Episode 86A – Amanda Desiree – Smithy

Overview

Amanda loves to watch classic movies and television when she isn’t writing and reading. And a lot of that consists of horror, which started with R.L. Stine.

We discuss her interesting book – Smithy – about a group of college students working with a chimpanzee to study language. That is, until it appears Smithy is signing with a ghost.

Her Book

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Book Off – https://www.bookoffusa.com

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Transcript

I’ve got a really great interview with Amanda. She does some horror and has written a really cool, interesting horror book. That’s different [00:02:00] than most. Anything else I’d heard about? Uh, so you really have to listen to the interview, find out more about it. If you like horror, this is definitely one you should want to check out.

I also wanted to mention again, uh, that promo, uh, you just heard was from my friends, JP and Christine. If you are a reader and you want to try reading some serial fiction, go check out their show. They talked to some of the hottest serial fiction authors out there today. Uh, and they themselves have serial fiction that you might want to check.

I’ve got a whole bunch of episodes lined up for this year and some really good stuff coming up. So please come back, listen to the authors, you know, give us some, a thumbs up on the podcast. Get some more people here discovering us, discovered wordsmiths. It is and help out the authors, especially new authors with just one book like Amanda.

Uh, why don’t we just get to the interview? Here’s Amanda. So Amanda, welcome to discover the word Smith. Good evening. How are you today? [00:03:00] Oh,

[00:03:00] Amanda: I’m well, thank you for having

[00:03:01] Stephen: me. Yeah, it’s great that you’re on. I’m glad to have you on here. Uh, so, uh, to get started, let everybody know a little bit about you and your background, what you like to do, uh, where you live that.

[00:03:15] Amanda: Sure thing. I live in California. I’ve lived all my life in the Los Angeles area. I studied psychology and anthropology when I was in college. And both of those topics have inspired. Some of my work psychology was definitely influential in the writing of this novel Smithy. Uh, when I’m not writing, I’m reading a lot as I’m sure you can imagine.

I also love classic movies. Classic television shows. I’ve always been drawn to the horror genre and I’m a member of the horror writers association.

[00:03:46] Stephen: Well, I just spent the weekend in new Orleans with some other authors. We’re going to write a vampire anthology.

[00:03:51] Amanda: So sounds lovely. I’ve always wanted to go to new Orleans.

I’ve always wanted to tour the cemeteries and the swamps. And what would the [00:04:00] wait

[00:04:00] Stephen: a while? Because you can’t get in the cemeteries right now because of COVID you can only look at them from afar, but, uh,

[00:04:08] Amanda: being outdoors, I would think that it would be available.

[00:04:10] Stephen: Well, they had a parade and we were packed in like sardines, but you can’t go to the cemetery.

So I don’t know whatever. Well,

[00:04:18] Amanda: I’ll take under advisement. Thank you. I’ll wait a little bit longer,

[00:04:21] Stephen: but, uh, yeah, it’s a great, you know, lotta take some of the tours, soak up the vampire and witch and voodoo, uh, you know, they talk a lot about their good atmosphere for all of that. So, um, uh, Sorry. I lost my train of thought.

You said you live in Los Angeles area. I lived in Escondido for awhile.

[00:04:45] Amanda: That’s near to San Diego, which is a nice

[00:04:48] Stephen: area. Yeah, sometimes too nice. It’s whether it’s kind of boring, but you know, so what got you into writing, especially horror and [00:05:00] why you like to write.

[00:05:02] Amanda: As I said, I’ve always loved to read and I’ve always been drawn to reading horror novels and horror stories.

I think I was inspired as a child by some of the books that I read as a kid, thinking that I could maybe improve on them. I read a lot of RL Stine when I was growing up. And although I loved his fear street series, I was never too impressed with goosebumps. So when I was in middle school, I got the idea to write my own.

Millbrae. Um, about paranormal investigators in a small town, all children, of course, looking into the mysterious happenings around them. I finally started writing an actual book when I was in eighth grade, I got a spiral bound notebook. I started handwriting on the very first page and I wrote in a block format from top to bottom.

I didn’t break for any paragraphs. And when I got to the last page I stopped. So that was my first book. And after I built that I couldn’t. Yes all in one, these, although it’s a bit faded now, [00:06:00] uh, but it was also very hard to do all the handwriting. So I ended up switching to dictating my books, future books onto cassette tape.

I did end up working on some books for the series, although I never did end up publishing it at least not yet. Um, and I always enjoyed the. The feeling of competency I got from writing, I felt like I was doing something that nobody else could do. Even if I was writing a plot that maybe had been done before I was doing it in a different way from anybody else.

And I felt like nobody could write the story that I was writing exactly the way I was doing it. And that, that was what set me apart.

[00:06:34] Stephen: Nice. Okay. And so now what are you writing? Tell us about your book or books that you’re working on.

[00:06:41] Amanda: I’m currently working on two books that are both inspired by existing material.

I’m tinkering with a manuscript. I. About 10 years ago, it’s an alternate version of king Kong written from the perspective of the Islanders. I’m also working on a sequel to the innocence or the turn of the screw about [00:07:00] flora as an adult, trying to get to the bottom of what really happened to her brother miles.

[00:07:04] Stephen: Oh, wow. Nice. Now I love that because, uh, some of those old public domain things, you can do so much with it and, you know, uh, turn of the screw there’s been, you know, Dozens of movies, uh, based on that, that, so I think a sequels. Cool.

[00:07:22] Amanda: I’ve read that turn of the screw is the most adapted ghost story. I had a hard time believing that.

Whoever came up with that figure may not have been considering a Christmas. Carol is technically a ghost story. That’s also been filmed and adapted in various cartoon forms.

[00:07:38] Stephen: Very true, very true. I love the old tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. It seems almost odd to us, but when I learned about that, I’m like, that’s the coolest thing to tell ghost stories on Christmas.

And then I realized, wait a second, Christmas Carol is a ghost story. You know, when I was a kid, it never dawned on me.

[00:07:58] Amanda: It is. And I know that you mentioned that [00:08:00] ghost stories are a part of the Christmas season for years. I have been setting aside anthologies of ghost stories specifically to read around Christmas to celebrate that tradition.

So I’m not telling the stories, but I’m reading other people’s

[00:08:10] Stephen: stories. That’s cool. I like that. And there’s some really good ones out there. You discover a lot of great authors from that time period. Uh, so yeah, I think that’s great. Uh, Uh, tell us a little more about your book. Uh, if somebody was like, oh, that sounds interesting.

Uh, they might want to read these, give us a little more fleshed out of what what’s going on in the books. Don’t give it all away just a little bit.

[00:08:34] Amanda: Uh, sure. So the, the books that I described already, books in progress, the book that I have published is called Smithy. It was released earlier this year in April in paperback and ebook format.

Smithy takes place in the 1970s. It’s the story of a group of college students who are engaged in a study to determine whether primates can study language. Uh, they move into a long deserted house with a chimpanzee that they’ve [00:09:00] called Smithy and they try to teach him sign line. Uh, initially they’re very encouraged by his progress, but they become perplexed by some of his behavior.

He appears to be signing to, or about somebody that none of them can see. And as time progresses, strange things begin to happen. Accidents occur in the house and they begin to learn more about the house and why it’s been deserted so long. They begin to wander. If Smithy is actually using language to communicate with a spirit that they can’t see.

[00:09:31] Stephen: That is awesome because my wife and I love a lot of those paranormal shows and that, and we always liked the videos where the dog or cat is reacting to something. And it’s like, Ooh, you know, so use it a chimpanzee that can actually communicate kind of bridging that. That is brilliant. I love that. That was

[00:09:49] Amanda: what inspired me.

The idea from folklore that animals can sense. Go see them when people can’t, well, most of the time, the dog or the cat, can’t tell you what it’s looking at. But if you had a primate, a gorilla or a chimpanzee that could [00:10:00] talk about what it was seeing, how would people respond? Would they take seriously what it was saying?

Or would they just assume that, oh, the Chimp is making mistakes. We’re not teaching him correctly, which is a struggle that my characters in the book have, they don’t know what to believe or how much to. Put faith in what Smithy is telling them or what he appears to be telling

[00:10:18] Stephen: them. Oh, man, I love that.

That’s brilliant. A good one to check out. I love the twist on everything. That’s pretty cool. Thank you. So let me ask the turn of the screw sequel. Uh, is she going to go back to the house and investigate, uh, the old, uh, nanny and all of that?

[00:10:37] Amanda: Well, that would be telling, but that would, uh, that would be,

[00:10:41] Stephen: yeah, that’s what I would assume.

She’s going to sit in a room and investigate newspaper articles. Okay. So I look forward to that too. I love whore. I love some of the new stuff that’s out there and both of those are really cool to me. I love that. [00:11:00] So you always liked writing horror. Y’all are reading horror, writing horror. Yeah. Did you ever think of doing a different genre or was it always just horror?

Is my thing.

[00:11:13] Amanda: I can’t imagine wanting to write anything else. I’ve heard many people advise that in order to be a good writer, you have to read outside your preferred genre. But when I tried to do that, I’ve just not felt any affinity for the material. I don’t think I’m the right audience to understand the conventions of a romance or a Western.

Now I do like historical fiction and I could see myself writing some historical fiction, which my turn of the screw sequel is set in the past. And Smithy is technically historical fiction. It’s it takes place in a time. That’s about 50 years old now.

[00:11:45] Stephen: Right. And, uh, what you mentioned about goosebumps. I was too old for goosebumps when they were out.

Uh, but I will say RL Smith, R R R L Stein is from Cleveland. So, um, you know, Ohio. So I love that [00:12:00] fact. Uh, I started off, I mean, I went from Narnia and little house on the Prairie and the party boys right into Stephen King. So. You know, now that kids have all this choice in horror and we have it age specific.

I like that because I think a lot of people may have missed horror when there wasn’t something to lead them into it. So that would be cool if people who liked turn of the screw in school, had something else to read and let them into more horror. That that’s pretty cool. Um, is this trad pub or independently?

[00:12:38] Amanda: It’s a little bit of both. I went with publisher called ink shares. That is a, I suppose you would call it a hybrid publisher. It’s a new type of market. Anxious, primarily does crowdfunding. So you can go to ink shares website as an author. You can post your idea for a book. You can post sample chapters.

And if people like what you’re offering, they can, pre-order your book. [00:13:00] When you reach a certain number of pre-orders insurers will take that money and use it to fund the production of your novel. You don’t even have to have a complete novel. You can just have an idea and a couple of scraps. And if it’s intriguing enough to get an audience, you can be on your way to publication.

Thank shares. Also periodically offers contests, and that was how I got my foot in the door. I entered their 2018 horror contest with Smithy. Not really expecting that I would get anywhere. I just thought maybe people will read about my book when they’re perusing the entries and there’ll be interested in it.

And then somewhere down the line, when I self publish, maybe they’ll remember me, but to my surprise, they ended up choosing my book from the contest or about a dozen books that were selected. Uh, the top three crowdfunded publications were winners, but a committee from Inc shares also selected books that they thought had potential.

And luckily for me, they thought Smithy.

[00:13:53] Stephen: Nice. And we’ll talk more about ink shares on the second half, uh, for authors. Uh, [00:14:00] so, uh, we’ll get a little more info on that because I’m curious as to how they work in your experience with them. So, uh, your book, that’s out, what’s some of the feedback you’re getting on it.

What, what are people saying?

[00:14:15] Amanda: I was very blessed to have a positive review, a starred review from library journal. When the book first came out, um, most of the. Feedback tends to break down along people’s expectations. People who expect it to be a scary horror story are somewhat disappointed because it is more of a subtle story.

I went for atmosphere and ambiguity and not necessarily in your face, blood and gore, um, people. Seem to like the story about the Chimp language experiments. They’re interested in that material and they’re interested in the characters. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about the characters that I’ve created.

Another topic that tends to get people’s interest is the format of the book. I wrote it as an epistolary novel, similar to Dracula or Kerry, where the story is told through [00:15:00] diaries letters or films of the study. It’s all documented. Some people have commented that it feels like a found footage book, which I thought was a great compliment that I was able to convey the idea that this really was an experiment that had taken place.

And you’re really looking at the evidence

[00:15:17] Stephen: of it.

Vampires new Orleans, uh, I’m rereading Dracula. Uh, so you know that format with the letters and the journals. It’s been years since I read it. Um, my, one of my other favorite horror done in that style is the original, short story for Salem’s lot by Stephen King. Uh, that’s another good one. I like in that style, did you find it difficult to write that way rather than just a fictional narrative to make it sound like it was articles or a journal or anything?

Was that the.

[00:15:51] Amanda: In some ways it was, I I’ve always been intrigued by epistolary format and I’ve always wanted to attempt to write a book like that. Something that would feel real, [00:16:00] um, writing sections in the format of a newspaper, a periodical that was challenging. I’m not used to that style, writing the transcripts of the video footage.

Was tedious because I’m describing anything that happens. I wrote it almost as a screenplay in the beginning and later my editors worked with me to revise that format, to make it more of a narrative, because they said that a screenplay format wouldn’t work as an audio book for one, one thing. Um, but mostly I enjoyed it.

I thought that it gave me the opportunity to get into the characters heads more than a simple narrative style would.

[00:16:32] Stephen: Okay. Uh, I’ve never written in that style. So I think that’s interesting. It’s a good choice for whore. More recently, uh, in that style,

[00:16:43] Amanda: several books lately, um, max Brooks has written world war Z and devolution in an epistolary style.

I don’t know if you’d call it horror per se, but, uh, the book Izzy, uh, which was the follow-up to, um, [00:17:00] miss Jonathan strange. And Mr. Norelle is also written as an epistolary style. It’s, it’s kind of a fantasy horror book, I guess you would call.

[00:17:07] Stephen: But still, uh, and I love that people call it found footage because they’re used to the movies.

Now it’s easier to say it in a pistol area. So I guess that’s fine. Um, so if you had a choice, would you like Smithy, would you like to see that as a movie or a TV show? What do you think would be.

[00:17:29] Amanda: I think a TV series would have more room to explore the story and I could see a series taking each characters perspective and a different episode.

[00:17:39] Stephen: Right. Okay. And it’s, I agree. I talked to a lot of authors that, uh, like the new format TV shows, uh, because of that same reason, explore the characters a lot more. And I think people are into that a whole lot more. So, uh, your other one, the SQL [00:18:00] return of the screw, would that be a movie or do you still think that would make a good television show?

[00:18:07] Amanda: That I don’t know. That is, I’m more of a subjective interior book. I don’t know how well it would be adapted, although people do make adaptations of things that you wouldn’t have.

[00:18:16] Stephen: Right. Right. We had a Lego movie. We had a movie based on, uh, uh, uh, Ride from Disney world that got big. So who knows? Video games?

Um, all, uh, w what, what other ideas or plans do you have for some books? Do you have anything that you want to do in the next couple of years besides the couple you’re working on.

[00:18:39] Amanda: I’m focusing on those right now. I might try my hand at some short stories, which is a format that I’ve never really felt comfortable with outside of the Christmas season.

I tend not to read short fiction, so I think I should become a little bit better acquainted with it. I am sure I’ll tackle another novel somewhere down the line. I just don’t know what it would be about it at this point.

[00:18:59] Stephen: Okay. [00:19:00] Um, so off of your books for a moment, uh, what are some of the favorite books that you’ve read.

Uh, in your life, your favorites, books and authors.

[00:19:12] Amanda: My favorite books would include Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier that’s at the top of the list. And I always refer to it as the ghost story without the ghost of the character. Rebecca is so overbearing and so pervasive, even though she’s dead. I loved that story.

I loved the mystery of it. I love the characters. Another book that I’ve always loved is called tracks. It’s by Louise Erdrich native American author. She’s written a number of books, um, that are set in a shared world where you follow characters and their descendants over time tracks is set in the turn of the 20th century.

Uh, so the characters that you get to know them. Are they characters you’ll follow in other books or their descendants of attracts is a, is a great, uh, magical realism story. About two very different women. One of whom Flores suspected of being a [00:20:00] witch, it’s also told from two different perspectives. One of the perspectives may be an unreliable narrator.

As I said earlier, I love historical fiction. I was really moved and really impressed by the terror. Dan Simmons’ book about what really happened to the Franklin expedition. I thought it was a marvelous idea to take advantage of this gap in history. We really don’t know what happened to those people.

Anything could have happened to them and he comes up with a very interesting explanation for why that expedition. Never came back. Um, a favorite authors I’ve always loved Richard Madison. He was a very talented author in terms of the genres he would write in terms of the format he would write. He was one of the primary screenwriters for the Twilight zone, which is my favorite show of all time.

He wrote short stories. He wrote novels, he wrote film screenplays. Um, another author that I’ve been very fond of is Robert McCammon. He also writes in a variety of genres, although he’s primarily known as a horror writer, [00:21:00] he’s most recently begun writing a historical fiction series, a historical mystery series.

If you will set in the late 16 hundreds, early 17 hundreds, uh, the two of the books that he’s written that are my favorites are speaks the night bird, which is a mystery that takes place in. The series, it’s a, about a witch trial and the book boys life, which is really hard to describe. It covers so many genres coming of age, novel, mystery, thriller fantasy.

It’s a beautiful book.

[00:21:30] Stephen: And I love you mentioned Twilight zone cause that’s another. Uh, favorite for horror, but it’s more than that. And some of those episodes hold up very well. Even today, 60, 65 years later. Uh, there’s some really good twilights on episodes. Everybody should go watch, you know, look up the best 20 episodes or whatever and watch those because they’re awesome.

Do you have a favorite bookstore that you like to do with. [00:22:00]

[00:22:01] Amanda: I love to go looking for used books. And there are a couple of used bookstores close to where I live. One of them is book off it’s in Torrance, California. It is solely a used bookstore. Uh, you can find all the books organized by genres, mostly paperbacks.

I’ve had a lot of luck finding books there. The other store is called book again. And it is part of a chain, uh, throughout Southern California. And they sell different media books, CDs, some records, and even some collectibles. And so I don’t have to go looking for, for books, especially books that may be out of print and harder to find elsewhere.

I enjoy the chase as well as I enjoy actually finding and getting

[00:22:43] Stephen: the book. I, I agree that my kids and I, every vacation we’ve taken, we’ve always gone to a bookstore to, uh, and it’s. Fun to look through, because now I’m reaching the point where I have just about everything I’ve wanted or wanted to read.

So I have to read more than I have to [00:23:00] go searching. All right, Amanda, before we get them talking about books and move on to author stuff, uh, tell everybody, uh, your book. And I think you’ve already done this fairly well, but for anyone listening, if they want the short version, why they should go and get your book snippy and read it.

[00:23:20] Amanda: Okay. Smith, they will give you an introduction into what the epistolary format looks like. It’s a story that may intrigue you with its mystery aspects. The story that may teach you a little bit about primate language studies as the book was inspired by real life studies with chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, and I think Smithy would be very thought provoking as you explore the idea of whether there really are ghosts and what it means to be a good.

[00:23:47] Stephen: Okay. Great. Wonderful. Well, I think your book sound great. I’m a big horror reader, so they click with me definitely. And I love the ideas you have. Thanks for sharing those with us. I appreciate it. Okay. [00:24:00]

[00:24:00] Amanda: Oh, thank you very much, Stephen. I’m very glad to be here and have the chance to talk about my books.

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