You’ll notice some familiar places in Amanda Kyle Williams’ debut novel, The Stranger You Seek.
Winnona Park, where Williams worked for years as a pet sitter and dog walker, appears as a crime scene.
“I say up front, please forgive me,” Williams said. “I love the neighborhood."
Amanda Kyle Williams, who lives just outside Winnona Park in a home “30 yards from the city limits” of Decatur, is living a literary dream these days. Her novel The Stranger You Seek was just published in the U.S., it’s already been published in the U.K. and Australia and will come out in Germany in September. Altogether the book will be translated into eight different languages. She’s discussing a television series based on the character.
Williams will appear at the Decatur Book Festival on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage with crime fiction writer Louise Penny in a panel titled "Making a Great Murder Mystery." Teresa Weaver, the AJC’s former book editor and now bood editor for Atlanta magazine, will moderate the panel.
Williams spent six or seven years writing this first book, working two or three jobs to pay the bills. But all that changed when she got a three-book contract from Random House to write about Keye Street, described as “an ex-profiler, ex-wife and ex-drunk” who lives in a privately owned loft in the Georgian Terrace Hotel. The character is also Chinese-American, a character based in part on Williams' niece, who was adopted from China as a baby.
“She sounds like Ellie Mae Clampett, this gorgeous little Asian kid with a Southern accent,” said Williams. Her niece seems unimpressed at having inspired a literary character.
“It’s very much a Southern crime novel,” said Williams. In the novel, the heroine is hired to locate a serial killer, dubbed the Wishbone Killer. The publisher calls it "an electrifying thriller debut" that "introduces a brash, flawed and unforgettable heroine in a complex, twisting novel that takes readers deep into a sultry Southern summer, a city in the grips of chaos and a harrowing cat-and-mouse game no reader will ever forget."
She’s sold her dog walking business to her partner (who renamed it the Paw’D Pipers) and has already completed her second book, although she confessed to being “a little bit behind.”
“I’m a little distracted with everything that’s happening,” said Williams from a car phone, on her way to autograph copies of her book at Charis Books & More, the official seller of signed copies of her books. “Today it feels like I’m at the top of the mountain.”
Like any good writer, those seemingly menial jobs were actually contributing to her writing. After getting certified to work with a detective agency as a process server, Williams learned “how to track down people who don’t want subpoenas.” She studied criminal profiling under Brent Turvey, a nationally known criminologist and profiler, took courses geared to law enforcement in serial homicide investigation and consulted with professionals in bond and law enforcement. Other jobs included house painter, property manager, sales rep, commercial embroiderer and vice president of manufacturing at a North Georgia textile mill.
Even walking dogs proved fruitful for writing. What looked for all the world like a middle-aged woman being led around town by five dogs while muttering to herself was actually a writer working.
“I did a lot of writing in my head,” while walking dogs, Williams said. “You never know what your dog walker’s thinking.”
Animals are “a great de-stresser. I have three dogs of my own and they are always near me. If I hit a wall in writing, we go out and walk.”
And while she’s no longer a professional pet sitter, she says she really misses the job.
“I was so attached to my human clients and to my furry clients,” says Williams. “It was really bittersweet. All my dreams were coming true, but I cried all the way through the last day.”
Find out more about Amanda Kyle Williams and her books:
The Butchieblog -- a site devoted to music, art, feminism and the South -- has an interview in which Williams discusses violent serial criminals.
Guilty Conscience, a British website devoted to modern crime, horror and thriller fiction, interviews Williams about the characters and plot of her new book.
For a sneak peak at the first two chapters of The Stranger You Seek, go to Amanda Kyle Williams' official website.
The AJC Decatur Book Festival will celebrate its sixth year of bringing a wide variety of authors and events to the Decatur Square Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4, 2011.