KELLY MOORE is a New York Times best-selling author, former litigator, and single mother of three. Her latest project, the young adult fiction series THE AMBER HOUSE TRILOGY, co-written with her two daughters and based loosely upon her own family history, examines fourteen generations of Maryland women and their ties to the past, present, and future. The first book in the series was nominated for the 2014 Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award for its realistic portrayal of characters with autism; Moore is outspoken about her inclusion in the autism spectrum, and is dedicated to autism awareness.
TUCKER REED is an award-winning fiction and nonfiction writer. She has been recognized on the national level for her short stories, essays and poetry. She is also a notable political blogger and has appeared on CNN, CBS, ABC and HuffPost Live, as well as featured in articles published by TIME magazine, Marie Claire magazine, Ms. magazine, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian, among numerous others.
LARKIN REED is a professional photographer, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in filmmaking. In 2013, Reed established her own multimedia production company, and has subsequently produced and directed several short films.
A book I read recently, Among Others by Jo Walton, discusses how people (fictional or otherwise) are constructed in part by the landscape around them. In the case of Amber House, how do you think the house affects its inhabitants? When constructing your characters, did you keep in mind how living in a house as stately and grand may affect the people in different ways?
As far as how luxurious the House is, it certainly impacts identity — Anne in the first book seeks to define her life in opposition to the environment provided by the House in her childhood. Sarah is somewhat manipulated by the temptation of wealth and privilege that comes with being an owner of the House. Other characters seem to aspire to the identity — the centuries of belonging — that the House affords.
But the House impacts the characters in a more visceral way. To us, the House is a sentient creature. It affects its inhabitants much the same way any character would. There’s also always been, in our minds, an allegory to the idea of God — an omniscient creature both separate from and involved in the actions of others. Throughout the series, through the reactions of certain characters — especially Sarah — we encourage readers to question the motives or morality of the House. In this way, the setting not only helps to define the characters, but continues to shape and re-define them as the series continues to unfold.
I have been curious about this ever since I realized that there were three writers collaborating for this book. How does it work? Do you each write a portion or do you contribute differently? Tell us about the writing process? Do you ever disagree with each other about the way the plot should progress?
To start, we sit down together and plot everything, usually scene by scene, on note cards that we organize on a timeline. Scenes or even whole chapters are then delegated out. That way, all three of us are simultaneously tackling different portions of the book, which we then email to each other for immediate revision. Scenes are fleshed out by the one doing the revising, sentences and paragraphs are altered — ultimately making for a hybridized manuscript that is truly the product of three writers contributing equally. Disagreements may arise over the importance or relevance of things at any point throughout this process, but it seems to us that true progress in refining the story arises when any one of us alerts the others to such a problem. These situations benefit us — they help us identify weaknesses in plot, character, or setting that a single writer, working by himself, may inadvertently overlook. Together we are able to discuss any issue until a solution is found.
The Amber House Trilogy does not just consider spatial elements where the progression of the story is concerned but also, to a large degree, plays with the idea of time and if I am not mistaken, discusses the elasticity of it. For that reason, Neverwas surprised me as it shows the consequences of Sarah’s actions in Amber House. This could be considered a spoiler but will the final installment of the trilogy twist time again? Was it tempting to create a utopian world just to see what would happen to the characters?
Reviewers, librarians — even our publishing house — struggle to assign a genre to the trilogy. And in some ways that’s because we consciously chose to make each book focus on slightly different things, in order to underscore themes we felt were most important to Sarah’s emotional arc in each specific story. Amber House was more Gothic, Neverwas is more dystopian or alternate history. But the series itself is, at base, a time travel story. The first chapter of the first book establishes the ultimate goal of the series: getting Jackson to a reality where he can become a surgeon. Due to the epilepsy he developed as a consequence of the car crash that orphaned and scarred him, his dream seems impossible. But the House has promised him it is possible — and we can state for the record that the House does not lie. So it isn’t a spoiler in our minds to say, yes, everything is building to Jackson and Sarah finding a way to save his parents, to prevent that crash, which means time will be altered at least once more.
As far as utopian environments go — everyone (and we mean everyone) was pushing us to go that route for the third book. We would never in a million years let Sarah alter time so that it benefitted her or those closest to her at the expense of sacrificing a perfect world. There is absolutely no justification for that kind of selfishness. BUT . . . the world Sarah wakes up in, the world she finds herself in for the final book, will feature utopian elements, masterminded by a distant ancestor in the past.
Returning to Amber House, does it really exist? Is there a house/estate in reality that inspired the fictional setting?
No single place inspired the setting and it does not actually exist somewhere. Many houses shaped it, however — the Winchester House in California, for example, and some of the great houses in the east. Our life-long exposure to and love for early American antiques, large and small, was also formative. Many of the furnishings described in Amber House are pieces owned by family members. Added to that was the chain of connection we felt to American history based upon our ancestor’s presence at both the Jamestown and Plymouth Bay Colonies. Amber House is a place in our hearts where we have always dwelt.
One of the more brilliant things about this novel, in my opinion, is that you have a POC love interest but rather than making it into a romantic issue, you focus more on the minorities’ struggles against racial discrimination. The other side of the triangle, however, is perhaps the perfect boyfriend for Sarah in terms of colour and social status. Was he intended as a foil for Jackson?
We don’t know quite how to say this, but we don’t really think about Jackson as a person of color; he is just the current generation of the third prong of the family, a boy whom we love. Much of what this story became was based on our devotion to the character of Nyangu. She is a fierce, highly intelligent and long-sighted individual whose family line and long-term goals became critical for us to explore and explain. And Jackson was a necessary part of that. Richard and his ancestors stand in opposition to Jackson and Nyangu, so, yes, they have to be defined in part as “foil.” But we love Richard too (just maybe not as much as we love Jackson) — he is the beautiful boy redeemed by a vein of uncertainty.
There’s a strong connection between the women in The Amber House trilogy. However, I can’t help but feel that Sarah’s mother, intentionally or not, is outside this tradition of inclusion where one’s self is defined by one’s position in the family tree and their relationship to their ancestors. Will this tension between Sarah’s mother and the rest of the echoes/women/Sarah be discussed in the final book?
We are working on the last book now, and it was always our goal to redeem Anne in the end, to bring her into communion with the House and the family — to close that circle. We’ll see how well we succeed at that.