Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Amanda Traylor Interview - Lost Sierra

Photo Content from Amanda Traylor 

Amanda Traylor (also writing under Amanda J. Clay) writes gripping mysteries and deliciously twisted domestic thrillers with complex, female leads, designed to keep you up all night.

A Northern California native, she had a fantastic time studying English and Journalism in the foothills of the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains and then a very serious time slaving away for a Master’s degree in media research in sunny Los Angeles.

When she’s not staring at a computer screen, she is part of the fabulous team that puts on the San Francisco Writers Conference. She also spends an inappropriate amount of time dreaming of world travels.

She currently lives in Colorado with her dashing, real-life hero of a husband, who inspires her villains and heroes alike, and their hellion of a toddler daughter.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill? 
I have wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember. I actually have a notebook from kindergarten of 3-4 sentence stories (mostly about a dog and a cat going to the store). In third grade, I created a series of comics, in fifth grade I wrote my first book–an American Revolution historical fiction. In high school, I wrote school plays and got detention for circulating steamy romances during class. I didn’t have the easiest childhood, and writing gave me an escape, an outlet. By the time I went off to college, I knew I would never be entirely whole unless I could create stories and worlds and characters.

Along the way, a lot of people tried to crush that ambition. Creative callings threaten a lot of people–they are either afraid of you chasing silly dreams or they don’t understand it. People encourage you to get day jobs or get your head out of the clouds. Friends don’t understand why you want to stare at your computer on a Friday night rather than hit the bars. Partners won’t get your need to spend time with the muse rather than on the couch watching Netflix with them.

One night in my late twenties while out with friends, I found myself pining for nothing more than to curl up on the couch with my laptop and the manuscript I’d been working on. I knew that this was a calling I could not ignore.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 
Well…getting pregnant and having a baby during a pandemic. Ha! When I started writing this book, the world was a very different place. Then we got pregnant and I still wasn’t fazed. Full steam ahead–I’d get the book done before the little one was born. Then Covid changed the world.

Suddenly my husband and I were home 24/7 in a two bedroom downtown Denver apartment. We didn’t know what the hell was happening out there beyond our high rise walls. Violent city protests caused our building to board up the windows and hire major security. Being pregnant I didn't even want to risk going for walks outside. Needless to say, my writing came to a crashing halt. Our daughter arrived in July 2020 and all romantic notions of clacking away on my manuscript while she slept peacefully in her sling was quickly dispelled. It was another year before we felt comfortable enough to hire help and I was finally able to get back to the manuscript. By that time, we had gone through so much–the world had gone through so much–the book took a very different, much darker, turn.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes? 
Hands down, Gone Girl. One of the greatest thrillers in history (IMO), Gone Girl changed the direction of the female-driven thriller. Twisted domestic tales have always existed, but Gillian Flynn gave women permission to be complex, twisted main characters. Female protagonists no longer had to be one-dimensional, demure, romantic or likable. Couples didn’t have to live happily ever afters. Amy Dunn’s character opened up a whole new world for me.

Can you tell us when you started LOST SIERRA, how that came about? 
The initial spark came when a family friend living in the area where Lost Sierra takes place lost a friend to a very violent murder. The mystery behind it all was all so bizarre and I started to think about the region and the socio-economical situation rural communities were in. As I read more about the area, it struck me what a vast contrast it was to the flourishing metropolis of the Bay Area only a few hours away. I began drafting an outline of a grizzly murder and how it might have unfolded. I then needed the perfect person to try to solve the crime. Thus, Daphne Barlow was born.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? 
One of the things I learned while writing this book that not all “heroes” have to be formidable –at least in the beginning. To be honest, when I wrote the first draft, I didn’t like Daphne all that much. Up until then I had written “bad-ass” women who could literally kick ass. They were ex-cons and kickboxers and business moguls. And here comes Daphne–a privileged, naive, little yogi. I nearly scrapped the story thinking that if I didn;t like Daphne, then my readers wouldn’t either. But she begged me not to give up on her. And I knew there was more to her than I was giving her credit for. Yes, she was naive, but that gave her a chance to grow tremendously. Her naivety also lent her an air of kindness and the ability to fight for what she thought was right–rather than turn her back like someone more jaded might have done.

By the end, I knew I had done the right thing and Daphne and I now have a very special bond.

  • The main crime of the story was inspired by true events that happened to someone I know. The original murder was so grizzly it was hard to believe!
  • I had the idea two years before I finished the book and I slowly, slowly chipped away at it while nursing a newborn baby during the pandemic. It’s my longest work in progress to date!
  • About half way through the first draft, I nearly gave up because I just didn’t like my main character. I spent a long time getting to know and understand Daphne.
  • The “bad guy” changed after writing the first draft. I got to the end and thought, hmm. That just doesn’t fit. That person isn’t “bad” enough.
  • While Daphne’s approach to natural health is way more extreme than mine (I love me a stiff martini!), I practice many of the same things she does, such as daily yoga, meditation, oil therapy and a vegetarian diet.
  • I’m a sucker for bad-boy love interests and I can’t help throwing one into my thrillers who undoubtedly gets my heroine into all kinds of trouble.
  • I rewrote the opening scenes twenty times before I got it right.
  • I went to college in Chico, CA, which is up near where Lost Sierra takes place. We used to take trips up to camp and go to the lake and even stop at random bars in the middle of nowhere. Many of the characters in the book are inspired by real people I’ve met in rural mountain towns.
  • I wrote most of the first draft by dictation while carrying my infant daughter around in her sling.
  • Willa Tull is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written.
Your Journey to Publication
I began writing at the ripe age of, I don’t know, four or five. I guess I was just one of those people lucky enough–or maybe cursed–to know what they wanted to do from the start. But that didn’t mean the road to publication was easy. I spent years figuring out how to actually write a decent book, then a few more years getting the courage up to actually share it with anyone. But after completing and publishing a 400 page graduate thesis, I thought, hey fiction can’t be any harder, haha!

In 2015 I independently published my first book–a young adult dystopian series. I then moved into the romance space before finally hitting my stride as a thriller author.

I signed with my first agent in 2017, which didn’t work out. I am now working with my second literary agent, Laurie, who is absolutely fabulous, and helped me make Lost Sierra the fantastic book it is.

When I first told friends and family I’d written a book, it was met with a lot of strange reactions–everything from “oh that’s cute. What do you want for dinner?” to “Huh? A book? Why?”

As an aside: I had just published my first book when I met my now husband, though, and he says it’s the thing that convinced him to go on a date with me, so there’s that.

The thing is, while my friends and family have been some of my biggest cheerleaders, they aren’t necessarily your readers. They will hopefully support you and offer you warm words of encouragement, but don’t expect everyone you know to read your book. It’s amazing how many people I know don’t even read. I forgive them and love them anyway.

This is not a career for the faint of heart or easily discouraged because it is nothing but rejection for the first few years (for most people anyway. If you’re one of those lucky bums who got a #1 hit on your first try, don’t tell me about it, haha). Even after you publish–wheather traditionally or independently–you’ll still face one star reviews and awkward comments from people you know. (A family friend told me point blank to my face at a dinner party she didn’t like it. Awkward.) But finally holding a copy of this thing you’ve bled for, lost sleep and sanity over, it’s a pretty incredible high.

What is the first job you have had? 
Not counting early babysitting gigs, my first job with a real paycheck was at the age of sixteen at Bosworth and Son General Merchandise and Feed. Yes it’s a real place, no I had no idea what the hell general merchandise and feed were at the time. I went to high school in a rural Northern California town of about 1,000 people (after growing up in the sprawling metropolis of the San Francisco Bay–cue the traumatic teen years). Bosworth and Son was a Main St. staple that had stood since 1910 offering locals everything from hay bales to hardware to practical denim. There was no credit card machine (you had to manually write down the numbers) and people ran store credit.

Oh, we also ran the water company and the cemetery. “Would you like a burial plot with that horse tack? And your water bill is due.”

What is your most memorable travel experience? 
After getting divorced and quitting my corporate job, I took off to Europe alone and backpacked through the Eastern Bloc by myself for a few months. I had one backpack, a rail pass and Rick Steeves on Kindle. I saw 11 counties, slept in hostels with travelers from all over the world and made some incredible friends. I got lost in the seedy part of Budapest, discovered the glory of Amsterdam “coffee shops,” got detained at the Croatian border and discovered the magic of Polish perogies.

I loved traveling alone so much that I did it three more times in Europe over the next few years–even after getting remarried!

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep? 
Ugh, all the things. Everything I didn’t do that day, what I need to do tomorrow. All my life choices. What I’m going to wear to a party six months from now. Complicated math.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be? 
I would have been braver about pursuing writing as a profession sooner. For a lot of years, I was afraid of putting myself out there. So I hid behind the corporate gig.

What was your favorite subject when you were in school? 
Perhaps a boring and cliche answer, but English. All I wanted to do was read and write. I could get lost in books for hours and I was crafting stories from the moment I can put letters into sentences.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home? 
I once went to someone’s apartment who had converted their third bedroom into a full size above ground hot tub. Like you opened the bedroom door and there were steps to the hot tub. I’m 100% certain the apartment complex didn’t approve this.

27-year-old Daphne Barlow escapes her parents’ ruthless expectations as the heir to their Fortune 10 organic food brand and finds a different kind of ruthlessness—the remote town of Sierra Ridge in the inhospitable Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California.

With a new PhD under her belt and eager to avoid her pre-determined path at the company named for her, Daphne seeks out an idyllic Mayberry existence in a small town where residents might appreciate her personal brand of homeopathic techniques and herbal cures. While she manages to gain a small collection of clients, she is mostly met with cold skepticism from the locals. When her favorite client—John Sharpe, an army veteran in his 70s—goes missing and no one in the town seems to be care, Daphne is deeply concerned. He saved her life once and she is bound and determined to return the favor.

Pitting herself against the townspeople, who assure her that Sharpe is just on a bender despite all the evidence she finds to the contrary, Daphne is drawn deeper and deeper into trouble, all while a wildfire rages closer and closer to the town.

It seems as if a local biker and a civilian deputy sheriff are willing to help, but the first could be hero or villain and the second winds up dead on Main Street. She’s told to leave her search for the truth alone by multiple people, and still she persists. Then her house is ransacked and a knife is held to her throat with a clear warning to be gone by the next morning. But the wildfire has finally arrived and she cannot find any place that’s safe.

You can purchase Lost Sierra at the following Retailer:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you AMANDA TRAYLOR for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Lost Sierra by Amanda Traylor.