Author Interview: Erika Mitchell

small photoOne 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?

*Ahem*

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.

shah1If 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.

…Which also just happens to be a perfect segue into my next question: Ashley shows remarkable strength and composure throughout the story. Would you picture yourself handling her situation similarly?ashley1

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*:

twitters1

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”!

Just as a reminder, Blood Money is available to download via Amazon, OmniLit (in a variety of formats), Kobo and directly from the publisher, Champagne Books.

(author photo courtesy of E. Mitchell, other photos via Google)

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Worth Waiting For” Edition

“The Little Book”~ Selden Edwards

Book Description (From Amazon):  Thirty years in the writing, Selden Edwards’ dazzling first novel is an irresistible triumph of the imagination. Wheeler Burden-banking heir, philosopher, student of history, legend’s son, rock idol, writer, lover, recluse, half-Jew, and Harvard baseball hero-one day finds himself wandering not in his hometown of San Francisco in 1988 but in a city and time he knows mysteriously well: Vienna, 1897. Before long, Wheeler acquires a mentor in Sigmund Freud, a bitter rival, a powerful crush on a luminous young woman, and encounters everyone from an eight-year-old Adolf Hitler to Mark Twain as well as the young members of his own family. Solving the riddle of Wheeler’s dislocation in time will ultimately reveal nothing short of one eccentric family’s unrivaled impact upon the course of human history.

Edwards, author of The Lost Prince, brilliantly weaves romance, art, history, and culture in this unforgettable and dazzling debut novel.

Hello? *taps microphone* Is this thing on? I mean, it’s been so long I’m beginning to question if this little channel to the Internet is even still open.

Fortunately for me, it appears to  be. That means I can fill you in on the little secret that I discovered thanks to Shelf Awareness. (Yes, since I am spending so little time communing with my fellow book bloggers anymore, Shelf Awareness is quickly becoming my sole source of all things bookish. They have yet to steer me wrong, I’m happy to say.)

About two months ago, they shared a review of the book “The Lost Prince,” by Selden Edwards, referring to a wonderful time travel plot and delicious female characters. And joy of joys, it was a SEQUEL to “The Little Book.” Which I had never even friggin’ heard of. I promptly hightailed it to my library, reserved a copy, and dug in.

Let me preface by saying this: If you enjoyed “The Time Traveller’s Wife,” this book is for you.

The book begins with Wheeler Burden waking up in 1897 Vienna with absolutely no idea how he arrived there. The last thing that he remembers is a book signing in 1980s San Francisco, so he’s really stumbled into quite a dilemma. Fortunately for him, he had a Wise Older Mentor who was FROM 1897 Vienna, so he has a bit of an advantage right off the bat. He allows himself to travel through the city as an observer, and then to gradually become absorbed in the exciting turn-of-the-century culture. He’s aware of the care he needs to take when interacting with people, lest he inadvertently affect the future he is to be born into. That becomes exponentially more difficult when he starts to stumble across figures from his own past, and the resulting complications are delightful to witness.

Selden Edwards is obviously deeply in love with the time period he writes about, and his book reflects it. The story is deeply sensual, with descriptions of everything from glorious coffee with cream to intricate gowns, and even a night at the opera. There is a rich cast of characters both male and female, and it wonderfully prepares the reader for the next installment, in which we get to revisit one of the female characters. The reader also is treated to encounters with a host of historical figures, including a young Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler. With a time travel plot, it’s difficult to discuss too many details without giving away spoilers, but I am so glad that I was clued into this book’s existence. With my crazy schedule, it took me far longer than usual to get through its packed pages (Hint: I renewed it at the library TWICE. Oh, the shame!!), but it was worth every minute. I’d highly suggest it as a great read for the cooler weather ahead.

Four and a half cups of strong coffee.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Bite-Sized” Edition

Well hello,  Interwebs!  Oh, I’ve missed all of your lovely faces! We’re finally back in working-computer business here at the Casa, so my brief hiatus is over. I’ve been reading like a fiend (thanks to some downtime in training classs… which is now over, le boo.), and not able to write nearly as many reviews as I’ve read, so I wanted to crank out a couple of mini-reviews to get myself caught up.

Hopefully I can get back on the ball and return to my regularly scheduled posting.

“Tigers in Red Weather” – Lisa Klaussmann

I admit to primarily choosing this book because of the setting- I have a soft spot for anything that takes place on Martha’s Vineyard. Having spent time there during the summers as a little Brooke, there are very few places that I love more. Just the name can evoke so many wonderful memories. Something about being able to picture the environment so clearly in my head makes the story come a live that much more vividly. There’s something about the New England Islands that gets into your blood and stays there, as one of the characters astutely remarks: “I think it’s in the genes, salt water. Whether you like it or not.” There’s a certain blue to the sky and bite to the air that you can’t find in any other places, and it’s the perfect setting for this fever dream of a novel.

The thing that’s so remarkable about this book is the plotting- Lisa Klaussmann nails it, introducing her characters and their motivations gradually, so the build to the climax is gradual and allows the feeling of dread to build up beautifully. Something  in the characters’ world is verrry wrong, and you will keep breathlessly turning pages to find out what it is.

Five out of five perfect martinis.

“Crossed”~ Ally Condie

It took me quite a while to be motivated to pick up the second book in this series, and now I remember why. It’s just mediocre. The writing wasn’t good enough to keep me caring about the characters, and the plot was far too commonplace- “two characters in love are on a journey to find each other, testing their limits and taking most of the book before they find each other only to immediately get in a fight and eff it up. And then they make up and unforeseen circumstances separate them again. Look out for the love triangle!” Yawn.

Two pages of poetry.

“Uglies/Pretties”~ Scott Westerfeld

I have no idea why I didn’t pick up this series until now. I honestly think that I was put off by the covers/titles enough to avoid them completely. “Uglies” was a pleasant surprise- Tally lives in a dystopian society in which you are “cured” of being ugly at age 16. She’s missing her best friend Peris, who was two months older than her, and is spending her days killing time until she can have her operation. She meets a new friend Shay, who opens Tally’s eyes to the possibility of remaining “ugly”, and questioning a society that places so much value on appearance. When Shay escapes to the wild, Tally is recruited to find her or risk being “ugly” forever.

Oh, and then “Pretties” happened… and the YA curse appeared and made me lose interest in reading the third book. Tally has finally become Pretty, and spends her nights partying with all of her new Pretty friends. She’s been reunited with Peris, is bff with Shay, and has caught the eye of the mysterious Zane. Everything seems pretty perfect until she meets a mysterious masked stranger at a costume ball, and she remembers her real reason for becoming “Pretty.” The rest of the book struck me as convoluted and a bit overdramatic.  See my issues with “Crossed” above. 😉 A potentially fascinating subplot is introduced, only to be interrupted by the ending. Which I  haaaaaaaaaaated.

Uglies: Four out of five hoverboards.

Pretties: Three out of five bungee jackets.

“Day After Night” ~ Anita Diamant

After “The Red Tent,” I’ll read anything written by Anita Diamant. While this book didn’t quite grab me the same way, her talent with historical fiction can’t be denied. Based on a true story, the book follows four women who have survived the Nazis only to be kept in a British detainment camp in Palestine. Each character reveals her experiences during the war slowly, gradually coming to terms with the reality of being one of the “lucky” people who survived when everyone they cared about was lost. Watching them gradually find joy again was both hopeful and bittersweet, and simple moments caught me completely off guard with their emotional depth.

Four out of five loaves of challah.

‘America, You Sexy Bitch’: Notable Quotes

(With relatively little elaboration/commercial interruption from yours truly)

“Unfortunately, the problem is that in America, women in the media are still treated as either Madonnas or whores… the easiest and most predictable way for a lot of men to deal with a strong woman with strong opinions is to automatically call her a slut and immediately call into question her morality and life choices…. I want women in this country to have the opportunity to be three-dimensional human beings. I want women to be accepted as smart, powerful, intelligent and in tune with their sexuality without automatically being labeled “sluts” for having those qualities.” ~ pp 54-55, Meghan

“So many other countries have mandatory military service, which I don’t think we need, but I wonder whether some sort of mandatory national service wouldn’t be a good idea for our country. Whether it’s military or educational or mentoring or park service, the list of needs we have is great and we certainly don’t lack for bored young people. I also worry that our culture is slowly becoming so fragmented that our national identity might get irretrievably diluted along the way.” ~pp 117-118, Michael

“Just as Elvis was probably inevitable, so was Obama… Both Elvis and Obama represent the collision of cultures, which is how America has always marked its own progress, from 1492 on…Both men were charismatic, inspirational figures who energized America and, then, the world…. Both were scorned and both did a lot to earn that scorn; hopefully Obama never makes any movies like Blue Hawaii.” ~p194, Michael

“So, is it fair that he won’t buy health insurance, but the public should pay for his appendectomy?

No. But it’s not fair that the government should tell him what he has to buy, either.” ~p 233, Michael

(Surprisingly, this is the section of the book that got me the MOST fired up. I can’t stand the arrogance of healthy people that refuse to buy insurance because “they’re young and healthy, and understand the risk they’re taking by not doing so.”

I had health insurance when I was getting paid $9.50 an hour as a technician at CVS. I went into the hospital to have my gallbladder removed as an outpatient, and left the hospital 3 weeks later after pancreatitis with a $76,000.00 hospital bill. Should the public have had to pay for that?)

“There’s something I sometimes forget when talking to [Meghan] about Obama. Her father lost the presidency of the United States of America to that guy. That’s got to be a tough pill to swallow… But here’s one of the things I love about Meghan McCain: even though her dad lost the election to Barack Obama, even though she has every reason to buy into the whole “Marxist/Kenyan/Socialist/Saul Alinsky/terrorist-loving crap,” she does not. Meghan McCain is committed to finding the good in her president.”~ p233, Michael

“I love a man in a Ford F-Series pickup truck, so much that my girlfriends and I have a running joke about how all men should just do themselves a favor and buy Ford pickups, because they automatically become more attractive when driving them. Seriously, I will take a man in a Ford any day of the week over a man in a BMW.” ~p244, Meghan

(She gets the Car Question, ladies! It never fails!)

“I think that ended up being the funniest part about our assumed divide. That our roles completely reverse when we step away from how we want our government run and look closer at how we live our own personal lives. Labels are stupid.” ~p308, Meghan

Thank you for joining me on my book club read of America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom for Mandy’s Blogger Book Club! If any of the previous posts have intrigued you at all, or if you just want to examine your political leanings before the election in November, I highly recommend you pick up a copy and give it a read.

On Author Adoration.

As far back as I can recall in my childhood, I never had a problem escaping into make-believe. Being an only child, it didn’t take me long to realize that if I wanted to have adventures everyday, I would have to make it happen. Luckily, I had no problem with that. I would spend hours in my awesome basement playroom, transforming my space into whatever it needed to be for the day’s excitement.

One day, I would be a Duggar Mommy, taking care of my dolls and teaching them letters with my chalkboard.

The next, I was a Pioneer Girl, using the wood-paneled bar as my covered wagon and huddling in a nest of blankets against the long, cold winter.

The day after that, I was a Princess-Baker-Veterinarian, simultaneously ministering to my wounded stuffed animals while cooking up culinary triumphs in my Fisher Price Kitchen. In heels.

At night I’d curl up in bed, ready to hear my mom read a few chapters from the book that we were currently reading. Whether it was one of the Little House novels, or “Charlotte’s Web,” the day didn’t seem complete until we’d ended it with a story.

As I got older, and it was no longer “socially acceptable” to bring my American Girl Dolls to sleepovers, I turned more and more to the pages of books to allow my imagination to continue to run rampant. Through high school I explored the corridors of Hogwarts with Harry and the gang, and nothing made a night on the production line at M&M go by more quickly than a creepy Stephen King novel. During a particularly long period of Single-dom, I fell in love with Edward Cullen, and then ditched him for the oh-so-shirtless Jacob Black. I attended midnight release parties, and tore through 800-page novels on long car trips.

Books are my permission to keep dreaming, and the authors who write them are the people who transport me with their words.

My friends at The Readers Café share a little wink in regards to my fangirl attitude regarding authors. I still can’t get over how exciting it is to be living in an age where I can shoot a tweet at Katherine Longshore if I’m really enjoying “Gilt,” or join a live chat with Jennifer Weiner if I’m free on a weeknight. No longer do we have to send fan letters and wonder if perhaps they eventually find their way into the hands for which they were intended.

This week, Amy from Hamlet’s Mistress and I FINALLY met in real life to attend a reading featuring none other than Deborah Harkness, author of “A Discovery of Witches” and “Shadow of Night.”

Now, you probably know that Deb and I are already bff, but meeting her in person was inestimably cooler. Even though my camera MYSTERIOUSLY didn’t work when Army Boy tried taking a picture of me. And mysteriously DID work the minute I stole it back to get a picture of Amy.

She was warm, and witty, and displayed infinite patience, even when asked questions such as “So, I totally fell asleep listening to your book on a train? Can you tell me what the heck a (most important plot point ever) is??”*

Perhaps most fascinating to me about the whole event is that Deborah has SO much going for her, and yet she still managed to write a series that has captured the hearts and minds of so many people. She’s a college professor, a oenophile with a well-known wine blog and a historian… who just happens to write about witches, vampires and demons in her “free time.” She’s also landed a movie deal with Warner Brothers. Just your average run-of-the-mill couple of years. She could be show-offy or egotistical, snobby or pretentious, but she was none of those things. Basically, she was none of the things that we have been taught to fear from our current “celebrity” culture.

Instead, she shared a fabulous tip for writing: “Sit down and write two pages every day. Only two pages. At the end of one year, you have a book. It’s basically that simple.” (Leading EVERYONE in the room to think simultaneously “I could DO that!”)

After Tuesday night, I feel totally justified in my fangirl perception of authors, and I think that everyone there would be just a little bit more inclined to agree with me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read all of the things.

*- Leading Army Boy to remark on the way home: “Brooke , as Deborah Harkness- ‘How about you read the $*%&#^@!! book, and then if you still have the same @#(*$&!@# question, you can ask me?’” **

 **- Yup, I would probably be the jerkiest author EVER.

Who NOT To Trust As A Housesitter

This past weekend we made the trip up to New Hampshire for my cousin’s beautiful wedding. We sent Wesley off to the puppy spa, locked up the house, and turned off the water. We thought we had everything pretty well under control.

For some reason, I totally forgot to make sure that America, You Sexy Bitch was somewhere that it couldn’t get into any trouble.

And then I come home to these.

Sleeping pills + Twitter = BAD IDEA

Crocs Heaven ❤

Supporting Our Troops

Exercising Its Second Amendment Rights

I definitely expected this book to challenge some of my perceptions… but, erm?

AYSB, you are SO grounded.

Mostly Wordless Wednesday: And Then I Earned My Reputation as “The Insane One.”

Guys! My copy of America, You Sexy Bitch arrived on Monday! It was accompanied by loads of goodies from Mandy, and promptly set about making itself right at home.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite anticipate the, er… “leanings”… of its new home.

“Uh, so it’s THAT kind of party?”

“This is going to be more difficult than I thought.”

“Lalalalala I can’t hear you…”