By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
During her ninth birthday party, Amanda Jayatissa locked herself in the bathroom. She was in the middle of reading a book and wanted to finish one more chapter.
“I was a huge reader growing up,” Jayatissa said.
It all started when some older cousins visited her family, showing up with boxes of books for her. She was too young to read them at the time, but Jayatissa remembers touching the books, looking at the pictures, and dying to read them.
And once she was old enough to do that, that’s all she would do—much to everyone’s alarm—she admitted with a laugh.
After reading so many stories, the next logical step for her was to write her own stories, so around 8 or 9, Jayatissa picked up her pink gel pen and started writing.
The first thing she wrote was a mystery story—admittedly, a ripoff of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series, some of her favorite stories, which followed groups of children who went on adventures that often included solving mysteries.
“It was so bad,” she said, about that first foray.
But Jayatissa was not deterred. Whether it was more mysteries or the angsty poetry of her teen years (during which she once described her life to her brother as a “black abyss”), she never stopped writing.
And it’s all come full circle as Jayatissa—who previously worked as a corporate trainer—now has a couple mystery novels under her belt. Her second book, “You’re Invited,” is set to be released Aug. 9 and tells the story of a wedding gone wrong when the bride disappears the morning of the big day.
‘What if we threw in a dead body?’
The idea to set a mystery at a wedding came after Jayatissa attended a wedding where she caught a glimpse of the bride’s mother giving into her exhaustion for a second before smiling for the cameras again. This got Jayatissa thinking about weddings and how, behind the shine and glamor, there are cracks—the perfect opening for someone who’s always thinking, “What if we threw in a dead body?”
While she does enjoy lighthearted reading that transports her to a “happier place,” Jayatissa is drawn to the idea that something should be solved in a story.
She loves surprises, a good “ah-ha” moment and the types of big reveals and plot twists—like when the villain’s mask comes off in “The Scooby-Doo Show”—that lend themselves to mysteries more than other genres.
“You’re Invited” takes place in Sri Lanka, where Jayatissa was born and raised, and still lives. The story was a chance to highlight different aspects of her culture, such as the grand multi-day affairs that are involved in Sri Lankan weddings. Sri Lanka isn’t a country many people hear about in mainstream media and as readers get a glimpse into the culture, Jayatissa hopes it piques their interest to learn more—or become intrigued to explore books set in different settings outside the United States.
One aspect Jayatissa particularly enjoyed writing about in “You’re Invited” was a group of gossiping aunties.
“It was really fun for me,” she said, adding that this was a reflection of her own social circles living in the Sri Lankan capital city of Colombo. It’s not so much six degrees of separation as it is two degrees—everyone knows everyone and there are certain people who just know everyone’s business.
The perks of being a writer
For Jayatissa, ideas for new books have typically come to her when she’s about halfway through writing a book. This is what happened with “You’re Invited,” as well as with her third novel. But it’s not until she’s turned her current project in for edits that she’ll allow herself to start on a new project. This is so a new character’s voice won’t leak into the previous story.
When she’s finally free to start on a new story, Jayatissa does some pre-writing work, including creating an outline for the story and journaling in a character’s voice. Then she’ll start writing. And once that happens, she said, no one will see her for a long time. Any sort of routine she has—exercising, meditating—falls by the wayside until her “draft zero” is complete. After that, she becomes more disciplined as she revises the draft into good enough shape to send to her agent and editor. This takes about a year.
And while Jayatissa may have had the idea for “You’re Invited” before she even finished writing her first book, “My Sweet Girl” (2021), it didn’t come without its challenges. Jayatissa dealt with what she and some of her writer friends describe as “book two syndrome.” While there was no real deadline or expectations while writing her first book, except the ones she created for herself, the second book brought in specific deadlines, others’ expectations—from her team, to readers—and comparisons to her previous work.
“You’re very mindful,” Jayatissa said about this additional pressure. But despite this, she said, “I love writing.”
In addition to the act of writing itself, another perk is being able to read as much as she likes and no one can get mad at her.
Just the other day, she admits to holding up in her room with a book whose release she’d been eagerly awaiting. Her dogs were barking loudly and Jayatissa was able to ask her husband to handle them because her reading—another thriller mystery—was in the name of “research.”
“That 9-year-old who locked herself in the bathroom would be very, very proud,” she said.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.