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Q&A with Amy Suiter Clarke - Lay Your Body Down

Lay Your Body Down

By Cariad Wooster

We are honoured to welcome Amy Suiter Clarke to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Lay Your Body Down, released on the 27th of June 2023.

A young woman returns to her rural Minnesota hometown, where a radical evangelical pastor has poisoned everyone’s minds—and may be covering up a murder.

After Del Walker fled her small hometown and its cult-like church, she vowed to never return. The man she loved, Lars, left her to marry the local golden girl Eve, and their romance is now the focus of Eve’s viral blog espousing the pastor’s conservative philosophy about women and marriage. But six years later, Lars is suddenly killed, and she’s convinced it couldn’t have been an accident.

When Del returns to her hometown for the funeral, she discovers the now mega-church—and the insidious, patriarchal teachings of Pastor Rick Franklin—has grown not only in size but in influence. Eve was clearly discontent in her marriage, despite the carefully constructed “Noble Wife” positivity of her blog posts, and Del knows better than anyone just how far she will go to get what she wants. Del is determined to cut through the church’s lies and corruption to find out who killed Lars—even if it means confronting the religious trauma she’s spent years trying to bury.

Lay Your Body Down

How did you come up with the character of Delilah?

I love to write amateur sleuths, but the tricky part is coming up with a reason that the main character would be investigating a crime if it’s not their job to do so. In this case, Delilah is a young woman not long out of college, trying to cobble together a life with a series of low-wage jobs and mediocre relationships. Despite leaving the church that traumatized her several years prior to the start of the book, she is still working through all the ways her upbringing stunted her growth and made it hard for her to succeed as an adult. This emotional immaturity is part of why she’s hung up on her ex-boyfriend, whose mysterious death sparks of the events of the book. Del is bitter and jaded, frustrated that the freedom she longed for as a teenager hasn’t resulted in the kind of life she wanted, but she’s also hopeful and willing to take risks because of that.

What about Pastor Rick? How did go about writing a leader like him?

Pastor Rick was almost scarily easy to write. While he’s not based on any one person in particular, pastors who build entire churches around their magnetic personality and teaching style are extremely prevalent in Christian circles. There are a lot of great things about religion, and I try to be balanced and honest in my discussion of that in the book. But one of the key dangers I see is how Christians often view their pastor’s voice as being the very voice of God. When you give even the kindest man that kind of power, it’s almost sure to corrupt him. And Pastor Rick is certainly not the kindest man.

What inspired you to write about Christian cults?

There are a lot of great thrillers about cults, but most of the ones I’ve read are set in the standard small, radical group that has broken away from any kind of organized religion and follows the teachings of one leader. It’s tricky, because while evangelical churches like the one depicted in Lay Your Body Down don’t technically fall under that definition, they can be cult-like. Just because your community aligns with Christianity in general doesn’t mean it’s not radical, exclusionary, and controlling—all classic signs you’re in a cult. Since this wasn’t an idea I’d seen explored much outside the confines of a documentary series or memoir, I thought it would make a good premise for a thriller.

Were there any real life events or cults that inspired Messiah?

Oh, yes. There are plenty of megachurches with abusive pastors, exploitative cultures, and toxic theologies that make the news. There are also popular documentaries that delve into exposing some of them, such as The Way Down, Shiny Happy People, and The Secrets of Hillsong or podcasts like The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Some of these stories, and some of my own experience in churches like Messiah, formed the basis for this book.

How did you research for this novel? Were you familiar with megachurches?

I didn’t have to do much research, which I suppose you could see as lucky or unfortunate, depending on your point of view! I grew up attending a large, influential church in a small Minnesota town, and later in life I attended a campus of one of the biggest megachurches in the world. So, you might say I have some experience. While the story and characters in Lay Your Body Down are complete fiction, I was able to draw from my own story as well as those of others when developing the plot and the setting for this book.

Did you have any trouble finding out about cults?

I’ve listened to enough true crime podcasts and watched enough documentaries that I feel like I’m probably too familiar with cults, if such a thing is possible. And because I attended church every week for more than two decades, I have a lot of experience in radical Christian communities as well. But these environments can also be very secretive, of course, so it’s usually only after a big scandal has broken that the world tends to find out about what has sometimes been going on behind the scenes for decades.

What books or authors would you recommend to readers who enjoy this one?

I haven’t read the book, but I watched the limited series of Under the Banner of Heaven and it’s exceptional, so I can only imagine the book would be as well. If you like books about cults or radical religions, some others you might like would be The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead, The Nowhere Child by Christian White, The Clearing by J.P. Pomare, and The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon. If you’re interested in the terminology of cults, I highly recommend Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell.

Where can you buy this book when it is published?

It is out now, and you should be able to find it in all great bookstores! If your local independent bookshop doesn’t have a copy, please consider asking them to order it in. Otherwise, and Barnes and Noble are other fantastic options.

Lay Your Body Down

Amy Suiter Clarke is the author of psychological thrillers Girl, 11 and Lay Your Body Down. Originally from Minnesota, she completed a BA in theater, then earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Publishing at Kingston University in London. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Amy’s short stories and feature articles have appeared in Ad Hoc Fiction, The Ram Boutique Vol. 1, the online literary magazine Storgy, Eureka Street Magazine, and two Kingston University Press magazines. She has written articles, marketing copy, and corporate communications for a variety of companies in the legal, information technology, accounting, advertising, and bridal industries.

Amy's Instagram: @asuiterclarke


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