Amy Vansant writes gritty thrillers and cozy mysteries which have one thing in common – they’re all funny because as Amy says – she tried to do serious books but they always ended up full of jokes.
Hi there I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and today Amy talks about her Shee McQueen series about a family friendly team of mercenaries, and her Pineapple Port cozies, set in a 55+ Florida resort.
This Week’s Giveaway
Our Giveaway is another Booksweeps draw – Link To The Past – Historical and Family Saga stories – 51 books, and an E-Reader. It’s open internationally…
Included in this is my Of Gold & Blood Series 2 Book Bundle consisting of Books 1 and 4 in the series.. Poisoned Legacy and the New York Christmas novella Tangled Destiny, the prequel.
50+ novels, 1 E-Reader $550 value
I know many of you will appreciate that because we have listeners from all over the world, so this is your chance to win a library!
Or – if button doesn’t work – https://www.booksweeps.com/giveaway/may23-win-a-bundle-of-historical-fiction-and-family-sagas/
You can now look for Binge Reading on YouTube if you like to consume your podcasts that way – as increasing numbers of listeners like to.
And don’t forget, if you enjoy the show leave us a positive comment so others will find us too – word of mouth is still the best publicity anyone can get!
Links to things in the show
Amy Vansant – Kilty urban fantasy series: https://amyvansant.com/books/kilty-urban-fantasy
Loggerhead Florida: https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/nesting/loggerhead/
Authors XP: https://authorsxp.com/
Life Hacks: https://amyvansant.com/lifehacks
Where to find Amy Vansant
But now here’s our show. Hello there, Amy. And welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Amy Vansant: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Jenny Wheeler: You’re a USA Today and Wall Street Journal best selling author, and you’re writing across a range of genres, from thrillers to cozy mysteries, some romcoms and fantasy. How did you get started on this trip?
Amy Vansant: I was always a writer ever since I was young. Ever since I could barely write anything, it just seemed like what I was supposed to do.
I was the East Coast editor of Surfer Magazine for about five years, and I did a lot of freelance writing for magazines and I wrote a non-fiction book about surfing.
And right about then was the time that the internet started to get big. I started to do web design as a side gig, and it turned out that was the next big thing.
I ended up doing websites, and I started a web firm for 20 years. I still have it. And then one day I woke up and said, what am I doing?
Why am I not writing? I was always supposed to be a writer, so I went back to it.
Shee McQueen and the family friendly mercenaries
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fabulous. And this Shee McQueen series, which is one of the ones we’re talking about today. It’s your thriller series.
One of the critics has got a gorgeous line to describe it. They say, “Think Stephanie Plum goes to Florida. Full stop. With Jack Reacher.”
That just seems to me to say it all, and we are looking at number five in the series, which is The Girl Who Saw The Truth.
Now, this whole thriller series is built around troubled mercenaries looking for redemption, and once again, I wondered where did that concept spring from?
Amy Vansant: I think it mostly just came from the fact that my other series, which is a cozy mystery is so tame that I wanted to do something that had a little more bite to it, to just to break it up for me more than anything.
I came along with this idea and put the hotel that the father runs where my house is in real life.
I pretended there was a hotel here instead of my house and took it from there.
Jenny Wheeler: I think that’s called Loggerhead Inn, is it?
Amy Vansant: Yes, because this area Florida has the loggerhead turtle sanctuary here for sea turtles. So that word was at the forefront of my mind.
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. And Shee, your key character, has some unusual qualities, like seeing numbers as pictures. You explained that so clearly and compellingly that I wondered if that was something that you personally experienced.
Amy Vansant – an unusually calculating brain
Amy Vansant: Yes it’s the way that my brain works.
If I see a date, if I know I have something to do the next Wednesday, I don’t see the word Wednesday.
I have a visual thing in my head where I’m seeing basically a calendar, and a line of seven boxes.
The center calendar item will be lit up or filled in or just otherwise marked in my head.
If I have three things to do that day, there’ll be three little lines on that box. So, I know it’s three things.
I can’t always remember what three they are, but I know there’s three of them. I’ll keep thinking until I think of the third one if I can’t think of it. And it’s just always how my brain has worked.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s amazing. You’re also the master of snappy dialogue in this series, the Shee McQueen series.
There’s a lot of fantastic dialogue and it really made me think of some of the streaming TV we are seeing now, like Breaking Bad, some of those series. Have you been rather inspired by TV?
Amy Vansant: I definitely do it on purpose. I’ve heard back that readers don’t like a book to end in a cliffhanger.
But I think even for my own reading if I get to the end of a chapter and there’s a big punchy cliffhanger, it makes me want to keep reading the book.
I want my readers to keep reading the book until they’re finished and then be wanting the next one.
I started trying to make sure that something exciting happens at the end of every chapter that makes people want to keep going. And it ended up being very much the way TV is written.
Cliff hanger chapters – thanks to streaming TV shows
Jenny Wheeler: It does definitely keep you reading when you are a little bit tired at night.
It’s a great way to steer people through the story and your reviewers very much comment on that.
Your work’s been compared to some of the masters of this genre. People like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich.
That must make you feel good inside some days.
Amy Vansant: Oh, definitely. Yes.
Jenny Wheeler: As well as the thrillers, you already have mentioned that you do a cozy series, that’s the Pineapple Port series set in a retirement village, a 55 plus Florida community, which you’ve said was inspired by your mother-in-law’s situation.
Tell us about Pineapple Port.
Amy Vansant: Before I started that series, I was visiting my mother-in-law over on the west coast of Florida, and it’s just such an adorable little place that she lives.
They’re all modular homes. So, they’re mobile homes in the sense that they’re modular, but they’re not on wheels.
They’re just little boxes. And they all have their little yards that they’re super proud of with all the little knickknacks in there.
And I just thought it was adorable and would make a good place to have a series.
And then I thought, what if the person that the series is mostly about was young and she grew up there amongst all the retirees, instead of making it strictly about the retirees?
And I’d like to the dynamic of old and young, That let me work with.
Getting the technology right in a fast changing world
Jenny Wheeler: It’s interesting. I serve at a community which gives out meals once a week, and there are some retirees that come to that meal.
One of them has got a much younger granddaughter who comes with them every time that they come. And I’m quite fascinated by this situation.
Obviously there is a very similar setup where somebody in this community has got a much younger person living with them, so it’s not so far beyond the realms of possibility that this kind of thing happens, although it probably is rather unusual.
Amy Vansant: Yes, and it also gave me the chance to… there was a lady who was maybe 20 or 30 years older than me that I was talking to when I first started writing.
I was reading her books and there were a lot of mentions of things that just weren’t relevant anymore.
Someone would sit down at a typewriter to write when you know that now they would sit down at a laptop and it pulled me out of the story, because it wasn’t supposed to be a historical book.
It was a contemporary book, except it wasn’t contemporary anymore. I thought to myself, this would be a neat way for me to sneak in the way my brain works.
And I’ve of course, got a lot of references that a 50 plus year old person would have.
But when they come out of my 26 year old character, it doesn’t matter because she grew up with all these people.
So, she might use some kind of old timey phrases and it would just make sense.
A nerd who loves her reverse Outlander urban fantasy
Jenny Wheeler: That’s very interesting point because I did feel with the Shee McQueen series that you were way, way up with the technology.
I mean, that series, I was really gobsmacked by what I felt was some of the research that you might have done for it because it feels so 21st century.
So you’ve got the feet in two camps, haven’t you?
Amy Vansant: Yes. Thanks to the web business that I’ve been in for so long. I’m a nerd anyway, so that makes it a little easier.
Jenny Wheeler: There’s also a rollicking, fun quality to both of these series of books.
They’ve both got a lot of humor in them, and you say that you “tried to write serious books, but they always end up full of jokes, so I gave up.”
Tell us a bit about that experience and what serious books did you try to write at the beginning?
Amy Vansant: My “Kilty” series, which is definitely super goofy in a good way. It’s about a time traveling Highlander and it was originally going to be dark.
I was going to make that my dark series and I didn’t get very far before I started putting jokes in there instead. And I just knew it was never going to work.
I can’t have something really intense and dark happen and then have jokes the rest of the time.
And I didn’t want not to have jokes. So, one of the things in that book is the idea that the Highlander comes to modern day instead of in Outlander, where it’s the modern day woman going back to the Highlander.
Pineapple Port cozies – a change of pace
And I thought it would be hilarious if he was, once he got here, obsessed with soap and shampoo and getting showers all the time because that wasn’t something that was readily available for him.
And that was one of the things that bothered me about the Outlander series that they never talk about. Of course, cuz I would ruin the romance, but I just knew that he stunk.
Jenny Wheeler: I agree with you. Sometimes when I’m in the shower, I think this is such a pure, sweetest pleasure, and I think to all those who people who maybe will probably never, ever have had that simple sensation
Amy Vansant: Exactly. And they’re always, in that series falling into bed and whatnot, and it was just like ‘eergh.’
Jenny Wheeler: I notice that the Pineapple Port series are in Kindle Unlimited, and that really makes sense with you being, as you say, a nerd.
And you also run a very good promotion business for authors called Authors XP. I wondered if you would like to talk a little bit about the huge changes that are hidden publishing now, including AI.
Amy Vansant: I mean, things have certainly gotten harder since I started in 2015 or so.
The landscape has changed entirely. Amazon’s so dominant that I think it’s 80% of the books that people read they get from there.
That’s why I went with KU personally. I’ve tried to take my books wide once or twice over the years and went running back again.
Book marketing becomes more challenging by the day
I have friends that are wide, that are perfectly happy being wide, and I think I’m going to take the first Pineapple book and put it on Barnes and Noble and leave the rest of them, just for something different.
Because when you’ve got, how many do I have now? I’m just about to release 18 in that series, so it doesn’t kill me to have the one book free for everybody to get them into the series.
It’s definitely gotten harder. It’s getting easier for people to publish. If you make it easy, there’s going to be a lot of people publishing.
So the competition gets harder. And of course, with AI, I’m having a lot of fun with it.
It’s great to use it for certain things like creating subjects for emails and the marketing emails that you’re sending out and even just to keep your brain flowing when you’re writing.
If you’re writing and you want a series where two people go to a farm and they find out the alpaca’s been sold stolen, or something like that, and you’re just not sure how it’s all going to go down.
You can type a little bit of that scene into AI and it’ll spit out its version of how things happened, and it’s going to be written horribly, but it might give you ideas how you can keep writing with your own stuff.
So, it’s not the end of the world, yet.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. And Authors XP also is very good for readers as well, isn’t it? Tell us about XP for readers.
Amy Vansant: I offer a daily newsletter that readers can sign up for so they can get notice of books that are free or 99 cents, very much like Book Bub.
That’s a newsletter. And I’ve also got a lot of things that readers can do, become beta readers, become reviewers. Work with authors directly, find a lot of new authors.
Between the things that I want and the things that the authors I work with want – and there’s about 5,000 authors now on the site – we come up with stuff all the time that we think people would like.
Authors XP – working for authors and readers
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic. Do you mostly read within KU yourself?
Amy Vansant: No, actually. I did for a while and then I just don’t have that much time to read, so I canceled it.
Plus I give a lot of books away on Authors XP that I have to buy for the readers, so I get a lot of points. And so, it’s not that big a deal for me to buy a book once in a while.
Jenny Wheeler: Tell us a little about your typical working week. I know that you have a schedule where you start early in the morning. You’re very much an early riser. Tell us how your normal working day would look.
Amy Vansant: Usually get up around four, more or less. It depends on if the dog woke me up or not.
And then I’ll work for a while and then I’ll walk the dog and then I’ll come back and usually write at that point until lunch, and then go to lunch and then I just check back in and make sure there’s nothing that needs to be done.
I try and get most of my work out of the way in the morning.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you write in the mornings and then do a little bit of marketing later in the day
Amy Vansant: It’s a little mixed up. I don’t necessarily do a whole lot of anything after two o’clock in the afternoon because I got up so early.
My brain’s pretty much dead by then. But it’s mostly work, right? Go back to do a little work. Maybe go back to write a little.
Jenny Wheeler: You alternate them as your brain feels a little tired. You go to something different to brush it up.
Amy Vansant – the serial entrepreneur
Amy Vansant: Exactly.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve also described yourself as a serial entrepreneur. You’ve mentioned the web business. You’ve had a quite a number of other little brainwaves over the years, and you’ve got a life hack section on your website, which outlines some of the things that you’re still working on.
Tell us some of your best and worst ideas.
Amy Vansant: I haven’t had anything that was that made me rich and I haven’t had anything that made me poor. They’ve all been pretty middle of the road. They keep me going sort of thing. The web company started out as a graphic design and then as the web got bigger, I did that.
When I worked for Surfer magazine, I made a little line of surf maps that I drove around the state stopping at every surf shop and selling them.
They came in little treasure chests, they looked like little pirate maps and the treasure was where the waves were. They were surfing spots and what else have I done?
I don’t even remember half the things I’ve done. I started a company where I went to a place that was near where I lived in Annapolis, Maryland.
At the time that sold food wholesale to stores and I shipped it directly to the consumer.
I created a little shopping cart and you could buy a box full of say 12 bags of your favorite potato chips instead of having to buy them one at a time.
Basically it was Sam’s Club before Sam’s Club, so I always think of something that somebody else does a whole lot better later on.
Amy Vansant – surfer girl for Surfer magazine
Jenny Wheeler: It sounds like you’ve got an amazing brain though.
Amy Vansant: I just wish it was a little more amazing. I wish at the beginning of the web, I wasn’t beaten to Amazon. That would’ve been nice.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned Surfer magazine a number of times. Were you an active surfer yourself?
Amy Vansant: Not as much as I led them to believe.
Jenny Wheeler: What was the attraction for you of working for a surfing magazine then?
Amy Vansant: My boyfriend at the time surfed and so I thought of an article about surfing colleges that were near the ocean.
If you were a surfer, you’d want to go there. And I thought it made a good article. I sent them a query letter asking if they’d be interested in it, and they were and they published that.
Then shortly afterwards, the person that they had doing all their East Coast reporting quit and they needed somebody.
Since they’re based on the west coast they didn’t know anybody on the East coast so they were like, what about that girl who wrote that article?
They called and said, Hey, do you surf at all?’ And I was like, ‘sure.’ Even though I didn’t really much. And that was it.
What was Amy Vansant’s goal – and has she achieved it?
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, fantastic. That’s lovely. Look, turning away from the specific books to your wider career. How have these various things that you’ve done outside of fiction, fed in or hindered your writing, do you think? Has it helped you?
Amy Vansant: I would imagine. I think anything that you do that is more interesting than sitting on your sofa, staring at the wall is going to help when you write.
If I have a scene where I need a beach or something where I’ve been, then I can pull from that memory. Also, I’ve always been a trivia nerd.
Anything that I do or read or whatnot, it probably ends up in a book at some point or another.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. When you started out writing, what was your main goal and have you reached it yet?
Amy Vansant: My main goal was to make a living at it. It’s something I love to do, so that’s the bonus and I can’t really ever see myself not doing it.
I do still have AuthorsXP and whatnot, but I do well enough now that if everything else fell away and all I had was writing, I’d be able to survive.
I mean, it would great to be New York Times bestselling, yada, yada, yada. But that has happened yet
Jenny Wheeler: But you have got USA Today and the Wall Street Journal,
Amy Vansant: Quite something!
Amy Vansant as reader – what she is reading now
Jenny Wheeler: Amy as reader… The podcast is called The Joys of Binge Reading.
We do always like to check in with what people’s reading tastes are. I know you’ve mentioned that you don’t have much time for reading at the moment, but even what we might have really loved in the past, tell us a bit about your reading history.
Amy Vansant: I read a lot of non-fiction about things that interest me. A lot of them are marketing books.
I read one about the history of the banana not that long ago. I’m not sure why, but I did, and I know way too much about bananas now.
The last fiction I read was probably Jack Reacher, the number one book.
I’m probably the last person to actually get around to reading that, but because people were comparing my work to his, I figured I’d better read it.
Plus, I liked the TV show on, I guess it’s Amazon or Netflix. One of them has it.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. And previous to that, when you were reading fiction, did you start out reading mysteries?
Amy Vansant: When I was super young, I read mostly fantasy, which I think is probably pretty standard for kids.
And then it was like a lot of general literary type stuff, I would imagine.
But I did like mysteries. I’ve always liked mysteries and I like writing mysteries because I have a little problem.
What is next for Amy Vansant author?
I did write a couple of romantic comedies and managed to make it through it, but because I don’t make plans ahead of time necessarily, I write as I go.
Sometime, like with a mystery, you can always say, okay, now how about a fight?
Or here’s another twist, or it always seems to be somewhere to go.
Whereas if it’s just a romance, it’s kinda like how many times can you have these people not quite hook up before they finally end up together. I’m sure. really good romance writers are great at it, but to me I get a little stuck.
Jenny Wheeler: What’s next for Amy the author? What have you got on your desk at the moment?
Amy Vansant: I’m pretty much just finishing up the 18th Pineapple Port.
After that, I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to do another Pineapple Port or Shee McQueen.
Things don’t sell as well at the end of the year because people start thinking about Christmas and whatnot.
So rather than write another book and release it during a time when it won’t be as easy to make a splash, I’m going to write a standalone thriller, although I’m sure there will be humor in it.
And then shop that one around with agents and maybe get it with Amazon or some big entity that could step me up to the next level, if at all possible.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned that word literary a moment ago, and I’m just interested in the way that the publishing world years ago, it was nearly all literary fiction that was taken seriously.
And people who wrote genre fiction who were mainly women were not taken seriously.
Were you ever attempted to try the literary route with your fiction?
Amy Vansant: No, not really. I’m too fond of – like you said – that the TV writing that I do that kind of style that I have.
I like the quick hits and the fights and the chase scenes and the humor. I do try to pull in weightier themes if I can, so that’s my little nod to the more literary stuff.
But I don’t start with that and it’s more fun.
What Amy would do differently second time round
Jenny Wheeler:. More storytelling than naval gazing. I think of it as, to be honest.
Amy Vansant: Yes. I like to keep things snappy.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time over your creative writing career. Is there anything that, if you could go back a bit like Outlander and change it, would you want to do that and what would it be?
Amy Vansant: Two things off the top of my head. I wouldn’t have stopped writing. I would’ve kept writing from the time that I was freelancing for magazines to write novels.
Boy, I’d have a lot of novels by now. That would be great. But I definitely wouldn’t have stopped. And then I also, oh, what was the thing that popped in my head the second you said that?
I would concentrate more on the genres that I do now and not spend too much time doing so many different genres.
As much as I like my urban fantasies, I really do, but I’m not as good at marketing them as I am because I’ve already got a mystery base of readers.
Since it’s so hard to mix them – they’re usually two different readers.
I know my mother-in-law, loves my mysteries, but when I try and get her into The Kilt series, she’s oh, that’s too weird because it’s got urban fantasy to it.
Where to find Amy online
So maybe I would take those books and turn them all into mysteries instead.
But I don’t know, it would make me sad. Because I do like that storyline. It’s a tough call.
Jenny Wheeler: How long did you have as a gap when you weren’t writing?
Amy Vansant: Gosh, from maybe like 97 to. 2014. So 17 years or so.
Jenny Wheeler: I know this is a silly question to ask a person who’s a real web nerd, but do you enjoy interacting with your readers, and where can they find you online?
Amy Vansant: I’m at Amyvansant.com and, I really do. By email. I’m not a big fan of phones or anything, but I’ll answer anybody who emails me.
I don’t do much on social media, but if you join my newsletter and, on amyvan sant.com. I definitely talk a lot to people that’ll write me and say, ‘Hey, you know, I love that last book.’
Or ‘I was thinking that you should do –blankety blank.’
And I have a lot of contests where I’ll have my readers pick what’s going to be on the next cover or to name a bar or something that’s going be in the next book. So that’s fun.
Jenny Wheeler: I was interested in your comment about social media because obviously you are a person who really understands the web a lot better than most of us. Do you find that social media just isn’t worth the energy
Amy Vansant: Yes, that’s pretty much it.
I did quite a lot with it in the beginning. spent a lot of time, I had – probably still do – I don’t know – I haven’t checked lately, but like 30,000 fans on Twitter.
And I think those 30,000 fans probably sold me about one and a half books over the course of five years, while I was spending an hour a day writing content for all my social media, making jokes, getting the followers.
That was a lot of time spent that I could have spent actually writing books instead.
Amy with the naughtiest family member
I don’t find that social media sells books that much for me anyway. Other people might have other experiences. I do Facebook advertising and Amazon advertising. but I spend pretty much zero time on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or any of those.
Jenny Wheeler: Very interesting. you might be the sort of person who’d be interested in trying TikTok though. Colleen Hoover seems to be having a great deal of success on TikTok,
Amy Vansant: I think she’s the unicorn there.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, there’s always a unicorn. That’s right. it’s been wonderful talking, Amy. Thank you so, so much. And just before you go, tell us about that dog.
Amy Vansant: My dog? Well, he shows up in the books. He’s Archie in the Shee McQueen series. He is half border collie and half standard poodle. And 100% pain in the neck.
But he’s only two. And he’s getting better. But he’s super, super smart and only uses his brains for evil mostly.
Jenny Wheeler: And how old is he again?
Amy Vansant: Two
Jenny Wheeler: Just getting to the point where he might be stabilizing a little bit and becoming an adult.
Amy Vansant: Yes, he’s gonna be a great dog one of these days, but he’s still a little young right now. Right now he’s dreaming about getting in the pool.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Thank you so, so much. It’s been a absolute delight to talk.
Amy Vansant: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Next week on Binge Reading
Next week on Binge Reading, all being well and if international travel scheduling goes our way, New York best selling author, Jill Santopolo and her heart rending, dual timeline romance Stars In An Italian Sky.
From Genoa Italy in 1946 to 2017 New York.
It’s a sweeping and romantic story about the course of fate, the meaning of family and the power of love.
That’s next week, all being well. Jill is currently on holiday in Europe, and we hope that the international flights will allow her to get back in time to record the show.
If her plane is delayed, we do have alternative plans. That’s it for today.
Don’t forget if you enjoy the show, leave us a positive comment, so others will find us too. Word of mouth still is the best.
Happy reading and see you next time.