Sunday, November 12, 2023

Q&A with Amy Hagstrom


Photo by Erika Balbier Photography



Amy Hagstrom is the author of the new novel The Wild Between Us. Also a travel industry editor, she lives in Mexico.


Q: What inspired you to write The Wild Between Us, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: When I was a teenager growing up in the mountains of Northern California, certain friends of mine were forever playing juvenile pranks on one another in the woods.


Everyone always returned home unscathed, but years later, as a writer, I wondered: what if someone hadn’t? This question became the genesis of the novel that would eventually become The Wild Between Us


Both of my point-of-view characters are a culmination of many inspirations, each of them evolving thanks to all the additional questions that inevitably follow in the wake of that first what if.


How would typical teenagers deal with the unexpected and open-ended tragedy of one of their own going missing in the mountains? How would guilt—aptly placed or otherwise—a lack of answers, and the accumulation of doubt shape who they’d become in adulthood? 


Since The Wild Between Us is a dual-timeline and dual-point-of-view novel, I got to explore the answers to these questions in my characters’ teenage lives as well as in their adulthoods, which invariably yields different outcomes and perspectives.


The search and rescue aspect of the book was inspired by my own volunteer work with my county’s search and rescue team as an adult.


I participated in more than one search for a missing child in the wilderness, and as a parent of very young kids at that time, I felt the gut punch. I knew from experience that, unfortunately, a search for a child elevated the stakes for any search and rescue team like no other.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The final title is actually the third moniker in the life of this manuscript, but I think my publisher nailed it.


To me, it implies the vastness familiar to anyone who has spent time in true wilderness, with all the risk and danger inherent. The “wild” is an unforgiving place, after all, paralleling my characters’ personal struggles with forgiveness (of themselves and others).


And I like that the “us” in The Wild Between Us can refer to multiple relationships: that of my point-of-view characters, Meg and Silas; that of the missing boys to their father; that of the past to the present.


Q: You’ve said, “Every manuscript I write starts with a sense of place.” How did you choose this particular setting, the Sierra Nevada, and what impact did it have on the rest of the novel?


A: In every manuscript I’ve drafted, “place” is always the first character to reveal itself to me, a pattern that started with the earliest drafts of The Wild Between Us.


I don’t even remember deciding consciously to set my debut in the California Sierra Nevada where I grew up and spent my formative years; I just knew it would be, and never questioned it.


These mountains were the backdrop for my childhood and in addition to my own experiences informing the plot, I think the familiarity of the terrain and trails helped me feel my way along during my earliest attempts at fiction. 


It helped that at the time I started writing what would one day become The Wild Between Us, I was living a state away, missing those rugged California mountains. Taking myself back there was a form of escapism that provided fuel whenever the process felt daunting.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: So many changes! I am a “pantser” in terms of writing style, usually starting with only what I call “snapshots”: fully formed (yet sometimes brief) scenes that feel crystal clear to me. All too often, these snapshots are the only aspects that feel clear!


This, of course, leaves me with a lot of work to do, but places me in the heart of my character’s worlds with the immediacy and intimacy I need.


In my first few drafts, I thought I knew how The Wild Between Us would end, but even after my agent and I went through some edits, I felt that something still wasn’t quite working.


 I had an “aha moment” at a writing retreat (a very convenient place to have one) and rewrote an entire subplot of the book in one weekend. That change turned out to be a biggie.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am currently tackling edits for my sophomore novel, Smoke Season. Set in a rural western US town against the backdrop of a devastating wildfire, Smoke Season follows two women—one a firefighter and one a river rafting guide—dealing with secrets and stakes riskier than the currently raging blaze.


This novel, too, was inspired by a place I know and love: Southern Oregon, where I lived for almost 20 years. Look for this novel to be out in late 2024!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I appreciate the opportunity to share my writing journey with your readers, and I hope anyone who picks up The Wild Between Us enjoys the ride!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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