Tuesday, August 22, 2023

TBR: Come with Me by Erin Flanagan

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


COME WITH ME is about a newly widowed mother who falls under the sway of an old acquaintance whose friends have a history of disappearing.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


There are two point-of-view characters in the book—Gwen Maner and Nicola Kimmel. Gwen is the protagonist and came pretty easily to me—she lacks self-confidence, an affliction I also suffer from—while Nicola was harder to figure out, and ultimately, more fun to write. Nicola is one of those friends who gets a little too close, a little too fast, and I had to write her three different ways before she really came together.


In the first version, her chapters were in the “now” of the story, and I really loved her snarky interior voice, but she wasn’t magnetic enough to have so much sway over Gwen. It occurred to me that the voice of hers that I loved was only in her head, so in the second version of her chapters, I wrote her saying all the snarky things she’d only been thinking and she became way more charismatic. The problem then was that, once she said everything she was thinking, her chapters just became a rehashing of what had already happened.


It wasn’t until the third round—when I started writing chapters from Nicola’s past—that things started to crystalize, not only from a narrative standpoint, but as a way for me to understand and empathize with Nicola and see what she really wanted and what her pain was. This resulted in a much more interesting character arc and moved her from just being an antagonist to, I hope, something more interesting.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


This is the first time in my career that I wrote a book after it was under contract so I had a pretty strict deadline. It was exhilarating knowing someone wanted the book, but terrifying too. I had six months to write it, and three of those months were when I was teaching full time, so there were no days off. I had a sense the book would take me about 350 hours based on previous novels, so I broke it down and got to work. But I’m definitely a bit of a pantser, so it was a lot of cutting and writing more, cutting and writing more before I really figured out the story. So for this novel, it was mainly “highs” not lows, but there were a lot of nights I just laid awake running the story through my head, hoping I could make it work.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


I know most people offer the best advice they’ve been given and not their own advice, but I’ve found a secret that’s so transformed my writing that I’m going to break protocol and share my own favorite hack. As I said, I often lack self-confidence, so the fact I’m giving my own advice rather than someone else’s should give you a sense how much I believe in it.


That said, it’s probably not the sexiest answer you’ll ever get, but my favorite piece of writing advice is to track your writing, both time and task: what you are working on, and for how long each day. After a while, you’ll start to see patterns—how long things take you, where you tend to procrastinate, how you can become more efficient, even how you can ward off despair.


For instance, when I wrote the novel Blackout, the first draft took 88 hours, but I wrote that over 13 or so months. The entire book, through beta-readers, research, and edits was 497 hours over 21 months. In other words, only 18% of the writing time took over well over half the months of writing. What did I learn? That I hate writing first drafts and will procrastinate like hell.


So when I started Come with Me, which I mentioned was under deadline, I decided I’d write 1k words a day during the semester, and as soon as summer hit, I’d raise it to 2k. I finished that first draft in two and half months, and it clocked in at 91 hours. So I shaved off months and months but spent about the same amount of time with my ass in the chair.


I also know now that a big edit takes me about 60 hours and I usually have to do a few rounds of that, but again, now that I know how long it takes, I can chip away as needed. When I start to despair how a project is going I think, lady, you’re only 150 hours in! Of course it’s rough! You’ve got 200 hours to go to make it better!


I honestly feel like knowing this about my writing habits has become a secret weapon that I use only against myself.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


I love this! It’s such great advice. I love love love being surprised by a story. I think in this book, the thing that surprised me the most was how empathetic I felt toward the antagonist. I knew I didn’t want to demonize her, and I was well-prepared to be charmed by her, but I didn’t think I’d end up feeling her desperate need for love on such a visceral level. I wrote this book partly to explore how smart women end up in these less-than-healthy friendships, but what I discovered was why some people want to control others. It was eye opening to say the least.


Who is your ideal reader?


My sister, Kelly Hansen. She’s a smart-ass woman who reads constantly and widely, but most deeply in crime fiction and thrillers. She is ready to be delighted by a book and has little to no interest in being a fiction writer, so while she’s willing to be wowed by a great sentence, she’s reading mainly for story. Also, since she’s been in my life since day one, she gets every Easter egg I put in my books—those little details that probably don’t really make a difference to most readers beyond rounding out the believability of the story, but that she knows intimately.


For instance when Clyle Costagen drinks a Lord Calvert and Sprite in Deer Season, she knows that’s our dad’s drink. Or when Nicola wants to have “matchies” in Come with Me, that’s because I’m always delighted when Kelly and I have the same purse or notebook. Or when Gwen says salmon has the “wow factor” that’s me talking about how every road-trip lunch needs a surprise. These little things delight us both to no end.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


It’s surprising how little food there is in this book considering how much I ate at my computer trying to figure out plot problems. But Nicola eats a chicken Caesar salad for lunch every day at work, and Gwen begins to do this too. It’s a throwaway detail, but one I thought spoke to the character. There’s something sad about someone eating the same thing every day. It says something about the level of control she has over her food intake and shows she takes no real pleasure in eating, which strikes me as pretty sad. In the book, Nicola orders this salad from a deli, but here’s my cheat recipe for a super quick and tasty chicken Caesar:


Romaine hearts – cut don’t tear to save time

Store-bought Caesar dressing (Marzetti is my favorite)

Store-bought croutons (which you should eat as you’re assembling)

Pre-shredded Parmesan (not grated)

Meat from a rotisserie chicken (preferably Costco)

Boom, that’s it. Gwen would probably recommend you open the rotisserie chicken in the Costco parking lot and eat at least one leg while crying in your car.




READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://erinflanagan.net/





READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS BOOK: excerpt of book [click on "read sample"]



DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.