Young adult author Erica O’Rourke reads anything she can get her hands on – including cereal boxes and train schedules. But she writes what she loves: dark urban fantasy about girls who fall for boys they shouldn’t, learn to use their loud voices, and take control of their fate. She likes the Oxford comma, anything ginger-flavored, driving stick shift, and flawed characters who have to make hard choices. Whenever possible, she avoids iceberg lettuce, live fish, algebra, and emoticons. Erica lives outside of Chicago with her husband, three daughters, and two very, very bad cats. To learn more about her, including her quest to create the perfect fish taco, you can visit her website, http://www.ericaorourke.com/ or follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Erica_ORourke
Erica’s Golden Heart manuscript, UNCHOSEN, is a finalist in the Young Adult category.
Mo Fitzgerald wants to have an ordinary senior year – and get out of Chicago, away from her family’s secrets and scandals. But when she witnesses her best friend’s murder, her need for vengeance eclipses everything else. Her search for answers is complicated by her new, bad-tempered bodyguard and a charming, mysterious Southerner. When she discovers her friend was prophesied to stop a supernatural apocalypse, Mo must step into her friend’s destiny and save the world, without using magic. To get the justice she seeks, she will have to leave her safe, predictable world behind, stop a mob war, and choose between two different, equally dangerous, guys. Most frightening of all…ordinary Mo must become extraordinary
And now a little about Erica:
1. How long have you been writing?
My whole life. There was a particularly unfortunate story I wrote in junior high about a group of friends who banded together to defeat an evil witch. In a stunning coincidence, each character resembled someone in my class. Sly girl that I was, I included a disclaimer on the title page stating that the characters and events were fictional, and not based on any person, living or dead. It was like the Law & Order of 6th grade novels. I am the slightest bit terrified that my mom has held onto it.
2. Did you always want to be an author or is this something you fell into later in life?
Despite my early efforts, I didn’t consider writing professionally until several years ago, at which point I said to my husband, “How hard can it be to write a book?”
I will pause while you get all that laughter out of your system.
Turns out, it’s kind of hard. Who knew? But I do it anyway, because there is no greater satisfaction than looking at that stack of paper, words strung together to tell some deeper truth about the world, and saying to the people I love, “Look. I made that.”
3. What do you do in your “other” life? (Day job, family, etc.)
I stay home with my girls, ages 9, 7, and 2. I run up huge fines at the public library and drink too much coffee. I do laundry, but mostly because everyone else runs away when it’s time to fold the clothes, which means I can watch Doctor Who in peace.
4. Who are your favorite authors?
This is like asking my favorite food – it shifts depending on my mood. How about five, each from a different genre? Barbara Kingsolver, Agatha Christie, Maureen Johnson, Jennifer Crusie, Libba Bray. And I can’t leave out Neil Gaiman. I don’t know how one person’s head can contain so much brilliance and not explode.
5. Do you have an agent?
I’m working on it!
6. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Publishing my second YA series and traveling to Maine or England “for research purposes” before starting another. If we really want to dream big, I’ll also have convinced my husband to get a puppy – a bigger challenge than getting published!
And now in Erica’s own words…
Reading About Writing
Most writers I know have a shelf – or more often, a precarious stack – of books about writing. The allure of these books is their promise to tell you “the secret”. The right process, the right query, the right structure. They promise that once you know “the secret,” the whole mysterious world of publishing will crack open like an Easter egg to reveal a treat, like publication and overnight success and seven-figure deals. Problem is, none of them can give you the secret. None of them. Why?
THERE IS NO SECRET.
There’s learning. There’s hard work. Persistence and timing and luck and single-mindedness. But there’s no secret. No manual is going to drop a contract in your lap.
Still, reading about craft and the publishing industry is important. I’ve got my own precarious stack – more than one, in truth. Here, in no particular order, are the titles I read again and again, usually while wandering around the house in comfy pants, hunting for a snack (around here, we call that, “thinking about the book”).
1. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
For my money, the most inspiring writing book out there. Anne Lamott is tough and funny and warm, and gracious even when you say something incredibly stupid to her at a book signing (alas, I know this from experience). Bird By Bird combines practical tips (use a fast pen, carry index cards in your back pocket, how to find a critique group) with fresh approaches to craft (pretend you’re looking at a scene through a one-inch picture frame to really notice details; think about the contents of your heroine’s purse to get to know her). This is the first book I recommend to beginning authors, because it covers so many aspects of good writing, but it’s useful no matter where you are in your career.
2. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
When I brought this book home, my husband gently pointed out that it was written for screenwriters, not novelists. Then he stole it from my shelf and wouldn’t give it back for weeks. WEEKS! Regardless of whether you’re working on a movie or a manuscript, Save the Cat gives clear, accessible advice about structure, loglines, character development and marketing. The fabled Beat Sheet alone is worth the price of admission. If your spouse, like mine, has both an interest in writing and felonious tendencies, it would be best to buy two copies. A small price to pay for a happy marriage.
3. Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass
With all the changes afoot in the publishing industry, it’s foolish to try and write anything other than a breakout book. If you’re a debut author, it’s what will get you out of the slush pile. If you’re already published, it’s how you increase your sales and grow your career. Donald Maass is a brilliant teacher with concrete, specific advice and approximately eight frillion examples from every genre. I do love me some examples! I would strongly recommend buying the book and its corresponding workbook. It’s impossible to read this without imagining how to apply it to your own work, and the workbook gives you exercises to do exactly that, while the book goes into greater depth.
4. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage, by Bryan Garner, and a thesaurus.
Yes, yes. I’m cheating. Two books, but they’re both reference – and they’re ESSENTIAL. Spellcheck means never needing a regular dictionary again, but a copy of Garner’s next to your computer will ensure you never mix up affect/effect, altogether/all together, and amuse/bemuse ever again. Also, it’s fascinating. I’m not ashamed to admit I read it for fun.
A thesaurus is also handy, especially when trying to describe your heroine’s raven/inky/jet/sable/ebony/midnight dark tresses for the squillionth time. Yes, you can find this information online, but if you’re anything like me, it’s a bad idea to access the internet while you’re trying to write. Your intentions might be pure, but an hour and a half later, you’ve seen twelve hilarious puppy videos on YouTube, you’re all caught up on Lindsay Lohan’s antics, and you’ve written precisely zero pages.
5. Any book from your genre that you love.
Oh, sure, you can pick any book you feel is well-written. But for the maximum usefulness, choose one specifically in your genre, because your goal is to tear it apart (not literally. Nobody here is advocating damaging library books, mmn-kay?) and find out what makes it so successful. Read through it. What page do the hero and heroine meet on? Is it a three-act or four-act structure. Does it change POVs? Where? Why is it better for that scene to be told from the hero’s perspective than the heroine’s? How does the author escalate the stakes? If it’s urban fantasy or paranormal, how do they handle worldbuilding? If it’s got a particularly…frisky…scene, look at pacing and tension and the balance of physical description and emotional growth. You love that book for a reason – learn from it, so that you’re applying the underlying lessons without losing your distinctive voice.
Of course, there are many roads to Oz, my friends. What are the books on craft and publishing that you reach for time and again? Which ones not only teach you, but inspire you to go work on your own pages? No book in the world can write your story for you, but is there one in particular that’s helped you grow as an author, or think differently about your writing?