By Basil Sands
What would you do if you came home after a night out partying with friends and saw a hooded man staring at you from inside your own living room? Well, it depends on whether or not your cousin is a former FBI agent with an attitude or not.
Meet Keye Street, ex- FBI Profiler, recovering alcoholic, and Private Investigator with a sweet tooth and a hard attitude.
Let’s chat with Amanda Kyle Williams, author of STRANGER IN THE ROOM, sequel to THE STRANGER YOU SEEK.
Tell us a little about your new release STRANGER IN THE ROOM.
STRANGER IN THE ROOM is the 2nd book in the Keye Street Stranger series (pronounced Key). We first met Keye in THE STRANGER YOU SEEK last year and quickly learned that, in the fine tradition of damaged private detectives, Keye has a little bit of a past—divorced, in recovery, fired from the FBI where she was a behavioral analyst. She was almost 4 years sober when I introduced her and starting life over. She applies the skills she learned after eight years at the Bureau to making a living as a PI. She has also kind of wiggled in the backdoor of law enforcement as a consultant. She’ll never be welcomed back officially but it’s where her heart is, what she wanted to do since she was a child and murder tore away at her biological family. Her skills as a behavioral analyst, a profiler with experience in violent serial offender cases, is valuable to local law enforcement. It’s a way back in and a way to do what she loves. So in addition to her PI business she’s now able to do something more satisfying. The problem is she has a tendency to get caught in the crosshairs when the Atlanta Police Department needs her help with dangerous repeat offenders. And consulting does not pay the bills. It always bugged me in fiction when people are traveling all over, globetrotting, or a detective takes one case and stays on it for weeks, and no one’s worried about money. I’ve had to think about money all my life. I wanted to keep this real. I worked with a PI firm in Atlanta and was a registered process server. Some of the jobs that Keye is doing now to pay her mortgage are jobs I did. You need to take on a lot of work to make a living. So in the 2nd installment, as in the first book, we find Keye serving subpoenas, bringing in a particularly vile bail jumper who wants to transfer some DNA and working on a very curious case of cement mix and chicken feed falling out of a dropped urn. Something very weird is going on at a North Georgia crematory and Keye means to find out what. And while she’s busy doing all the things that buy the groceries, Atlanta PD homicide could use help on a case—a young athlete, an elderly man and a hooker, all murdered. Are they connected and how? And why is the lab having trouble identifying the body fluid at each crime scene? And if that’s not enough, Keye’s cousin Miki calls when she saw a man inside her house, staring at her through her own window. Miki has a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse. Being around her presses every button Keye has. Four years of sobriety feels really fragile when she’s with Miki. But Miki is family and Keye begins to understand that the stranger in Miki’s room is a very dangerous guy. There’s a lot going on in STRANGER IN THE ROOM. I like to keep my detective busy.
Your lead character Keye Street seems like a pretty intense lady, her bio on your website is very interesting, where did you come up with her?
I wanted to write about someone who had risen up out of the ashes. I mean Keye pretty much set fire to her life. But she’s no victim. She’s knows she blew it. And she has a sense of humor about it. She knows she has to work like hell to have some security in her life again. She’s ok with that. I wanted her to have a past, to have demons like we all do. But I didn’t want to drag readers through the ruin. I wanted to have a look at how someone recovers, comes back to life after addiction derailed it. One of the things I really like about Keye is her ability to laugh at herself. And others.
I knew a lot about the detective I wanted to write, about her past and future, but I didn’t quite have the character in mind, her voice, her face, her young life, until I went to visit my brother’s family one Thanksgiving and spent some time with my Chinese niece Anna. Like Keye, Anna is an American Chinese adopted by white southern parents and she is as deeply southern as fried okra. I wrote the first lines of the first book on the way home that night on I-75 North heading back to Atlanta. Anna is 11 now. The series is dedicated to her. I don’t think she’s particularly impressed.
Your writing gets very detailed when it comes to the lives and thought processes of police officers and the private investigators, what experiences have given that kind of insight?
As I said, I worked with a PI firm in Atlanta. I was a process server. It helped build a great foundation. I took courses in criminal profiling and practical homicide investigation so I could have a better understanding of how a profiler approaches a case, how they might interpret the physical evidence at a crime scene, and how local law enforcement might work with a consultant. I’ve also been blessed with some very good consultants on this series—GBI special agents, a homicide sergeant with the APD, criminologists and a regional medical examiner. These people have been so generous with their time and so patient with the eight thousand emails I send them when I’m in a book.
Keye’s boyfriend, homicide detective Aaron Rauser, if you could describe him in one sentence what would it be?
Hairy, hunky and hot.
You write quite intimately about the south, are you by chance …Southern?
Ah, (laughing) you noticed. What tipped you off? Descriptions of our soft, steamy air, kudzu forests, the delectable food Keye’s southern momma tries to entice her with to get her to visit? I spent most of my childhood and nearly all my adult life in the Atlanta area. I mentioned in the first book the South has some growing pains, but it has a big heart. It gets inside you if you stay here long enough. I fell in love with it. When it hit me I could write crime, write about the South and write about food, all of which I’m passionate about, well, it was my ah-ha moment. And I wanted to write about what it’s like to grow up looking different in the South, feeling a little outside the circle, a stranger in her own hometown. When Keye was adopted 30 years ago, she and her African American brother were the first kids in their neighborhood who didn’t look like everyone else. This part of the country has not always embraced diversity as something to celebrate.
This is the second book in the series, will there be more?
Absolutely. The 3rd book in the series, DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS, is scheduled for autumn 2013. There will be many more Keye Street Stranger books. Bantam Books will publish the next one as they did the first two.
What advice would you give to a new writer trying to complete that first novel?
Sit there until something happens. Slog through those hours when you don’t feel inspired. Don’t wait for it. If I waited to feel like writing, well, nothing would get done. It happens for me a couple of hours in.
To learn more about Amanda, please visit her website.
He lives in Anchorage Alaska with his wife and teen sons.