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Amanda Stevens: A Footprint for Suspense

By, Vince A. Liaguno

With novels that have been described as “creepy, southern suspense,” Amanda Stevens is emerging as a “must read” name in psychological thrillers. With the imminent release of her second Mira novel, The Devil’s Footprints, the Arkansas born and bred dark scribe remains true to her heritage, crafting intricate, highly-readable tales steeped in southern folklore and legends.

In an exclusive sit down with DSM, Stevens tells us which creepy legend served as the backdrop to her latest pulse-pounder, chats about crossing lines between genres, reveals which conspiracy theory keeps her up at night, and gets a little excited when we bring up her other passion – 80’s music.

Dark Scribe Magazine: Tell us about The Devil’s Footprints.

CemeteryGates.jpgAmanda Stevens: A killer is on the prowl in New Orleans, leaving in his bloody wake tattooed victims and crime scenes marked with Satanic symbols and cloven footprints. When local ‘ink-slinger’ Sarah DeLaune is called in by the police to help identify the tattoo artist, she soon realizes that clues hidden within the intricate designs will lead her straight to the murderer…a brutal psychopath who has haunted her dreams for years.

Dark Scribe: What was the inspiration behind The Devil’s Footprints?

Amanda Stevens: The book was inspired by the old devil’s footprints legend. In 1855, villagers in Southern Devon, England, awakened to find cloven footprints in newly fallen snow. According to the folklore, the prints stretched for over a hundred miles, going through solid walls and across rivers, appearing on the other side as though no barrier could stop them.

I moved the tale to a little town in Southern Arkansas, and in my story, the prints first appeared in a farmer’s cotton field in 1922. There, the legend was all but forgotten until the prints reappeared some seventy years later near the mutilated body of Rachel DeLaune.

Dark Scribe: Who was your favorite character to write in the new book? Why?

Amanda Stevens: Definitely Ashe Cain. Very complicated guy, Ashe. And tricky to write but I can’t tell you why without giving away too much.

Dark Scribe: With your last novel, The Dollmaker, you transitioned from romantic suspense novels to the thriller genre. Taking into account that the lines between genres and sub-genres are at times so fine, what would you say is the biggest difference between the books you were writing and those you’re writing now?

Amanda Stevens: The most obvious difference is the lack of a romance. There really isn’t one in The Devil’s Footprints, thDevilsFootprintsCover.jpgalthough the protagonist’s past relationship is somewhat explored. But the differences go beyond that, or at least, I like to think they do. My thrillers are darker and creepier, and I hope my writing is richer, my characters more psychologically complex. That’s not to say you can’t have all those things in a romantic suspense (many do), but moving away from genre constraints and reader expectations opened up a whole new world for me. After twenty-something years of writing, I think I’ve finally found my niche.

Dark Scribe: Have you found yourself marginalized as a writer by labels and genres?

Amanda Stevens: There is still a stigma attached to romance writers, especially those who write and have written for Harlequin. Even though what I wrote for Harlequin Intrigue couldn’t have been farther from the ‘bodice-ripper’ (hate that term) stereotype, my books were still sometimes judged by an outdated perception. And, yes, when The Dollmaker proposal first went out, there were editors who only wanted to see romantic suspense from me. Ironically, it was MIRA Books, owned by Harlequin, that took a chance and allowed me to write the book the way it needed to be written.

Dark Scribe: In the marketing campaign for The Dollmaker, there was hint of homage to the Vincent Price chiller House of Wax. Does the new book aim to pay tribute to any celluloid classics?

Amanda Stevens: Not a classic like House of Wax, but there are a lot of references to The Crow.

Dark Scribe: Like The Dollmaker, The Devil’s Footprints is set largely in post-Katrina New Orleans. What is it that draws you – and so many other writers - to this particular geographical location?

amanda_175-1.jpgAmanda Stevens: The Devil’s Footprints is also set in a small Arkansas town, not unlike the one where I grew up. But to answer the New Orleans question, the city speaks to me. That’s the only way I know to put it. Someone from the area suggested that I must have lived there in another life because otherwise I couldn’t write about it the way I do. I like to think that’s true. New Orleans is everything I want my books to be—dark and gothic and deliciously creepy, rich in history and atmosphere, and peopled with strange, fascinating characters. When you walk the streets of the French Quarter, it’s easy to believe that anything, and I do mean anything, can happen there. The shady politics is just icing on the cake.

Dark Scribe: How did your own background growing up in the south come to influence your writing?

Amanda Stevens: As I mention in my website bio, storytelling is second nature to southerners and I consider it a part of my heritage. I grew up in an area of the South that was steeped in legend and folklore. The stories about ghosts and witches that I heard as a child still give me chills to this day. That same sort of breathless, shivery dread is what I hope to evoke with my own stories.

Dark Scribe: Who are your literary inspirations?

Amanda Stevens: Nathaniel Hawthorne for stories like “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “The Birth Mark.” Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner because their writing is so southern - and so brilliant. Herman Wouk for bringing World War II to life for me. Stephen King because he’s Stephen King.

Dark Scribe: In terms of craft, what is your daily writing routine like? How important is it for writers to have a routine and to stick to it?

Amanda Stevens: I used to believe that it was absolutely necessary for writers to stick to a routine. Write every day no matter how little or how bad, just get something down on paper. Then I heard another writer say just the opposite. Why write when you aren’t inspired? Because all you’ll end up with is garbage. She has a point. I’ve spent days trying to ‘fix’ bad writing. On the other hand, procrastination is the bane of almost every writer I know and can get you into serious trouble when you’re on deadline. I try to strike a balance. I work every day, but my hours are flexible.

Dark Scribe: Book trailers. Pro or con and why?

Amanda Stevens: For me, less is more when it comes to trailers. Anything over a minute and I usually click off. I don’t like a lot of text, either, but that’s just a personal preference. For The Devil’s Footprints, I knew I wanted something different so I hired M.S.H Productions, a young, hip group of filmmakers out of Austin, Texas, to create a short teaser that carries a big punch. It’s getting a lot of play on MySpace and YouTube, but whether the interest will translate to sales is anyone’s guess.

Dark Scribe: Can you give readers a sneak peek at your next novel?

Amanda Stevens: It’s called The Whispering Room. Devastated by a family secret and desperate to protect her infant son, a widowed police detective must take the lives of two women: one of them is guilty…the other, innocent.

Dark Scribe: Like me, you’re also a passionate 80’s music fan. Using that decade as a guide, what ten songs - including the artists - would make up the soundtrack of a film version of either The Dollmaker or The Devil’s Footprints?

Amanda Stevens: I love this question! And since I already have a soundtrack/playlist for The Dollmaker, I’ll go with thdollmaker_175-1.jpgthat. However, when I get around to making one for The Devil’s Footprints, “Burn” by The Cure will be at the top of the list. And by the way, I do have a theme song for both The Dollmaker and The Devil’s Footprints. They were written by Axel Machen, who was the frontman for Placebo Effect, a German dark electro band that’s been credited as the inspiration for several other industrial bands like Frontline Assembly. His current project is Breathe. So I’m pretty blown away that he would take the time to write these tracks for my books. You can hear both songs, along with “Amanda’s Darkest Moments” on my MySpace site.

Okay, The Dollmaker soundtrack:

  1. “Renaissance” by Virgin Black
  2. “Sleepless” by Voice Industrie
  3. “Alone in a Crowd” by Covenant of Thorns
  4. “The Gates of Heaven” by The New York Room
  5. “The Drama of the Wicked” by Vision Bleak
  6. “The Laughing Dolls” by Breathe
  7. “The Host of Seraphim” by Dead Can Dance
  8. “Doll House” by Switchblade Symphony
  9. “Leda’s Secret” by Die Form
  10. “Last Exit for the Lost” by Fields of the Nephilim

Dark Scribe: Heard a rumor that you’re a self-proclaimed conspiracy theory aficionado. Any truth to that? What are some of the more nagging conspiracy theories that keep you up at night?

Amanda Stevens: As certain members of my family will attest, I’ve never met a conspiracy theory I didn’t believe. But if there is one that keeps me up at night, it’s UFOs. I think they’re here and I don’t think that’s good.

To learn more about Amanda Stevens, visit her official author website.

Check out the debut of the terrifying book trailer for The Devil's Footprints.

Posted on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 08:09AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | CommentsPost a Comment

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