Amanda Dykes was the winner of the prestigious 2020 Christy Award Book of the Year, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, and the winner of an INSPY Award with her debut novel, Whose Waves These Are. She’s also the author of Yours Is the Night and Set the Stars Alight, a 2021 Christy Award finalist. Amanda has quickly developed a strong rapport with readers for her transcendent stories filled with subtle yet gripping beauty. Appealing to fans of Anthony Doerr, Sarah Sundin, and Kate Breslin.
In this interview, Amanda talks about her latest dual-timeline novel, All the Lost Places.
FF: Please provide a brief summary of your new novel All The Lost Places.
The story opens with Daniel Goodman, a young man who believes he has squandered any hope of living a life that means something. Living in self-exile in “the Great Sand Waste” outside San Francisco, he learns of a developer who plans to create a “Venice of America” farther south on the coast. As part of this endeavor, Daniel puts everything on the line to obtain a job translating a rare volume located in Venice, in order to save his mother’s home, which is at risk due to his own past actions.
What he doesn’t expect to find is the tale of a man who lived decades before, born for a fate that was gone before he ever had a chance to live it. It is the tale of Sebastien Trovato, an orphan discovered floating in a basket on the canals in the black of night. The account also tells of a woman who washed ashore on his lagoon island in a storm, and soon Sebastien and Mariana’s paths are inextricably intertwined.
As Daniel works to translate Sebastien’s tale, it becomes deeply personal, as Sebastien’s own hunt for his identity echoes that of Daniel’s.
In the ancient floating city that crumbles in a living state of decay, it is in the cracks and broken things that hope begins to shine bright in both timelines. And when those timelines inevitably intersect as Daniel discovers what became of Mariana and Sebastien, hope breaks past the shadows entirely, making way for a new life.
FF: This novel follows two men, both in Venice, but a century apart. Can you tell us a bit about each of these two characters?
I’d love to! Sebastien Trovato is the man who, as a baby, was found floating in a canal. His upbringing was such a delight to write. Imagine growing up migrating, like a bird, from lagoon island to lagoon island, learning the trades of glassblower, gondolier, fisherman, gardener, and more. His childhood was a true joy to get to write. His adulthood was interesting to ponder, too. At one point in the story, he learns that the future he was born for had vanished before he ever took his first breath. It was interesting to ponder what that would be like for him to discover and what his newly discovered purpose could be, and whether that had been his true purpose all along.
Daniel Goodman is a few generations behind Sebastien, but the more he learns about the man, the more he discovers about his own heart. He is a convicted thief, and one of the things he’s stolen, without realizing it at the time, was his own future. Remorseful, he now lives to make restitution as best he can for his past wrongs—but still feels something is missing. Add to that that he was once very talented as an artist but as a result of an injury sustained during his days of thievery, he can no longer “imagine” in the traditional sense, he is very much at odds over whether he has anything to offer to the world. Traveling a world away, he begins to learn that the voids and the lost places, when held in redeeming hands, can be a place of life, too, far richer than he ever dared imagine.
FF: What inspired you to write a story set in Venice during these time periods?
Venice is such a breathtaking, stranger-than-fiction place. It’s no wonder that there are many stories set there. Things like Carnivale, masquerades, gondolas, espionage, artisans, and more make it feel like a fairytale set in history.
However, after Napoleon invaded Venice at the end of the 1700s, Venice entered a strange time, where things that felt so classically “Venetian” kept shifting and changing. There was no longer a Doge (the elected ruler). The Council of Ten was gone. Much of the city’s cherished art had been pillaged and taken away or destroyed. Carnivale was even outlawed for many decades. Though the turn of events was complex—some mourned it, some revolted, some welcomed it—in many ways, it was a stripping away of tradition and identity.
This was the “floating city” that had been born in a swamp in order to give exiles refuge, centuries before, in a setting even their worst enemies would not venture. And now, the city seemed to be sharing the fate of those wandering exiles: lost, uncertain of home, unsure of its future.
Compared to the eras that marked the peak of Venice’s power and prominence (1300s–1600s), the 1800s seem to be a time of relative obscurity in history. But what about the people who lived then? Didn’t their lives matter just as much as the Doges and all the Patrician families listed in the Book of Gold from the preceding centuries (a book that Napoleon subsequently burned)? And the artisans—what did they make of their craft, their livelihoods, their purpose during this time when demand for their services and skill waned greatly?
And most of all, could a destiny be “missed” by a matter of mere meters? Sebastien believes his basket was bound for an orphanage, but he was plucked from the canal by a fisherman instead.
All of this beckoned me to spend years researching and writing this story, and I’m so thankful to have had that chance.
FF: What’s the most challenging and rewarding part of writing a dual-time novel?
Interestingly, they go hand-in-hand. To me, the most challenging part is trying to fit two full stories into the space of one novel.
However, while that’s a challenge, it also means threading clues, themes, time lapses, symbolism, and more into the story for the reader to take hold of in order to navigate the unique terrain of a dual-time novel. And to me, this can potentially foster a close relationship with the reader. You’re offering what you can, leaving purposeful spaces, and asking the reader to step out onto that dance floor. It’s…well, it’s magic! It’s not just a conveying of information. It’s a joining of forces—writer and reader—to traverse the terrain and experience the story deeply. I think that’s the most rewarding part.
FF: Your readers have said you have a talent for transporting them to a different time and place. How do you do you add such historical depth to your novels?
That’s very kind and generous of them! It’s an honor and joy to get to delve into different locales and times in our world’s history, and I think it comes down to one main thing: learning.
I tend to begin researching a novel location by listening to a broad historical overview on an audiobook. That gets the ideas stirring as far as what might be possible, and then I follow different leads from there. Talking to everyone I can who has been there, or lives there, or has a personal connection to the place. Reading letters or journals from people who lived during the time, hopefully in or near the setting. Watching documentaries. Reading classic fiction that was written during the time the book will be set.
Sometimes there are limits. It’s not always possible to visit a location in person. All the Lost Places was researched and written while international travel was largely shut down, even if I had been in a season where I was able to travel far distances (which I wasn’t at the time—I’d just had a baby!).
But the good news is, life is textured and detailed, no matter where you are. I took frequent walks in a neighborhood that had Italianate architecture, taking note of shadows and surfaces, cobwebs, and the feel of it all. The bell that rings from a belltower near one of the cafes I frequented when editing this novel gave me a small feel for the many belltowers in Venice, and what it’s like to hear them in person. Flying into Denver for a weekend trip, my seatmate (who I did not know) made a casual mention of a hotel with beautiful gardens in the city I was going to visit. On a whim, my daughter and I stopped there to check it out—and found ourselves surrounded by the magic of the Broadmoor, with its mosaics and waterfalls and fountains, its painted vaulting ceilings with a chandelier that appeared to be branches in bloom (right after I’d just written about a chandelier that appeared to be branches in bloom earlier that week!). Lights reflecting upon the lake, just as they might upon Venetian canals…
FF: What themes do you explore through your characters in this book?
What becomes of the lost places? This is the theme that echoed throughout the whole writing and editing process. In life, there are things that may be lost: dreams, a particular future as it had been imagined, possessions, relationships. And sometimes that can rock us into a place of further loss, where we ask the question, “Who am I, in light of this loss of something that was so much a part of me?”
My hope is that this book takes these questions, and although answers might not be readily available in uniform neat and tidy packages, there is a resonating answer that can flow into any situation: I am loved. Found by a God who would cross any distance, overcome any obstacle, face any danger, just to find me. That’s who I am.
This is even present in Sebastien’s last name, Trovato, which means found. It was a surname often given to foundlings, but his guardians shine new light on it. He is “found” in the sense of being a great treasure, worthy of searching for and pursuing. This is how God sees us, this is what He does for us, and I hope so much that this is the anthem that comes through the threads of this story.
FF: What challenges did you experience while writing this story?
See the above answer and envision a writer asking these questions as she struggles with losing the ability to write (while on a book deadline). That was me, during the drafting of this book. After a difficult battle with a certain virus we all know, I experienced months and months of extreme fatigue, “brain fog,” etc. The irony was almost laughable, how it embodied the themes I’d already settled on for this story. I was being allowed to live those themes to some extent, and they shook me so much that I found myself in a place where it was just me and God, this story shimmering in pieces around me, and Him shining this steady, always-giving light and saying “It’s you I love. Not what you can or can’t do. Not what you do or don’t have. Not what you’ve lost, or think you’ve failed at. It’s you.”
It was a long journey toward healing, for both me and for the story, but I’m thankful to look back at it all from a place of humility, deep gratitude, and joy.
FF: What lessons do you hope readers gain from reading All the Lost Places?
I hope that whatever lost places they’re facing, they’ll be encouraged by this story and offered a place to set the book aside and be held by that same God. Right there in that broken place.
I hope they’ll look at a mosaic and see in its cracks a story of utmost care, artistry, redemption, purpose, and love. The story of an artist, handpicking each piece. Cherishing each piece. Moving it into place in a breathtakingly beautiful work of art. Did you know some mosaic artists call their collected pieces their “harvest”? Harvest is generally a word used to talk about crops—which give life. Could it be that the pieces of our lives, held in a Master’s hand, might give life to someone, too?
I hope they’ll think of a swamp, forsaken by all, undesirable as a place to live because of insects and disease. I hope that in the next blink, they’ll see that swamp as what it became: a place of refuge. The jewel of the Adriatic. A safe harbor. A mecca of art and beauty, music and bells, and impossible architecture. A place where life was built upon wood and preserved against all odds or reason.
I hope that in all of this, they’ll be gripped not by my story, but by a much greater one: that of the One who offered life itself upon wood, and redeemed hearts against all odds or reason.
All The Lost Places
Genres: Historical Romance
Release Date: December 13, 2022
When all of Venice is unmasked, one man’s identity remains a mystery…
When a baby is discovered floating in a basket along the canals of 1807 Venice, a guild of artisans takes him in and raises him as a son, skilled in each of their trades.
Although the boy, Sebastien Trovato, has wrestled with questions of his origins, it isn’t until a woman washes ashore his lagoon island that answers begin to emerge. In hunting down his story, Sebastien must make choices that could alter not just his own future, but that of the beloved floating city.
Decades later, Daniel Goodman is given a fresh start in life as the century turns. Hoping to redeem a past laden with regrets, he is sent on an assignment from California to Venice to procure and translate a rare book. There, he discovers a mystery wrapped in the pages of that filigree-covered volume.
With the help of Vittoria, a bookshop keeper, Daniel finds himself in a web of shadows, secrets, and discoveries carefully kept within the stones and canals of the ancient city…and the mystery of the man whose story the book does not finish: Sebastien Trovato.
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