Amy Lukavics is a YA horror writing goddess, a Goosebumps connoisseur, and a roller derby beast. This Bram Stoker nominated writer is responsible for titles such as Daughters Unto Devils, The Ravenous, The Women in the Walls, and Nightingale, all labors of love that left us questioning our own sanity. Read below to find out more about this extraordinary woman and her passion for putting us in the most unnerving places.
Dread Central: What attracts you to the horror genre?
Amy Lukavics: I’ve always had this fascination with morbid subject matter. It used to entice me when I was young to read horror books and watch horror movies because they would cover subjects that I would otherwise never be exposed to. It quickly became my favorite type of story in that way. I liked how visceral and extreme it was, and how much it could offer you comfort in a weird way, even though it scared the crap out of you.
DC: That’s funny that you mentioned the comfort of horror movies. I feel the same way when it comes to certain horror movies. Do you have any specific horrors that give you that overall comfort?
AL: Yes. The first movie that came to my mind when you said that is the American remake of The Ring. I first saw that in late middle school or early high school. It scared me so bad at the time, to the point I was weirdly fascinated with it. When it came out on DVD, I got the DVD and made myself watch it until it couldn’t scare me anymore. Once it lost that power over me, I was and still am able to look at it fondly like, “Oh, The Ring.” That’s definitely a horror comfort movie for me. There’s also Misery, or the old Stephen King’s It, the old TV miniseries. That’s another one.
DC: Definitely. I think that’s pretty cool that you mentioned Misery.
AL: Yeah. I love Kathy Bates so much. I feel like everything she is in, I just love her and want to give her a high five. She’s just so good in that movie. I actually rewatched it a couple of days ago and was just blown away by how much she rocked.
DC: I really love that movie as well. I was kind of late to the game with watching it. I don’t know if that ever happened to you, where you watch something long after its release date and you feel that you missed out on an important time.
AL: Yeah. I feel like that with old movies that people hold in such high regard. That was like The Princess Bride. I never actually saw that one when I was a kid, and I feel like everyone just loves that so much. The first time I actually saw it, I was an adult. I remember thinking, “Ah, a little underwhelmed.”
DC: I get that. I heard that you often listen to horror soundtracks when you write. Which soundtrack really inspires you to create?
AL: Oh, my gosh. I love the Aliens soundtrack from beginning to end. It’s so good, and there are so many creepy and beautiful parts. It just sets the mood so well.
It depends on what book I’m writing, but I tend to just like sort of piano heavy things. For a while, I was into Rosemary’s Baby because there was a part on the soundtrack where there was like demonic chanting.
DC: I think that’s really awesome that you’re able to find a fitting soundtrack that even if it is super creepy, it still inspires you.
AL: Yes, it sets the mood perfectly.
DC: While I have you, I’m going to fangirl for a little bit. I absolutely love your writing. Whenever I have a friend looking for a new book, I recommend one of yours.
AL: Thank you!
DC: No, thank you. I wish I had time to read more, but when I do get the time, I just want to be super involved. You definitely give that in all your stories: Daughters Unto Devils, The Women in the Walls, The Ravenous, and Nightingale. The first book I read by you was The Women in the Walls. What was the inspiration for that story?
AL: It actually stemmed from an adult novella idea that I had. I found a way that I could do it as a young adult and do my own version of a gothic horror. I always thought that the idea of people or things in the walls was super creepy, even things under the floorboard or the attic. I felt that would make it an atmospheric read, or so I hoped.
DC: I overall loved the fact that it was creepy, yet a mystery. Bouncing off that to your other stories, I love that you take us to uniquely haunted places. Even in Nightingale, you gave us The Institution, or the Burrow Place Asylum. I want to pick your brain even more. Where is the creepiest place your mind has ever taken you?
AL: I just try to think of places that are easy to feel unsettled in or uncomfortable. Pretty much anything medical related automatically counts for me because I hate going to the doctor. I hate going to the dentist. I hate not feeling totally in control. It’s the feeling of loss of control. A lot of times, any place that’s very isolated or gives you a little too much time with your own feelings, that usually makes the perfect storm, at least for horror with me.
DC: Have you ever creeped yourself out while writing your stories?
AL: Yes. (laughs) You don’t want it to happen. You think that you are above it happening. But without a doubt, when I am really in a creepy atmosphere and I’m home alone, I start being hyper sensitive to every sound around me. There’s like a really long, dark hallway to my left when I sit down to write. If I look over, I’m basically staring at a dark, empty hallway. It can be very creepy sometimes.
DC: Lights are definitely going on in my house. Do you have a particular writing process?
AL: Depending on where I am on a project, I’ll either work by hand or on my computer. I outline or working things out. Or if I’m drafting, I try to start doing that as early in the morning as I can. It kind of looks different for every book. No two books have gone the same from beginning to end, as far as putting them together, writing them and editing them. It’s kind of crazy because it would be nice if they all went the exact same way. But it’s a surprise every time.
DC: Going back to Nightingale. I loved the character June. I felt that she was relatable to many women. I loved that she’s a dreamer. What was the inspiration for her character?
AL: When it came to June Hardy, I wanted to portray her creative struggles around her depression, in a way that could mix well with the world’s other horror elements that were happening. I wanted to make a really honest depiction of depression. A lot of times, there are symptoms of depression that can easily be romanticized. I wanted to show that not so cute or quirky side. I wanted to show the ugly side, the side that wasn’t often liked in regards to a character. I knew that doing this would make her an unlikable character, but I felt like it was the most real thing. I felt that it was so necessary in her story.
I’ve seen comments online or even in the editorial process that said, “Ok, we get June is unhappy with her life, especially when all these things are expected of her. But there are certain things that make her seem lazy and unlikeable to a point where it’s not relatable. For example, she gets sort of salty when her mom bugs her about putting clean clothes on.”
You could ask why she’s being like that. Does she not want to wear clean clothes? The severity of her laziness and unwillingness to do basic things like cook, clean, put on clean clothes, bathe is a symptom of her severe depression. It may have made her more unlikable, but I felt that it made her real. And, like I said, it was real important for me to try to get that part right, so it would mix beautifully with the rest of the story, as I hoped it would.
DC: I really liked her. Like I said, I felt that she was independent and a dreamer, especially around the 1950s. She wasn’t interested in being normal, even with her mother’s nagging. The person that I really hated was her brother. I wanted to give him an elbow so bad.
AL: (laughs) Seriously!
DC: Yup. Now, I know that you are a fan of Goosebumps. Do you have a favorite book or a favorite episode?
AL: Oh my gosh! Book-wise, I’ll have to say a few because it is impossible to pick one. I would say Welcome to Camp Nightmare is special to my heart because it’s the first Goosebumps book I ever read. And then on a level of the one that scared me the most, I would say probably Piano Lessons can be Murder. But for the TV episodes, I always loved The Haunted Mask episode. That was my jam. It was so crazy!
DC: That’s actually my favorite episode as well. I felt so bad for that little girl. But I’m so in love with Goosebumps, especially when I was a kid. I still put it on every night, which drives my husband insane. (laughs) I can’t get enough of that theme song.
AL: Yes! It’s like one of those comforting horrors we were talking about earlier, where scary things are happening but you are all warm and fuzzy inside.
DC: Right! I finally got him to sit down and watch an episode with me. It was the episode with that evil sponge that was under the sink. (laughs) I also hear that you are a fan of Fear Street. With that one, do you have a favorite?
AL: Yes! It’s a tie. The Cheerleaders series. I was super entertained by that. I devoured the entire series. And then I think there other one is called 99 Fear Street, The House of Evil. The books are like The First Horror, The Second Horror, and The Third Horror. It was so creepy. The little brother disappears and then is found a couple books later, his skeleton in the walls. I love that one.
DC: Whoa! I think I remember that one. Was he holding onto a puppy or something?
AL: Yup! A little dog. And the dog skeleton was in his lap.
DC: Oh my gosh! That freaked me out as a child. I think I tried to block it out.
AL: I remember feeling scared as well, which is always a pleasant surprise with horror. You know, a lot of times you are really enjoying it and appreciating the horror goodness of it, they don’t scare you or chill your bones. But that one was totally bone-chilling.
DC: Absolutely. Aside from writing, I know that you also play sports, particularly roller derby. How did you get into that sport?
AL: It was such a weird, random thing. Basically, I got to a point in my life that I was writing so much. I was spending so much time on the computer that I realized that my body was suffering so bad. My knees hurt so bad, I was feeling disgusting. Then I came across an ad that said, “Local Derby Try-outs. It doesn’t matter if you lack experience. We have free gear we can loan out.”
They made it so accessible. I was like, “Dude, I’ll try roller derby.” And literally, the only thing I knew about it was that it was on roller skates. I hadn’t even seen Whip It. I still need to do that. I just saw the women with the badass roller skates and said, “Sign me up!” I started going and it turned out that it was so hard to even stand up on skates without falling down. By the time I had a real roller derby bout, I had gone too far to quit. I was thinking, “Holy crap! That’s what I’m in for!” But I seriously fell in love with it.
It exercises things in my brain. It’s obviously a big physical game, but it is such a mental game. That is more so the struggle for me. I’m such a naturally timid, fearful, uncoordinated person. In roller derby, when you are out there playing in the moment, you have to make quick decisions. You are sort of forced to put your fears aside because they can get you hurt. Hesitation can get you injured. So it is sort of coaxing that stuff out of me by force, which is in turn making me a stronger person in every aspect of my life, including writing.
DC: I’m interested. How has it affected your writing?
AL: I would say that I am more disciplined. Being on a sports team and training to be on a team has changed me. By nature, I’m kind of a sloth of a person. That would also translate to writing, where I would take way longer than necessary to get certain things done. Now, I am much more disciplined with my schedule. Also, I feel that thinking writing is hard takes such a back seat to feeling like roller derby is hard. When writing is hard, all of your “what ifs” are hypothetical. And that’s why it’s hard. What if this isn’t good? Or, what if I’m not doing great? But roller derby is different. What if that girl hits me so hard that I fall down and break my arm? Obviously, that’s a pretty irrational fear, like most of my fears are. But it helps put things in perspective for me with writing. And it helps me approach it in a more calm and focused way, and less of a nervous way.
DC: That actually makes me want to try roller derby.
AL: Oh my gosh! Please do.
DC: Going back to writing, did you know that you always wanted to be in this career field?
AL: Weirdly, no. And a little bit of yes. But mainly no. I grew up really into reading. It was my favorite thing. It comforted me and fulfilled me, and was really creatively engaging. I had fun writing in school for creative writing assignments, but I never realized it would be possible for me to be an author. I played around with the idea of being a journalist for a while. But I actually looked into what it takes to really be a journalist, and I wasn’t connecting to it as much as I thought I would. So, it was probably in ninth grade I thought, “Maybe not journalism.”
I didn’t really have anything that I wanted to do and sort of just drifted through. When high school ended, I got a job as a medical receptionist and figured I’ll do this forever. It was a really fun job. I liked the people that I worked with. It also paid enough for me to live comfortably. Then, I unexpectedly lost that job. It totally threw me into a tailspin.
I pretty much went back to reading for comfort and remembered how much I love reading. It just sort of occurred to me that I could write my own story. It was a light switch going off. Once that thought came into my head, I had to know what would happen if I tried my hardest. Even if the career never happened, that would’ve been okay, too. But I would need to know that I tried my hardest. It took years to learn how to edit my own work, but I eventually got there.
DC: What advice can you give to other women who may want to pursue a similar path to yours?
AL: That they can do it. The doors are open. Even if they don’t see themselves or their work out there in a way that makes them doubt that it’s possible for it to ever happen, let that motivate you to put your stuff out there that only you can make. Don’t fall into the trap of, “Well, how can I be as brilliant as X, Y, or Z?” You have to realize that your take is your take, and there is no one else that can do that.
DC: Lastly, what upcoming projects do you have that you can share with us?
AL: I’m not able to talk about future novels quite yet, but I can say that I have a short story featured in the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That will be coming out next year sometime. We don’t have a date quite yet. It’s edited by Jonathan Maberry and has all sort of legendary horror authors like Josh Malerman, R.L. Stine and Courtney Alameda. So, it’s going to be a really good anthology.
DC: That sounds spicy. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Thank you so much, Amy!
AL: Of course! Thank you!