The Literary Spotlight with Erika Lewis
Please let me introduce the writing prodigy, Erika Lewis, whom I have the honor and pleasure of interviewing this week. Prepare yourself for an awe-inspiring and profound encounter with the extraordinary wordsmith, Erika Lewis. This remarkable author's work is sure to leave a lasting impression, and I am eager to explore the depths of her imagination.
Erika Lewis, the brilliant mind behind "Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts," has captivated readers with her imaginative storytelling and richly crafted worlds. Her debut novel introduced us to a fantastical realm brimming with magic and wonder, earning her a devoted following of fans eager to immerse themselves in her literary creations. Now, on the cusp of July 25, anticipation is mounting as Erika Lewis prepares to unveil the next thrilling installment in the series, "Kelcie Murphy and the Hunt for the Heart of Danu." With her gift for weaving intricate plots and multidimensional characters, readers can expect another enchanting journey through realms both familiar and extraordinary. Kelcie Murphy, the young protagonist, promises to be a captivating force, and as her adventures unfold, we can be certain that Erika Lewis will deliver an enthralling tale filled with action, mystery, and heartfelt moments. As a master storyteller, Erika Lewis continues to showcase her exceptional talent, proving herself as an author who effortlessly transports readers to worlds beyond their imagination. The release of "Kelcie Murphy and the Hunt for the Heart of Danu" is an eagerly awaited event, and fans of "The Academy for the Unbreakable Arts" series are sure to be spellbound once again by her literary magic.
C.A: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your writing background? What inspired you to become a writer, and how did your writing journey begin?
Erika: Hello! Introductions are such funny things. Technically, I’m Erika Lewis, author of the Kelcie Murphy trilogy (or soon-to-be,) as well as several other novels, graphic novels, and comics. I’m also a distracted wife and mother (to humans and dogs,) a runner whose times are slowing from sitting and writing too much, a traveler in our world and the ones in my head, a passionate reader and, well, yeah, you get the picture. Resumes only tell so much about a person.
I read Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken when I was in middle school, and it really set me up for every decision I’ve made in my career (yes, plural.) The end of that poem goes:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I like taking the road less traveled.
In middle school, I was supposed to play on the basketball team. I was good at it. But I had more fun playing soccer. When I turned up for the soccer tryouts, the coaches thought there was something wrong. Why isn’t she playing basketball this year? I simply answered, because I wanted something else for myself, and I get to choose. No one else.
I went to Vanderbilt University and started out in the School of Engineering. I love math. It makes sense to me. I love reading too but that came with a lot of work. I had a form of dyslexia that went undiagnosed. In high school, I discovered that the only way to grow as a reader was to read more. Like when you start working out. You’re sore, really sore, but the more you do the less sore you get. Exercise eye those muscles!
Then, I fell in love with books. All kinds of books. So back to college. I changed out of engineering because I wanted to take more classes in English and theater, another passion. After school, I decided to follow another passion, television. I was lucky enough to get a job at CNN right out of school but wanted to work on scripted dramas and comedies. That meant a move to Los Angeles, but hey, I love to travel! I spent the next 15-plus years working at various studios and networks. My job as a development and current executive meant I was overseeing the creative, reading scripts, giving notes, and managing budgets. I loved it, but I also wanted to write my own stories. So, I did.
C.A: Could you share a glimpse into your creative process? How do you approach developing ideas and turning them into stories? Do you have any specific rituals or habits that help you get into the writing zone?
Erika: My writing process has changed over time. It’s always about the character first. I hear them in my head, and I want to tell their story. I love creating different worlds to plop them into and see how they fare. So, after I write down what the characters want to tell me about themselves, I create a short outline for where I think their journey should go. I rarely stick to it. Unlike a full outliner, or a prancer, I’m more of a plotter. I plot, then the character(s) decide that they don’t like what I decided for their journey and take the road less traveled (LOL.)
I need coffee and a quiet space to write. I get distracted easily. Noise-canceling headphones are my best friends when I’m on deadline.
C.A: Who are some of your favorite authors or literary influences, and how have they shaped your own writing style? Are there any books or works that have had a profound impact on your writing career?
Erika: My favorite author list grows every day. Judy Bloom, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, and Madeline Miller just to name a few. All have had huge influences on my writing in different ways. From the massive research that it took to create many of their works, to the immersive deep character development, and finally the incredible risks in the stories they tell/told.
C.A: What challenges have you faced as a writer, and how did you overcome them? How do you handle writer's block or periods of self-doubt?
Erika: My biggest challenge was learning to do what I was told to never do. I edit as I go. Most like to say, just finish the draft. Get to the end. I strive to make every chapter the best it can be before I most on. In the past, I would write a draft in four months, and go back for a heavy revision. Now, I write a draft in six months, and the revisions don’t feel so monumental.
We all have periods of self-doubt in everything. Sometimes I can push through them on my own, other times, I need a friend or my partner to give me a shove out of it. Writer’s block is more of a poke to take a break from what I’m writing. Go get some exercise. Clear the fog from the brain. If I’m stuck, that’s what I do and it really helps.
C.A: How do you approach developing compelling and relatable characters in your stories? Are there any strategies or exercises you use to ensure your characters feel authentic and three-dimensional?
Erika: Working in fantasy worlds, it is vital to have relatable characters that feel authentic to draw readers into the stories. The characters begin as one characteristic description. Let’s take Brona Lee in the Kelcie Murphy series, the know-it-all. Then, I write up a page in Brona’s voice that goes into how she got to be who she is…i.e. more than a know-it-all. She’s confident, but is she really? Does that know-it-all trait come from insecurity possibly? What could she be insecure about? And how could that be something that brings her and Kelcie together?
That’s my process in a nutshell.
C.A: Where do you find inspiration for your stories? Are there any specific themes or topics you enjoy exploring in your writing?
Erika: Inspiration for me comes from many different places. Travel has always been my biggest muse. I have a passion for Celtic mythology. After many hours at ancient sites in Ireland, the U.K., and Europe, I had more than enough ideas to fill three books for the Kelcie Murphy series. In the Hunt for the Heart of Danu, readers will read a slightly different take on the Stone of Destiny. Yes, it cries out when the next monarch touches, like the one on the Hill of Tara in Ireland, but why, and what else does it do?
Found family is a reoccurring specific theme for me. It stems from being a “latch-key kid.” Growing up, I spent way more time with my friends than anyone in my family. Loyalty, acceptance, perseverance, and courage, are also in most of my book.
C.A: Is there a particular book or project you are most proud of? Could you share the story behind it? What is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer for you?
Erika: Writing the sequel to Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts was one of the most difficult, and joyous experiences I’ve had as an author. The Kelcie Murphy series is about a Never-Ending War. Right now, in the real world, it kind of feels like we’re in a never-ending war, stuck in a place and time that will be remembered for the intense division in our culture, particularly here in the U.S. In an argument there are always two sides, and only through listening to one another can disputes be solved. The Hunt for the Heart of Danu is told through two different points of view, from both sides of the Never-Ending War. And hopefully, if the two can find a way to work together through the cataclysmic problem at hand, then one day maybe they can help end the war.
The most rewarding aspect of being in writer is inspiring new readers and writers!
Editing and Revision:
C.A: How important do you think the editing and revision process is for a writer? Could you share your approach to editing your own work? Do you have any suggestions for writers on how to improve their editing skills?
Erika: Editing is the most important part of the process. First drafts are only the beginning of what every story goes through before it ends up in the readers’ hands. As I mentioned above, I used to write the story completely, and then make changes. But more recently, if time permits, I edit big changes as I go, meaning reread and revise previous chapters, so that there is less work to do on the next drafts.
The best editing advice I can give a new writer is to finish the draft and put it down for a week, or month. Give yourself a little distance from it. Then, return with fresh eyes. Read it straight through and write down the changes you want to make and where they occur in the manuscript. Then start revising!
Publishing and Marketing:
C.A: What has been your experience with the publishing industry? Any advice for aspiring authors on finding agents or publishers? How do you navigate the world of book marketing and promotion? Any tips for authors looking to build their audience?
Erika: My experience has been like most others I believe. I submitted my first book, Game of Shadows, to agents and was lucky enough to get an offer from an agent. The book went out on sub, and I received an offer shortly thereafter. Before worrying about finding an agent, I would focus on getting your book to the best place it can be. Give it to trusted friends for feedback. Really make sure it’s ready. Then, make a list of agents you really want to work with, check and see if they’re open for querying, and then go for it. Book marketing is a mystery to everyone these days. I focus on connecting with my readers as much as possible. I love going on school visits and inspiring readers and writers, helping them learn how to make stories of their own.
Advice for Budding Writers:
C.A: What advice would you give to aspiring authors who are just starting their writing journey? How do you handle rejection and criticism in the publishing world?
Erika: An aspiring author should read! I also recommend getting a blank composition notebook and keeping it with you to jot down ideas. It’s awful when you have a brilliant and can’t write it down! I use my notes on my phone too!
Rejection hurts. Let it sting for a middle, then, to quote Ted Lasso, “Be a goldfish.” I learned on that show that goldfish have ten-second memories. So be a goldfish. Let it go. Move on and submit again. If that rejection came with advice, read it. Digest it. Decide if the points are valid. If they are revise, and then submit again. Criticism comes with the job. From agents, editors, and also readers. My best advice is to learn what you can from it, make the changes that work for you and the story you’re telling, and let the rest go.
C.A: What’s your favorite quote that keeps you going in life?
Erika: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
C.A: Could you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or books you're currently working on? Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers and aspiring writers?
Erika: I’m revising Book 3 of the Kelcie Murphy series! It’s the last book in the trilogy. I have several others in the “pipeline” but nothing I can announce just yet. The only other thing I would say to readers and aspiring authors, be bold. Ask advice. These days so many times we’re behind screens, and afraid to reach out, but the more you do it, the easier it gets!