One of the true marvels of being a blogger is connecting with people from all over, regardless of age, location, or life experience. I started reading Erika’s blog when I was a baby bloggerling, and was immediately drawn to her wit and fellow geek-girldom. I mean, of course I was hooked when she decorated her son’s nursery in a Mario Bros. theme. Can you think of anything cooler?!
Luckily for me, we struck up a blog-friendship that has lasted a few years, two children (for her) and now two published novels! Oh, and she’s not even thirty yet. Let me pause and let that sink in. (Really, I’m pausing while I re-evaluate my life goals. Don’t judge, y’all.) I had so much fun doing a Week of Erika Mitchell when PWNED came out that I jumped at the chance to do it again for Blood Money. But enough of me blabbing…. Erika was kind enough to answer my questions about life, the book, and everything in between.
I really have to ask- what gave you the idea to make the protagonist of this book an accountant?? After reading it, it makes perfect sense, but I’m dying to hear about your ‘lightbulb moment.’
Accountants never get to be the hero, you know? They’re kind of like the gears inside a watch, they keep everything going but you never see them. When I was coming up with this story, I knew the protagonist had to be someone no one would ever see coming, someone in a position to do some real damage. It just goes to show you: Never turn your back on an accountant.
I make absolutely no secret of the fact that I’m an unabashed anglophile, and loved that the beginning of the book was set in London. Why did you choose to make that Omar and Azzam’s “home base”?
Whenever I write a book, the main character kind of just walks up to me and introduces him/herself. Azzam had an English accent right from the start, and it was up to me to figure out how my Iraqi accountant came to sound like he hailed from London. It puzzled me at first but I figured it out eventually. Since London is an international business hub, it made sense to me to have Sun Corp headquartered there. I’ve never actually visited the city in person, but I’ve had a craving to go ever since I wrote the first draft of this book.
You and me both, obviously. Only if we can do a wee bit of royal watching in the process. Princess Kate Baby Bump Whaaa?
The amount of research that went into this book had to have been immense. (Unless you are actually a secret Muslim counter-terrorist accountant in your free time.) Did you ever feel overwhelmed as the scope of the book got bigger and bigger?
Ha! No, not overwhelmed. God bless Google. I mean seriously, what did writers do before Google? I spent so much time Googling everything from pound/dollar exchange rates to how long it would take to ride the Underground from Hampstead Heath to Charing Cross to biological weapons, and even to how to use C4. It was a lot of fun to find out things I thought I knew from movies (like how long it takes to pick a lock) are wrong (it takes a few minutes, even if you’re pretty darn good at it).
Did you have the plot for Blood Money mapped out from the beginning, or did you learn about events as you wrote them? Does a character or plot twist ever come out of nowhere and surprise you?
I had the seed of an idea when I first started writing this book, I was as surprised as anyone about what happened as I went along. I remember when I was about three quarters of the way through the first draft when an idea tackled me in the shower and I raced out all sopping wet to jot it down on a notepad before I forgot it. That idea turned out to be a pretty big twist in the story, but it truly came out of nowhere. It was awesome.
I felt like Blood Money was a very sensory experience. From the floor of the mosque, to Azzam’s greasy American food, to a certain hard wooden chair, I really enjoyed all those details that kept the reader sucked into the story. Is that something you focused more on in this book?
Yes! It tickles me that you noticed. I took a writing seminar in 2011 and the presenter said something that stuck with me. She said that modern novels are nowhere near smelly enough, and I took that to heart. It’s fun to write that way, using all the senses to tell a story.
I would say that you definitely accomplished that! As well as giving me fast food cravings multiple times throughout the story.
If this book were made into a movie, who would be your dream cast? For some reason I was picturing Azzam as an older Dev Patel the entire time I was reading it. Which is totally the wrong ethnicity and why I’m not a casting agent.
When I was writing, I kept picturing Shah as being played by Naveen Andrews (he played Sayid Jarrah on Lost). He has the look and the body type and would play that part perfectly. I’m not sure who would play anyone else, though. Who would you cast?
Is it wrong to suggest Maggie Grace for Ashley? It could be that I am really behind the rest of the world and JUST saw “Taken,” but she is who immediately springs to mind when you need someone who could be both vulnerable and have the emotional steel needed for that role. Plus, she’s really got a “girl-next-door” quality that Ashley needs.
I hope so, I really do. Ashley is a very special character in that I felt her emotions deeply when I was writing her scenes. To a somewhat alarming degree at times. I had a lot of fun thinking about what I would do in that situation and problem solving in as realistic a way as I possibly could. It was a fantastic theoretical exercise.
When you wrote your first book, you were balancing writing and being a mom to a busy toddler. Now you’ve got TWO little ones at home. Has the juggling act changed for you at all?
Oh my gosh yes. When I wrote Blood Money I had just the one tiny human and I wrote that book during his nap times. Now I have two tiny humans whose nap times don’t always happen concurrently. That means I work in fits and starts and frequently lose track of what I was doing or thinking about. This is why I haven’t written any new novel-length stuff lately, it’s just not possible for me to work like that. My kids are adorable distractions.
You are fabulous at coming up with unlikely combinations for your heroes (Azzam, Sean, and your ballerina jewel thief notable among them). Have you thought of some other protagonists that you haven’t shared with the world?
I literally have a running roster of main characters (and villains) I’m just waiting to get to know better. An autistic college student who saves the world from the zombie apocalypse, an unemployed social media marketing expert who runs PR for a guy who overthrows despots, you name it. The minute I have more spare time I’m going to let these characters run wild.
Both of your protagonists so far have been male- was that intentional, or were they just clamoring for their stories to be told? Do you find it easy to write from a male point of view?
I don’t know why, but yes. I do find it easier to write from a man’s point of view. I’m not averse to writing a woman’s story, I just haven’t had many female protagonists snag my attention. I really liked Ashley from Blood Money, and enjoyed her streak of quiet courage, but I’m still waiting for that one special lady who can carry a whole story on her own.
When I talked to you about PWNED, you mentioned that you’d started writing a third novel. How’s the progress on that? Is it the same story that you worked on during NANOWRIMO this year?
You are talking about my unfinished novels number three and four and unfortunately they’re both languishing on my hard drive, unfinished. I love them, though, and I miss them. I’ll finish them someday when my kids don’t need my help/attention/boobs every five freaking minutes.
I have to admit, I had a little literary crush on Bai. He was level-headed, capable, and just a little bit mysterious… Would you ever consider a sequel following him to his next assignment? (Please say yes!)
You liked Bai, huh? He was the most fun character of the novel, for sure. Just for you, Brooke, I will consider writing a sequel following his exploits post-London. It would definitely be fun to spend more time with him.
*Updated to Add*:
If it happens on Twitter, it has to be true!
As always, Erika, it has been a real pleasure. I eagerly await the further results of your literary endeavors, however long they may take. Thank you for “stopping by”!
(author photo courtesy of E. Mitchell, other photos via Google)