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Lebanon Author Finds Success After Self-Publishing on a Dare

  • Amber Lynn Natusch at her home in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 14, 2018. Natusch's young adult novel "Dare You To Lie" is now out. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Amber Lynn Natusch at her home in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 14, 2018. Natusch's "Dare You To Lie" is her first young adult novel. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2018

If you’ve ever read a book filled with ninja-quick dialogue and thought, people don’t actually talk like that — well, then, you haven’t met Amber Lynn Natusch.

The Lebanon author, whose young-adult fiction debut, Dare You To Lie, was released in September, comes by the sass her characters exhibit naturally. Though she occasionally bumped up against plot barriers she hadn’t encountered in the expansive world of fantasy while writing her newest novel, the banter never slowed her down.

“The main character is basically me at 17,” said Natusch, who’s penned a dizzying number of novels in the seven years since she crashed into the world of popular fiction. “She’s a 17-year-old me, but with my 41-year-old confidence.”

That sort of grit may be just what’s needed in a YA heroine right now, though Natusch didn’t know it when she set out to write the book.

Dare You To Lie, which Natusch finished writing just before the MeToo movement began to gain momentum, tells the story of a teenager whose father, an FBI agent, is convicted of killing a police officer, forcing her to return to the hometown she fled two years earlier. There, while trying to clear her father’s name, she has to face squarely the teenage scandal that drove her away.

“What I love about this book is that it gives me an outlet to have someone do what I didn’t do or wouldn’t have done at that age,” Natusch said in a phone interview from her chiropractic office in Lebanon. “I like that it gives younger girls and older girls … a MeToo superhero. Living that through her was really gratifying.”

Along with plenty of pluck and snark, the book packs a breakneck plot and a collection of recognizable characters, including two endearing sidekicks, an attractive young FBI agent and a band of despicable bullies. Beneath it all simmers a small-town scandal.

“I love the idea of skeletons in a small-town closet,” said Natusch, who based the setting on the Ohio town where she went to high school. “You don’t know your neighbors. In small towns, I think people easily forget that, whereas in big cities you have your guard up.”

Though the setting of Dare You To Lie was familiar territory, the plot parameters at times proved vexing for Natusch, who has made a name for herself in the urban fantasy genre with her Caged and Forces of Nature series. But being forced to play by the rules of reality didn’t encumber her too much; she has a near superpower of her own when it comes to writing.

“I can knock out a lot of words in a short amount of time,” said Natusch, who practices Muay Thai, a combat sport that originated in Thailand, and loves to dance. “I just wrote a whole book in three weeks. It’s probably horrid. ... but I’d rather have it be utter garbage and have to fix the utter garbage. You can’t fix what isn’t there.”

Maybe Natusch’s ease with the craft stems from a certain nonchalance. Until she sat down to write her first book, she’d never even once entertained ambitions of becoming a writer.

Originally from Manitoba, Canada, Natusch graduated from the University of Toledo and Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa. She and her husband, Bryan, moved to Lebanon and opened Upper Valley Chiropractic in 2004.

A longtime fan of urban fantasy, she picked up writing basically on a dare after complaining to her office manager that the books she was reading just weren’t that good and claiming she could write something better.

“And she said, ‘well then, why don’t you?’ ” Natusch recalled.

Pregnant with her first child at the time — and visited by bizarre dreams that she said filled her creative coffers — Natusch did just that. She wrote her first book, Caged, about a young woman who discovers her supernatural powers after her parents die, and, after setting it aside for a while, uploaded it to Amazon’s self-publishing platform in December 2011. She figured that was the beginning and end of her writing career.

“A month later, it went completely bananas,” Natusch recalled.

The book went on to sell 35,000 copies in three months’ time. Stunned, Natusch immediately dove into the world of marketing, taking advantage of what she describes as good timing: self-publishing was just beginning to take off as a viable way to reach readers. In 2013, she signed with Amazon Publishing’s 47North imprint, and in 2014 she snagged an agent.

All the while, she continued writing like crazy, stealing 10 minutes here and there while running her practice and raising two children, now ages 5 and 8. The money followed, and Natusch first scaled back to three days of work at her chiropractic practice, then three half days. She now has 23 books to her name and three more in the works.

Dare You To Lie represents another dare, of sorts. Natusch’s agent was shopping around two urban fantasy series Natusch had written when an editor at Tor Teen, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, asked if she did any YA fiction. Her agent, recalling that Natusch had mentioned wanting to write something along the lines of Veronica Mars, didn’t miss a beat.

“She was like, ‘It just so happens …’ ”

Before she knew it, Natusch had another book deal. Five feverish weeks after that, the manuscript was complete.

For the most part, tailoring her writing to teen audiences proved straightforward, but there were a few challenges to overcome. While the snappy dialogue flowed easily, Natusch had to be careful not to venture too far into teen-speak.

“When you look at contemporary authors that are really popular, like John Green, he doesn’t use language that’s easily dated,” she said. “We’re not teens, and I’m going to sound like a moron if I try to use (teen slang).”

Natusch also had to sanitize her content and language for the under-20 crowd as well as adapt her promotional techniques to include more videos and posts on teen-favored social media sites such as Instagram.

Initial sales figures aren’t out yet for the book, Natusch said, but early reviews have been positive. The second book in her “Hometown Antihero” series is scheduled for release in December 2019.

Dare You to Lie is available in hardcover at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Signed copies are for sale at Norwich Bookstore.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.