Talking Nightmares With Amanda Stevens

The celebrated romantic suspense author talks about creating imaginary horrors—and recovering from real life ones.

By Russell van Kraayenburg November 3, 2014 Published in the November 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine


As befits a successful writer of paranormal fiction, Amanda Stevens’s childhood bedroom was once used for a wake. Also, she grew up listening to her father tell ghost stories in a small, drafty house in Bradford, Arkansas. “Whether he believed the stories or not, you were convinced he believed him,” she told us, sitting in her newly-renovated kitchen in Cypress, which is neither small nor drafty. “The South is a place of mystery. There’s just so much superstition. It was a part of your life down there.”

It would become an even bigger part of her life down here, in the ’80s, when Stevens and her husband moved to Houston and “the energy of the city infected us.” She said she felt like “I could do anything” in this town, which in her case meant studying English, first at Houston Community College and then at UH. An HCC professor encouraged her to write romance novels, but she had little taste for the sappy and sultry. Stevens’s gift was for romantic suspense, and she had the good fortune to be writing just that when the genre began taking off.

“I wrote my first book in four months, and two months later it was plucked from the slush pile.” It was the sort of happy coincidence that one associates with Hollywood, or perhaps Harlequin heroines. Anyway, Stevens’s star was born. Over the next few decades, she went on to write and publish more than 50 romantic suspense novels, with names like Matters of Seduction and Texas Ransom, most of them set in the South. With success came the chance to leave the romantic mantle behind and indulge in Stevens’s passion for the macabre, as in novels like The Dollmaker, in which the protagonist discovers a doll that is a carbon copy of her missing child, and more recently her Graveyard Queen series, which begins thus: “My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts.” 

Every year from 1993 onward saw the publication of at least one new novel by Amanda Stevens, who is also a prolific blogger, and for a time NBC was developing a series based on Graveyard Queen. Then, last year, the novel writing stopped. Her blog went silent for almost six months. Stevens’s many fans were left starving with no explanation why. Finally, in January, came a six-paragraph blog post. “Last April I lost my husband suddenly and unexpectedly,” she wrote. “Needless to say, my children and I were shocked and utterly devastated.” Her husband was, she told readers, “my biggest supporter,” and she “would never have become a writer without him.” Her message concluded this way: “Until last spring, I lived a truly charmed existence. For 38 years—most of my adult life—I got to live with the most interesting person I’ve ever known.”

By March, Stevens was back writing full-time. Still, “two years without a title, that’s death in the publishing industry,” she told us. She completed the fourth installment of the Graveyard Queen series in August, and expects to finish a fifth in January, but fans won’t see a new novel of hers in bookstores until April of next year. Meantime, “I want to be able to thank my readers for hanging in there,” something Stevens has done by launching a new blog, The Oddities, on which she is publishing new stories and “whatever odd idea hits me.” The blog is both an attempt to satisfy her readers’ gnawing hunger and a kind of test market. “It’s a way to judge interest in a character,” as she put it. 

As the afternoon wore on, the conversation hopped from long-forgotten Houston cemeteries to the city’s eclectic art scene, to Stevens’s black cat Lola, to the difficulty of standing out in an ever more crowded field of authors, both self-published and otherwise. And then Stevens went back to her work, recovering from life’s real horrors so she might get back to the business of creating imaginary ones.

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