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Author Amy Christine Parker MAG
An inevitable part of being a teenager is forming, defending, and questioning your beliefs. In Amy Christine Parker’s debut novel Gated, 17-year-old Lyla and the other “Chosen” people live in a gated community waiting for the end of the world. As the novel unfolds, beliefs are challenged, lives are at stake, and Lyla might be the only one who can uncover the truth before it is too late. Parker, who previously worked as a waitress and teacher, now writes full time. Here she discusses her writing process, her career, and the highs and lows of being a teen.
What inspired you to write Gated?
I was watching a show on these elaborate underground bunkers, and it made me start to wonder why these people were investing so much money in something they most likely wouldn’t ever need to use. This got me thinking about how some people come to believe these more extreme ideas and commit to them. From there it was only a small leap to start thinking about cults.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t know for certain until about three years ago. Before that, I used to think that writing books sounded like a great profession, but it seemed impractical. So many people try and fail that I think I wrote it off for a long time. Then, while I was staying home with my kids and didn’t have a full-time job outside the house, I realized that I really wanted to try writing to see if I had what it takes. I had the opportunity at that point, and I just took it.
Did you have to deal with rejection on the journey to becoming a published author? If so, how did you handle it?
My first novel was rejected (as it should’ve been, because the story was not good) by everyone I queried. My way of handling it was to write the next book. I didn’t give myself time to be really upset or down. It was just on to the next book.
I think I went into trying to write with the understanding that rejection is part of the process and the only way to up your chances of getting published is to keep writing. I wanted it to be my job, so I approached it with the idea that it wasn’t personal, it was work. I still try to keep that in mind, because rejection doesn’t stop once you’re published. You just have a different kind of rejection: from readers and/or your editor or reviewers.
What is your writing process like?
During the school year it’s pretty rigid. I drop the kids off at school and then it is butt-in-chair until they come home. During the summer, I write mostly at night. My routine is to revise whatever I did the day before and then move on to the next scene. I write in longhand first, then revise that while typing it into the manuscript. Other than that, I have no real routines. I don’t always write in the same room or place, and I don’t always listen to music, though many times I do. I try to stay a little flexible so that I’m able to write wherever I am.
Your novel features Lyla, a strong female lead. Was there ever a time in your adolescent life that you had to go against what was expected because it didn’t feel right?
Yes. I come from a religious background that was very charismatic (think tent-revival services), and at the youth camps I went to over the summer, there was a lot of pressure to speak in tongues. I can remember counselors laying hands on me for a long time to get me to do it, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I believed in God and still do, but this kind of thing just wasn’t for me. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I have a hard time believing that I was the only one with questions and discomfort.
In Gated, Lyla begins to doubt what she’s believed her entire life. How do you think this issue relates to teens today?
I think it’s part of being a teen to start to question the world around you. For the first time you begin to understand that you don’t have to believe the same things your parents and teachers do. The more you experience the world, the more you start to see that some things you thought were absolutes just aren’t. They’re more of a matter of perspective, and your personal perspective may not jibe with the things you’ve been taught.
Lyla questions authority several times. As a teen, did you ever have to stand up to an authority figure?
Yes. I was about 13 and at the house of an aunt and uncle. She’d married late in life, so I didn’t know my new uncle well. I was staying with them over a weekend, along with my younger brother and cousin. At one point my uncle got in a fight with his son. You could hear the son begging his father to stop, and then there were these crashes, and it felt like the house was coming down. He was beating his son while we sat at the dinner table in the next room. My aunt just stood there, frozen. I begged her to go stop it or call the police, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t, so I took my brother and cousin and walked them down the street to the church. I called my parents to come get us and call someone to stop what was happening.
Lyla and her family live in a very cult-like community. What gave you the idea to write about this, and what research did you do to learn about cults?
When I had the first flash of an idea about people building an elaborate underground shelter for an impending apocalypse, I was thinking about cults’ mindsets and extreme beliefs. So it was a natural fit. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated by them. I watched a ton of documentaries, read memoirs from former cult members, read books on the Waco siege, read the Jonestown massacre transcripts, watched interviews with cult leaders, and read psychological studies on brainwashing and sensory deprivation. The research was ongoing the whole time I was writing.
What do you hope readers will gain from the book?
I’d love for readers to walk away with something to discuss. I want them to be asking themselves questions: would I be susceptible to a cult? Would I be the one to question and take a stand if I grew up knowing virtually nothing about the outside world? I want readers to see the connection between this society and the societies in traditional dystopian literature. And I’d love for them to leave the book with a better understanding of how emotional vulnerability plays a part in how people become part of a cult.
What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I’m drawn to exploring the kind of problems young adults face. I think it’s a fascinating time in people’s lives when they start to decide who they are and what truths about the world resonate with them. There is so much room for drama at this age as well.
When writing Gated, was there ever a conflict between telling the story you wanted to tell and making choices based on what you thought teens would find compelling?
Maybe a little. The book is very psychological and character-driven. My only concern was having enough action to keep teens riveted.
Did you know how Gated would end before you began writing the story?
Yes and no. I knew who would triumph and whether or not there was an apocalypse, but the details – where and when the final confrontation would happen – weren’t there at the beginning.
How do you feel once you have finished writing a novel? Are you relieved? Do you miss the characters?
While I write, the characters are so much a part of my life that I can’t help but think of them after the story is complete. As for the writing, I always feel a little like what I imagine my husband feels like after he’s run a marathon: exhausted and done with the whole thing. However, give us a few days’ rest and we’re ready to go back – him to running, me to writing. The fatigue is temporary because the passion is there.
As far as your writing career goes, what are your plans for the future?
I have a lot of goals and plans when it comes to my career. Right now the goal is to get another book deal and keep writing full time. Later on I’d love to write something that gets made into a movie or TV show. I’d love to experiment with writing screenplays. I’d like to write a fantasy novel for my girls because they love that genre so much. There are so many goals that I’ll be lucky to realize them all.
Which authors inspire you and why?
Stephen King, because he writes what I love: horror with complex characters and complex prose.
Gillian Flynn, because she writes flawed women protagonists exceedingly well and can make me root for some really unlikable ladies. That’s just genius.
Libba Bray, because she writes such intricate historical pieces and can then turn around and do contemporary laced with parody and humor so well. I also love how she is with her fans.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
There is no magic formula or shortcut to getting published. Read and write like it’s already your job. Make time for it no matter what. Live as fully as you can. Make mistakes, try new things, challenge yourself to conquer things that scare you. All of this will help you be a better writer.