Sunday, August 27, 2023

Erin Flanagan

Erin Flanagan’s new novel is Come With Me. Her novel Deer Season won the 2022 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author and was a finalist for the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and the Midwest Book Award in Fiction (Literary/Contemporary/Historical). Her second novel, Blackout, was a June 2022 Amazon First Reads pick. She is also the author of two short story collections–The Usual Mistakes and It’s Not Going to Kill You and Other Stories. She has held fellowships to Yaddo, MacDowell, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, UCross, and The Vermont Studio Center. She contributes regular book reviews to Publishers Weekly and other venues.

Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband, daughter, two cats and two dogs. She is an English professor at Wright State University and likes all of her colleagues except one.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

As with so many final titles, this wasn’t the one I used as I was writing, but it’s one I’ve grown to love. It feels ominous to me, and in combination with the wonderful cover with that weird green sky, it really fits the book. Podcaster David Temple of The Thriller Zone said it feels like “a beckoning and a reckoning” and I love that. I love too that the cover is the two women with their backs to each other, which also feels somewhat ominous to me.

What's in a name?

The protagonist’s name, Gwen, came to me pretty late in the game. She was Anna for a long time, but I could tell it wasn’t quite right. I wanted something with the same number of syllables but that ended with a less upbeat letter. Gwen seemed like a good Midwestern name, and also somehow subdued.

The antagonist, Nicola, also goes by Nikki. Nikki is her childhood name, and I wanted a clear divide between her childhood self and who she wills herself to be as an adult. She’s from a small, lower-class Ohio town. Her mother, Onita, was not what you’d call the greatest mom, but I liked that she would give her daughters these classier names—Nicola and Celeste—as if hoping for something better for them. I think Onita would have been like, those sound French!

A funny aside: I mispronounced Nicola in my head the entire time I was writing the book. I said it like Nick-cole-a, which is typically the male pronunciation. It’s Nick-o-la on the audiobook, which is how it’s usually pronounced for a woman. But I think Onita would have pronounced it like I did when she gave her daughter the name.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think my teenage self would be like, what happened to us? (laughs) Although seriously, I think my teenage self would have thought I’d write more about romantic relationships since society held those out as the idealized and central relationships in a girl’s life, even though my main social relationships were all with friends.

I feel really lucky to have had such wonderful female friendships throughout different stages of my life. With this book, I wanted to honor how significant those relationships can be, both good and bad.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I try not to put too much pressure on myself when I write a beginning. I always tell my students, just open up a file and get sexy with it (laughs). All this means is, go in and have some fun—no stress and no stakes. I start by getting to know the character and who they are in the day to day. Once I know them, they are that character in every scene, so in revision I can go back and cut the get-to-know-you and get straight to some action.

As for endings, they rarely change. By the time I’m rounding the last corner on a novel, I have a pretty good sense of where I’m going and it often feels like landing a difficult dismount in gymnastics. It’s quite a rush, and one of my favorite parts of writing.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see myself in both the protagonist Gwen who lacks confidence and feels like she’s in over her head, and Nicola, the antagonist who wants to be loved so badly that she holds on too tight. For me, that was the key to cracking the book: seeing myself in both, and not just Gwen. I had to understand Nicola’s motivation for the book to make sense and not have her seem completely off her rocker. That said, I have never taken things to quite the extreme Nicola does, I promise!
Visit Erin Flanagan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blackout.

My Book, The Movie: Blackout.

Coffee with a Canine: Erin Flanagan & Mavis and Lorna.

--Marshal Zeringue