When Amanda McTigue first enrolled in the fourth class of women at Yale University in 1973, she intended to become a professional singer and actress.
But the story of her life offered a surprise ending. Although the feisty redhead has served as a stage director throughout her career, her true calling turned out to be writing and storytelling, for both the stage and the page.
McTigue’s theater works have been produced in a wide range of venues, from Carnegie Hall in New York and the Minnesota Opera to Knott’s Berry Farm and the Tokyo DisneySea theme park in Japan, but her work as a novelist is earning the most recent attention. Her first novel, “Going to Solace,” has become a book club favorite and a short story from her upcoming collection has been nominated for a national award.
After a long and multifaceted career all over the world, the author settled in Petaluma in 2001 and published “Going to Solace” in 2012. Since then, the book has become a favorite among local book club members who appreciate the book’s heart and humanity, despite its potentially dark setting in a North Carolina hospice.
“What ‘The Help’ did for the Deep South, ‘Solace’ does for Appalachia,” said Waights Taylor Jr., author of “Our Southern Home,” which chronicles the evolution of the South in the 20th century.
McTigue’s career has proven to be as rich and quirky as her first novel, which she set in 1989 in the Blue Ridge Mountains and narrated from the point of view of several scrappy but lovable characters.
“This is not the Deep South. This corner of the South voted for Obama,” she said. “The progressives live next to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s chilling, but it means you’re going to be neighbors and you’re going to behave.”
McTigue started writing the novel after moving back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1994 to take care of her mother, who was dying. The world of prose beckoned to her, allowing her to open up her imagination.
“In theater, all you are imagining has to be set aside,” she said. “So I started to do prose sketches, and that became the novel.”
However, McTigue’s love of music and musical theater still informs and enlivens her prose, which is peppered with active verbs, true-to-life characters and lyrical dialogue that is both honest and funny.
“My prose is influenced by the music of language and voice,” she said. “How does that character sound? I have a phonographic memory.”
McTigue, 61, recently spent two weeks in Cuba doing research for her second novel, “Monkey Bottom” and has a collection of short stories due out soon entitled “This is Not Water: Tales from the Intersection of Love and Catastrophe.” A short story from that collection, “Gone Means Gone,” was recently named a semifinalist in the 2015 American Literary Review Awards.
Through the years, McTigue’s career has careened from the heights of success to the depths of failure. But through it all, she has not only paid her dues and her rent but collected a lot of terrific stories.
“During my career, there was a lot of pain, but it was all good,” she said. “I had a lot of self-doubt, so I got thrown into worlds I was wrong for, and I figured out my way through that.”