Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Erin Flanagan Interview - Come with Me

Photo Content from Erin Flanagan

Erin Flanagan’s third novel Come With Me (Thomas & Mercer) releases in August, 2023. Her novel Deer Season (University of Nebraska Press) 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 (Thomas & Mercer) 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–both published by UNP. 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.

Erin 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.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
I had a friend in graduate school who used to say, “A publication for one is a publication for all,” and that’s always stuck with me. She meant that if anyone in the program landed a story or a publishing deal, ultimately that reflected well on the program and everyone in it, but I think it’s even broader than that. If a friend gets a book deal or wins an award or sells another copy, that demonstrates the value of storytelling in our lives and shows that people are hungry to connect through stories. It’s a much more humane and uplifting attitude than to see all writers in competition. Incidentally, I had another friend who used to say, “It’s not enough I win; everyone else must fail,” and while I’m (pretty) sure he was joking, I also get that it’s easy to slip into feeling that way. If someone else get X that means I can’t have X, but ultimately, it leaves a person feeling bitter and like they’re always reaching. I want to enjoy this wonderful community of writers, not compete with them.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher, Ms. Burns, used to put creative writing prompts on the backboard every week for us to hand in on Friday. It was by far my favorite assignment. The week before Thanksgiving that year, I wrote a story from the point-of-view of the turkey. He was in a cauldron of hot water asking for a shower cap because he thought it was a bath, not soup. This was real ground-breaking stuff lol. But Ms. Burns loved it and walked me over to the fifth graders to read to their class. It was the most terrifying public speaking event of my life, and yet I’ve been chasing that high ever since.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
Do your best to enjoy the process and keep your life in writing separate from you life in publishing. I think too often writers are worried about things they can’t control—whether someone will publish the work, whether the book will find its readers—and as soon as you get something, all you do is worry about the next thing. I think the real joy needs to come from the work, from sitting down and playing with language and solving problems and creating worlds. I try really hard to keep my head there, because that’s where the real joy is.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
I read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving in 1992, and as soon as I finished the book I thought, now, how did he do that? Everything folded together so perfectly, and it seemed like not a word was wasted, and I went back and read it again right away paying attention to the plot, the point-of-view, how he stacked scenes one after another, the humor. It wasn’t the book that made me want to be a writer, but it was the book that made me want to be a reader, and an engaged one at that. I started tracking every book I read and making a conscious effort to read more closely, and the joy that reading has brought me all those years later is one of the greatest of my life.

Can you tell us when you started COME WITH ME, how that came about?
The night before I was to have a weekend retreat with my writing group my latest book idea was rejected. This isn’t unusual but the timing was awful, because rather than a weekend to really dive in and start that project, I was back to the drawing board. When we arrived at the retreat, we were all gabbing about how much we loved and admired each other—there are five women in the group—and how sometimes it takes a while to find the friends you really click with, and how that’s harder once you’re out of your twenties. We started talking about the less than wonderful friendships we’ve all had—those that were a little too intense, or happened a little too fast—and I realized what a universal experience that is. COME WITH ME was born out of those conversations.

  • 1. The audio narrator pronounces one of the main character’s names differently than I do in my head (but I think she’s right; I pronounce it like the boy’s name).
  • 2. This is my favorite cover of all my books.
  • 3. Nicola wants to have matching potted Christmas plants with Gwen outside their front doors, and I too am obsessed with matchies and always want to have them with my sister, mom, best friend, and daughter. They can be notebooks, purses, whatever. If I see we have the same thing I am contractually obligated to yell, “Matchies!”
  • 4. I wrote all the point-of-view chapters for Nicola three different ways before figuring out her voice and that she would be telling about the past not the present.
  • 5. I was signing a book for a woman at a library event in South Carolina a year ago and her name was Onita. As soon as she said it, I knew that was the name I’d been looking for to give a character in the book. I asked if I could use it and she said yes, and I warned her that Onita would be a very bad woman. She said, “so am I,” but there was a definite twinkle in her eye.
  • 6. My favorite paragraph in the book is about a 2nd grade class bird. To paraphrase: “Mr. TopHat, the class budgie, was a light-green bird with black markings on his head who loved sweet potatoes, grated carrots, and scratches. He had had a neck goiter due to an iodine deficiency, but Mr. TopHat didn’t let that get him down.” This isn’t central to the plot in any way, but I just love the pluckiness of that bird. Incidentally, my husband and daughter made me a Mr. TopHat Christmas ornament painted to his coloring specifications and with a neck goiter made out of sculpie.
  • 7. I was subliminally trying to convince my husband we should adopt a Cavapoo by writing in Maxx.
  • 8. The cuts for this book (and all my books) are much longer than what actually makes it in the book.
  • 9. Gwen refers to salmon as having the “wow factor” for her wedding dinner. I am obsessed with having a “wow factor” when I pack a lunch. Be it a special bread for a sammy or a good piece of chocolate. It makes all the difference.
  • 10. I wrote most of this novel in the Oakwood Starbucks in Dayton, Ohio, where I have a campaign going to get all the baristas to love me.
What is the first job you have had?
Cleaning out hog pens on my parents’ farm.

What was your favorite subject when you were in school and why?
Reading and writing the whole way through.

Name one thing you miss about being a kid.
Reading for 13 uninterrupted hours every Saturday.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
What should I do first? Pee, take out the dogs, or make coffee.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I was in London last month and my husband and I went to a Costco. It was amazing. A hotdog and soda is still only 1 and a half pounds there.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
I hate emptying the dishwasher so finally timed it and it only took me 3 minutes. Now when I don’t want to do something, I think, how long is it really going to take versus how long will I dread it? It helps me to not procrastinate.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I can’t wait to have coffee in the morning.

Any Camp stories you would like to share?
I went to bible camp when I was ten and we were all sliding down the wood-floored hallway in our socks when I got the great idea to take it up a notch and slide on my pillow. But instead I tripped on my pillow, knocked out my two front teeth on the floor, and had to get two root canals the next morning.

At a movie theater which arm rest is yours?
All of them.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Honestly, all of my fears are mundane and very universal. Fear I’m not good enough, fear I won’t be loved, fear of looking like a fool. These things suck on the unique-ness scale but are very good for writing universal stories others will identify with.

When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
Five minutes ago on the phone with my daughter.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
When my daughter was ten, she was obsessed with the game “would you rather.” “Would you rather swallow a bug or get bit by a spider?” “Would you rather poop your pants in public or break your arm?” I don’t mean to brag, but I got really good at demanding more information, debating both sides, and rationalizing my answer. So I will say here, I need to know if 1) I’ll know all along I’m going to get my heartbroken, which would make a huge difference because then I wouldn’t enjoy true love even in the beginning because I’d be waiting for the other shoe to drop. And 2) I feel it’s loophole that it doesn’t say in scenario #1 that this will be the only time I love, so things could still work out later, and so I would obviously pick that one. This is why my daughter finally stopped playing this game with me.

Two women. An old friendship rekindled. A growing fear. Not everything is as it seems in a dark and twisty novel of suspense by the Edgar Award–winning author of Deer Season.

Gwen Maner is a widowed single mom, returning to her Ohio hometown with her daughter. And thanks to former acquaintance Nicola Kimmel, this is the start of Gwen’s new and promising life.

Nicola’s secured Gwen a lucrative job, rented Gwen a house on her same street, and won the heart of Gwen’s daughter, but she almost seems too good to be true. She’s so selfless. So charismatic. And so take-charge. Gwen is sure Nicola is yearning only for someone to get close to. After all, according to Nicola, her marriage is falling apart, and her best friend just up and left one day.

But how well does Gwen really know Nicola? What does Nicola ultimately want? As their lives become more entwined, and Nicola’s grip tightens, Gwen begins to think that Nicola isn’t helping Gwen and her daughter but vying for control of every aspect of her life. And the consequences may be deadly.

You can purchase Come with Me at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ERIN FLANAGAN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Come with Me by Erin Flanagan.

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