Saturday, April 8, 2017

Interiew: Erica Wright

Not too long ago, I read Erica Wright's novel The Granite Moth.  Afterwards, I asked Erica if she would be willing to participate in an interview as a feature.  She agreed and I cut down the number of questions from 21 to 10.  Her answers are very thoughtful and provide much food for thought.  I am impressed with everything she has done up to this point, and excited to see what she might be able to do in the future.

(1) When did you begin writing The Granite Moth and when was it published?  How was the experience different from writing The Red Chameleon? 

I started The Granite Moth with a three-page, single-spaced outline about underground gambling rings in New York City. When I sat down to write the first chapter, in the summer of 2013, I realized that a float was going to explode and the book would be about a possible hate crime. My outline—of which I was inordinately proud—went out the window. The book was published in November 2015. The main difference between writing this one versus The Red Chameleon was how well I knew the characters. Even though they still surprised me from time to time, I knew how they would react to certain situations.  

(2) How did you go about getting the book published?  Did you send query letters to agents or the publishing houses directly?

For The Red Chameleon, I queried agents and was lucky enough to find Penn Whaling who helped me sale that book and then The Granite Moth to the lovely folks at Pegasus. 

(3) Who are your top five authors of all time?

Wow, tough question. My answer would probably be different next week, but I’ll go with my gut . I’m also sticking with prose instead of making my favorite poets compete: Charlotte Brontë, Salman Rushdie, Jane Austen, Joan Didion, Gabriel García Márquez. Marisha Pessl would probably be on the shortlist, as well, even though she’s only published two novels. 

Note that I asked some follow-up questions in an e-mail and Erica suggested The Moor's Last Sigh by Rushdie and Night Film by Pessl.

(4) Did you write exclusively for a living at the time you wrote The Granite Moth or did you need to work a separate job too?  Is this situation still the same?

No, I balance writing with teaching. I can’t imagine not teaching at all. I would miss my students!

(5) You mentioned that you are currently working on the third novel in this series.  How far along are you in the process?  What is your writing process for completing a manuscript?  More basically, what is your daily writing process?  Do you have a title, or is there anything else you can tell us about the new one?

Thanks for asking about the third book. For now, it’s called The Blue Kingfisher, and I recently finished a pretty major rewrite, cutting a few unnecessary characters and punching up the ending. I’m not a morning person, but I write early in the day, first thing if possible. That way, I prioritize the project. I currently lead a novel writing group through OneRoom, and that’s one of tricks I emphasize—finding and sticking with a routine.

(6) Prior to The Granite Moth, I had only known you to write poetry.  For some reason, this material seems like a far cry from your poems.  What drew you to write about Kat Stone and the world of private investigators?

I was teaching English at a criminology school, and my students were all pursuing what seemed like wild careers to me. They wanted to work for the CIA or FBI. They wanted to be detectives. So I started researching these worlds, so that I could better relate to them during our conferences. I found myself fascinated with crime fighting, undercover work in particular. I wondered what would happen to someone who took on a whole other identify for years. Kat came from that question. 

(7) Has anyone approached you about obtaining film rights to the Kat Stone anthology?

No, but I’ve been watching Jane the Virgin lately and marveling at the talent of Gina Rodriguez. She’d be an amazing Kat. 

(8) Now I knew you in New York, but you live in Houston now.  Have you lived anywhere else in between, and how do they all compare?  I only ask because I'm constantly comparing Chicago to New York, and have come to the conclusion that relatively lower rent is the main thing that keeps me from thinking I will go back.

I never imagined leaving New York City, but I’ve been enjoying my new location adventures. Since 2012, I’ve lived in Atlanta, Gainesville, Nashville, and now Houston. If anybody needs moving tips, I’m available. They all have their unique advantages. The Spanish moss in Gainesville is gorgeous. And Houston is this sprawling behemoth of infinite possibilities.  

(9) I feel like I should ask something specific about The Granite Moth, a question about the story itself.  How did you come up with the idea of building the narrative around an explosion of a parade float?  The narrative seems to go a lot of pretty crazy places, but why did you feel compelled to write about things like the Pink Parrot and the Zeus Society?  And what is gayboy bunny?

I knew that I wanted to start the book at the Halloween Parade, an ideal setting for mischief since it’s a nighttime event and masks are expected. As I mentioned before, the book was original going to be about underground gambling dens in New York City, but when I started writing about the float, I knew it was going to explode. In general, our true interests—what Frank Bidart might call our radical givens—rise to the surface if we let them, and I wanted to explore the possibility of a hate crime. That’s how the Zeus Society entered into the narrative. A “gayboy bunny” is a woman who has several gay friends. It has a more positive connotation than some of the other less endearing terms.

(10) Is Magrelli a character in The Red Chameleon?  Do you think a person's appreciation for The Granite Moth would be enhanced by reading The Red Chameleon?  Do you regard the books as your children, and do you say you are equally proud, and do you have a secret favorite?

With a healthy amount of help from my editor, I tried to make sure that The Granite Moth works as its own book. Kat will be shaking the trauma of her time undercover for awhile, and Magrelli symbolizes that past. He’s a character in The Red Chameleon the same way—he haunts her. I don’t think of the books as children, though I am proud of them. I want each novel I write to be a little bit better than the previous one.

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