Amanda Stevens e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (May 2011)
Amanda Stevens was born and raised in the foothills of the Ozarks, an area known for its wild beauty, arts and crafts, and its wealth of folklore and superstition. She admits that she's always been fascinated by the dark side and that ghost stories have been a particular passion.
Over the course of twenty years she's written books for Harlequin's Intimate Moments, Intrigue, Shadow and Desire lines as well as the psychological thriller, The Dollmaker and two mainstream romantic suspense novels, The Whispering Room and The Devil's Footprint.
The first in Amanda's Graveyard Queen series, The Restorer was just released. While restoring a crumbling cemetery, Amelia Gray is pulled into a murder investigation. But the rules that have always kept her safe from ghosts begin to crumble when a police detective asks for her help.
Q: You say that you 'learned from an early age to fear black cats, ladders, and broken mirrors' and that you consider yourself a taphophile - one who loves tombstones and cemeteries. Please elaborate.
A: My mother, bless her, was a product of her Southern upbringing and a very superstitious woman. She firmly believed that walking under a ladder, crossing paths with a black cat or breaking a mirror would bring back luck. She had tons of these old wives' tales. Never open an umbrella in the house. Never pick up a coin tails side up. Never prop a broom against a bed. And yet I've done all of these things to no ill effect. Knock on wood.
As for being a taphophile - when I first came up with the premise of a cemetery restorer, I already had an interest in graveyards. But the more I researched, the more enthralled I became with headstone symbolism and Southern burial traditions. Like the layout of old cemeteries in an east-west orientation so the deceased could face the rising sun. I love that.
Also, talk about your superstitions. The old graveyards had all sorts of weird little customs. Thorny yucca was planted to inhibit restless souls. A backward-facing headstone indicated the interment of a witch. White sand on graves prevented loved ones from returning from the dead to interfere in the lives of the living. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, my research has turned me into - if not a full-fledged taphophile - someone who has a passionate appreciation for cemetery folklore and tradition.
Q: You've set some of your novels in New Orleans, a city that has lent itself well to many Southern Gothic stories. What is it about the city that makes a perfect backdrop for creepy tales? Are there other southern locales that provide the same dark atmosphere?
A: Flannery O'Connor once said: 'Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.'
That's why I LOVE New Orleans. It's everything I want my books to be - dark, Gothic, deliciously atmospheric and populated with the most fascinating freaks and oddballs. And I say that with the utmost affection because we Southerners have a tradition of embracing the absurd. The Restorer is set in Charleston, also rich in history and eccentrics. One of my characters compares the two cities thusly: 'If New Orleans is midnight, Charleston is twilight.'
One of the things I enjoy most about writing The Graveyard Queen series is that my protagonist travels all over the South - including small towns - restoring old cemeteries.
Q: Amelia Gray is the lead character of The Restorer. Amelia's profession is an odd one - graveyard restorer - is her character based on a restorer you met while doing research or is her line of work your own invention?
A: It all came about from a simple Google search for unusual jobs. Up popped cemetery restorer and the tagline practically wrote itself: every cemetery has a story; every grave, its secrets.
Q: Amelia also see ghosts, as does her father, who's ingrained in her the following: 'Never acknowledge the dead, Never stray far from hallowed ground, Never associate with those who are haunted, Never, ever tempt fate'. Why is it so important that she remember these rules?
A: Those rules have always kept her safe from ghosts. If she breaks even one, a door to the other side will be opened, one that can never be closed. And her life will be changed forever.
Q: In The Restorer, Amelia is pulled into a multiple murder investigation linked to a cemetery she's been contracted to restore - and where she soon becomes involved with lead detective, John Devlin, who's being haunted by his dead wife and child. Will Amelia and Devlin's relationship continue over the course of the series?
A: Oh, yes. Their story has just begun. Lots of twists and turns await them. The second book, The Kingdom, leads Amelia to a cemetery restoration in a creepy (really creepy) town in the Blue Ridge Foothills of South Carolina where she comes face to face with her past. The final book in the trilogy, The Prophet, will be Devlin's story. However, all three books are stand-alone with each having a separate plot and mystery to be resolved.
Q: The ghosts that you create for this story slowly suck the life out of those they haunt. Are their ghostly characteristics based on any of the folklore or superstitions you grew up with?
A: I really just wanted to give the traditional ghost story a new spin, so I imagined these netherworld parasites that feed off human warmth and energy, draining away life force until nothing remains but a walking shell. My ghosts are almost vampire-like in their voracious appetites. And those humans that can see them are in particular peril because the thing these specters crave above all else is acknowledgement by the living so they can feel a part of our world again.
Q: How many books are planned for the Graveyard Queen series?
A: I'm contracted for a trilogy, but I'm hoping to extend the series, so fingers crossed.
Q: You're also offering an exclusive e-book prequel to the series - The Abandoned - how does this story tie in to the rest of the series?
A: The story revolves around another couple, but Amelia and Devlin are introduced, as is the abandoned cemetery that figures prominently in the plot of The Restorer.
Q: What's next in your dark and shadowy writing horizon for the Graveyard Queen series - and after?
A: The Kingdom will be out in November and The Prophet next May. After that ... who knows? Hopefully, more Graveyard Queen stories. I also have a mystery series about a funeral videographer in the works and I'm toying with a young adult idea.
Q: Let's imagine that all traces of our human civilization have vanished save our cemeteries and the bones interred there. What do you think future explorers might make of our homage to the dead?
A: Maybe they'll take their cue from Benjamin Franklin who said: 'One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead.'To learn more about Amanda Stevens and her books visit AmandaStevens.com and TheGraveyardQueen.com.
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