Thursday, 13 June 2013

ATUA's Author Interview Series – Erin Grace

Today I have the pleasure of hosting author Erin Grace on ATUA.  Erin and I met in Japan where we attended Waseda University in 2003. We've been friends ever since.  I want to thank her for accepting to be the first of this series and to take time to answer my question in the midst of a family emergency.

The details of the giveaway will follow the interview.


The Indefatigable Wright Brothers is your first book, but I know for a fact that you always have stories brewing in your head. Where did you get the inspiration for this one?

I’m a very curious person, so I find myself reading a lot of weird Wikipedia articles. One day a few years ago, I was reading the Wikipedia article about psychopathy. The Cleckley checklist that I quote in the book was listed there, and after I read it, I thought, “Holy shit, I’m a psychopath.” After a few seconds my mind came back to me, and I realized that I’m probably not a psychopath (because a real psychopath wouldn’t have any kind of emotional reaction to that revelation), but the idea of a person becoming convinced of it on weak evidence really interested me. That’s how “Wright Brothers” got started.

Painter Chuck Close Once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just shows up and gets to work." How do you "get to work?" Do you have any ritual or specific requirements to get the juices flowing?

I set a specific time to write – usually in the evening after dinner – and a specific amount of time or a specific number of words that I want to reach. Then I put on my headphones with some music that seems right for the scene or the character, open the file on my computer, and force the words out. Having my own “headspace” with music is the most important for me – I can work almost anywhere as long as I have the right music and sound-cancelling headphones. When the going gets really tough, I set small word goals with rewards (a glass of wine for 500 words, 10 minutes of TV for a thousand) to push myself the rest of the way.

Close is very right: you can’t just sit and stare at the screen thinking, “Goodness, I wish I could think of something!” Writing isn’t about being Rapunzel and waiting for Inspiration to gallop in on its snow white charger to save you. It’s about being Frodo, slogging through wet, cold, dirt, blood, fear, and anguish to reach something magnificent. It’s not glamorous, but when you get to the top, the view is incomparable.

Are you working on a new story at the moment?

Yes! It’s a short story about the Japanese firebombing of the U.S. West Coast during World War II. I’ve never been good at short stories, so I thought I’d take it on as a challenge – no more than 5 pages! (For someone accustomed to 100+ pages, this was a serious constraint.) I’ve finished the first draft, and now I’m letting it “gestate” before I move on to the rewrite. My next project is going to a murder mystery in the British manor house style – another personal challenge. I haven’t started because I’m still working out some kinds with the puzzle, but it’s going to happen soon!

One of the people you dedicated your book to is Stephen King. Is there a story behind this?

When I was 10 or so, Stephen King was my favorite author. Although I had a hard time grasping his themes and didn’t usually follow the “adult” scenes, I loved the imagery and the way he put words together to sound so visceral and terrifying. I wrote him a letter to tell him how much I loved his books, and asked if he had any advice on writing. I didn’t expect much, but what I got was beyond what I had hoped for: a small green notecard that assured me Mr. King had read my letter even though he couldn’t respond personally, and a very fat stack of photocopied pages that appeared to contain every single magazine article in which Mr. King had given advice on writing. This was before Google, obviously, so this was a wealth of advice that would have taken me years to pull together on my own. I was floored that he would treat some dumb girl from Kansas with that kind of respect. I already loved to write, but I redoubled my efforts, knowing that Mr. King was rooting for me. I swore that if I ever published a book, the very first one would be dedicated to him, since he was the one who told me in no uncertain terms that I could do it.

What has writing The Indefatigable Wright Brothers taught you about the creative process?

The biggest thing is that sometimes you need to do something dramatic to make your characters scramble. There’s a pivotal scene (I’m sure you’ll know which one if you read the book) in which everything changes for Jeremiah overnight. That scene came out of desperation – I’d been slogging through the writing for days, the characters were unmotivated, and I just wanted to chuck the manuscript out of the window. I initially wrote the scene because I needed something to shake things up a little, so I jumped at the most absurd option I could think of and I wound up loving it. But even if I hadn’t loved it, throwing that scene at the book would still have been important. Seeing how the characters react is an important part of learning who they are, which is an important part of writing about them. Also, writing is almost always a thankless, stressful process that makes you want to explode the planet with your mind. Since you can’t do it in real life, it’s relaxing and rejuvenating to blow up your characters’ world instead.

What is the one advice you would like to share with aspiring writers and creators?

Don’t let your first draft get you down. Or your second, or your third. Earnest Hemmingway said that the first draft of anything is shit, but he failed to mention that many of the subsequent drafts are only minor improvements. Keep retooling and reworking, pounding out the dents and the kinks, then break out the sand paper in finer and finer grits until it shines. And make sure that you give yourself time between each rewrite to step back and ignore it for awhile so that you maintain perspective. Finally, if you reach the publishing stage, remember that Gaiman’s Law is a normal part of the writing experience: “if there’s one typo [in a book you just wrote], it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.”

Our next featured guest will not be a writer but an entrepreneur who quit her stable day job to fulfill her dream of becoming a full-time yoga teacher and massotherapist; what question would you like to ask her?

How, and how long, did you prepare to leave your job; did you have any support from friends and family; and how ass-clenchingly scary was it to begin despite the preparation and support?


Erin Grace is a freelance writer from Salem, Oregon. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Japanese Culture that mostly gathers dust. Her favorite color is green, her favorite ice cream is vanilla, her favorite book is Invisible Monsters. She wants desperately to re-meet Chuck Palahniuk to apologize for that little misunderstanding in Powell’s.


For a chance to win a digital copy of The Indefatigable Wright Brothers, leave a question for Erin in the comment section.  The best question will determine the winner (Erin gets to choose.)  You can also earn brownie points by becoming a follower of ATUA or by following me on twitter.  For the latter, make sure to let me know by tweeting #TIBWGIVEAWAY.  You have until Tuesday June 18th 11:59 ET to enter.  The name of the winner, along with the answers to all the questions, will be posted on Thursday June 20th.

Good luck!


  1. How long did it take you to write the book? I mean, some people have book finished within few months, but some books take ages to finish.
    Also, did you self publish the book or did you find a good publisher?

    That's probably it :) Nice post! I'm a new follower. If you'd have time, please stop by my blog
    I always like to chat with new people there! :)

  2. Thank you for your comment Maria. Erin will answer all the questions on Thursday. Good luck!

  3. Did your studies in Japan help you create or inspire you at all for your new short story?

    Do you speak any Japanese?

    How long did it take you before you realized you really were not a psychopath?

    Who other than Stephen King were your inspirations?

    What inspired your newest book?

    Sorry, I'm just really curious. it was a good interview.