We had the pleasure of Amy Engel join us in our Behind the Pages Goodreads group to answer some questions about The Familiar Dark and her writing process. I am excited to share some of the Q & A with you today.
Lindsay: Hi Amy! Thanks so much for being here with us. I’m a huge fan of yours! I adored The Roanoke Girls and loved The Familiar Dark. Both outstanding novels!
I am curious to know how long each of those books took you to write. What does your writing process look like? Do you map out your ideas first or just dive right in and see where the characters take you?
Amy: Thanks, Lindsay! THE ROANOKE GIRLS took me about 3 months to write, although when I was done I set it aside for a couple of months and then went back and added a bit more on the second go-round. THE FAMILIAR DARK took me longer, although it’s a shorter book. Probably around 6 months. Mainly because writing about a murdered child was difficult for me and there were stretches when I had to put the book aside and do something else.
I don’t outline at all before I write. I generally know how the story will begin and have an idea about the ending, but the rest is a complete mystery to me until I sit down to write
Brenda: How did you come up with the idea for The Familiar Dark and the idea of the characters Eve, Cal and their mother?
Amy: The thing that came first with this book was actually the idea of two young girls being murdered. There was an actual case in Delphi, Indiana a few years ago where two 13 year old girls were murdered in the woods. The case has nothing to do with my book, but it stuck with me and I couldn’t shake it. So that’s what led to the opening of THE FAMILIAR DARK. From there, I came up with the characters of Eve and Cal and their mother. I always know my characters long before I know my plot
Brenda: What came first the plot or the characters Eve and Cal?
Amy: I knew I wanted to set the book in the Missouri Ozarks and I’m always interested in writing about people and places that aren’t necessarily well represented in crime fiction. And the rural poor aren’t a group that’s written about all that often in crime fiction, so I knew I wanted Eve and her family to come from generational poverty. Their characters grew from those basic ideas. I never outline and allow the characters to come to life as I’m writing.
Marilyn: I loved the very last lines of the book and they gave such insight into one of the characters, added more depth to the person. Is there a chance we will see some of these characters again? Do you see how their lives might play out after this book ends, whether you write them again or not? (I wonder this everytime I finish a book with really good characters). 😊
Amy: Thank you for your kind words about the book. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll see these characters again. I think their story is complete, at least as far as my writing it goes. As for where I imagine they go after the book is done, I have to admit that I worry for Eve. She is in a dark place. But, on the other hand, she’s shown such strength and resilience that maybe she can claw her way back out again. I think it’s up to each individual reader to decide
Brenda: I loved The Roanoke Girls too! Both have some dark difficult emotional subjects but I thought in The Roanoke Girls you explored a darker subject matter and in The Familiar Dark more the darkness inside the characters. What draws you to write stories with dark characters and subject matters?
Amy: I’m not sure. I have always been drawn to dark books, even as a child. I found them so much more interesting than the sunny, typical children’s books. For me, the world is rarely black and white, almost everything is a murky shade of gray. So that worldview lends itself to writing about characters who straddle the line between good and evil. I enjoy writing about good people who do bad things, and visa versa
Brenda: I read somewhere that authors feel like their characters speak to them and that plays a part in creating the characters. How do you go about capturing the voices of your characters? Do you feel your characters talk to you?
Amy: I definitely feel like my characters talk to me. Often when I’m in the midst of writing I feel like my brain is only half engaged with the actual world around me. The other half is constantly in conversation with my characters. It’s a little bit distracting and I know it drives my family crazy. My kids will often accuse me of not listening them, and they’re not entirely wrong. It’s just that I have competing voices in my head. In many ways, when I’m writing my characters are as alive to me as the people I interact with every day.
DeAnn: Hi Amy! “The Familiar Dark” is the first book of yours that I’ve read, but I hear great things about “Roanoke Girls” so I want to read it soon. I loved the character of Eve’s mother and I loved the sibling relationship between Cal and Eve. Did you intend to create such strong family bonds in this one?
I think that strong bond between Cal and Eve made the ending even more powerful. Did you have that all mapped out from the beginning?
Amy: Hi DeAnn. I definitely knew I wanted this book to feature strong family bonds. Family is often at the centerpiece of my books because I think family dynamics are endlessly fascinating. No matter whether we turn away from our families or embrace them fully, they are still influencing who we become. I don’t outline my books, so I wasn’t entirely sure where the book was headed or how the relationships between characters would play out
Brenda:I love the title is perfect for the story and the characters. Did the title come before or after finishing the book? How did you go about choosing the title?
Amy: The title came after the book was complete and I’d spent what felt like weeks bashing my head against a wall trying to come up with something unique. My daughter actually stumbled across the Emily Dickinson poem that’s quoted at the beginning of the book and I thought the line “We grow accustomed to the dark, when light is put away,” was perfection. But “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” is a little wordy for a title. So I brainstormed other ways to say “accustomed” and came up with THE FAMILIAR DARK
Mary Beth: I loved this book! Did you have a favorite character while writing this book? If so who is your favorite character, and why?
Amy: Thanks, Mary Beth! Eve is probably my favorite character, but her mother, Lynette, is a close second. She was such a fascinating character to write. So awful in so many ways. But strangely sympathetic, too. At least to me. I think Lynette would argue that she loves her children the only way she can, by giving them the tools she thinks they need to survive in the world in which they were raised. I definitely have a soft spot for her
Brenda: What would you like readers to get from the story? Is there anything you would like us to know?
Amy: Well, whenever I write a book my biggest hope is simply that readers enjoy the story. That it’s engaging and keeps them turning pages and that the characters resonate with them in some way. I try not to think too much about big messages when I’m writing because I feel like that bogs down the book. I prefer to let those ideas sort of filter into the story organically. And sometimes I don’t even realize what those themes are going to be until I’m almost done writing. If I had to pick a theme or idea I wanted people to get out of this book, it would probably be something to do with rural poverty–about how difficult it can be to pull yourself up and out of that kind of life. The deck is absolutely stacked against poor people in this country and it can be virtually impossible to climb the socioeconomic ladder. It’s hard to even see possibility or change when you come from the kind of life that Eve has lived.
To read more of the Q & A on Goodreads you can find it here