Amber Cowie is a novelist and freelance writer living in a small town on the west coast of British Columbia. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Globe and Mail and Knitty, among other publications. Her first novel, Rapid Falls, was a runner up in the Whistler Book Awards and hit number one on the Kindle Bestsellers list as well as the top 100 books in the Kindle Store. She has appeared at Left Coast Crime, the Pacific Northwest Writers Festival, and the Whistler Writers Festival. She is a member of several writing groups and holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Victoria. She is a mother of two and reader of many. She likes skiing, running and creating stories that make her internet search history unnerving.
Two months after her husband dies, Mallory Dent makes the impulsive decision to pack up and move on. In remote McNamara, nestled in the northern mountains, she can escape her grief, guilt, and pain. But the day Mallory arrives, a woman’s body is found floating in Loss Lake—and it’s not the first death on these shores. Locals talk about a monster in the depths with an almost disturbing reverence.
Sergeant Joel Benson understands Mallory’s unease. Years ago, his own brother was killed in the home Mallory now owns. But that was just a tragic accident. Wasn’t it? The more Mallory investigates, the more fearful she becomes. Maybe there are monsters in McNamara. Maybe some have followed her there.
Wonderfully tense and gorgeously disturbing, Loss Lake is richly atmospheric, centering around a much-fabled monster-filled lake and a darkly twisted small town hiding big secrets.
Author’s Corner – Interview with Amber Cowie
Thanks so much for being on Author’s Corner! Where do you get your writing ideas from? Do you keep notes throughout the day, or just start at the beginning and go?
I have a notebook on my desk which I run to and scribble in whenever I have an idea. I like to keep everything in one place because the scrawled thoughts are jumbled enough as it is. I have notebooks and notebooks full of indecipherable thoughts and super practical to-do lists which I’m going to leave to my two children some day (ha ha).
My ideas come at different times. The last idea I had for a novel came during a conversation with my husband about a guy we knew many years ago. The novel is not about the guy but the conversation gave me the seed of something I can’t wait to start.
What was the very first thing—ever—that you remember writing?
I don’t want to brag but my first memory of creating anything was winning a poster contest about the importance of wearing sun screen. That was the pinnacle of my art career sadly as my drawing never really progressed beyond the kindergarten level. Luckily, I had writing to fall back on.
My first (self) published piece happened in grade five. My school district created an anthology called Fiction 26 and my story about a young vampire waiting for her date was selected. I remember being very thrilled about that.
Honestly though, I spent much more of my time when I was a kid reading rather than writing which I think is probably the best training I had to be an author.
What would you do if you weren’t a writer?
I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life. I’ve planted trees, waited tables, answered phones, cleaned hotel rooms and sold wine. I really, really enjoy jobs that involve interacting with people in beautiful spaces. Sometimes I dream about opening up a small bookstore and sharing the words of others. I think my path would have led there if I hadn’t been able to figure out how to write a book.
What are some of the book(s) that you’ve read and loved recently?
This is a danger zone for me in an interview as I read a lot and I love the talk about it. Happily enough, one of my most favourite books recently was yours! I got to read an early copy of Do No Harm which kept me riveted. It is such a gripping relevant thriller with characters who broke my heart. In the same vein, Woman on the Edge by Samantha Bailey was so powerfully good. I ignored every person around me on a crowded five hour flight so I could devour it. Currently, I’m reading Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby which is intense and complex. I love a gritty crime novel and his work is breaking new ground in the genre.
During 2020, I’ve been turning to books for comfort a lot and reading older books in crime fiction and lit. I’ve read a lot of Patricia Highsmith, Nella Larsen and the initimable Daphne du Maurier. I like escaping into the completely different time periods in those books when things get a bit bleak in this one.
As a thriller author, what scares you? Do you ever find yourself scared by what you’ve written, or is it usually external things?
In my small research pool, I’ve found pretty conclusive data that thriller writers are scared by everything and I’m no exception. I have an overactive imagination and I have to make room in my mind for my actual life by getting rid of the things that spook me in the middle of the night. Like Shirley Jackson said, so long as you write it away regularly nothing bad can really hurt you.
Having said that, there are some things that scare me so much I don’t think I could ever write about. The incredibly brave and tender scenes you wrote in Do No Harm involving a child were incredibly to me because I would struggle with creating scenes where kids were in danger. I am not sure I could achieve any kind of distance with that stuff.
I do absolutely love crafting a deliciously scary scene though. Once I was writing a super creepy moment in Loss Lake and I got so scared that I had to lock all the doors in my office so I wouldn’t freak out.
If you could invite five people (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
I miss going to parties so much these days that I would happily invite the first five people I saw walking down the street. But my ideal dinner party in 2020 would be wild as hell. I’d only invite people who would make a scene and tell me all their secrets.
The guest list would be: Trixie and Katya from Rupaul’s Drag Race, Freddie Mercury, Elizabeth Taylor and my twin sister.
If you could write like one other author, who would it be?
Patricia Highsmith, because her words slice me before I realize she’s holding a knife.
Writing Loss Lake
Let’s talk about your book Loss Lake. Can you tell my readers a little about it?
Loss Lake is about a widow named Mallory who moves to a tiny northern town two short months after the death of her husband. She is trying to escape her grief by buying a small lakefront cabin sight unseen and building a new life. Moments after she arrives, a handsome police officer knocks on her door to tell her there’s been a drowning in the enormous lake that laps just outside her back door—on her property.
As Mallory gets to know her new town, she realizes the lake has been the site of many deaths before. Some locals talk of a monster below the surface. As winter bears down on the remote community, Mallory has to solve the mystery of what is really happening in Loss Lake before the past catches up to her.
I absolutely loved Loss Lake! It’s such a great combination of plot and character. Which aspect do you enjoy writing most: plot or character?
This is such an awesome question. For me, the two are interwoven. Characters, especially in a book like Loss Lake which had so many fun ones to write, often come to me at the same time as critical plot points. Steven King said that he invents interesting people and then puts them in a difficult situation and that’s how it is for me too. Often, I know the basics of my plot and my main characters when I begin and then I let them guide me to some of the biggest plot points.
I loved the themes of grief, loss, and the monster inside us in Loss Lake. Can you tell me a little more about some of the themes and how they came to be in this book?
My younger brother died about a year before I began drafting Loss Lake. In that twelve months, I was struggling to revise an existing manuscript that was supposed to be my third book but I couldn’t pull the story together. It felt like there was something else in my head blocking me. After another disastrous draft, my editor asked me if there was anything else I could send her. I realized that what I really wanted to write was the story of Mallory in McNamara. Loss Lake is a cabin in the woods, monster in the lake mystery but it’s also a story about grief and what it takes to move past great loss.
My brother loved monster movies so much. I dedicated this book to him because he would have loved the Loss Lake Monster and the way the locals in the small town react to the myth. Some people are sceptical, others almost religious about its existence. For me, monsters are such a fascinating part of storyteller. The creation of monsters reveals so much about our own fears and the things we keep buried inside.
I found the idea of a monster in the dark depths of the water a very apt metaphor for grief. For months after my brother died, I walked in the world as if everything was fine but inside I felt a monstrous weight of sadness. No one could see it but it was something I had to face and overcome to get on with my life. The monster in Loss Lake is a metaphor for Mallory’s grief and guilt as well—something she can’t escape from either.
Is Loss Lake a real place, and how did it come to be such a central part of this book?
My books are never based on entirely real places because as Mark Twain said, I never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and also I have a terrible memory so people would get mad at me. So, Loss Lake is an amalgam of a bunch of stuff.
First, Loss Lake is located beside a fictional town I named McNamara after an incredible author named Michelle McNamara whose book I’ll Be Gone In the Dark was published post-humously. I liked the idea of naming a town haunted by a monster after her as I think she too was consumed by a monster in her hunt for the Golden State Killer. The lake itself was based on an actual real live lake in northern British Columbia which was created by a dam failure. I planted trees one summer close by and I was always fascinated by the idea of an entire body of water created by accident. How could I not set a mystery there?
Describe Loss Lake in three words.
Creepy cabin mystery
What do you think readers will love about Loss Lake?
I think a lot of people have fantasized about packing up and leaving everything for the assumed safety and security of a small town in 2020 like Mallory did. The odd characters and small town charm has a Schitt’s Creek meets Twin Peaks vibe which I hope will be appreciated. Loss Lake gives readers a place to escape to in a moment when we all need to enter another world now and then.
What’s next for Amber Cowie?
Are you working on a new book? Can you tell my readers a little about it, a blurb, potential release date, etc? Where did you get the idea?
The other thing that I spend a lot of time doing during 2020 was screening horror movies that I’ve wanted to watch for years but was too much of a baby. (I knew none of them could scare me as much as some of the things going on in the real world). I also watched a few classics of the genre because why not?
So, given that I was also reading crime and mystery novels from the early twentieth century, my new manuscript can best be described as And Then They Were None meets The Blair Witch Project. It’s a classic closed room mystery where a group of researchers are invited to a remote wilderness lodge in the Pacific Northwest by Penelope Berkowitz, an author looking for her next book. The site is the former home of Ruth Savage. One hundred years before the trip, she was accused at age sixteen of killing three men and escaping into the forest, never to be seen again. Penelope is certain that there’s more to her story. Unfortunately, she’s right.
Get In Touch
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