LJ Talks to Horror Writer Amanda Desiree, Making Her Debut with ‘Smithy’

Amanda Desiree has had a lifelong fascination with the supernatural, particularly real-life ghost stories. LJ recently caught up with the debut novelist to talk about her path to publication, her horror roots, and how a visit to her local library provided the spark that became Smithy.

Amanda Desiree has had a lifelong fascination with the supernatural, particularly real-life ghost stories. LJ recently caught up with the debut novelist to talk about her path to publication, her horror roots, and how a visit to her local library provided the spark that became Smithy (Inkshares; LJ starred review).

I really enjoyed the setup for Smithy. The idea to combine the human fascination with ghosts and primates into one story was brilliant. Just the concept is enough to draw in readers. Where did the idea come from?
The inspiration for Smithy was a form of synchronicity. I had watched the documentary Project Nim about Nim Chimpsky, the subject of one of the early primate language studies. (As a matter of fact, I checked the DVD out of my local library! I was browsing the shelves for something to watch that night, and it looked interesting.) Students working under a Columbia University professor lived with the chimp in a house provided by the university and taught Nim sign language.

The next day, I was reading a nonfiction book about ghosts and hauntings and learned that Harry Price, the ghost hunter who investigated Borley Rectory, made the volunteer investigators who stayed in the haunted house pay for room and board. I thought, “What a cheapskate! The volunteers in Project Nim got to stay in their house for free.” I began to think about what would have happened if the student researchers hadn’t had university housing available. They probably would have ended up in a place like Borley Rectory that was old and run down. And possibly haunted.

And what if the chimp started signing to or about someone who wasn’t there? Would anyone suspect he might be talking to a spirit, or would they merely decide their study was a bust and the signs were random and meaningless? I started to think about incidents in the two studies that could have been attributed to either an ape or a spirit, and the story unfolded.

Why horror? What does it mean to you as a reader and now as an author?
I’ve always loved horror, particularly supernatural horror, even though I usually don’t find horror stories to be very scary. Rather, horror intrigues me. The supernatural world is filled with so many more possibilities than the mundane world: things we can’t see, powers some people have and others don’t, transgressions of the laws of physics. Horror stories are exciting, and unlike in science fiction or fantasy, they usually don’t require readers to learn the rules of a new world because they so often unfold in—and upend—everyday life.

What does tend to scare me are real-life stories of the paranormal. As a kid, I’d lie awake at night after watching some of the “Unexplained” segments on Unsolved Mysteries; those were things that really could happen, and they might happen to me! I want to bring that same sense of a realistic threat to my writing. Throughout my life, I’ve read a number of “true” ghost stories, and most of my own stories have been influenced by the paranormal accounts I’ve read or heard about. Smithy was partly inspired by the Borley Rectory, Cheltenham, and Amherst hauntings.

Why do you think horror is so popular right now? In general, where do you see the genre going? And, specifically, where do you want to take it in your work?
I think horror has always been popular in some form, but lately the genre seems to be more explicitly socially conscious rather than escapist. By tapping into the current mood of unrest, it’s drawing more mainstream interest. Even though Smithy is set in the past, it also deals with timely issues like gender inequality and harassment.

I’ve always tried to make my stories as realistic as possible. Apart from the supernatural elements, I want the setting and characters to be normal and believable so that the weird elements will seem more likely and acceptable. As long as horror remains personally relevant on some level, it will always have an audience.

Inkshares has a distinct publishing model that is very different from traditional publishers. How did you start working with them?
Inkshares is a reader-driven crowdfunding platform. Most of its publications are funded by interested readers who make pre-orders based on samples posted by aspiring authors. When a book reaches the target goal for pre-orders, that money is applied toward developing the book.

Fortunately for me, Inkshares also periodically runs contests. The entrant who gains the most pre-orders wins a publication slot, but Inkshares’s editors also choose to publish works that interest them. When I entered the 2018 horror contest, I never thought my book would actually get published; I just wanted to raise Smithy’s profile by getting it in front of more eyes. Each time I advanced to another round, I kept expecting that to be the end.

I can’t let you go without recommending some of your favorite authors to the library workers reading this. Who are your favorite authors? Both those who have influenced you and your writing, and those you just enjoy reading.
Daphne du Maurier wrote my favorite novel, Rebecca, which I’ve always thought of as a ghost story without the ghost. It shows how people can be haunted by far more than spirits. Richard Matheson is probably my top favorite author. He could do anything—novels, short stories, television, film—and make it psychologically believable, no matter how far-out the premise was. Robert R. McCammon is an amazing writer, primarily known for horror, who also succeeds in any genre. His characters and stories are compelling, and his prose is gorgeous. I also adore Josephine Tey, who wrote brilliant, unconventional mystery novels, some of which were inspired by actual events, that contain great insights into human nature. I pay tribute to her in my follow-up to Smithy.

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