Hello and welcome back!
I'm on the road today, coming back from TusCon 49, but have no fear!
I wouldn't let you miss an interview, especially with such a multitalented author!
(Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of working under Erica as an author in an anthology she co-edited)
Erica Damon is a writer, equestrian, and artist living in Western Massachusetts. Her compulsively creative nature has led to a collection of ‘what ifs?’ and that sense of wonder weaves its way into her fiction. She writes thriller and horror under her name and equestrian romance under the pen name, Isla Ryder. Her goal is always to sweep the reader into her world, keeping it grounded enough in reality that they don't question a moment of the action. If she’s not writing, she’s likely out riding horses while ideas swirl in the background.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? Sometimes my ideas come from the littlest things. I love to scroll reddit writing prompts and then take them on some far off-shoot of what seemed to be intended, or to open random news stories and wonder ‘what if it happened this way instead?’ It might even just be an image that I see somewhere that sets off ideas spiraling in my head. My first novel (a drug crime thriller) came from a prompt about ending the placebo effect. My new novel (psychological suspense) came from a photo of an empty yellow tent in the woods. It doesn’t take a lot, I call myself compulsively creative, so for better or worse, I'm always looking for the next story.
What does your family think of your writing? My family is very supportive of my writing, even when the genre doesn't really mesh with them. My mom reads all my books. Even though thrillers make her anxious and she would never pick one up otherwise. She’s a read the end first kind of person, but stops herself when she reads my work so she can give me true reader feedback on the experience.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
For thrillers, I’ve written two novels and many short stories and flash fiction pieces (I’ve written more under a pen name in the romance genre). It’s hard to pick a favorite, because they are quite different, some are more horror (my favorite genre to read) and others are suspense or even sci-fi. I think my newest novel (According to Plan) has my favorite villain. Jared is a stalker, probably ADHD and bipolar and he was just way too much fun to write, and reading his point of view chapters even icks me out sometimes.
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
You have to build a community. Writing feels like a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be, and in fact, it shouldn’t be. It’s too easy to be too close to your story to see what can be improved. Many of my best scenes are ones in spaces that my betas and editors have pointed out to me needed expanding. Find voices you trust and create a village to get your book to publication.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I think big egos can help and hurt. You absolutely need to have confidence to be a writer, to get over impostor syndrome, hit publish and be your books champion to get it to readers who will enjoy it. Without that kind of gumption, it’s easy to stare at the blank screen and that flashing cursor and do nothing. However, you also need to know that you can’t do it yourself. You have to be able to ask for help where it’s needed and trust others’ input to make that book worthy of all those readers. You have to have the perfect balance, not necessarily at the same time, but be able to flip between the two: “I’ve got this, but also I need some help.” It’s a hard thing to do, but taking that confidence and turning it into motivation to ask for help is the best attitude a writer can have.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Reader’s block is a huge problem for me. I am a rather slow reader, so a book really has to pull me in right away or I will move on to something else. I have so many books I want to read, but if I start too many that don’t spark my interest, I look at that TBR pile and think: why bother? Luckily, I like to read a wide range of genres (since I write in two very different ones) and when I get in a slump I try to find something as opposite to what I was reading as possible. If mixing it up doesn’t help, I go to my developmental editing clients and help another writer with their work. Coming at the writing from another direction can get me out of even the worst reading blocks. I love to be someone’s first-biggest-fan, so those editing reads help me re-find my mojo.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I actually do write under a pseudonym! Besides writing thrillers etc under my real name, I write sweet equestrian romance under the pen name Isla Ryder. When I started in the second genre, I realized the reader base I had already collected with my thrillers may not have much overlap with readers who would want the romance, so I separated the two. My pen name is no secret so readers who do fit in both categories can jump between my personas, but those who don’t won’t be confronted with a genre they dislike. It’s a bit more work on my end to manage two different names, but I think it helps readers find what they are looking for.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I straddle the line on this one. As writers, we have to remember the readers are our customers. There has to be some level of delivering what they want—in the form of using genre specific tropes and not upending expectations. I don’t think that knowing your reader and how to make them happy is a bad thing, and I don’t think it is mutually exclusive to being original. You can deliver a book that will make readers satisfied and still do it your own way. Developing that way, your style, is going to bring the right readers to you—ones who want the originality that you have to offer.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I think writing is a great way to explore emotions. To be a good writer, you have to inhabit your characters. They may feel things differently than you do and in finding their voice, you have to put yourself in their head. You might not be someone with lots of outward emotion, but you may have to write someone like that, and in doing so, explore being that kind of person. Stepping outside of yourself is one of the most fun parts of being a writer. When I sit down at my computer, I get to be whoever I want (or am interested in). That might be a PhD student manufacturing drugs, a deranged stalker, a kid with a special gift…anyone. I love psychology (even accidentally ended up with a Psych minor in college just by taking courses that looked cool) so getting to feel emotions through very different personalities fascinates me.
What do you have coming next?
I’ve just released my new novel According to Plan, a psychological suspense thriller, last week. This one has been in the works for a while and I feel like I really found an interesting voice with it, or two as it is dual-pov jumping between the stalker and his victim. I learned so much writing it, working with critique partners for the first time, and turned it into something so different from the vision I started with. I couldn’t be more happy with it. Hopefully, by the time this interview goes live, I’ll have some nice release day stats to celebrate.
Excerpt from According to Plan (feel free to censor f-bomb if needed):
I just want to talk to you.
The first texts were unassuming. They were well written and composed.
I don’t think that’s a good idea, Jared. You don’t work for me anymore.
But that’s only our work relationship. We could have more.
It’s not a good idea.
She tried to be diplomatic. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings for whatever reason. But he didn’t stop. Maybe it was because she was too indirect. He didn’t get the message.
Just coffee. It’s a great idea.
Come on, Laura. You know you want to.
He kept getting pushier. The messages came more quickly, Laura didn’t have time to think of a polite response.
It was the best she could do. It was direct, and he wouldn’t be able to work around that one.
You fucking tease. You keep leading me on then get me fired, now you won’t even see me?!
She didn’t reply. The words stared back at her. His typing dots kept coming.
I never wanted to work for you, some stupid woman. You were just an in! An easy in! No one...
Laura had stopped opening the messages. The first lines showed up in her notifications but she flicked them away. She didn’t want any part of his vitriol. She couldn’t pin him. One moment he wanted to date her. The next, well she wasn’t sure how far his anger would go.
Even when she did read the messages, it was unclear. His anger turned his words to nonsense. She deleted them as soon as she found the courage. Too soon, apparently, when she tried to tell Estel about it, the other woman asked to see them. When Laura couldn’t show them, Estel rolled her eyes. No proof.