Sunday, October 29, 2023

Q&A with Amanda McCrina


Photo by Parker Millican



Amanda McCrina is the author of the new young adult historical novel I'll Tell You No Lies. Her other novels include The Silent Unseen. She also is a bookseller in Franklin, Tennessee.


Q: What inspired you to write I’ll Tell You No Lies, and how did you create your characters Shelby and Maksim?

A: I’ll Tell You No Lies grew out of the research I did for my first two historical novels (Traitor and The Silent Unseen). Both are set in Poland and Ukraine during World War II.


I tend to map out my characters’ fates far beyond the page, so I did a lot of research into what life would have looked like for them postwar. I came across fascinating and often heartbreaking stories of Polish and Ukrainian families’ experiences in Displaced Persons camps--and, in some cases, stories of daring escapes from the Soviet bloc.

Maksym’s story is based heavily on the story of Franciszek Jarecki, a young Polish Air Force pilot who defected with his MiG-15 jet in 1953. Shelby isn’t based on any historical figure in particular, and in fact she’s very unlike any other character I’ve ever created.


The main characters in my previous novels are all teens, like her, but they're growing up in the context of a brutal war that has stolen their childhoods. They've undergone so much unthinkable tragedy in their young lives.


Shelby--while she deals with trauma of her own in the death of her mother and the upheaval of her dad's sudden overseas transfer--is relatively privileged, with relatively privileged concerns: prom, boys, college admissions.


But she's also got the courage and determination to do the right thing no matter the personal risk. She's in part a homage to Nancy Drew and the girl sleuths I grew up reading and loving.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, "Shelby’s character feels like an authentic portrayal of an intelligent, college-bound teenager of the time, lending the book the realistic air of the past come to vivid life." What do you think of that description, and how did you research the details of the novel's 1955 setting?

A: I was grateful for that reading of Shelby's character--for one thing, because I think teenagers become more and more difficult to write convincingly the further you get from being a teen.


But I also appreciated the way Kirkus contextualized Shelby. She's a young woman in a very male-dominated world, and I wanted to be honest about the biases she would have faced.


At the same time, I wanted to complicate some of our simplistic stereotypes of the 1950s. Many of the male characters are dismissive and patronizing, but not all of them are. It was important to me to show Shelby's contributions being valued.


And while Shelby recognizes and pushes back against the societal obstacles that stand in her way, I didn't want her attitude toward them to be anachronistic. So it was affirming that the Kirkus reviewer felt that her character rang true.

The research into the setting itself was probably my favorite part of the writing process. I had some incredible resources.


The most useful and most fascinating was a 1951 handbook called The Air Force Wife that described every aspect of base life in the ‘50s--from hiring and managing potentially resentful domestic staff in occupied Germany to hosting holiday dinner parties, complete with detailed menus--from a woman's perspective.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you, especially given the fact that the characters are involved in the world of Cold War-era intelligence?

A: I often brainstorm ideas for titles by looking through song lyrics and poetry from the era and setting. In this case, I went digging for contemporary songs about truth and lies--an important theme in the book, as every single character in the book is lying for one reason or another, and it starts to have consequences by the end.


The saying "Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies" has been around for a long time, but the specific reference here is to a 1951 song by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, the lyrics of which are quoted in the book, in the scene where Shelby meets Maksym at a dinner dance: Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies; ask me no questions, and there'll be no goodbyes.


The song has a melancholy, bittersweet feel, and I wanted it to give readers a sense of foreboding about where the ending might go--because Shelby does ask questions, and Maksym does lie.

Q: Given the current state of international relations, what do you hope readers take away from the novel?

A: I'll Tell You No Lies was conceptualized and mostly written before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but it is--among other things--about a Ukrainian boy trying to find home in the aftermath of war.


It's dedicated to the thousands of Ukrainian children taken by Russia or otherwise separated from their families in the midst of Russian's ongoing war against Ukraine. My main hope is that this book will raise awareness of and help contextualize the war as international attention dwindles.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm in between projects at the moment, but I completed two more novel drafts in the time between submitting I'll Tell You No Lies to my editor and seeing it on bookstore shelves.


One is a quiet, character-driven story set on the Eastern Front of World War I, about a young Austro-Hungarian noblewoman standing trial for collaborating with the enemy.


The other is my first adult novel, a historical romance/thriller about a Life photojournalist in postwar London who finds out that her old wartime flame may actually have been a Soviet assassin.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You can always purchase signed and personalized copies of my books from my local independent bookstore, Bound Booksellers, and 10 percent of the proceeds will go toward humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Amanda McCrina.

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