Hey there! We’ve got another amazing interview planned for our #BeyondTheBio today. Today’s guest author is Amanda Searcy, whose new book Watch You Burn just hit shelves in October. When she’s not writing, Amanda’s working with the public library system in sunny New Mexico. You may know Amanda from her previous book, The Truth Beneath The Lies.
Today’s guest interviewer is Hayley. She’s a high school freshman who's a big fan of Tom Holland’s Spiderman and the boy band Why Don’t We. Her all-time favorite book is Madeleine L’Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.
Be sure to stick around until the end of the interview for a chance to win a signed copy of Watch You Burn and to find out how you can interview your favorite author. Let’s get to it!
Hayley: Hi, Amanda! I absolutely loved Watch You Burn! Jenny’s obsession with fire causes some real complications for her and her family. Can you tell our readers what it’s about?
Amanda: Watch You Burn is about seventeen-year-old Jenny who has just moved to New Mexico from Ohio to live with her father. Her father’s construction company is renovating an old motel, and Jenny ends up living there in one of the already completed rooms. The reason Jenny had to move is that she sets fires. The fires make her momentarily feel better, but then afterward she feels terrible about it, so she sets another fire. Over and over again. The police in Ohio were on to her, so she had to leave.
In her new town Jenny wants to be better and stop setting fires, but she can’t, and one night she gets caught. Someone sees her, but Jenny doesn’t know who. As she makes friends and settles into her new life, there’s a murder. Jenny’s afraid the person who saw her is the killer and she could be next.
Hayley: I connected to Jenny from the start. We both have a tendency to hide personal things and to want fresh starts. Where’d you get the idea for Jenny?
Amanda: Sometimes the characters tell you who they are. You start to write and then the characters take over and tell you who they want to be and what they want to do (whether you, the author, like it or not.) That’s how it happened with Jenny.
Watch You Burn started with a picture in my head of two girls in the ruins of the motel pouring milk into a bowl for a kitten. The real motel that the fictional Los Ranchitos Inn is based off of sits near the Albuquerque bosque (the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande). There are fires in the bosque all the time in the spring and summer, so I knew fire was going to be part of the story. It was Jenny herself who told me about her fear of fire and what had happened to her when she was little, but it wasn’t until later she told me she was setting fires.
Hayley: Another character that stood out to me was Ben. From the moment we see him at Cam’s Truck, he seems both kind and mysterious. Did Ben change at all from the first draft to the finished product?
Amanda: Ben was pretty much the same from the beginning. I wanted to give Jenny a friend who had been through (a version) of what she was going through but had made it out the other side and was thriving. Jenny needed someone she could talk to who wouldn’t judge her. Jenny doesn’t trust him in the beginning, but as she learns more about him she sees that he’s a good guy. Ben is one of my favorite characters because he gives Jenny some hope she can overcome what has become an addiction to setting fires.
Hayley: Why New Mexico? I like it, but it’s not a setting I’ve seen much before.
Amanda: New Mexico is rarely used as a setting for YA, but it should be. New Mexico has stunning natural beauty and is incredibly culturally diverse. You will find everyone in New Mexico—people from every place and background and people at every socio-economic level. Also, New Mexico is my home. I was born and raised here. It’s what I know, so it was natural to set a novel here. (Although Las Piedras, the town that Jenny moves to, is completely fictional.)
Hayley: Did you include any moments from your own life in Watch You Burn?
Amanda: Most of Watch You Burn is pure imagination, but the free clinic where Jenny volunteers and the doctor who runs it are based on a real place and a real person.
Hayley: My favorite scene was when Jenny told Ro the “half truth” of why she had to leave Ohio. Do you have a favorite scene?
Amanda: I have a lot of favorite scenes! Many of them are in the second half of the book and would be spoilers, but my favorite non-spoiler scene is one where Jenny and Ben have had a fight and Jenny is really upset. Ro makes it her mission to make Jenny feel better, and they both ditch school and spend the day in Jenny’s room eating mounds of junk food and watching action movies.
Hayley: What advice would you give to real-life teens who struggle with dangerous urges?
Amanda: I wish Jenny would have told someone about her urge to set fires in the very beginning—even before the story starts when she is still in Ohio. She thinks she’s trying to protect herself and her family by not telling anyone, but the longer it goes on and the more fires she sets, the worse it gets. Jenny’s in a lot of pain and that pain increases with every fire. There are several points in the story when she could have told someone who would have taken the weight off her shoulders. She could have told Doc at the clinic or her teacher Teresa.
What I would say to a teen who is struggling with dangerous urges is that you don’t have to suffer. Don’t be afraid to tell someone. You don’t have to live with the pain. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a parent you tell—there are a lot of people out there who can help you.
Hayley: Did you always want to be an author?
Amanda: When I was in middle school and high school, one of my best friends was “the writer”. All the adults in our world declared that she was going to be “the author”. I always liked stories and I was told I was a good writer, but for some reason it never occurred to me I could be an author because that was what my friend was supposed to do. (It also didn’t occur to me that there could be more than one author.)
It wasn’t until later, after college and graduate school, that I realized I wanted to write and be an author. (My friend “the author” picked a different career path, and she’s very happy with her choice.)
That’s it for today’s interview with Amanda. If you're a book-loving teen like Hayley, click here to learn how to become a guest host for an upcoming #BeyondTheBio interview. It's an easy and fun way to connect with your favorite authors. Plus, it looks great on your college applications!
And don't forget to enter this week's giveaway! We’re teaming up with Amanda to give one lucky winner a signed copy of Watch You Burn. You can enter the giveaway by clicking on the image below. Good luck!