Writer's Corner for March, 2006
Every once in a while, a reviwer gets lucky and unexpectedly stumbles across something wonderful. In November of 2004, I selected a book to review by an unknown author based on nothing more than a few lines of plot description I found intriguing. Almost from the first page, I knew I was in the hands of a very special writer when I quite literally couldn't put down the author's complex and emotionally involving dual tales of love, heartbreak, and family. With Whispers, the author's next release, due to hit bookstores in April, I talked with Erin Grady about her books, her approach to her craft, and how not to conduct a writing career.
Erin, I don't think it's much of a secret around AAR that I absolutely loved Echoes, the first book I'd ever read by you and your first novel in a number of years. Whenever I respond so dramatically to a particular book, I have to admit that I also open the author's next book with a bit of trepidation. Well, I needn't have in your case. Whispers, your new release, struck me almost as forcefully as Echoes. It's definitely a different book and a different story, but that melding of old and new - and a whiff of the paranormal, of course - was all there. I don't want to tell readers too much about the book and the story, but if you had to describe Whispers in a paragraph or two, what would you say?
First, thank you Sandy. Your support of Echoes remains one of the highlights of my career. I will never forget reading your review and the happy dance I did for about three weeks afterwards.
Now to your question. . .
Describe Whispers in a paragraph or two. . . Uhhh. . . (picture me, mouth open, deer-in-the-headlights look on my face). This is the hardest question! To me the book is about every word on every page. I'd rather write 10 books than one summary of a book, but I will give it a try.
I think Whispers is about survival - about surviving the events life throws at you. We don't have a lot of options when it comes to what life dishes out, but the one thing we can control is how we deal with the trials and tribulations that come our way. Whether we see obstacles or stepping stones. Some people deny, some people confront, others run away. Whispers is about how the people of Diablo Springs, Arizona have coped, or not coped, with the hand they've been dealt.
More than that, Whispers is about the final reckoning, because no matter what choices we make, sooner or later life catches up with us. There are ghosts in Whispers - both literally and figuratively - and they refuse to be ignored. The people of Diablo Springs have to face these ghosts and put them to rest before they can go on with their lives.
And that segues very nicely into my next question. One thing I really love about your books is that they are definitely paranormal stories with all the great woo-woo stuff that goes along with that, but, unlike a lot of books in the genre these days, they also hold up as great fiction and great romances. So, how would you categorize them? And what comes first for you - the characters or the story?
Geez, another tough question! Well, on mornings when I'm feeling confident and ready to take on the world, I would say that I'm creating my own genre. I like to think that what I'm writing is different from any other book you might pick up. I love to combine the chills you get from a scary book with the thrill you get from a great romance. Being able to add paranormal to the suspense and romance to the action makes it a fulfilling story for me. Now, on days when I feel I can't string a sentence together to save my soul, I'd probably answer that question with a simple four-letter word. I'm writing sh-t (You can fill in the blank.
What comes to me first are scenes. Something will spark my imagination and the next thing I know I have a shadowy scene in my head. From there I fill in the who and then the where. I think thewhat is the last question I answer. For example, Whispers takes place in the town of Diablo Springs. Although I made up Diablo Springs, it was inspired by a town that does exist in Arizona. This town had a natural hot springs and, like Diablo Springs, became a resort town in the early 1900s. When the springs dried up, so did the town. As soon as I read it, I had a crystal clear image of my town and there was Grandma Beck, standing on the porch looking out over the dry, desolate desert, waiting for her granddaughter. It took much longer for me to fill in the pieces about why she lived in that dried up town and who her granddaughter was, but that image stayed with me for the entire book.
I'm a big fan of HBO's Deadwood and the truth is I found myself thinking of that town and the characters in it as I read about your turn of the twentieth century Diablo Springs. In Whispers, the town - both past and present - seems to be as big a character in the book as any of the people - much as the town of Deadwood is in that incredible series - so I'm not surprised that the character of the town figured in your first vision of the novel. Was Echoes inspired by the same kind of clear image?
I'm one of the deprived few who doesn't get HBO, so I've only seen snippets of Deadwood but I keep promising myself I'll rent the season and watch it. I know I'll love it. As far as the town I created for Whispers, I am so pleased that Diablo Springs comes across as a character, because for me it was a character with moods and an agenda. In Echoes, it was the wagon train itself that was a character for me and the clear image that inspired Echoes was that of the never-ending chain of emigrants that moved day-in, day-out, stopping for nothing. I'd read many diaries and first-hand accounts of what it was like to be a part of that mass migration west and the labor, the filth, the exhaustion and grief overwhelmed me.
Get thee to a video store! My gut (and maybe it's a past self in me speaking - and I'm only half kidding) tells me that there has never been a more realistic depiction of the American west and the people who had the grit to take it on. But, to get back on track, a number of years passed between Echoes and the publication of your first novel, Web of Smoke. Could you fill us in on how you spent those years?
Well, quite simply, I should be the poster child for how not to conduct a writing career. I have made more stupid mistakes than our last three US Presidents combined.
When I wrote Web of Smoke I dreamed of having it published but I don't think I really knew what it meant to be published. I didn't understand the way the business worked, and I certainly didn't understand what was expected of me as a writer or how to build a career. Web of Smoke was the first book I stared and finished and I sold it to the first editor who actually read it and never had a clue of how rare that is. The book was published and I immediately started writing Echoes. Well, if anyone has read the two books, the first thing you'll notice is that they are nothing alike. I didn't understand that a publisher wouldn't necessarily be interested in something that was the polar opposite of what I'd previously written. It was a hard lesson to learn.
The next mistake I made was not moving on when I didn't sell Echoes right away. I should have started on another book, but I just couldn't. Echoes was a story I had to tell - there's no other way I can explain it. I couldn't put it aside and move on. In fact, I gave up on writing before I gave up on the story. Keep in mind that through this I was a young mother (I sold Web of Smoke before I was thirty) and I've always had a full time job, so it's not like I had the time to devote to my writing. About seven years ago, right after my husband was transferred to Arizona from California, I finally gave up. I quit writing. Quit. Finished. Didn't even turn on the computer. But still, the story of Echoes would be on my mind.
Then I met another writer who was working on her first book and desperately searching for someone to critique and mentor her. Reluctantly I agreed and it was through her (Lynn) that I learned to love the craft again. I gave up my focus on selling and decided to just write. I started several books but I could never get my head around any of the stories. I kept coming back to Echoes. At last I conceded defeat, dug the files out and looked at it with fresh eyes. Lynn, in turn, helped me discover many of the flaws it had and fix them.
When I was all done, I declared myself cured of my obsession and decided to put the manuscript under my bed and never think of it again. It was Lynn who told me, (and I quote) that's the stupidest thing I ever heard. So I sent it out, was able to sign with a fantastic agent (Alick Pistek of Alicka Pistek Literary agency) and then we found Susan McCarty at Berkley. Susan fell in love with Echoes and was able to guide me in tying up all the loose ends. Her creativity and editing really made the book come together. She is also the editor for Whispers and once again, she was able to hone in on the issues and help me make the story gel.
At this point, all I can say is that I hope I'm done with the stupid mistakes, but those who know me probably know better.
So now you've found a style and a voice and a balance that appeals to a lot of readers - and I'm certainly one of them. But your answer begs the question: What if that insistent muse led you to write a totally different kind of book. Would that qualify as another "stupid mistake"?
Did you hear my snort of laughter? At this point I think I've managed to mix enough genres into my writing that I might conceivably write a totally different kind of book and still be within the lines I've drawn. I'm writing my favorite kind of book and honestly, I'm so happy with this little niche I'm in that I can't see me jumping out. I get to blend all the types of stories I love-romance, suspense, mystery, historical, paranormal. I've got a lot of books waiting to be written before I exhaust these channels.
So, spill, please. Tell us a little about those books yet to be written.
Twist my arm - okay, I give. So I'm working on a trilogy - something bigger than I've tackled before but something that is so alive in my head I can't wait to find out how it's going to end. The trilogy involves time travel, sisters, and three medallions. Because where I set my stories is always a big deal for me, I've been looking for the perfect backdrop to this trilogy and I finally found it in the Sedona area of Arizona. For those who don't know, Sedona is famous for its red rocked formations and incredible scenery. It's one of the most beautiful places on earth. It also has a bit of fame for its "vortexes." These are metaphysical hot spots on some of the scenic mountains. Well that got me thinking. (Here's a picture of me and my daughters "mediating" around one of the rock towers that someone has stacked for reasons unknown. You'll find these hand-stacked rock towers all over the place up there.)
Then I visited another place that is about 20 minutes south of Sedona called Montezuma’s Castle. This is an ancient “apartment” built into the limestone cliffside that is hundreds of years old. I could write pages of description (and I’m sure in the book my editor will have to rein me in and cut down those pages) because it is such an incredible place. I’ve included a picture I took when I was there. Anyway, the place has an other-worldy air that just sent my imagination into overdrive. What better place to step through time? So I’m going to using both of these places and weave the history of Arizona and the rough western land into this trilogy. I’ll be playing with time in a whole different way than I’ve seen before and hopefully I won’t screw up the future - my characters or my own, ha ha. I’m already in love with my hero and sleeping with him every night. <g> I can’t say much more at this point because so much of it is still in my head, but I’m very excited about it.
I always like to ask the authors we interview at AAR about their favorite authors, both within and outside of the romance genre. So, Erin, who do you most enjoy reading?
Ah, where do I begin? Probably my all time favorite books are Pride and Prejudice, The Stand, Lonesome Dove, and Outlander. (As I listed those, I'm laughing. One of each genre, you see) I've read each of these books several times. I also love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books and Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books. And then there's Michael Crichton and Dan Brown and the blockbuster stories that make me wish I'd thought of that. And who doesn't love Jennifer Cruisie? I guess you could say my reading is all over the map - kind of like me.
Erin, is there anything I didn't ask you that you wish I had? Or consider this a free one: What thoughts would you like to leave with our readers?
Well, I can't think of any questions you missed - I think we covered it all. But I would like to thank those who have been reading my books for the support and the notes they email. I write what I love and it makes me so happy when I connect with a reader and know that I've taken them into my world. The road I've traveled has not been easy but the readers make is so worthwhile. I remember someone asking me if I answered the letters readers wrote me. I said, are you kidding? It's one of the highlights of my day!
Thank you, Sandy, for taking the time to interview me and for caring what I had to say! If you're ever out in the thriving metropolis of Gilbert, Arizona, stop by and see me!! We can talk about books. . .Yes, we do want to very best for romance, Ms. McNaught. It's what AAR is all about. Thank you for your time.
Sounds like a plan! Thanks to Erin Grady for stepping into the Writer's Corner and, frankly, I hope we've intrigued new readers to give the author a try. Next month look for acclaimed historical romance author (and AAR message board scuffle veteran) Adele Ashworth.