Authors to Watch: Amy J. Markstahler, Award-Winning Romance Author

On Authors to Watch, I'd like you to meet a very promising new author, Amy J. Markstahler. 
Before it was even published, her debut novel, Life Happens on the Stairs won the 2018 Breakthrough Novel Awards. 


Who is Amy J. Markstahler, the Woman? What drives you?

I’m a sensitive soul. I feel empathy and compassion at a level that is hard to carry sometimes. Yet, I’m driven and have a lot of aspiration. It’s been a journey to find where I fit in beyond being a wife and mom. My family is first, but what is my purpose beyond that? I’ve tried many different things, painting, drawing, photography, growing flowers, so many different jobs my résumé is embarrassing, but nothing fits me like writing does. I feel like I’ve returned to my first love. 

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes. I’ve dreamt of it for years. I wrote a lot in high school, but put down my pen for whatever reason… I guess, I was shy about it. I wasted too many years just joking about how I wanted to write the next “Great American Novel.” I wish I’d taken it more seriously sooner.

How did you conceive of Life Happens on the Stairs? How long did you write it?

This story is inspired by my parent’s life. I was 5-6 years old when we lived in Tennessee and Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died when I was 12. I used this as therapy. I never had the chance to have the conversations Elsie and Brandon have, so it was healing to imagine what might have been said had I known Dad longer. I’m honored that my mom is gracious enough to understand that I wanted to use some aspects of our lives and mold them into a fictional piece. Plus, I clean for a living at the moment, so that was fabulous fuel as I wrote the book, too!

I started LHOTS in 2013. Soon, it became all I could think about. It took me close to 6 months for the first draft, but then I’ve polished and rewritten the story many, many, many, times.

What did your family say when you started writing?

Not much, really. I’ve been a stay at home mom for years, so I’ve dabbled in many things. Painting, drawing, cooking, sewing. Regardless, they heard me over the years say I wanted to write a book. I was inspired by my daughter when I started. We both were reading a lot and after I read a popular YA Best Seller, I practically threw it across the room at the end. I declared, “I can do that so much better!” So, I sat down and did it. My daughter helped me stay sane through all of this with her belief in me and this story, along with my husband and son. Overall, all of my family members have been amazing.

How did you come up with the title, Life Happens on the Stairs? What does it mean?

It started as a quote from Tyler. He talks about something that had happened (earlier in the story) in his journal. I believe his words were, “It’s no big deal. Life happens on the stairs.” Well, I cut that scene as time moved on and had to figure out either a new title or how to incorporate it back into the story. I couldn’t find a new title… nothing stuck. Then, I saw the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King about faith and the staircase, and it had to be included in the book, it fit too perfectly. In the end, you’ll see what Life Happens on the Stairs really means to Elsie. Tyler and her have deep conversations as they learn about each other, and the staircase is a silky red thread throughout the story.


Why did it take such a long time to get published? Can you share your publishing journey with us?

Oh, goodness, publishing is brutal. Writing is the joy, and honestly, after going through the query process and rejections, it’s hard to get the spirit alive again to just write without worry. 

Since 2014, I’ve queried agents, entered contests, and reread the story countless times. Finally, I met a critique partner that helped me more than I can say. We molded and trimmed, added and removed—it was so much fun. Then, we were done. A few months later, I sent it to a trusted editor. She was amazing. Then, I was done again. Honestly, I sat for almost 2 more years, waiting, querying, working social media, and then after being duped several times by vanity publishers, I signed with a small publisher that I thought looked good. I didn’t have to pay anything up front and that sounded great since I didn’t have the cash to self-publish. 

Thankfully, in June of 2018, I won the Breakthrough Novel Awards, and that contest has changed the course of everything for LHOTS and my career. I made my way out of the contract I had signed. A deal that would’ve only take from my hard work. With wise counsel directing me, I was able to buy my “rights” back to my story. A hard lesson learned, but I couldn’t be more happy that the opportunity from the Breakthrough Novel Awards arrived just in time.

What are your hopes for the book?

I want someone to read it and just fall in love with the characters. Yes, I want it to be so many unrealistic things too, any author is lying if they don’t admit their imaginations go wild, but the truth is, I want people to relate with the story, to cry along, laugh along, learn about the family and love them for who they are. In my heart of hearts, I want the story to stick with them for a lifetime. Like that book you read in your teens, it still haunts you, you can still remember the sentence that made you gasp, made you cry. What I want LHOTS to be known for is something like, “It hit me so deep, I’ll never forget it.” 

What is your message to readers?

Finding your inner strength. Elsie has to do it on her own. She gets really close with the help of Tyler, but she’s not done yet. My second message, and it’s underlying in a way, is to show girls (and boys if they read it) how a girl is supposed to be treated. Tyler is the personification of gentleman. I want girls to know, to have examples, to envision that they should accept nothing less than how Tyler treats Elsie. He has his flaws, but overall our girls need to see positive examples of how a young man should behave.

What is your message to fellow Indie authors?

Don’t put yourself in a position to have to buy back your hard work. No one pays the price a writer pays, in talent, imagination, time, etc. Be sure you’re not falling for a scam even if it looks pretty at first. No one will pay the dollar amount for this story like I have. 

I don’t feel badly for signing the contract with Black Rose, I honestly would still be with them if I hadn’t won Breakthrough Novel Awards. However, I don’t feel it’s fair for a publisher to charge hundreds of dollars to get out of the contract, it wasn’t even in production yet. I didn’t negotiate, I folded because I knew the advice I was being told was truth. I knew it all along, but felt I didn’t have any other option. 

Once a writer journeys out into the publishing unknown, it’s not about writing anymore. This is a business. Be conscientious of your brand and fight the urge to jump on any old offer. 

Do you have another book in the pipeline?

Yes, I have two. The first one is about an orphaned teenager forced to live with his uncle who’s the president of a 1% biker club. When he suspects someone from the club is the reason his parents died, he’ll stop at nothing to find the murderer. I originally called it Summer of ’93 because that’s exactly the time it’s set in, but I’ve since changed the title. The story needs a lot of work, but the first draft is done. 

My next story is The Exemplification of Cater Winslow. Currently, it sits as a short story, but I’ll expand it soon. I have many plans for Carter. He has am important story that needs to be told. After Carter’s aspirations are ruined from breaking his left hand, he spirals into a dark world of opioid and heroin addiction that shows no bias to his status or money. 

Are you enjoying Indie publishing so far?

I’m having the time of my life! Once we got over the vanity publisher hill, this has been a dream come true. I strive to be easy to work with, and Eeva and I match up perfectly. That’s what makes it fun and enjoyable, when you’re working with like minds, striving for the same goal. The other publisher I was working with didn’t seem invested at all in the product. Sure, appearances of the book, but what’s between the cover is most important to me. The Indie journey has to be treaded, oh so delicately. I knew that if I went this route, I had to invest. I didn’t have the means to do so, and without the Breakthrough Novel Awards, I’d still be stuck paying royalties for basically being an Indie writer anyway. I feel so blessed how this has all played out. Working with The Book Khaleesi, Eeva Lancaster, has been fantastic.

What is your favorite book? Can you name one and why?

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. His words are poetry spilled into a story of vivid descriptions, pulling all emotions to the surface. His work is inspiring.

If you could be another author, who do you want to be and why?

I don’t think I would want any other writer’s life, that could be scary! Haha! I would love to write something brilliant enough to stand beside some of the greats though.

Thanks for giving me your time, Amy. 
I see only wonderful things for you and your writing career. Good luck on your first release!



Connect with Amy J. Markstahler


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