #5 happens in present-day San Tomas. (I feel a little bad for all my present-day characters, knowing what I know about the post-apocalypse on the way, but hey, those are the imaginary breaks.)
Probably the next book that will be published, however, will be a collection of short stories which I continue to write between (and sometimes during) novels.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.
I’m left-handed, can name all fifty states in near-alphabetical order in under sixty seconds and once played keyboard in a band called “Dance or Die.”
Thanks again for the chance to chat with you and your readers. This is where I plug my latest novel one last time: THE BOOK OF KELL, coming February 2020!