With a fetish for the odd Bond Movie, Amanda Downum, (who's first novel The Drowning City has recently been released) has taken the genre on a fairly untrodden path, that of the fantasy political spy thriller with a touch of dark magic to add the sparkles. As usual we love new authors as they have so much to prove that they virtually explode out of the gate so taking the bull by the horns we delved deeper to discover more about her, about her writing and those oh so evil cupcakes...
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Amanda Downum: That always sounds a bit melodramatic to me, though I know some writers do feel that way. Writing because you want to tell stories should be fun. Writing as a career should also be fun, but will also be as grueling and frustrating and thankless as any other career, and may pay quite a bit less, so being driven is certainly helpful. Or, in my case, being completely unfit for any other employment.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
AD: I first thought of it when I was six. At the time, I also wanted to be an astronaut and a steeplechase jockey. I started considering it again seriously after college, when I found the Online Writing Workshop and realized that I could improve my writing drastically.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
AD: I think there a plenty of writers who are better at novels, or simply prefer them to short stories, and vice versa. Learning to write short stories definitely helped my prose and pacing, but it was writing bad novels first that helped me write better ones.
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
AD: I'd prefer they bought my book and someone else's. I'm not keen on bookselling as a competitive sport. That said, I describe TDC as a fantasy spy-thriller, and hope it would appeal to readers who like political fantasy and less-generic, non-European settings.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
AD: My elevator pitch is "Diamonds Are Forever with necromancy." I'm not very good at elevator pitches.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
AD: Caitlin R. Kiernan, Elizabeth Bear, and Barbara Hambly are three of my favorite writers. I'm always waiting hopefully for a new book by any of them.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
AD: I have to have a fairly good idea of what's going to happen and where it will lead to start a novel--or at least to get past the first fifteen thousand words--but I'm not an outliner. Characters surprise me often enough to make rigid outlining useless and frustrating.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
AD: I rock climb, and I may start kayaking more often soon--since my writing work day involves sitting on the couch for hours, I have to get out and move around if I don't want to go crazy.
I've recently read and enjoyed Holly Phillips' The Engine's Child and N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I'm also rereading all of Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January novels.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
AD: Hostess cupcakes. They're disgusting, and yet so chocolaty and cream-filled... And now everyone knows.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
AD: I have many cats, most of whom are demanding, bitchy, and neurotic. But so far they show no inclination to solve crimes, and I'm not going to write about them until they do.
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
AD: Isyllt, because she has such a poorly developed sense of self-preservation. It's much easier to keep a plot rolling when your characters will throw themselves into dangerous situations over and over again.
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?
AD: We're both sarcastic and practical, but I have a much stronger sense of self-preservation. It keeps me from climbing tall rocks without ropes.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
AD: Climbing, jewelry-making, drawing, going to concerts--anything that gets me out of the house or away from the computer and thereby keeps me sane.
FT: Where do you get your idea's from?
AD: Bad movies and sardine tins.
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
AD: I regularly get stuck when I don't know what happens next, or how to get between two points. When that happens I usually need to let it sit for a day or so, or to backtrack through the last bits I've written and see if I made any wrong turns. If that doesn't work, I complain loudly to everyone who can't run away until I unstick.
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
AD: I write whenever I'm not too tired or frazzled to do so, or too distracted by shiny things.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
AD: All of my writing projects have soundtracks, which I listen to until I can't stand them anymore. Silence is fine, too, but I can't tune out human voices effectively, so coffee shops and television in the background are no good.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
AD: I managed to avoid most of them. I was lucky enough to have friends who started their writing careers ahead of me, so I learned a lot from them.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
AD: The Bone Palace is less a spy-thriller and more a murder mystery. It's full of politics and secrets and sewer-crawling, with a few vampires for good measure. And more forensic necromancy.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
AD: LiveJournal, FaceBook, Twitter, freakangels.com, and coilhouse.net
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
AD: I took two university creative writing classes, which were all right for little things but largely useless for novel-length work, and the business of writing especially. Later I joined the Online Writing Workshop, and found that a much more useful place to meet other writers and learn about craft and business.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
AD: I kept submitting stories till some of them weren't rejected.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
AD: The best thing--besides writing--would be sleeping as late as I want. Sadly, I also have a fulltime day job presently, so that rarely happens. The worst part would probably be self-employment taxes, and waiting for paychecks.