Interview with Erik Atwell
Hi Samantha! Real quick before getting to the Q&A, I want to thank you for both having me here on Chick Lit Plus, and for putting together this ridiculously cool blog tour!
Okay, so… Why did I want to write Air Zoe? Maybe because I felt I owed it to readers to share my experiences about being in an all-girl garage band.
Kidding. I do that a lot. Hopefully it won’t get too annoying.
The truth is, I wrote this story because I very much wanted to tell a universally relatable story about reconnecting with one’s youth. I think that for many, adulthood arrives without much warning, and it often leaves our wildest and most unbridled dreams in the dust. To me, this is sort of a bummer. Granted, adulthood brings with it a full boatload of responsibilities, and we can’t all just pitch everything on a whim and backpack through Europe whenever an adventurous itch needs to be scratched. But I believe that with enough emotional maintenance, we can hold on to the urgency and energy of our youth.
I think that one of the many keys to happiness is to live without regrets. And for the most part, I’ve followed this blueprint well. Though I’m still slightly bitter that I never won an Olympic gold medal. I was kind of a hotshot on skis as a six-year-old, but looking back now, I see where it all went wrong.
Not enough training and too many trips to the local DQ.
Oh well. I’m sure the chocolate milkshake has derailed many amazing athletic accomplishments over the years, huh?
Anyway, I thought it would be both challenging and fun for me as a writer to take a shot at writing a story about a woman who wanted to correct her life’s one big regret. And really, didn’t we all dream of being a rock star at some point during our childhood?
When did you know writing was for you?
In an author bio I put together as part of a press release, I joke about how my writing career started when a one page history class assignment in sixth grade blew up into a 40 page tale of a politically and socially scandalous silversmith in Boston during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Through high school, of course, writing was nothing but a painful and tedious chore that was tackled in extremely last minute and haphazard ways. I mean honestly, where’s the creative freedom in a ten page essay on religious references in Beowulf? Fortunately, taking a fiction writing course in college rerouted this displeasure, clued me into the fact that I might actually have an aptitude for storytelling, and two writing degrees later, out popped a silly little novel!
How would you describe your books?
I would describe Thank You For Flying Air Zoe in particular as a novel that spends its time bouncing back and forth between laughing gas and tear gas. Mostly I think my work is laughably and lovably loopy, but every so often just enough tenderness and sentiment sneak into the fray and totally throws the readers’ emotions into a blender. I think I also once described Air Zoe to someone as a “caffeinated literary fruit loop on helium.”
Hmmm. I wonder if I should’ve asked for that to be put on the back cover.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
That’s an easy one… Starting. Starting a new story, starting a new chapter, starting the day’s writing session. Just plain trying to get out of the gate and hit my stride. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet located the little on/off switch that will allow me to be a writer one moment and a rational, agreeable, and normal person the next. I can do my best to schedule a specific writing time, but unless my mind is properly slanted toward creativity in that moment, I will be utterly useless as a writer.
Conversely, my favorite part of writing is barreling past all of those horrible potholes and speed bumps that clutter up my path. Once the story gains speed and the writing is in rhythm, that’s when the whole process can be pure bliss.
Now see, this is such a great question that I’m having a hard time starting my answer! (*grin*)
Maybe this is because there are so many possible answers. For one, being published eliminates what would likely be a massive regret were I to never publish a novel. I think that’s the basic reward as dictated by my unofficial Bucket List. Been writing a while. I really wanted this.
A rewarding memory that’ll forever make me laugh… When the book first came out, I received three boxes of author copies. So I did what any sane person would do — I stacked all 96 copies on top of one another to see whether or not I was taller than the stack! I was, but not by much. And wow, wasn’t there a spectacular moment of pure panic when at about 80 books high, the tower started to topple! Anyway, I think that the sheer lunacy of building my own little Air Zoe high rise kind of captured the euphoria of being published. You don’t quite know what to do with yourself, so you end up going slightly cuckoo. I’m surprised I didn’t try to build a fort!
But I think that the most rewarding part of being published has to be hearing compliments from readers and reviewers. It’s definitely a trip when you check your daily websites and see that someone has taken the time to share their thoughts about your novel. And if you’re lucky enough to get four, or even (*gasp*) five stars for your work?
You kind of spaz out a little. Maybe do a somersault/handstand/Macarena combo. It’s not all that pretty, but I find it effectively conveys the right amount of enthusiasm.
What are your favorite genres to read?
I’m really all over the library on this one. I can enjoy anything from contemporary fiction to historical non-fiction. Memoirs and/or biographies about music and sports also appeal to me in a big way. I don’t think there’s any one specific genre I tend to favor, but rather I look for books that might leave some sort of indelible imprint upon me — either as a reader or as a writer. I want memorable characters, quirky philosophies on life, tales of overcoming incomparable struggles.
What, is that too much to ask?
Probably so, huh? In that case, just give me a book that moves me or makes me smile even a little bit, and I’m good.
What do you want readers to take away from your story?
As a debut author, I primarily hope readers won’t think, “Well, there’s twelve hours of my life I’ll never get back.” Provided I make it past this hurdle, I think I’d like readers to question whether or not they have any regrets in life, and if so, is there any way they can correct them to some degree. Life is a massive balancing act, and we routinely dance on the edge of regret. As we get older, we sometimes catch ourselves questioning the choices we’ve made, wondering if we’ve made the right choice, wishing we had zigged instead of zagged. If Zoe Tisdale, wise and wacky woman that she is, can teach us anything, it’s that it’s never too late to retrace that childhood dream if the spirit moves you to do so.
The tone of my stuff is certainly on the lighter side, but as I touched upon earlier, I’d like to think that there is enough heart and depth within the pages to impact a reader in some positive way. I want them to be glad that they took the time to get to know my work.
Are you currently working on another novel?
Well, I can’t say I’ve been all that inspired lately. I mean tossing aside 20 years of west coast city life and moving to a small New England town with a wife and infant son is pretty dull stuff, y’know?
Ha. So totally kidding. Yes, I’m definitely in the honeymoon phase with a new idea for a novel. My 2012 has been a happy little crazy carnival thus far, and I can’t help but feel compelled to take some of what we’ve experienced — both externally and internally — and sculpt some sort of story out of the source material.
Do you have a writing routine you try to stick to?
Once upon a time in the pre-fatherhood era, yes. I would spend mornings lost in impossibly deep thought over what I would write later that day. And by that, I mean that I pretty much surfed the internet while watching SportsCenter and drinking way too much coffee. On occasion, I might write what I thought was a cool sentence or two as I prepared to tackle the project that afternoon.
Afternoon would arrive, and I would be raring to go! But after even more coffee, I would usually conclude that my cool sentences were not at all cool, and I was probably going to have to give up on this writing thing for good. I imagine that in my mind, I have given up on having a career as a writer close to five thousand times. “I should quit writing,” I would say to myself. “I should quit writing, and instead focus on trying to make the 2014 Olympic Ski Team!”
Fortunately, I’m not very good at quitting. And sure enough, by late afternoon, while in full sulk over my epic creative inabilities, the proverbial bright idea light bulb would suddenly shine brightly overhead. I would then hurry to the computer, hammer out a few paragraphs — or even pages — and thus make an amazing and dramatic eleventh hour save of the project!
Then the very next morning, I would wake up, make coffee, read these allegedly brilliant things I’d written the day before, and think, “Wow, this is kind of awful.”
Lather, rinse, repeat! (*grin*)
How important do you think blogs and/or social media are to authors?
Given the web’s global reach, I think that blogs and such are an absolute necessity these days. I recently wrote a blog post announcing this Blog Tour, and I joked about how traditional book tours are just so 20th century. Sure, some of the more established authors hit the road and draw large crowds at signings, but us debut authors don’t have the resources needed to facilitate such promotion. Social media, however, gives us a bit of a fighting chance to compete. Still, it takes work to connect with others through blogs, or sites like Facebook and Twitter, because with so many writers out there trying to get noticed, the creative chaos can be tough to sift through. Too many voices at one time can create a white noise wherein none of the voices are truly heard.
I’m definitely still learning how to best utilize social media, but it seems to me that a good strategy is one that comes pretty naturally to me, and that is to both know and respect that fine line between connecting and self-promoting. My own blog is almost criminally primitive, but it achieves what I believe is its most vital goal – it helps me connect with readers on a more personal level. And if you can give readers a chance to care about you as a person, I think they’re more inclined to support your career as an author.
So yeah, I think that blogs can be fantastic little windows into the worlds of authors they might otherwise never get to know. I mean if I had this same fledgling career a dozen years ago, would my audience know that I’m a new dad who’s now rockin’ a burgundy minivan?
Wow, did I just admit that?
Are you familiar with boy bands these days? Which boy band would you most likely be to join (if you had the stellar voice, piercing stare and perfect hair)?
Haha… Mercifully, I do not have the piercing stare or the perfect hair. I don’t have a stellar voice either, but just try to tell me that after I’ve had a couple of beers at a karaoke outing!
I think I am now well beyond the days of keeping up with pop/top-40 music (though I hear that U2 is still having huge chart success, and they’re made up of much older boys — can I join up with them? Or do I have to be Irish?). In my youthful musical days, boy bands like New Kids on the Block, Boys II Men, and Backstreet Boys all had soaring success, but I couldn’t at all connect with their songs.
Anyway, Samantha… In the interest of artistic integrity, and because you’re such a rock star yourself, I decided to dig deep and watch videos of mega-hits from three of this era’s hottest boy bands, two of which I’d never even heard of.
I watched the boy band One Direction’s video for “What Makes You Beautiful,” which started out promisingly enough. Ocean waves crashing, a vintage VW bus — looks good so far. But then twelve seconds in, the lead singer opened his mouth, and out came: “You’re insecure / Don’t know what for / You’re turning heads when you walk through that doh-oh-oar…”
Disaster. Despair. Almost went all Van Gogh on myself and hacked off my own ear. Anyway, undaunted, I then gave the boy band The Wanted a chance, watching the video for their hit single “Glad You Came.” Made it about twenty seconds into this one, right up to the point where the painfully heavy electronica kicked in and transported me to a sunrise rave in Ibiza.
Then finally, I watched “SOS” by The Jonas Brothers. Immediately, I noticed something different about them.
They actually play guitars. And drums.
So yeah, they win this one hands down simply because they’re actually, y’know, a band?
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
I would tell them this… Don’t stop believin’, hold on to that feelin’. Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past, you must fight just to keep them alive. You’ve gotta hold on to what you’ve got, it doesn’t really matter if you make it or not… And… Um…
Okay, time out.
Can you tell that I’ve spent the last few months mired in 80s music?
Kidding aside, there’s actually a whole lot of sound advice within the 80s lyrics mash-up above, cliché though it all may be. Unless you’re incredibly lucky and/or impossibly talented, you are going to need enough belief in yourself to overpower rejection. Because it probably will happen, and when it does, you will question your own voice. You will doubt that you have what it takes to make it in an industry that is growing increasingly tougher to break into.
And you know what?
That is totally okay. Maybe you don’t have what it takes — at least not yet. However, maybe you’re close, and all you need is to keep trying. Keep studying the writings of others. Keep picking yourself up when you stumble and fall. Keep writing, because your creative evolution demands that you never give up. And above all else, don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling. Because writing isn’t easy, and struggle is just part of the program. Personally, I’ve always found that the less pressure I put on myself to succeed on others’ terms, the better my writing is. Seems to me that the less you worry about the outcome, the more likely you are to see results.
I have a favorite quote that fits here and will be a nice parting sentiment. It comes from Anonymous. I don’t know about you, but I hope that someday they discover who Anonymous is, because he/she says tons of quotable things.
The quote: “The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.”
Remember this and just write.
Thanks for everything, Samantha — I’ve had a blast being here.