Amy Stuart on writing a thriller with an unlikely mentor... Lisa Moore

Amy Stuart discusses her debut thriller, which started off as a thesis for her master's degree in fine arts.
Amy Stuart's debut novel is Still Mine. (Paige Lindsay)
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Amy Stuart wrote her debut novel, Still Mine, on a bit of a dare. She was working on her Masters degree in fine arts when a friend suggested she should try her hand at genre writing. Amy took up the challenge, and came up with a story about a woman on the run who is hired to look for another woman who's gone missing in a small mining town.

ON FIGURING OUT HOW TO WRITE A THRILLER

I had read a few thrillers growing up, but I switched into more literary reading in my 20s. It wasn't until I started writing this book, ten or so years later,  that I went back and explored the genre, which I now love. My thesis advisor was Lisa Moore, and together we embarked on reading as many thrillers as we could so that we would have some sense of what we were attempting. I was writing and then she edited a few drafts with me. She was just magnificent to work with. We worked on it together for about a year, so her hand is very much on this book. She had a lot to do with building the characters in particular, which I think is one of her really strong points as a writer.

ON A TRUE STORY ABOUT A MISSING WOMAN THAT GOT UNDER HER SKIN

About five years ago, I found an article about this woman who had disappeared from a relatively public place — I think it was a park. She wandered into the woods. There was a search party, but it wasn't much of one. And then her family felt that the town and the police had given up too easily, and they were pleading in the news story for more support around her case. It was shocking to me that that was possible, that someone could go missing and there's this effort to find her but if they don't find her quickly people just go back to their lives and leave the family to deal with it themselves. 

WHY SHE STOOD BY HER UNLIKEABLE, UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

When I was working with Lisa Moore, at some point she said, the narrator, Clare isn't very likeable — you're frustrating your reader. And I thought about that for a long time, about what I could do. Should I throw in a few lines where she's funny? But then I just determined that it's okay. Her back story is one of struggle and trauma and a lot of pain, so for her to arrive in this story, on page one, and from there make decisions that seem silly or unreliable or reckless actually suits her. I've heard from readers, including my friends, that Clare is frustrating. And that was a choice that I made, knowing it was a bit of a risk, to have a protagonist that the reader isn't necessarily going to like, or who's going to cause them frustration as they read, but I was okay with that.

Amy Stuart's comments have been edited and condensed.