Today, I am very excited to welcome author Amanda Dykes to Interviews & Reviews. Amanda is a drinker of tea, dweller of redemption, and spinner of hope-filled tales. A former English teacher, she’s the author of Whose Waves These Are, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten debut and Inspy Award winner, as well as her freshly released novel, Set the Stars Alight, and three novellas.
Find her online at www.AmandaDykes.com.
Set the Stars Alight is also a finalist for our Book of the Year Awards. And Amanda is graciously giving away one print copy to one lucky winner in the USA, or an ebook to one lucky winner outside the U.S.
Amanda, welcome to Interviews & Reviews!
Set the Stars Alight was my first time reading a book by you and I want you to know you have turned me into a lifelong reader. Where did you get your idea for such a fascinating dual timeline story?
Thank you, Laura! What a gift to have you as a reader; I’m honored! The idea for this book had many sources, but the first I can remember is reading an article about a ship found during the excavation of the World Trade Center. They were digging, and suddenly discovered a piece of timber curving up like a ship—right there in the middle of Manhattan! That piece of land had once been a river bed, and that ship had been sitting hidden, buried there, for 200 years without anyone knowing. Can you imagine? It certainly got me to imagining…and the idea for Set the Stars Alight was born.
Wow! That's amazing! Winnie Thomas, a member of our review team asks: When you write a split time novel, do you write each time frame separately and then splice them together, or do you write them together as it would be read?
Great question, Winnie! I tend to write mostly together as it would be read, but often times I’ll skip out of order to write any scene (in either timeline) that is capturing my imagination in that moment. This means that in revisions, it needs some “massaging” to get the pieces to blend well together, but that is part of the joy of revisions. Mending and seaming, weaving and bending. I love that phase of writing!
What is the hardest part of writing a dual timeline novel?
Fitting two full stories—so full that we hope they’ll be equally satisfying to readers—into the length of one full-length novel! In honesty, I believe this challenge is a gift, because it nudges me as a writer to entrust a lot to the reader. Planting clues, subtleties, for the reader to pick up on, and letting the reader read between the lines. In a way, it’s a tremendous partnership between author and reader, and I find that such a joy and honor.
Your writing reads like prose from a classical novel. Paula Shreckhise asks - do you have a background in classical literature?
What a compliment, Paula! I’m humbled and grateful! I’d say that although I was an English major in college and I was lucky enough to be an English teacher for 6 years, my background in classical literature is first and foremost as a reader. I believe I have my mom to thank for that; and more than a “training,” it was rather like a magical invitation to learn to delight in the beautiful things words can do. Our bookshelves were stocked with George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis and Charles Dickens, I can remember her reading to us from poetry and being captivated at the way words became magic when they described the mystery of winter’s short days and summer’s long ones (in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Bed in Summer’), and how words sounded captivating and otherworldly when in the form of an old Scottish poem with wind-swept brogue (“Cuddle Doon”). I would venture to say that a lot of the magic found in the Watchmaker’s home in Set the Stars Alight is reminiscent of these childhood memories of my own.
Your mother sounds like a treasure. Who are your favourite authors?
It is difficult to narrow them down! Every time I read a book, I learn something. Some of my favorites in the ‘classics’ department, in addition to those mentioned above, are P.G. Wodehouse, Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Jean Webster. I’d also consider Wendell Berry a writer of more modern classics and do enjoy many of his works, too. As for authors writing today, there are so many!! I’ll mention just one for now, because she is about to break onto the scene with her debut novel and she’s an amazing writer: Amy Green and her book, Things We Didn’t Say. It is nuanced and such a careful balance of depth, humor, thought-provoking, and delight. Readers, take note!
I will definitely be on the lookout! The themes of sacrifice, redemption and finding the light in the darkness become more evident as the two stories collide in Set the Stars Alight. Do these themes appear as you are writing or do you plan them out beforehand?
A little of both: one of the things that was deeply on my heart when I began to plan this story, was the question of how do we fight darkness? How, when news headlines the world over (and this was years ago) leave you feeling heavy-hearted, do we dig for hope, mine for light, and wield the tools of wonder and delight in doing so? As the story began to emerge, so did the other themes. Some in ways I planned, some in ways I never even noticed, but that readers have commented on since. I love how stories do that—they take on a dynamic existence the second a reader picks it up, because they are bringing a whole new world to the reading.
Rebecca Maney asks - Have you ever considered writing some children's books? Your cadence is so lyrical and your imagination so sharp . . . I am seeing your words form lovely illustrations.
Rebecca, I could hug you for saying that! It is a deep hope of my heart to write children’s books. I have written several, and my agent and I are beginning the journey of submitting them to publishers for consideration. Prayers appreciated!
How exciting! And finally, when is your next book coming out and can you tell us about it?
The next book is coming out sometime in summer 2021, I believe. I just saw the cover for it and will be posting it next month (October) on social media, I’m excited to get to share it! While this novel isn’t split-time (dual timeline), like Set the Stars Alight and Whose Waves These Are, it is what you might call “split narrative”…meaning that it’s told from the viewpoints of five different characters, each in their own unique first-person voice. That was such a challenge to write, and I learned so much along the way!! One thing about writing a book that way: you sure become attached to each and every one of those characters, when you’re writing that deeply in their viewpoints.
It takes place in the final months of the Great War (WWI) in 1918, and follows a troupe of unlikely companions as they journey by foot from the war front to Paris on a particular mission. It’s a story of friendship, love, redemption (big surprise there—that seems to be the common thread between all my stories and I have a hunch it always will be!), a grappling with many of the things still relevant today: How do you live with purpose when the world around you seems to be falling apart? How do you press on with hope, and even joy? How do you dive deep into the brokenness of others’ lives, and into the (sometimes literal) rubble around you, and wade through it together, climb out of it together, and be changed by it for the better? There were moments where this story wrecked me as much as Whose Waves These Are did, and moments it made my heart take flight as much as Set the Stars Alight, and a whole lot of moments that are entirely its own unique thing. It should be up for pre-order soon…and again, stay tuned for a cover and title reveal in the next couple of weeks!
I can't wait! Thank you so much for visiting with us today Amanda and for answering all our questions. It was a delight!
And now Dear Readers, if you would like to win a copy of Set the Stars Alight just fill out the form below! This giveaway ends October 12, 2020. One print copy is available to win for residents of the U.S.A. If you live outside the U.S. and you are chosen as the winner, you will get an ebook. Winners will be announced here and through our Facebook page.
Congratulations to Beverly Laude! You are the winner of Set the Stars Alight. Watch for our email!
Lucy Clairmont's family treasured the magic of the past, and her childhood fascination with stories of the high seas led her to become a marine archaeologist. But when tragedy strikes, it's Dashel, an American forensic astronomer, and his knowledge of the stars that may help her unearth the truth behind the puzzle she's discovered in her family home.
Two hundred years earlier, the seeds of love are sown between a boy and a girl who spend their days playing in a secret sea cave, while the privileged young son of the estate looks on, wishing to join. As the children grow and war leads to unthinkable heartbreak, a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption unfolds, held secret by the passage of time.
As Lucy and Dash journey to a mysterious old estate on the East Sussex coast, their search leads them to a community of souls and a long-hidden tale that may hold the answers--and the healing--they so desperately seek