Now, Truman Capote’s classic non-fiction novel In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books of all time. It explores the murder and aftermath of the Clutter family in 1959 Holcomb, Kansas, the search for their killers, and the eventual trial and execution (um, spoilers). So when author Amy Brashear queried me with a y.a. retelling of ICB from the point of view of Nancy Clutter’s teenage best friend, I requested immediately. Today I’m thrilled to announce that haunting coming-of-age, CONDEMNED, will be published by SoHo Teen!
Greenhouse: When and how did you start writing?
Amy: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I was always scribbling something down on paper. I blame my mom. We would watch a lot of murder shows growing up, especially Murder, She Wrote. We would sit in front of the TV and try to figure it out before Jessica did. I wanted to be a writer like Jessica Fletcher. I wanted to write about murder and solve crimes. I was a weird little girl.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was in the fifth grade and we had just moved from Garden City, Kansas to Nacogdoches, Texas. My class went on a field trip to Stephen F. Austin University to see a production of The Diary of Anne Frank. I had never read the book before seeing the play. But after school my mom took my brother and I to the bookstore at the mall and bought a copy. I still have that worn paperback.
Growing up I read a lot and that’s due to my mom. She would always tell my brother and I stories. She would always make them up. Though they would often be about us— what we were like as kids. When I started reading on my own I would read the Little House on the Prairie books, the Boxcar Children, the Babysitters Club books, Goosebumps, really anything by R.L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Lois Duncan. I couldn’t get enough of those books.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
I grew up in Southwest Kansas and knew about the Clutter family murder way before I read by Truman Capote, which is one of my favorite books. I was always fascinated about the case. Truman focused on Dick and Perry but I was fascinated with what it would be like to live during that time in that small town and what happens when everyone is looking at everyone else as someone who could have done something so violent. I wanted to answer the question of what happens if you’re best friend was murdered and your father ends up having to represent one of the suspects. I did so much research for this book. Newspaper articles were my saving grace.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
Yes. Yes it was. I’m a product of the slush-pile. I didn’t know anyone in publishing. Being published has been a dream for a very long time. I’ve queried many a book. But I guess this book was different. I researched many agents and queried many that I thought would be a perfect representative of my book but I ultimately signed with John, an agent that wasn’t just the perfect agent to represent this book but hopefully my future career.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
I like to write historical fiction so I spend a lot of time researching. I like to read old newspaper articles, looking at vintage photographs, old magazines, anything and everything can make a good story. I write anytime I can. I use the note app on my phone throughout the day, whenever inspiration strikes.
Can you tell us about your next book?
I’ve finished another YA historical. It’s set in 1969. I’m drafting a YA alternate history novel set in 1984 and a MG historical fantasy.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
I know it sounds silly but never number your chapters until the very last minute. Trust me it will save you a lot of hair pulling. Always backup your work in many different places. Trust me. I’ve been there. And even though it’s easier said than done try not to worry and have patience.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
1. Have an outline but don’t stick with it. Let the words take you where they want to go.
2. Don’t be afraid to cut characters during revisions.
3. When you get “stuck” don’t be afraid to step away and work on other things.
Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
Truman Capote. I think it would be a fun dinner party. Though he’d be doing all the talking and gossiping. But there would be laughing. And I think many secrets would be spilled.
Luna Lovegood and Amy Dunne. Two of the most different but amazing characters ever written.