Book of the Month: Amy Engel on Five Books that Inspired The Roanoke Girls

Book of the Month: Amy Engel on Five Books that Inspired The Roanoke Girls

No author writes in a vacuum and every author derives inspiration from books that have come before. Even if the author isn’t conscious of it while writing, those influences are impossible to ignore. In writing The Roanoke Girls, I played with several influences: Southern gothic, dark family dramas, coming of age novels. There were definitely certain books that influenced and inspired the story. Here they are, in no particular order:

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp

I’m not even sure if this book is in print anymore, but I still have my copy—dog-eared and well- loved—from back when I was a kid. It’s a Gothic mystery that takes place in England in the early 1900s. It involves a creepy old house, first love, and the ghost of a troubled child. I must have read it two dozen times as a young girl. It’s unsettling and romantic and so atmospheric that I felt like I was right there with the characters every time I read it. It’s one of the first books I remember loving, and I definitely wanted to bring that same sense of atmosphere and creepiness to The Roanoke Girls.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

This book proved to me that it was possible to write an entertaining page turner that delved into really, really dark places. Flynn doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and disturbing in this book and digs deep into the ways in which family can shape and damage us even when we try to escape. This book also explores the varied, and sometimes damaging, relationships between women, which has always been a topic of interest for me and one I wanted to examine in my writing. I feel like Sharp Objects gave me permission to dive in and swim around in the dark side of familial love.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

There’s no way to talk about modern Gothic literature without talking about Rebecca. For me, it’s the standard bearer and no one’s ever done it better. The creepy house, the secrets, the claustrophobic fear. Those elements all come into play in The Roanoke Girls. In fact, the first line of The Roanoke Girls is my own homage to Rebecca’s first line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

The evocation of place in this book is stunning. Even if you’ve never been to the Missouri Ozarks, you will feel like you have after reading Winter’s Bone. Woodrell gets every detail just right and describes life in that part of the world so vividly that you are transported. I knew when I started writing The Roanoke Girls that I was writing about a place and way of life that many people have never experienced. So I wanted to make sure I wrote it viscerally. I spent a lot of time in small town Kansas growing up and can still close my eyes and feel, smell, and taste those experiences. It was my goal to evoke that sense of place for the reader, to make the where its own character, and I can only hope I did it half as well as Woodrell did in Winter’s Bone.

My family’s hair book

There’s a scene in The Roanoke Girls where Lane and Allegra look at a hair book—a handmade book with locks of hair from ancestors who have died. I actually have two of those books that were passed down from my great-grandparents, with hair dating back to the early 1800s. They are just as strange and unsettling as they sound in The Roanoke Girls. As a child, I was always both fascinated and repelled by them and during the course of writing The Roanoke Girls, I knew I needed to include them in the story.