Today we welcome Erica Wright to the blog to celebrate the release of her first crime novel, The Red Chameleon. Her book of poetry, Instructions for Killing the Jackal, has been receiving rave reviews since its publication in 2011. We are very excited to have Erica join us today. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy our conversation!
The Red Chameleon is about a former NYPD undercover detective turned private investigator named Kathleen Stone who becomes entangled in a web of mystery after the man she has been following turns up dead. Can you share a bit more about Kathleen and her investigation?
Kathleen feels more comfortable pretending to be someone else, and she prides herself on being able to blend into a crowd. She uses this ability to investigate the upper echelons of New York, and
my favorite chapters (can I say that?) take place at a rehab facility that’s really more of a spa. It’s not all massages and horseback riding, though, and Kathleen soon finds herself stepping on the toes of two big shots: her former best friend and a sadistic kingpin.
In the beginning of last year you moved to Atlanta, one of Author Exposure’s base cities. Although it’s not NYC, Atlanta has a growing literary scene of its own. What brought you to Atlanta? What are some of your favorite venues here? Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?
Atlanta holds a special place in my imagination. I grew up in rural Tennessee, and one of my favorite memories is driving to see the Indigo Girls in concert at The Fox Theatre when I was sixteen. It was my older brother’s idea, and he handled I-75, which still terrifies me. Every time I merge onto that interstate, I feel like Dionne from Clueless. Driving aside, though, this is a great city for writers. There are readings every week in a variety of cool spots. I really like the Highland Ballroom, which manages to convey both elegance and grit. The What’s New in Poetry series is stellar. Bruce Covey and Gina Myers, the organizers, couldn’t have been any more welcoming to me when I arrived. And despite some recent closings, there are still a few great indie bookstores, including A Cappella and Eagle Eye.
The Red Chameleon is your first foray into fiction. What is it about crime fiction that appeals to you as a writer? Who are some of your favorite authors?
It may be a stretch to compare a mystery novel to a sonnet, but there is something to be gained from working inside a form. Writers have to find a way to maneuver in a confined space. Every time I read Molly Peacock’s sonnet “The Lull,” I’m unnerved, almost agitated in my excitement. This is no starry-eyed love poem. In a mystery novel, we know that the investigator will follow false leads, have a few close calls, and nab the bad guy or gal in the end. And yet, writers wrestle that formula into something original, something that belongs to them. I’m obsessed with Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt series right now and can’t wait for the next one. I recently discovered Megan Abbott and am trying to make up for lost time.
A published poet with a successful poetry collection and chapbook under your belt, what was the most challenging thing you faced in writing a full-length novel? What liberties did this medium allow you as a writer?
I found some relief in the routine. When I’m working on a poem, there’s no routine. I jot down notes in the margin of a book, worry a phrase over in my head as I walk to the post office, spend too much time deciding on whether a noun should be singular or plural. When writing fiction, I get up and tackle a thousand words, no excuses. Plot, though, oh boy, plot was difficult to handle, like driving a semi after scooting around town on a bicycle. My first attempt at a novel was a meandering mess—I mean that affectionately, of course.
Rejection is an unfortunate part of any writer’s life. As a published author and senior editor at Guernica Magazine, you’ve both received and dished out your fair share of it. What advice do you have for aspiring writers struggling with getting their work recognized and accepted?
Obsessing over submissions is a surefire way to dig yourself a self-pity hole; believe me, I’ve done it. Now I worry when someone says, “Such and Such Journal has had my story for ten weeks. What does that mean?” Because it doesn’t mean anything. It could mean that editors are feverishly pouring over your every word or that they hate it or that nobody’s looked at it because taxes are due, the baby has diaper rash, it’s raining but it’s going to clear up later. My best advice is to get yourself a team and root for each other. In a good year, you’ll still only have a few times to celebrate your own successes (and that’s counting a sale on avocados at the local bodega), so why not celebrate your friends’ triumphs, too?
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