1. How has your family taken to your work?
They are incredibly supportive and encouraging. My husband and daughter seem think The Baker’s Wife is the best of my novels yet—they don’t “read” my novels until the audio editions arrive, and it’s fun to catch their reactions at the same time others are reading for the first time. My daughter thinks The Baker’s Wife should be optioned for a movie. I wouldn’t contradict her!
2. How did you come to be an editor?
When I was in college, a friend nudging me into the writing life sent me to a writers conference. I scheduled one of those fifteen-minute appointments with editor David Kopp (of Prayer of Jabez fame, among many other things). Dave had run out of time to read the writing sample I’d submitted. Good thing, or he might never have spoken to me again, it was that bad. So instead of him talking to me about my work, I grilled him about his. My professors were urging me to consider teaching. I thought editing might be a better fit for my introverted self. Dave encouraged me to get in touch with a few other editors for what we called “informational interviews” back then. I followed up with these people, he found out about that, and a year later, the month before I graduated, he invited me to interview for an entry-level job, then hired me.
3. What kind of research did you do for The Baker’s Wife?
Most of my research centered on the science and craft of bread making, because I’m such a dork in the kitchen. Also I live at a high altitude, where (for me) baking anything evenly is an elusive art of tinkering with the sugar, liquid, and leavening components of any recipe. I spent a few days distracted by the works of Peter Reinhart, which are great to read even if you don’t bake, and I was entirely entertained by William Alexander’s 52 Loaves, which provides a terrific history of mankind’s love affair with bread, and great laughs too.
4. Out of the three solo novels you have written, which one of the three main characters, Lexi, Promise, or Audrey, can you identify with the most?
Probably Audrey, because her age and family situation is closest to mine. I identify with Lexi’s devotion to her daughter, Promise’s desire to make something meaningful out of her life, and Audrey’s longing to take care of people. Of course, Audrey does a better job of it than I do. It’s fun to work out my hopes in the lives of my characters.
5. Does writing get any easier as you finish writing each book?
The discipline of sitting down to put words on the page gets easier, as any habitual activity does. Self-editing gets easier, intuition gets sharper. But the actual process of storytelling seems to present a pretty constant challenge, perhaps because I’m not writing formula fiction. I had some struggles with House of Mercy (July 2012) that I didn’t experience with any of my previous novels. In fact, I called my editor in a panic, and I said, “This is story number six. Shouldn’t I at least have my creative process figured out by now?” And she laughed at me. She said, “Erin, is that really how you think this works?” Every story presents its own unique difficulties.
6. What affects your decision on what the theme of your novels is going to be?
Almost all my novels start with a thematic observation: Who does unforgiveness really hurt? Why are we so fascinated with celebrity? What does it mean to “share a burden” or “love your enemy”? The trick is to turn that question into a story. Characters come second, and then a plot third, and if any of the three elements don’t mesh, I will generally tweak the theme’s bottom line. For example, House of Mercy started out as a story about a healer who couldn’t heal herself. (Why does God give us gifts we can’t always control?) I eventually moved away from that because I thought the illness thread was too similar to elements in Promises and The Baker’s Wife and also an independent film out this year titled Sympathy for Delicious. The question instead became, “Why doesn’t God give us the miracles we need so badly, when the miracle itself would benefit so many people?” The story is still about a healer, but her question, her journey, has changed.
7. Do you read reviews of your books, or do you stay away from them?
I dip into reviews, but I don’t study them. I look for general patterns in the feedback, consistent types of 30,000-foot observations. To go any deeper than that into either praise or criticism would crush my creativity, I think. I’d become fearful. Paralyzed.
8. (From Taylor Thomas B): In Kiss, how does Shauna receive her ability to steal memories?
Wow, Taylor, the attic files of my brain are a bit dusty! Kiss was perhaps the only book I’ve written where my protagonist’s “gift” has a scientific explanation. In every other book, the experiences are supernatural. Shauna received some experimental drugs from her father’s pharmaceutical company designed to erase her memory. (Such drugs are actually in development, primarily to ease the emotional trauma of people who suffer from PTSD, such as soldiers, and victims of violent crimes.) In Shauna’s case, the unapproved cocktail had the unforeseen side effect of snatching other memories to fill in the gaps left by her own.
9. Have you ever considered writing a fantasy novel?
One of my very first efforts at writing a novel—I believe I was about thirteen—was a sci-fi/fantasy that was basically a rip-off of the Star Wars trilogy. (At the time there were three movies, with Return of the Jedi just out.) I immersed myself in the genre as a young teen and have since edited a few fantasy series. But I don’t think I’ll ever write fantasy in the create-another-world sense. I’m more interested these days in straddling heaven and earth, which is “fantastic” in its own way.
10. Never Let You Go was a supernatural thriller, The Promises She Keeps was about the same, but The Baker’s Wife may fall into the “mystery” genre. How was writing a mystery different then supernatural?
The Baker’s Wife still contains a supernatural component in the form of Audrey’s hyper-empathy. But you’re right about the key distinction between a mystery and a thriller. In a mystery, the key question is “What happened?” (in this case, What happened to Julie? Who’s to blame?). And in a thriller or suspense novel, the question is anticipatory: “What is going to happen?” I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew, so I had a lot of fun tinkering with the mystery elements of The Baker’s Wife. It seemed to come more naturally than building and sustaining the suspense question. I loved thinking about how to come at the mystery without the classic whodunit approach. A mystery without a detective solving the crime? A mystery with a detective who exacerbates the crime? That’s what I call fun.
11. What is the hardest part about being a writer?
Getting up every day and overcoming what author Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance.” Resistance comes in many forms: self-doubt, self-sabotage, life’s more pressing matters. Some days it’s just really hard to overcome all the reasons not to write.
12. Do you have any pet peeves when you are reading?
I’m sure I have a bazillion. It’s the only downside to being trained as an editor. I know I’m reading a great story when I completely forget that I’m an editor. As for major pet peeves, though, I can’t tolerate condescension, in particular an author’s condescension toward readers. The best writers assume their readers represent the smarter half of the relationship.
13. Have you contemplated taking on the challenge of writing a series?
At present, my plan is for House of Mercy to be first of a two-part series. We’ll see if the publisher is still on board with that idea after the editorial process. I’ll be writing another novel between House of Mercy and the sequel (we don’t have a title yet), but I’ll keep everyone posted.
14. You are in the process of working on your fourth solo novel, House of Mercy. Mind to tell readers a little bit about it?
Right. I talked about this a little bit in question 6. But here’s a teaser: House of Mercy is about a young healer whose terrible error in judgment brings her family’s ranch to the brink of financial ruin. Guided by a mysterious wolf, she goes on a journey into the rugged Rocky Mountains in search of the only man who can save them—her estranged grandfather, who (unbeknownst to her) is dying of cancer and no longer possesses his fortunes.
15. What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
Do the work. Battle Resistance. Work out of your love for God and not to earn the love of man. Ask God to fill you with his pleasure while you write. Have a great time.
Thank you to Erin for being willing to do another interview! Be sure to check out her new novel THE BAKER’S WIFE!