Today’s Author Q & A is with Erika Marks, a fellow NAL/Penguin author and friend. I loved her first novel, LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and though I have not yet had the opportunity to read her latest novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, it is on my TBR list, and I hope to review it very soon. Until then, I wanted to hear some of the background of the book and learn a bit about her writing process. Erika was kind enough to answer my questions, and now I’m more excited than ever to dig into THE MERMAID COLLECTOR. Without further ado…
What inspired you to write your novel?
It all began with a picture of a mosaic of a sea captain and the mermaid he supposedly left his wife for—I saw it in an architectural magazine and was immediately consumed with the idea of it and using the magical quality of such a legend as a backdrop for a story and the foundation of a small town’s identity. Around the same time, I’d read an article about a pair of brothers who’d started a small shop in New York City making their own chocolate (this shows how much a storyline can change from inception through drafts!) and I had this idea about two men arriving to a small town under mysterious circumstances. (In the early drafts Tom and Dean came to open a bakery!)
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
The edits! I know—am I nuts or what? 😉 Seriously, I love getting notes back on a draft and digging in because I know once I begin revisions on that first draft, then the story can really come alive. I certainly try to write the tightest first draft possible, but my process tends to be such that my novels don’t flesh out until I begin edits in earnest. And I find that so incredibly exciting.
What part of the process is not your favorite?
I would have to say the self-promotion part. We all know that in this day and age, authors have to be marketers and publicists for their work, and I struggle terribly with that because I never want to be pushy or self-serving. I know a lot of us as writers are challenged by this—all of us, most likely. But there’s no question that attending readings and festivals is one part of the promotional process that I LOVE and am so grateful for; the chance to connect with readers and hear firsthand what they like and don’t like in their stories is a gift to a writer, so that for me is unquestionably the silver lining in the marketing piece.
If you could go back in time, what would you have told your first novel self before publication?
Oh, what a great question! Since I’d been trying for twenty years to get published by the time I got my first book contract, there are MANY things I’d probably have said along the way. At the top of the list would be to not think that the book contract was the finish line; it’s not. In fact, the contract is merely the start of a whole new journey—a thrilling, wondrous, nail-biting journey. So keep that skin tough and those goals strong!
What is your favorite novel of all time?
Ack! Can anyone answer this? Erika, my dear, can YOU? (I’ll be watching the comments to find out.) I don’t know that I can—only because there are so many novels that have moved me at different points in my life and for very different reasons—I can’t pick just one. I do know, however, that there are certain writers whose work inspires me and leaves me breathless wondering how they do what they do—among them are Alice Hoffman, Annie Proulx, Stephen King, John Irving. But since we are nearing the holiday season, I will say that one of my very favorites—and one that I re-read every year at this time without fail—is Capote’s short story A Christmas Memory. I bawl every time. And every year, I cry at a different point in the story. I am, however, in awe of the entire work no matter what.
What is your first memory of writing?
I LOVED comic books as a kid (and still do!) so from a very early age I was making my own—doing the illustrations and the text—so I would say my earliest memory was of writing was building the storyline for a comic book at ten or eleven. Part Star Wars, part Justice League, part Josie and the Pussycats. It likely had some serious plot holes.
What do you most want readers to take away from your novel?
Much of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR takes place over a short period of time, just a few days before the town’s annual Mermaid Festival; I wanted to explore the idea of how life can offer exceptional opportunities to connect with another person in a fleeting—but deeply meaningful—way. My hope would be that my story leaves the reader appreciating the promise of magic and possibility in everyday life—and that the capacity for love can bind us to one another in the most remarkable of ways.
Thank you, Erika. That was as insightful and endearing as ever. And for the record, my favorite novel of all time is POSSESSION by A. S. Byatt. 😉
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Erika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, cake decorator, and carpenter. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two daughters. This is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.