A Very Bookish Interview with Amanda Dykes
When a friend recommended Amanda Dykes’ new novella to me this spring, I was eager to read it, since it was set in Maine (I have always loved books set in Maine) and took place in the 1920s (one of my *very* favorite eras). And I’m happy to report that I was absolutely enchanted with Up from the Sea—so much that I quickly read Amanda’s adult novel Whose Waves These Are as soon as it released. While the two stories are quite different in some ways, they both contain the same classic style, hope-filled themes, and achingly beautiful prose.
I recently interviewed Amanda to discuss her favorite children’s books, her writing process, and other delightful topics. At the end of our conversation, she also gives a few insights into her next novel, which has me completely excited. 🙂 Enjoy!
Reading your books was such a delightful highlight to my reading life this spring, and all of the vintage elements of the stories were so much fun! What are some of the reasons you write historical fiction?
Thank you, Anna! I’m honored! You mentioned vintage elements, and I think that hits on a big reason I write historical fiction. I’m a bit of an “old soul” myself—our living room plays host to a player piano from the 1930s, a record player, and an old church pew at the dining table, but no television (it’s in the basement family room). There’s something so life-giving to me about simpler things, whether that’s because I’m an introvert or because of the fast-paced, always-on world we live in, and I think that’s a part of the draw to historical fiction, personally.
On a broader level, I find it a humbling and deep honor to get to take part in the lives of those who came before us, to pay tribute to the way things were, and to draw lessons from those places in story, too.
What are your favorite children’s novels?
Oh, so many! Children’s books are my very favorite of all. There are the timeless classics—anything by Louisa May Alcott. I also love Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster (more YA than children’s, but that was before “YA” was a thing!), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.
For more recent books, I love Mandy by Julie Edwards, the Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton, The Green Ember by S.D. Smith…and the list goes on!
I’ve read that you’ve enjoyed Jane of Lantern Hill, which is also one of my very favorites! What are some of the things you love about Jane and L.M. Montgomery’s other books?
Jane was a thoughtful soul. I think I loved her first because I remember looking at the L.M. Montgomery books on the shelf at Borders when a nearby city first got a Borders. (It was a magical place and I still mourn its absence!) There were all the Anne books, all the Emily books, and then…Jane, all by herself, standing there in her mint-green book, clutching her hat on the cover with her dark hair and I was just drawn to it. And then the story of discovering life wild and free on the island, in contrast to her prior city-life, and how she found courage, community, and hope there—it was just an enchanting tale. One I need to reread! I believe that [a] sense of community, and the idea of every soul harboring a story, is what I love about Maud’s other books, too. I got to explore that a little bit in Whose Waves These Are—the unfolding of each character’s history—and I think writers like L.M. Montgomery and Jan Karon have carved out a home for stories such as these, which don’t always follow a linear plot model, but take little detours to get to know the characters deeply.
Can you give us some behind-the-scenes insights into your writing and research process?
Sure! Perhaps the best way to answer that is to give you a glimpse at what I’ve worked on this morning. First, responding to comments on some social media posts relating to my summer release (Whose Waves These Are).
Second, I spent some time brain-dumping some thoughts on the novel I will be writing this winter. It is always on the back burner, simmering away with ideas and slowly forming into a story, but I can’t yet dive into writing it, so I keep a running document called “master idea list” to gather thoughts that would otherwise be lost to the mess of my mind and memory. This idea list, which I keep for each separate novel, can grow to be upwards of 10,000 words by the time the novel is all said and done. This is also a time I am doing little snatches of research for the upcoming novel, including books, articles, documentaries, and random internet searches to see if a given idea will even work with how things happened historically.
And last, the project I’m actively working on is the novel between those two, which I have written and am currently editing. I have a multi-page document of feedback from my editor (who is wonderful!), and am chipping away at some of the bigger story issues right now. I took a break to answer your questions, which gives the story part of my brain (pretty sure that’s the technical term for it) some time to mull over things while I get to chat with you!
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Oh, it’s so hard to choose one! One that stands out in my mind, though, is Jolina Petersheim’s How the Light Gets In. She braved some trailblazing waters with her plot in that one, all while delving deep into heart matters in a beautiful way. So worth a read!!
I am so excited for your next novel to come out in 2020! Is there anything you can tell us about it?
Thank you for your excitement! This dual timeline novel has been in the works for about four years, either percolating or making the rounds to publishing houses in search of a home in its proposal form. It was first born after a different novel (as yet unpublished) struck a chord with an editor, but it was in a genre they were not acquiring. She asked if I might have any other ideas, and after a brainstorm with my wonderful agent Wendy Lawton, we settled on developing this one. It has lived in hibernation in my heart for a few years while Whose Waves These Are was written and published, and it has been sheer joy (though also a bit of a wrestling match with the plot!) to pull it out and finally write it.
I can’t say too much about it yet, since it’s still in the editing stages and things can still change, but I will tell you that it has to do with ships, and stars, and five main characters who have stolen my heart. Their names are Lucy, Dash (the contemporary timeline main characters), Frederick, Elias, and Juliette (the historical timeline characters).
A few people have asked if this novel is related to Whose Waves These Are, and I’m happy to say that though it is a standalone, with a different cast of characters and a different setting (England! Be still, my heart!), I did sneak one side character in to this book who played a role in Waves as well. I hope readers will find his presence (yep! It’s a “he!” Let the guessing begin!) a fun surprise.
Many thanks to Amanda for participating in this interview!
Photo of Amanda Dykes by Michael Pettrey
My reading list from May, in which I chat a little more about Whose Waves These Are, L.M. Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill, and Jean Webster!
My interview with Karina Yan Glaser, author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Check out some of Amanda’s books (her 2015 short story Tin Can Serenade is also a lovely read!)