Amy Stuart is the #1 bestselling author of three novels: Still Mine, Still Water, and Still Here. Shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award and winner of the 2011 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition, Amy is the founder of Writerscape, an online community for hopeful and emerging writers. Amy lives in Toronto with her husband and their three sons. Connect with her on her website AmyStuart.ca and on social media: Twitter @AmyFStuart / Facebook, Instagram and TikTok @AmyStuartWriter.
The Gloss Book Club: What can you tell our members about your novel, A Death at the Party?
Amy Stuart: A Death at the Party is a mystery/thriller that unfolds over the course of a single day. On the first pages, we see our narrator, Nadine, standing over a dead body in her own basement as a party unfolds upstairs. Then we rewind to the morning with Nadine in her kitchen about to start her day. The readers know the day will end with a death at the party, but none of the characters do. The fun thing is that this isn’t a “whodunit”—we know from page one who the killer is. What we don’t know is who she kills or why she kills them. You have to read to find out!
TGBC: Where did the inspiration for A Death at the Party come from?
AS: I always loved the idea of riffing from a classic novel, in this case Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which tracks the narrator over the course of a single day as she plans a party. Only in this case, there’s a murder and a lot of intrigue in the mix.
TGBC: What did you edit out of this book?
AS: I end up overwriting and editing a lot out! Usually it’s a few characters who get cut or merged into others. In earlier drafts my narrator, Nadine, had a lot of friends, but I found they crowded the book too much and watered down the characters who were necessary to the plot. She needed her circle to be small. Merging characters is always something I do in the drafting process.
TGBC: Your previous books—Still Mine, Still Water, and Still Here—were all part of a series; how did your writing process differ, if at all, between writing a series versus a standalone novel?
AS: In some ways, it’s easier to write a standalone, in that you only have to think about the one book as you write, versus always being aware of what you’ve already written or still need to write. The harder part, though, is the fact that standalone books have to be very tight. You can’t save tidbits for the next book because there isn’t one!
TGBC: If you were forced to live the rest of your life as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
AS: Definitely Nadine’s mother, Marilyn Millay. She’s a worldwide bestselling author—think Danielle Steel or Stephen King—which wouldn’t be a bad life 🙂
TGBC: What appeals to you about writing thrillers?
AS: Early in my writing career I figured out that plotting was my favourite part of writing. Thrillers are inherently plot heavy; they require a lot of thinking about pacing and delivery. Sometimes it can almost feel mathematical. I really enjoy that challenge. I also love trying to write something that readers will have a hard time putting down. Thrillers can be magic that way.
TGBC: What would you like to see more or less of in the thriller genre?
AS: I love that thriller writing is diversifying; I recently read a queer YA thriller by Tom Ryan called Keep This to Yourself, as one example. I think we’re moving away from the traditional male-lead hardboiled detective genre and into a much wider scope of what counts as a thriller. I love that. To me, the possibilities are endless within the thriller realm and, as writers and readers alike, we should lean into that.
TGBC: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
AS: I wrote a story in grade five about a couple who had their mouths sealed off by a witch, so they learned to kiss by tapping their noses. My teacher pulled me aside to tell me I should keep writing. I took her advice!
TGBC: What inspired you to study creative writing and write your first book?
AS: When I was pregnant with my first son, I understood that if writing was going to remain part of my life, I would need structure and accountability in place to keep it up. I started my MFA in creative writing when he was four months old. I was incredibly lucky that that program kept me writing during a very busy time in my life. My thesis project was my first novel, Still Mine.
TGBC: Any advice you can share with the aspiring writers within our community?
AS: The advice I always give is that the only thing you need to do to call yourself a writer is . . . write. And it doesn’t need to be for three hours a day. You can write for twenty minutes at a time, a few days a week, and you’ll accumulate a lot of words in a short time. The key, especially at the start, is to focus on the craft of writing and not worry about getting published. If you work hard on the craft, the other stuff will come.