|Amanda Searcy, photo by Kim Jew Photography Studios|
Amanda Searcy is the author of the new young adult novel Watch You Burn. She also has written the young adult novel The Truth Beneath the Lies. She works for a public library system, and she lives in New Mexico.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Watch You Burn and for your character Jenny?
A: This book started with an image—like a photograph—in my head of these two girls standing in the ruins of an old motel pouring milk into a saucer for a kitten. I didn’t know much more than that, or even what kind of story it would be.
Over time my subconscious started collecting other bits and pieces and glued them together. I knew something had happened to Jenny. When I started focusing on her, it was Jenny herself who told me about her relationship with fire.
The other girl—Jenny’s friend Ro—popped into my head after I went to a lecture about services for people experiencing homelessness. Ro isn’t homeless, but there’s a reason she’s hanging around the ruins of the motel.
Both girls are complicated characters, and I especially loved getting into Jenny’s head and writing the rest of the story around her.
Q: The novel takes place in New Mexico. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: I see the setting as another character in the story. My ideas usually start with the setting and then I see how that place affects the characters and influences the plot.
It was the motel—based on a real, abandoned Route 66 motel I used to drive past on my way home from work—that planted the seed for Watch You Burn. That motel sits on the bosque (the cottonwood forest that lines the Rio Grande). There are fires in the bosque all the time in the spring and summer. So the motel and fires fit perfectly together.
New Mexico is the best place to set a book. It has endless landscape choices—mountains, open desert, cities, rolling plains—and a very diverse population. It’s also my home, so I’m writing what I know.
Q: In our previous interview, you said you wished you had plotted your first novel out before starting to write it. Did you do that this time around?
A: Yes, both because I had to and because I’ve learned my lesson and will always outline from now on. I was working with an editor on this book from the beginning, so creating an outline was the first step of the process. Both of us needed to know where the book was going, and with the outline it could be tweaked before writing started.
But even if I hadn’t been working with an editor, I would have outlined Watch You Burn. There are a lot of things going on under the surface and the outline was necessary to get all the details in the first time—rather than rewriting and rewriting trying to add in all the layers.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: This is a book that’s different from anything else in YA right now. My primary hope is always that the readers will be entertained and compelled to keep reading to the end.
I also hope readers will be intrigued by Jenny—who is a very different character than usually takes the lead in YA novels. I loved writing her. I hope the readers will be as captivated by her as I was.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on another (top secret!) thriller I’m really excited about. (It has an outline!)
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Amanda Searcy.