One of the joys of being an active member of Sisters in Crime is getting to know so many talented authors like Amy Pendino. Her newly released novel, WILD HORSES, continues the riveting stories of two strong women from different eras. Below are Amy’s responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio which includes information on how to order her books:
First of all, congratulations on the release of WILD HORSES, a sequel to your award-winning debut novel, THE WITNESS TREE. Can you tell our readers about the character of Dani Holden and what inspired her?
Thank you so much! THE WITNESS TREE (TWT) explores the historical role of migrant workers as well as society’s expectations of women in recent generations. WILD HORSES (WH) strives for the precarious balance of more contemporary facts in a fictional story. Dani Holden is my mouthpiece for the thoughts and feelings that bounce around in my head. She cares about the unrepresented. Her curiosity spurs her to action and leads her to find the answers.
Can you share a bit about what each of these two novels is about?
TWT is the reader’s introduction to Dani and the small town of Crestview, Iowa. Dani helps cut down an old tree, said to be cursed, which sets in motion a number of unusual events. Her curiosity propels her to dig into stories many citizens would prefer to keep quiet, and leads her to the root of the “curse” and to the acquaintance of a former Crestview citizen, who has secrets of her own.
WH finds Dani a few months later, unable to farm and unwilling to move away from Crestview. She needs some income, fast, especially now that she’s adopted a rescue horse. Her good friend introduces her to a trucker who needs a favor; he promises “easy money” in return. If she drives to Missouri for him, she’ll have the chance to follow a recent lead, but the decision isn’t easy to make. What she uncovers will threaten her place in the town she’s come to call home.
THE WITNESS TREE also features Lilly Bradstreet, a character from two generations ago. Did you find that their stories reinforced one another in terms of some of the themes and issues you were addressing?
Lilly Bradstreet is an important character in both books. She represents the strong women from the past who faced limited choices when they found themselves in tight situations. Lilly made the best of her situation while bravely trying to keep her identity and dreams intact. Dani Holden’s issues are similar: acceptance, self-confidence, and holding fast to one’s goals in the face of adversity. Examining each woman’s life path in relation to her place in history allows the reader to draw her own conclusions about the similarities and differences women face in every age.
Writing a series featuring the same character can be very challenging. Each story has its own character arc, and there is also the overarching character arc for your protagonist. How has Dani changed in the course of these two novels?
Dani’s growth through these first two books feels like a reflection of how we change through experience. In both stories (with their different issues and dilemmas), Dani is forced to examine her place and confront her reactions. By the end of the second book, she’s gained new confidence through this struggle. Though she isn’t as strong as she would like to be, her experience shows her that she’s capable. Her survival instinct has taught her well.
You’ve previously published magazine and review pieces. What made you decide to tackle novel writing?
As a young mom, I didn’t have a lot of time to write, so my pieces were shorter and required less research. Poetry was my preferred genre: I’ve always loved the exactitude of a particular word, or how a slight alteration in tone or cadence can impact the entire poem. I’m not a great short story writer, but I continue to push myself in this genre. I’m thrilled that one of my short stories was accepted into a regional crime fiction anthology. As for turning to the novel, now that I’m out of the classroom, I have more time to concentrate on longer pieces, to do research, and to work through the torturous aspects of constant revision and editing.
What have you found most helpful as you developed your fiction writing skills?
I think the single most important asset to a writer’s growth is continued reading. I learn more from other writers and the ways they shape their stories or articles than I have through “how to” books or workshops and classes. Reading in genres other than fiction can spark a thread of subtext or inspire new dialogue. Reading has been instructive, entertaining, and motivational for me as a developing writer.
A related question: What advice would you give to aspiring novelists
Sitting down at the desk every day is the advice I’d offer to an aspiring novelist. In reality, I sit here some days without a single satisfactory sentence, but I keep coming back to the idea that I want to be ready when the muse begins to whisper.
You’ve had a rich and varied background, including stints as a middle school teacher, horse midwife, and keyboard player for a local band. What aspects of your background have found their way into your fiction writing?
My background experiences have resulted in many friendships and exposure to people who are interesting, unusual, or have unique life paths that spark my curiosity. While I’ve never purposely chosen a friend or acquaintance as a character, there are aspects of people’s personalities or behaviors that have shown up in my writing. I’m interested in how people make decisions and how people react to things both miniscule and large. I like to watch people and wonder about them.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on Dani’s third adventure. She’s begun a new position in the sheriff’s department, which poses a hurdle as she uncovers a curious issue in her new neighborhood. She’s professionally prohibited from becoming involved, but her natural curiosity pushes her to investigate the situation. The people of Crestview continue to offer their advice and provide local color, and we may learn a bit more about Donna’s situation, too. I’m excited to see where Dani leads me!
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
I think it’s fun to ask writers if they are “plotters or pantsers”. TWT was mostly written by the seat of my pants, with research as needed, while WH was plotted out so that I could address some of the questions readers and book clubs wanted answers to. This third book, so far, has been a hybrid: I have the general plot worked out (with the caveat that it could change!) but I’m writing each chapter without an outline, just allowing the words to flow as they will.
Thank you so much for your interest in my books!
And thank you for visiting us today!
BIO: Amy Pendino, a Minnesota native, lives on a small horse farm. Her first book, THE WITNESS TREE, won three major independent book awards. WILD HORSES is the second novel in the series, and book three is currently in the works. She’s a member of the Twin Cities chapter of ‘Sisters in Crime’ writing group and a book club that has met monthly since 1992. Formerly a middle school English teacher, she also played keyboards for a local band, waitressed, worked as a secretary, and once sang backup for an international star. She and her husband travel each year with their horses to ride new ranges and seek new vistas. You can purchase her books, read her blog posts and discover other information at her website, www.amypendino.com .