Amy Dawson Robertson, Interviewed

We’re delighted to have first-time author, Amy Dawson Robertson, talk to us about the first in her new thriller series, Miles To Go, which debuted with Bella Books last month.

KBV: First question, out the gate, could you give our readers a little background about yourself, and why you started writing?

I grew up in Virginia. I went to a variety of schools including a classics oriented prep school and a fundamentalist Baptist school – about as far at either end of the spectrum as you can get. But I ended up in an Air Force academy for high school where I got to toss around an M1 After a sabbatical from formal education I headed off to St. John’s College in Annapolis where I read a lot of things I never would have otherwise like Thomas Aquinas and Leibniz and Hegel and other horrors, but also lots of interesting stuff too. Writing always seemed a given to me. Though I didn’t get serious about it until four or five years ago. It’s hard to say what the initial appeal was. I’ve always been a big reader and I’m drawn to narrative in every form but perhaps I’m most addicted to controlling that narrative. There’s a delicious kind of power in manipulating every aspect of the world as it lives in your imagination.

KBV: As an avid reader of thrillers, I’d like to know, was writing a thriller your first choice?

If I had my druthers I’d like to be the American Alice Munro. I’m deeply attracted to the short story. But not making much progress there, I figured a plot centric piece could teach me some of the things I was lacking–namely everything from the most basic–how to get a character from point A to point B — “She opened the front door and moved down the three concrete steps to the sidewalk and keyed open the car…” – to writing dialogue that didn’t sound like it was spoken by actors in a middle school drama class. Karin Kallmaker recently addressed this kind of thing in her blog on craft.

These are mistakes that any beginning writer can make. I’ve enjoyed the process of learning technique – and writing a thriller is a great way to do it since the subject matter is exciting, the narrative is self-propelled and I’m continually engaged by it.

KBV: What, if anything, gave you the idea to write a series about the FBI and, in particular, focus in on counterterrorism?

Simple. September 11. Every American has to find a way to deal with that time. Like a lot of people I was very ignorant about the world beyond our borders up until that point. Needing to understand how such a thing could happen coalesced with being ready, finally, to sit down and write. Miles To Go takes place just before 9/11, the final moment of our collective naiveté.

KBV: Did the character of Rennie Vogel spring to life in your mind’s eye, or did you build her character slowly, over time?

Did Rennie spring whole from my head like Athena, armed and ready for battle? That’s probably not a bad analogy. She did appear to me whole and complete. But as a woman who is difficult to know, who keeps her cards close to her chest. She’s also a woman who is very physically assured; she knows that her body is capable, that she can rise to any task. But she isn’t quite so confident about how she fits into the world, if she is doing the right thing.

KBV: Can you tell us what’s in store for Rennie in any up and coming novels you have planned, or are the plots carefully guarded secrets?

They are locked away safe to some extent but I can say that Rennie will be stateside in the next novel and will be taking on a homegrown militia group. And you can expect to see several characters from Miles To Go in the second book. But not any of the dead ones.

KBV: What would you say are your influences and inspiration, if any, for the series?

I was schooled in my early years by James Bond films. But I didn’t want to write in that heightened reality especially considering the world we find ourselves in now. Too much is at stake. I’m drawn to the notion of heroism – is it legitimate? Is it meaningful? It has certainly had a hold on the Western imagination from Achilles to Jason Bourne. Western popular culture hasn’t offered us too many true women heroes. Ellen Ripley in Alien. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. But neither of those films place the hero in the real world. Alien, obviously. But even Silence exists in that horrific fictional world where serial killers are glamorized and the torture of women is lingered over. I wanted to place the female hero firmly in the world we are faced with right now – complicated and brutal but ultimately intoxicating in its diversity.

KBV: What, for you, was the hardest thing about writing this first novel? The research, the characters, or a little of everything?

The hardest thing for me was allowing myself to put words on the page that I knew to be “bad writing”. Once I got past that, the research was endlessly absorbing though I’m sure there are places where I erred. One of the most challenging things was making sure the chronology made sense. I’m certain there are writers out there who have a good system for doing this but I felt like I was carving the first wheel by hand. I have a great love of systems but I am not particularly good at creating them.

KBV: How do you see your work developing in the future?

For lovers of thrillers, especially the spy thriller, the movies inform our expectations in regard to pacing, in regard to mood and atmosphere. I want to give readers scenes that send chills along their limbs. That sensation is an adrenaline surge and how amazing is it that words on a page or paint on canvas or the flicker of a moving image can cause a physical reaction in a human being. Film has one up on the writer since it can carry the moviegoer along not only with narrative but also with lighting and music and the weighted gaze of the actor. But there is nothing that prevents the fiction writer from doing the same thing. That’s what I strive for.

KBV: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about writing? And what, for you, are the worst aspects?

My favorite thing is when something works, when it feels right and you know you’ve hit your mark. And I love editing – I love knowing that I can take something that has a false note, that rings hollow and fix it. And the worst? The verso, writing something down that you know is bad and being completely insecure about your ability to fix it. That and never having enough time to read for pleasure.

Author Profile:

Amy Dawson Robertson is a native Virginian and graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis. She lives in the Washington DC area and her writing interests include genre fiction, short stories and graphic novels. She creates strong female characters in action-packed stories drawn on current events.

You can find out more about Amy, her writing, and the Rennie Vogel series over on her website.

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4 Responses to “Amy Dawson Robertson, Interviewed”

  1. CMHarris Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Fascinating interview! I’m really interested in the hero’s quest in fiction, or in this case heroine. We may never truly have a “Jane” Bond. Women like Ripley and Clarice—and, really, Rennie—are all brought low on an emotional level and then manage to pull off the near-impossible in mind and body. I think if they were just cool and confident it would be mimicry, caricature and frankly, boring. They are much more than simply damsels with firepower, but there is still that emotional element that rounds them out and makes them undeniably female.

  2. Lisa Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Facsinating read. I’m going to be looking up her novel.

  3. Alexandra Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Really interesting interview. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a writer talk about the expectation of total absorption we have when watching a film & how good writing can have the same effect. Undeniably true & quite amazing when you think so much is happening in our brains after we’ve read the writer’s words. I loved Miles to Go & can’t wait for the next Rennie book. Forget the reading for pleasure Ms. Robertson! Write!

  4. Lara Zielinsky Says:
    March 16th, 2010 at 5:40 am

    Excellent interview, very enlightening.

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