Author Amanda Jayatissa discusses the fun of writing “deliciously mean” characters in her psychological thriller, My Sweet Girl.

Amanda Jayatissa grew up in Sri Lanka, completed her undergraduate degree at Mills College, CA, and lived in the U.K. before moving back to her sunny little island. She works as a corporate trainer, owns a chain of cookie stores, and is a proud dog-mom to her two spoiled huskies.

In this post, Amanda discusses the fun of writing “deliciously mean” characters in her psychological thriller, My Sweet Girl, how her own experience shaped the course of the story, and more!

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Name: Amanda Jayatissa
Literary agent: Melissa Danaczko, Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc.
Book title: My Sweet Girl
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: September 14, 2021
Genre/category: Psychological Thriller/Suspense
Elevator pitch for the book: Paloma finds her blackmailing roommate dead in their San Francisco apartment, but when the police arrive they can’t find any trace of the body, or any evidence that her roommate even existed to begin with. Paloma is convinced that all this is tied into her childhood in Sri Lanka, and the choices she made to escape the orphanage where she grew up.

My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa

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What prompted you to write this book?

I’ve always been a huge lover of suspense and thrillers, and was toying with the idea of writing one myself without much luck. No matter how much I slogged along, the story just wasn’t coming together.

Then I happened to have an extremely frustrating encounter with a customer service agent at my bank and, feeling especially irritable and vicious, I did what many writers would do—I went in to my favorite coffee shop, pulled out my notebook and pen, and started on a massive rant about my unfortunate morning. Halfway through my scathing commentary, I realized I was having a ton of fun writing in this “mean girl” voice, and I had my light bulb moment.

This is what my story was missing—A character who was deliciously mean, coming slightly undone, but who, much like me at the bank, would never simply speak her mind, choosing instead to seethe in silence.

I reworked the setting to encompass a few more of my own experiences (this time paying attention to the time I spent living in the Bay Area), and had a blast writing the rest of it.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I love a book with a good plot twist or a wild reveal, so that’s usually my starting point when I’m working on a new idea. After I got a handle on my main character’s voice and felt confident in the direction I wanted to take my story, I wrote out my first draft in a few months (which was rubbish) and then worked on various edits for a few more months (slightly better rubbish) through 2019.

After I signed with my absolutely brilliant agent, Melissa Danaczko, at the very beginning of 2020, we went through two further rounds of edits which I feel really elevated the story, especially in terms of pacing. We felt it was ready to go out on submission in the early summer, and I was very lucky to receive a preemptive offer from the amazing Jen Monroe at Berkley within a few days. During our edits, Jen gave me the fantastic idea to rework the ending of the story, which I loved.

My Sweet Girl is coming out in the fall of 2021, which means the whole process took about two and a half years from idea to publication. A lot did change during the process, but the bones of the story (which, to me, was the final twist and MC’s voice) stayed the same.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

When I first got my book deal, I was ecstatic, of course, but also a little confused why my completed book would only be published an entire year away! I have bitterly regretted even asking this question since learning and understanding all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in publishing.

It’s been so wonderful working with the team at Berkley, and I’ve been learning so much from them. Before my deal I hadn’t ever given any thought to things like layouts and graphics, hadn’t even realized the work that’s put in by sales and marketing and publicity, much less known the value of having a group of people to bounce ideas off of. That’s definitely been the best surprise for me—working with such an amazing team.

Writing can often feel very lonely and isolating since you usually spend so much time in your own head, and it’s wonderful to know that there’s a group of people who have your back.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I think what ended up surprising me was how “real” Paloma, the main charcater, became to me, and how much I ended up drawing from my own experiences of being a brown woman navigating typically white spaces.

My Sweet Girl started out as a fun, ranty thriller. I didn’t give much thought to any of the deeper issues about identity which underlies the story. It was only when I got to the third draft that I thought to myself ‘Hold on, that sounds familiar,’ and I realized that my own emotions had managed to sneak their way in.

Rather than try to tone down Paloma’s abrasiveness, both my agent and my editor encouraged me to explore these themes further, and suddenly, what was supposed to be just a twisty thriller had a whole other level to it.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope my readers will feel that My Sweet Girl offers a slightly different approach to most of the suspense and thrillers out there, because Paloma is a South Asian woman and thus, doesn’t face the typical experiences of most women in this genre. I’ve had many Indian and Sri Lanka women message me on social media saying how excited they are that a woman who looks like them is on the cover of this book, and I can’t begin to talk about how much that means to me.

Of course, above everything, I just hope readers enjoy my story. At the end of the day, that’s all a writer can ask for.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I think we writers tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and why wouldn’t we? There are so many amazing books out there, so how could we possible ever compare?

I used to wallow in thoughts like this for far too long, but I only ever made progress when I put those thoughts as far out of my mind as I possibly could (they do still lurk around in dark corners, though) and just tried to enjoy telling the best story I could. Most of the time, I would have fun. Some days were less fun than others.

But importantly, I learned to appreciate the process in its entirety. And whenever I have doubts, I just remind myself that all I can do is tell a story, which is what I love to do.

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