Tuesday, June 1, 2021

An Interview With Amanda Arista – Talking Magic in The MERCI LANARD FILES and DIARIES OF AN URBAN PANTHER Series



One of the very special aspects of the Supernatural Underground is being part of a community of writers, and Amanda Arista is one of the authors who has been a friend and fellow community member here from close to the get-go.

Amanda’s brand of fiction is paranormal urban fantasy, and although I’m more of an epic kinda gal in writing terms, when it comes to reading I love a paranormal tale. As both a fellow writer and a reader, I’ve always loved the “voice” of Amanda’s heroines, Violet and Merci, and her ability to spin an intriguing mystery with plenty of gritty noir, as well as paranormal elements.

So I’m delighted to be talking with Amanda today about the magic in her Diaries Of An Urban Panther and Merci Lanard Files paranormal urban fantasy series.

Welcoming Amanda Arista: In Conversation On Magic In Her Diaries Of An Urban Panther & Merci Lanard Files Series

Helen:  Urban fantasy is all about the intersection of the paranormal and our everyday world. What do you believe is most important, and find most challenging, about writing magic in that context

 Hello there!!! I think the fun part of writing paranormal/urban fantasy versus a high fantasy is that there isn’t much to actually build – it’s just finding the magic in everyday things and telling a story behind it. For me, writing urban fantasy is just writing the real world with a magical icing over it. The language is the same, the air make up is the same, the society might even be the same, but to add that extra layer, you find the slightly strange in the real world and pour all of your world building into those bits. Explain them in your own way that fits your magical world.

And thanks to the baking I do on the side, I know there is a happy medium of icing that needs to be spread. Too much and it’s just too much, not enough real world to ground your readers. Too little and the story is a little thin and your readers have to do too much heavy lifting to experience your story.

For example, my coffee shop in Diaries of an Urban Panther has a parking lot that is covered in graffiti. Something that any urbanite might have seen before. But what if the graffiti was actually magical protection glyphs that no one else can read? We have now created a haven for magical creatures. Doesn’t take too much to imagine the truth in that.

The Merci Lanard Files, it was very similar. Find something normal looking from the outside, like a journalist with a drinking problem. But when you get to know Merci better, you know that she drinks because it calms her magical ability, not because she would ever think of forgetting the work she has to do.

Do you follow a “systematic” approach to the magic in your worldbuilding and storytelling, or do you prefer a more “wild magic” approach?

 Honestly, my world building would probably more cohesive if I did it systematically, but I guess I went with the more wild magic approach when I created the Wanderer world. I knew what the core of my magical world was going to be: that each wanderer had an ability and the power to fuel that ability. I knew that it was given by The Mother. And that was pretty much everything I had when I started. I wanted the sky to be the limit when it came to what I could do as a writer or my characters could do as participants. I guess I like the minimal approach when it comes to world building.

Once the stories and the characters started wandering around in that world, that’s when I figured out what I needed rules for, and what I didn’t need rules for. I started building spell craft, glossary of breeds, developing my own book grimoire, if you will, of what I had created, and referred back to it when I was writing to make sure I didn’t double back on anything. In both series, the characters refer to an “Idiot’s Guide” to being a Wanderer, and that’s pretty much what I’ve built for myself, too, like I was one of my own characters exploring the world.

What’s funny with Violet, what I discovered as I wrote, is that she breaks all the rules no matter what I create, and Merci was so stubbornly clever that she would find a loophole to get through the rules that others have to obey.

 How important are traditional folklore, fairytales, and myths to your own brand of urban magic? And is there any tradition you’re particularly drawn to?

 As I look back on what I have written and the stories that interest me the most, it is the universality of the traditions that interest me, where I find real magic and meaning in life. For example, every folklore has a Shifter story. Japan, German, Native American. There is a fundamental story about a person who slips their skin into another form. Some are the good guys and some are the bad guys. That informed the origins of my own story, that wanderers came first, before humans, and then humans spread out across the world telling the stories of these magical creatures. Again, it was all about finding something in the real world and building the magical explanation around it.

Not sure if it counts as a folklore, or perhaps pop culture has become our new storytelling tradition, but there is some Star Wars in there too. I’ve always maintained there must be a balance in the magics, good and bad. Just like there is a balance in the Force. Even when a good guy gets stronger through hard work and dedication, some bad guy gets the same boost in power. Yeah, it’s kinda evil, I know.

  Your novels convey a strong sense of place. Do you see a corresponding alignment between magic and place, or is the magic centered in the characters, particularly the leading characters

 I remember when I first wrote Diaries, I thought I was placing it in Dallas because I lived there, and it made the research easy. But what I truly found as I wrote and went on to researching Merci Lanard, was that not all cities have the personality needed to be magical. The cities need to have their own stories, their own brand of weird and wonder to work the magic around. The cities must have cracks, and dark places, and bright places to fill in with magic. Dallas and Philly both have history, especially Philly.

For the
Diaries series, I finally figured out that Dallas is big with a million different faces: rich, poor, academic, blue collar, pockets of rural areas, and a bustling downtown. It made it easy to not only set a story there, but also work the magic into those neighborhoods. Why couldn’t a real estate mogul be a werepanther and have lots of properties around town? Why couldn’t a beat cop be a shifter? What do you really know about the single girl at the end of the block? By the third Diaries, Nine Lives Of An Urban Panther, Dallas legitimately became a character, talking to Violet, sending her dreams and visions. It has a voice in its own destiny.

For the Lanard series, I carried on with the location as a character with its own motivation and history. I think I found it easy to write magic into Philly because it had ups and downs and even a few witch burnings. All the locations help and hinder the investigations with geography, crime, and especially weather. Now that Merci is traveling (wink wink Book Three coming out 2021) I get to explore the feeling of every city she visits, weave magic into its history and the dark alleyways.

 I am hanging out for The Truth About Shadows (Merci Lanard #3), Amanda. J From a broader perspective, how important do you think “the triangle” is to the magic of paranormal urban fantasy? And are there different kinds of triangles to the strictly romantic?

 Each series holds a tension between the real world, the magical icing layer, and an even more magical world filled with demons and monsters. It is always fun to place our heroes in that middle layer, the one that seems to be in the Venn diagram of worlds, the world of humans and the world of magic. Especially when different people have different relationships to those three realms – those who would want to rule it or are ruled by any of the three.

We have all read the love triangle, but I find that the power triangle is much more interesting. So for
Diaries, this panther triangle was Spencer who thought he deserved the power, Haverty who was the power, and Violet stuck right in between the two, who didn’t want the power.

We see that three-beat trifecta in the Merci Lanard files in the power struggle of Rafe, Levi, and Piper. The one with the power (Piper), the one who wants the power (Levi), and the one who probably should have the power (Rafe). It was interesting to play with Merci who is outside of that struggle and looking in.

What I find even more powerful about writing urban fantasy is the triangles that are created within the lives of the characters. Even within Violet and Merci as characters, there is a three-sided war that is being fought. One is the woman, one is the lover, and one is the warrior. They have to be balanced between being themselves, being open to love and relationships with others, as well as understand their place in the fight. It is a delicate struggle, and we see both characters try, fail, and try again until they get all three right before they can save the day.

In fact, the tag line of Merci says it all:

“If Merci is to have any hope of saving her city, she will have to face the truth about this war, the truth about this new magical world, and the truth about who she truly is.”

The three elements within Violet and Merci are a big part of what I love about their voices, Amanda. It’s been a real pleasure to get your in-depth take on their characters, as well as how the magic infuses your urban worlds, enhancing the books’ strong sense of place. As mentioned, I’m keen to read The Truth About Shadows (Merci Lanard #3) and am looking forward to the return of the Diaries series, so keep up the good work. J

To find out more about the MERCI LANARD FILES & THE DIARIES OF AN URBAN PANTHER series,

please visit Amanda on her website:

Amanda Arista

You can also find Amanda on Twitter: @pantherista


About Amanda Arista:

Amanda was born in Illinois, raised in Corpus Christi, lives in Dallas but her heart lies in London. Good thing she loves to travel. During the summer after second grade, she read every book in the young adult section of the library, much to the surprise of the local librarian. So she started making up her own stories and hasn’t stopped.

She has a husband who fights crime and a tiny human who is following in her mother’s footsteps of storytelling. You can usually find her curled up on her couch with a varied menagerie of dogs or lizards writing away.

Amanda is the author of the Diaries of an Urban Panther series and The Merci Lanard Files. She is represented by Kimberly Brower of Brower Literary Management.

Along with her BA in English & Psychology and her MA in Education, Amanda is a graduate of the SMU The Writer’s Path and taught other aspiring authors for six years in the program. She has delivered lectures at several writer conferences and loves discussing craft, character, and structure.

Random Facts:

When not writing, Amanda often dreams of opening an evil bakery and sell despicable desserts.

Amanda is adopted and loves to share that story with others to promote adoption.

Amanda has a collection of turtle figurines that she collects on her travels.

Amanda has a strange love of cheesy horror movies.

Amanda is a really good bowler and completely rocks at croquet.


Previous Posts: 

January 1: Happy New Year – Ushering In A Year of Friends, Fellow Authors, & Magic Systems

January 5: 
An Interview with AK Wilder – Talking Magic In Her New-Out Crown Of Bones (AMASSIA #1) 

February 1: An Interview with T Frohock 
– Talking Magic In A Song With Teeth & The LOS NEFILIM Series

March 1:  An Interview with Courtney Schafer – Talking Magic In The "Shattered Sigil" Series

April 1:  An Interview with Kristin Cashore –Talking Magic In Winterkeep & The "Graceling Realm" Series


May 1: An Interview With Lee Murray – Talking Magic, the Supernatural & Horror


About The Interviewer:

Helen Lowe's first  novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we

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