When Amy Stuart was pregnant with her first son fourteen years ago, she felt that if she didn’t commit to the actual act of writing on a consistent basis, her hopes of being an author would dissipate into thin air.
Cece chats with Amy Stuart, #1 bestselling author of the “Still” trilogy.
When Amy Stuart, #1 bestselling author of the Still trilogy was pregnant with her first son fourteen years ago, she felt that if she didn’t commit to the actual act of writing on a consistent basis, her hopes of being an author would dissipate into thin air.
“I was worried that life was going to get too busy and I wouldn’t be able to fit the writing in,” says Stuart. “I had started studying for my master’s degree and writing became a part of the discipline, something that I did and that I needed to do; like exercise, writing always makes me feel better.”
When she began her postgraduate studies, Stuart’s first son was a baby; by the time she graduated, she had three children in tow. (The boys are now thirteen, eleven and nine).
“It took me five years to finish my master’s because I was teaching and having kids,” Stuart says with a laugh. “I had one baby and then I had three, and then, once I was off maternity leave, I started teaching. That’s when I built my writing chops. Near the end of the master’s program, I started submitting short stories to journals and magazines. A few were published, and then, one of them won the Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction contest. (2011). That changed everything for me, because I landed an agent. As part of my MFA, (Master of Fine Arts), program, I wrote my first novel, Still Mine, which was picked up by Simon & Schuster and subsequently published in 2016. Since then, there has been a book every two years; Still Water was published in 2018, and Still Here in 2020.”
The trilogy of STILL books features Clare O’Dey, a woman with a complicated backstory of abuse and trauma. She is on the run from her abusive and often violent husband, Jason, and is being chased and subsequently found by Malcom Hayes, the private investigator Jason had hired to find her. Instead of turning her in, Malcolm hires Clare to help him find other missing women. Unsurprisingly, of course, Malcom has his own questionable backstory, one that has his hometown of Lune Bay wondering where his wife is, and if, in fact, he has anything to do with her disappearance.
“I wanted Clare to represent the idea that you can have trauma and difficult things in your life, and the path forward is complicated,” Stuart says. “I’ve always believed and wanted Clare to represent the idea that we, as women, are complicated and flawed, and that it is okay, it’s not something that we should be hiding from other people, which is something that we tend to do. I want readers to be able to see some aspect of themselves in Clare, how her path towards healing and getting better is not straightforward and she struggles with it.”
When Stuart was a third of the way through Still Mine, she quickly realized that Clare had a bigger story, an arc that was going to be very difficult to resolve in one book.
“That was when I opened up to the idea of writing a series, where you could read the books in order and Clare’s story would follow an arc, but, that each book could also be read on its own without the reader feeling like they were missing some huge piece of the puzzle,” Stuart says. “I was really drawn to the idea of a protagonist who is rooted in struggle and is having a difficult time, and give her a path to both redemption and healing. We often see male characters going through challenges and struggles, but not many women are heroes of the story, ones who are deeply flawed and complicated. That was what I was drawn to – having a super complicated and layered female as the hero – but I knew in order to really authenticate that, I’d need more than one book.”
As a reader of the Still series, I think that indeed, Clare’s path forward, which included managing addiction issues, evolved as she struggled to become stronger, more assured and steely in her determination to fight for herself, her safety, her well-being and her sobriety.
Stuart’s writing, which is crisp and imaginative, includes brilliant turns of phrases that invite the reader to be a part of the scene. “The guy couldn’t catch a squirrel if he was holding a bag of nuts.” Or, “Leaps in like a dropped pencil gone,” are the kinds of imagery and metaphors that engage readers with a lyrical pause.
“I think to some degree it’s an innate thing but it’s also something that I’m aware of trying to do when I want to convey a scene or an image,” Stuart says. “In conveying my message I think of the reader on the other end; I think, how can I do the best possible job of handing them an image that will enrich their experience?”
And while Stuart, whose Still books are now being adapted into a television series, says that she is not trying to include any specific societal messaging in her books, “I do want readers to understand, particularly women, that even when you are experiencing trauma and difficult things in your life, there is a path forward.”
When Stuart is not writing books, or teaching, or raising her high-spirited family, she both plays and coaches ice hockey; she is, in fact, only one of four women coaches in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. (GTHL). And, in 2019, she founded Writerscape, an online community for emerging and aspiring writers.
Her newest novel, which is in its first draft, is not, Stuart says, connected to the Still series. (Still Here is said to be the last of the ‘Still’ trilogy, but Stuart says she never likes to say never, that she’s left the door open for Clare to reappear if she changes her mind.
“I would like to be farther along on the novel than I am, but we just spent six months at home with three kids, so that was an unexpected change of plans,” she says with a laugh. “It still feels a bit nebulous for me, it’s a bit hard to talk about, but the new book is a thriller and I’m just trying to play with some things that I didn’t get to play with in the Still books. I’m writing in the first person and dealing with a different kind of character; it’s new, so it’s fun. I’m still circling around it, but it’s fun and I’m enjoying it.”
Connect with Amy @ AmyStuart.ca and on Twitter @AmyFStuart.
Next week Cece chats with Kevin Donovan, chief investigative reporter for the Toronto Star, and author of The Billionaire Murders, which famously delves into the lives of Barry and Honey Sherman, and their subsequently violent (and as yet unsolved) murders in 2017.
Check out Cece’s new weekly feature: This Week’s Hottest Book Review
Cece is the feature cover writer for several prestigious publications, and is an informed, connected and enthusiastic book blogger at cecescott.com. Her first book, The Love Story,
was published in 2019. Her second book will be coming out in the spring of 2021. Cece is also working on a book of Daily Reflections for Auto Immune Condition Warriors.
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