AmyLea Murphy - An Unsettling, Surprising, and Ultimately Hopeful Mystery
AmyLea Murphy is a former attorney and the author of Fine, a young adult mystery novel about one girl’s search for answers to why her sister vanished, and what it really means to be “fine.” A survivor of many things, including cancer, AmyLea has dedicated her life to bringing light into the darkest moments. She enjoys writing about life-changing moments that unearth the resilient beauty of the human spirit in the hopes it empowers her readers to embrace life in all of its messiness. When she isn’t writing, AmyLea can be found dancing and singing in the car with the windows down. Or walking along the beach. Or eating warm cookies. She currently lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Fine.
Please give us a short introduction to what Fine is about.
Fine is the story of one girl’s search for answers to why her sister—straight-A student, cheerleader, and all-around golden child—mysteriously vanished. Through police memos, interrogations, and excerpts from Anna’s diary, Katie breaks down the carefully crafted façade Anna left behind and uncovers the dark truths of her life in the months before she disappeared.
Was there anything in particular, an incident or something you read, that made you want to tackle this?
The idea for Fine came after I realized how many teenagers were slipping through the cracks before the adults in their lives even realized there was a problem. To me, so much of that was a result of everyone pretending to be what others expected. In particular, there seemed to be an expectation that everyone’s life would be free of pain, disappointment, and failure. So when people struggled with these undesired – but universal – experiences, they kept it hidden and didn’t get the support they needed. I wanted to write something that exposed the truth beneath the illusions we all accept as reality, and the harm that comes from hiding our authentic selves.
Tell us more about Katie. What makes her tick?
Katie is a kid who’s waking up. When her sister went missing, she was only twelve. Anna’s disappearance was devastating, but Katie didn’t have the best support in processing the whole situation. Instead, she checked out of her life. Numb and angry, she drifted through school and kept herself at a distance from others in order to avoid getting hurt again.
However, Katie is smarter and braver than she thinks. She values authenticity and speaks her mind openly, and she doesn’t give a damn if that inconveniences others. This genuineness is what drives her to look beyond the façade of those around her. Despite her angst-ridden, sarcastic defensiveness, she really just wants to be comforted, understood, and loved for who she really is.
You are a former attorney and a cancer survivor. How has this influenced your writing?
I’ve been influenced by every experience in my life. Being a lawyer developed my work ethic and determination, while exposing me to a variety of life experiences. That’s helped me push through the setbacks I’ve faced and write from diverse and often opposing perspectives. Fighting through cancer taught me so much, especially about gratitude, passion, and resiliency. Cancer opened my eyes to my capacity to move beyond heartache and embrace the unknown.
I suppose as a lawyer, cancer survivor, student, mom, wife, volunteer, and citizen of the world… every experience I’ve had has molded me into something more, something better, than I was before. It’s this constant evolution that influences my writing the most, the idea that we are all continually learning and growing into our best selves because of our experiences, both good and bad.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I think someone once called me industrious, which I took as a compliment, and that’s probably the closest thing I have to a secret skill. I’m not afraid to figure out how to do something I’ve never done before.
Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve a clarity about yourself or ideas you’ve been struggling with?
Ever since I was a kid scribbling in my journals, I’ve felt compelled to use words in order to make sense of myself and the world around me. My inner world is like a balloon in the sky and writing is the string that connects me to solid ground.
Why a mystery? What drew you to the genre?
I wasn’t drawn to the genre as much as I was drawn to telling Anna and Katie’s story. Their story is a mystery, a slow unraveling of truth that is hard-earned. I wanted the reader to experience the journey of traveling down an unknown road and making their own discoveries along the way. What happened to Anna was a mystery, so it felt natural to tell it as such.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about human nature through your characters?
I think there are numerous messages scattered throughout Fine, but the one that I really hope resonates with readers is how beautifully resilient we are as humans. So many of us are unaware of our capacity to overcome tragedy, loss, and disappointment that we don’t allow ourselves the chance to be transformed by it. Our fear of pain makes us do so many things that end up hurting us in the end. I believe that if we were in touch with our inherent strength, we would be able to brave life’s storms a little easier and live more full lives.
Why did you title this “Fine”?
I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. We joke about it ironically, but it’s only funny because it’s true. There’s a definite expectation that we all must be fine, or at least pretend to be, regardless of the circumstances. Anna felt this pressure in high school and it caused her to put on an act that had terrible consequences for not only her, but for all those who knew her. In many ways, the expectation of being fine is what eroded away at the connections and relationships that could have changed things for her.
This book takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Why did you create it this way?
I wanted readers to feel what Katie felt. At the outset, Katie reaches a breaking point where she needed to know the truth in order to move forward in her life, but the truth is hard to accept. Although she’s still a child stunted from the trauma of her sister’s disappearance, Katie tries to embrace reality like an adult. As a result, she works her way through the file with a vulnerable rawness that responds authentically to what she learns. It’s unfiltered, unapologetic, and unpolished…which is a genuine reaction to finding out that your entire world is not what it seems.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I wish I could say I have an average writing day, but I don’t. My writing style is more haphazard and unpredictable. I write whenever I can for as long as I can. As long as I have my laptop, I can write on the couch, the kitchen table, beneath a tree, at a café table, or anywhere really. The important thing is that I feel inspired.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on a coming of age YA novel about a girl who meets her birthmother for the first time. It’s a look at what makes us who we are—nature or nurture or self-determination--and the complicated relationships at the center of our becoming. I’m really excited about it and hope to have the first draft completed soon.