Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Erica Orloff

I love to find out where writers and authors are on their journey of writing. So, this is a new semi-regular post on the blog--featuring writers all along the journeys towards publication and beyond.

I am kicking this feature off with a bang, with an interview with the fantastic, versatile author, Erica Orloff. She has definitely made it to the category of "beyond publication".

Perhaps backwards, I found Erica's blog first, discovered what a warm and knowledgeable person she is, and then found all of her unique books. Many days her blog is like a master's class in writing--with thought provoking blog posts and many knowledgeable writers who stop by to comment.

Today, I am spotlighting her recent award winning MG book--Magickeepers. But check out her website for a complete list of titles. Erica's books move at a splendid pace, and are populated by characters quirky enough to exist in real life--reclusive writers, blues singers, mafia members, FBI agents, drag queens, shock jocks and angels. And she balances her writing world with characters of all different races and backgrounds and sexual orientation. Erica makes a living with her writing. No small feat in today's publishing climate.

Magickeepers was her first foray writing for the Middle Grade audience. It was such a hit at my house that we had two copies floating around at once, to satisfy the three readers. Nobody wanted to wait for their 'turn'. Magickeepers is a fantastic story about a boy who discovers that he belongs to an actual magical family.
Thanks, Erica for doing this interview for the blog!

Erica, briefly, tell us about the road you took to first get published.

I had been in writers' groups since I was 20 . . . but never actively tried to get published. I worked as a book editor . . . and I was at a conference and ran into an agent I knew from attending the Book Expo in L.A. with a client of mine. I mentioned I had completed a novel . . . he asked to read it. He sold it to the fifth house he submitted it to (Red Dress Ink). That was 20 books ago . . . I HATE telling my "path to publication" story because it sounds too easy and wasn't fraught with rejection. But I had worked at craft for ten years before I even thought I had something to show an editor.

In the past, you have written a bunch of adult books. Please tell us what was different about writing a Middle Grade book. Was it harder? Easier? Were your children involved in the process?

It was harder, I think. Just making sure I was in the mindset of a 13-year-old boy. My kids helped name characters . . . and would read over my shoulder sometimes. There has also been some arguments over a few plot points.

The locales of your books are almost another character--New York, New Orleans, and for MagicKeepers: Las Vegas. How do you bring them to life--do you visit the settings, do you do Internet research, do you rely on memory?

If it's New York, then that's my hometown. The other places I have never been to. I rely on talking to people who live there or have lived there in the past, the Internet . . . and "vibe." I know jazz, for example, so that was a huge part of my New Orleans thing. I know the energy of a place like Las Vegas, how it never sleeps. So I rely on both instinct and research.

Your main character Nick can read the future--What magic skill would you want to have if you could?

I already have a magic skill. As a mother, I have eyes on the back of my head and uncanny listening skills, as well as a sixth sense when the house gets "too quiet."

One of my favorite things about Magickeepers is the history involved--while the book is fantastical, it is anchored in Russian history and magical history, with cameos from Houdini and historical figures. How did you choose these elements, and what kind of research was involved?

My father's family is Russian and I grew up listening to my grandmother tell me about her life there, plus Russian history sort of being "pushed" on me in the form of books and things. So I had a lot of it as a part of my background. As for specific characters, like Rasputin, that was research. The other thing was just how Russians are . . . you know movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding are stereotypes, but if you are Greek, you SEE part of your family in it. It was the same way with the Russian elements. It's just traits and things that bear an uncanny resemblance to people I know.

How much of your own children live within the characters in the book?

Nick is not like my son very much. My son is a motivated student, something Nicholai is not. But the fact that Nick like anime (a couple of obscure references here and there) is my nod to him. And Isabella is VERY much like my younger daughter. She is spunky and can be bossy, and also fearless about protecting animals. Their appearances mirror my children almost exactly, and the cover is fun to see because of that.

How has being a mom influenced the writing in this book?

I wanted to protect Nicholai. He is a lonely boy who doesn't have a mother. Something about that is very poignant to me. Being a mother is everything to me, and I think not having a mother would be crushing. So there is this element to that of his loneliness and my maternal feelings toward him.

Aside from the Magickeepers series, do you have any other children's books in the works?

No, but I have a YA coming out in 2011 called Star-crossed . . . and after my final Magickeepers, I am sure I will try to write another middle-grade series again.

How do you find the time to write, while raising a spirited family? Do you have any special writing routines?

No routines. Lots of coffee. And I also had to learn to give up what I thought I "needed" to write--silence, long stretches of uninterrupted time. I write when I can, very intensely, and KNOW I will be interrupted.

How about any superstitions-- do you have anything that you do when you send off a manuscript, or when a book is released?

No. But if I feel blocked, I talk to my late grandmother, whose picture is on my desk. Sometimes I will put on a lucky bathrobe that belonged to my grandfather. I light candles, too, and keep them burning to signify creative energy.

What is your favorite thing that a child has written or said to you in the aftermath of Magickeepers?

Oh gosh . . . it's so hard to even pick one because the letters are great. I have one girl who writes me every week about her life. But one boy . . . he wrote me to say he was a reluctant reader and HATED reading and Magickeepers made him not hate reading. That made me cry with happiness.

You are a dedicated blog writer--I actually picked up your books after following your awesome blog. What does writing a blog mean for a you, as a writer?

It's my journal of life as a writer. I write it without editing, first thing in the morning. I don't think when I started it, 1,000+ entries ago, that I expected it to become part of my "discipline" (or lack thereof) of being a writer. But I like it as a way to clear my mind in the morning.

Which author(s) or books have influenced your writing or world view?

The Little Prince, for its whimsy. Neil Gaiman for a sense of possibility. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl . . . for how I live my entire life as a human being.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you, and how do you work through that difficulty?

In all honesty, I think it's become, sad to say, fatigue. I am a mother of four and it feels like my personal life is very full. I work through it with coffee. The other difficult thing is self-doubt. Sometimes I just . . . hate what I write. And I just have to push through and pep talk myself. As someone once said . . . get the words down. You can always fix crap.

You are a full time writer--how many books to do publish each year?

Anywhere from one to four. It depends. Right now, I am completing my YA rewrite and then it will be time to do new proposals . . . plus Magickeepers III.

When can we expect the next Magickeepers book to come out?

April for the trade paperback version. May for Book II, The Pyramid of Souls. Expect to meet Sir Isaac Newton, P.T. Barnum, and others. :-)

Thanks so much for the wonderful interview, Erica. Blog readers, please make Erica feel welcome by posting a great question or comment for her--she'll be stopping by to answer.


  1. Thanks for having me, Heather. It has been SUCH A treat finding your blog as well!!!

  2. Good morning, Erica. Nice interview.

  3. Nice interview. I didn't realize that the children in Magickeepers were like your own. How did I miss that? Are they pleased with this? Do they tell you, no I wouldn't do that?

  4. Great interview! I love how Erica's brought her Russian heritage into her writing.

  5. Great interview you guys. I guess that self-doubt thing is common at every level.

  6. Viktor Frankl has been a touchstone in my life too. I think I shared that I found a little paperback of that book on my father's bookshelf when I was early in college. That paperback is now falling apart because I've gone back to it so often.

    I am looking forward to Magickeepers II.

  7. Erica's blog and website links aren't working.

  8. Hi Erica,

    Wonderful interview. One thing about your path to publication is that it sounds like it's good to be involved with others in this industry - like with workshops and conferences. And having a critique group was also a part of that path.

    Writing is such a solitary activity and I think some people are a little too insular and then have no contacts to help with the business side of things.

    I guess my question is if you care to expound on that a bit more.


  9. Great interview. I love Erika's blog and it's was fun learning more about her. I love the story about the reluctant boy-reader. And, I can't wait to read your YA novel Star-Crossed when it comes out.

  10. Hi Heather. You kicked the feature off with a good subject. I too started reading her books when I discovered her blog---which became my morning coffee. How diplomatic of you not to mention the Scrabble delusion!

  11. Hi Erica! Heather, great interview! I also found Erica's blog before her books and I'm grateful for the advice she doles out.

    Keep up the good work!

  12. Hi everyone--thanks for stopping by and making Erica feel at home. I apologize for the bad linkage--I've fixed it. I had to attend to sick child this morning (cowgirl has Pneumonia) and didn't double check the blog post as I normally would.

    Erica--thanks for all the great insight. I am still laughing about the eyes in the back of the head magic trick!

    And, I thought it was interesting that (as Jude said) the self-doubt doesn't go away.

  13. Hi Richmond:
    They were excited about it, but they understood I was borrowing their names and some details. My daugther is more like her character. Sometimes she WOULD say, "I wouldn't do that." And he DID say, "Why don't I get a tiger?!?"

  14. Hi Anna:
    That was really fun for me, too!

  15. Jude:
    I don't know if it's self-doubt, wanting my words to match what I envision, or what? I do know it definitely plagues me at times.

  16. Joe:
    Mine has pages falling from the spine too. It got me through Crohn's disease . . . changed my life, literally.

  17. Paul:
    I lterally made me cry. It was a very special author moment.

  18. Stephen:
    You know, I am sure Heather was just trying to spare your feelings . . . it really is SO sad, my love. But you go back to your sandbox with your Scrabble board and come back when you can play with the big kids. ;-)

  19. Heather:
    You take care of sweet Cowgirl!