It used to be a familiar sight around the neighborhood: Amanda with a fistful of leashes attached to a pack of happily trotting pups; Amanda on her scooter pulling up to a house with a pocketful of doggie treats, greeted by a joyful barking of “She’s here! She’s here!”; Amanda sitting on a front step with a contented, purring kitty velcroed to her lap.
Then one day last year, as my next-door neighbors and I were both planning to be out of town at the same time, we were surprised, then dismayed, then completely delighted when Amanda told us that she wouldn’t be in the pet-sitting biz any more (What!?). The reason was that she had just signed a major three-book contract with Random House (What!?!?).
One day she’s our favorite neighborhood pet-sitter, the next she’s a publishing rockstar. It was a goosebump moment.
Amanda Kyle Williams, as it turns out, has been writing mystery novels for years. I had no idea. She’d been laboring away in relative obscurity, turning out little gems that got picked up here and there by tiny independent publishers, God bless ’em. To help make ends meet, she started Latch-Key Pets (the business still exists, by the way, and Adair is great!), and endeared herself to many local critters—including our chickens, to whom she brought extra treats from her kitchen scraps—and their families.
Amanda honed her chops in those early works, and by the time the manuscript for The Stranger You Seek made its way over the transom at Random House, she’d mastered the craft of a chilling, compelling thriller told in the voice of a complex, engaging heroine, Keye Street.
The Stranger You Seek is the first of three Keye Street novels, and its official release date is August 30. The next two in the series, Stranger in the Room and Don’t Talk to Strangers, are due out in Fall 2012 and 2013, respectively. Random House has put its full machinery behind Amanda and this book—the audio edition is already out, and there are several international editions, too. And it’s already getting high praise in important places: starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews (two industry biggies) and raves from newspapers all over the country, including our own AJC.
I’ve been lucky enough to get sneak peek at Amanda’s book. First of all, this is a seriously creepy-fun read. Second of all, the story roams all around Atlanta and surrounds, but Decatur, we are excellent fodder. It looks like all those dog walks around our neighborhoods were doubling as research trips, because stuff goes down in Winnona Park. I’m pretty sure some of our pets are in the book, too. Amanda’s love for creatures great and small finds its way into her writing; there’s even a moment in the book when a killer refills food and water bowls for a cat.
And the best part is, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Here’s what Amanda told me about leaving pet-sitting behind when her life was suddenly transformed: “Walking away from that business and from the animals I’d spent years with in some cases was incredibly hard. All my dreams were coming true. And my heart was so heavy. The last day I made my midday rounds, I cried all the way through.” Amanda now leverages her newfound fame in support of animal welfare; she is a founding director of the Lifeline Animal Project, a nonprofit, no-kill animal welfare organization.
(A few weeks ago I was out walking my dog and saw Amanda coming toward me with three doggies in her own grip. I called out, “Hey! I thought you weren’t doing that any more!” She called back, “These are mine!” Right. Duh.)
We can all celebrate our hometown girl and the launch of The Stranger You Seek during the Decatur Book Festival on September 3. Amanda will be part of a panel on “How to Write a Great Murder Mystery” that day at 5:30 on the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage, followed by a book signing. And you can find lots more about Amanda and the book on her website.