Ask the Author: Erin Callahan
What would you like readers to know about you?
I write mostly YA fiction because teenagers and young twenty-somethings are fascinating, complicated people who deserve amazing books that reflect their lives. But I can’t seem to stick to one genre! My debut novel was YA contemporary, but I’m currently working on a few horror novels starring college kids. That said, I’d like to think my writer-voice shines through no matter what genre I’m tackling.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
My book follows the misadventures of a teenage girl who trains to become an escape artist (think Harry Houdini or Dorothy Dietrich). Her training and performances lead to several unlikely friendships. My teenhood certainly could’ve been worse but, looking back, I think I spent a lot of it just skating by and laying low, waiting for the day I could leave my high school and head to college. THE ART OF ESCAPING is about doing the opposite of that. Mattie, the main character, takes a chance on herself and finds her people in the process.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
Oh gosh — so many things. One of the reasons my teenhood wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been is that, by sheer luck, I fell in with an amazing group of friends at the beginning of my senior year. The book is actually dedicated to one of them! I wanted to write a book focused primarily on friendship instead of romance, because friendships were the most important relationships to me when I was a teen.
The other major inspiration is something I saw on TV when I was a little kid. Japanese escape artist Princess Tenko performed a water tank escape on a 90s variety show called That’s Incredible. I was six or seven when I saw it, and it’s burned into my brain. When I was trying to come up with an idea for a novel, the image of a girl escaping from a water tank was literally the first thing that came to mind.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
The escape acts were incredibly fun to write, though they required a ton of research and consulting with actual escape artists. But my absolute favorite scene is one in which Mattie is combing through her mom’s old scrapbooks, from the days when she was in a punk band, and realizes how much they have in common, even though they chose very different ways to express their creativity. Writing this scene was so fun and surreal because there’s so much of me in Mattie. But there’s even more of me in her mom. So, in a way, I was writing a scene in which my own character realizes that her mom–i.e. me–is actually pretty cool.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
My taste in books is all over the place, but the YA book I loved most as an actual teen was THE GOATS by Brock Cole. There’s a lot of brutal but beautiful honesty in that book, and I’d like to think the same is true of mine. But there are three people who actually convinced me I could be a writer. The first is Stephenie Meyer. I’m not a massive TWILIGHT fan, but I think those books really kicked open the door for YA fiction written in an accessible, unpretentious style. The second is my best friend Troy, who looked at me while flipping through a copy of TWILIGHT and said, “We could do this.” He and I started collaborating on a YA paranormal series, which is how we connected with the third person, Roberta, the book blogger behind Offbeat YA. Roberta gave us some very honest feedback, which basically boiled down to, “This is far from perfect, but there’s so much potential.” I think she saw something in us, and it was the kick I needed to branch out on my own and start writing THE ART OF ESCAPING.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
I’m not sure there’s anything I can say here that hasn’t already been said, but if you want to write, you need to read. Read, read, read and take mental notes on what’s working and what’s not. And then write. Give yourself the freedom to put words on a page without worrying about whether it’s going to be published. Your first attempt will probably be unpublishable, and that’s okay! The more you write, the better you will get at it. From a more concrete standpoint, maybe invest in Scrivener. Organizing a novel is no easy task, and software like Scrivener can be immensely helpful.
Twitter & Instagram — @erinpcallahan