The Stranger You Seek

Author Interview: Amanda Kyle Williams

Amanda Kyle Williams is a break-out star with a thrilling story to tell. Her first in a series novel, The Stranger You Seek, garnered her a 2012 nomination for the prestigious Townsend Prize for Fiction. Williams will appear at this summer’s Decatur Book Festival in support of her second book in the series, Stranger In The Room, which debuts August 21, 2012.  On the eve of the award ceremony for the Townsend Prize, I offer a re-posting of my original interview from 2011.


This not-for-the-faint-of-heart crime thriller is set during a steamy Southern summer and is full of believable, interesting characters living in the Atlanta that I know and love. Don’t be fooled by the setting, this is not a sleepy Southern novel. It is terrifying and creepy, and often very funny. At times it will even make you hungry. Williams’ love of the South shows throughout the book as she takes the reader on ridealongs with lead character/former FBI profiler Keye Street. Williams’ skill at capturing particular time and place means you can almost feel the midsummer heat hitting your face from the passenger seat of Street’s ’69 convertible as she cruises Atlanta’s streets looking for the killer.

I was excited to interview Williams because her personal story is as fascinating as any of her characters’. According to her bio, she has contributed to short story collections, worked as a freelance writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, worked as a house painter, a property manager, a sales rep, a commercial embroiderer, a courier, a VP of manufacturing at a North Georgia textile mill, and owned Latch Key Pets, a pet sitting and dog walking business. She also worked with a PI firm in Atlanta on surveillance operations, and became a court-appointed process server. You will see a bit of all of these in her novel’s character developments. Williams signed on with the South’s oldest and largest feminist bookstore Charis Books as her signed bookdealer. So when you order from her website, you are doing good in more ways than one. She graciously allowed me an advanced read of her novel and then answered my very random blogger questions.

AVJ: I freely admit to being brand new to reading crime thrillers. I’m at once horrified and fascinated at the human mind and how a perfectly nice individual such as yourself could dream up the most lurid and macabre scenes, not to mention the unexpected plot twists, that you have. One theory is that, if you write about crime, you can control it, and that creates less fear for the writer. Does this resonate with you at all? What drew you to this genre?

AKW: I’m fascinated with all things crime. Not just crime and criminals, but the people who spend their lives fighting it and dealing with the terrible repercussions of violence on family and community. Cops, field agents, profilers, the techies that are constantly working to make criminal databases more effective, medical examiners, grief counselors, forensic scientists from all disciplines. What makes these exceptionally dedicated people tick? What’s a day in the life? How do they handle the pressure and the darkness? My protagonist Keye Street, as you know, is a former FBI behavioral analyst. What drives my books are the needs that drive her. I’ve tried to educate myself about what her process might be. I’ve made contacts in law enforcement and forensics. I’ve ended up with some great consultants that inform my writing.

And I have an interest in the violent serial offender, too. Let’s face it, most criminals are not masterminds. They’re just thugs and opportunists. But someone smart enough to evade law enforcement efforts for years, like the Green River Killer or the Long Island Killer who is out there hunting right now, someone utterly egocentric who sees victims as fill-in-the-blank objects, now that interests me. What I mean by fill in the blank is, whatever his fantasy or desire, he’s just inserting a victim. He’s completely detached from their suffering. It’s about him, his need. Writers take a lot of criticism for writing books about serial offenders—rapists or murderers. But thrillers and mysteries keep selling. Cop shows and CSI type shows continue to have good ratings. I don’t think anyone wants to glorify these monsters, but we have a natural curiosity about that kind of psychopathy. I think we want to know what it’s like to look through the cold eyes of a killer from a safe distance. I do. I want to know what fantasy he’s acting out, what fuels it. I learned something really valuable when I was taking criminal profiling courses to prepare for this series. Homicide isn’t always the motive. It’s merely the result of behaviors manifested at the scene. That’s what draws me to the genre—a desire to understand those behaviors. I don’t know that it gives me a sense of control. I’m as fearful as anyone else of violent crime. That’s why we love crime fighters. They fight back. They protect us. (more…)