Interview with The Heroine’s Bookshelf author Erin Blakemore

I first heard about THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF and met Erin Blakemore on Backspace and was fascinated by the idea of an entire book about important female literary heroines and their creators.  So while Erin wrote a book of non-fiction essays, I thought her insights into women’s fiction authors and characters were a perfect fit for the blog. (I hope you agree!)

Many thanks to Erin for her time and enthusiasm and words of wisdom! 

Interview with THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF author Erin Blakemore

ASN: Would you tell us a little about yourself and THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF?

EB: I’m Erin, an inveterate and sometimes cranky bookworm from Boulder, Colorado.  I wrote THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF as both a tribute to the power of reading and re-reading and as an exploration of literature’s most kick-ass heroines and the equally amazing authors who gave them to us.

ASN: How did you get the idea for the book — which is a non-fiction book about fictional characters. Very clever!

EB: In late 2008, I had a conversation with my agent about, of all things, what Laura and Pa Ingalls would have thought of the Great Recession.  It got me thinking…what WOULD she have thought?  Or Margaret Mitchell, for that matter, or Jane Austen?  It struck me that the books and heroines we love have even more relevance in hard times…and a book was born.

ASN: Aspiring writers worry about how to describe what they’re writing.  Do you still struggle with that?

EB: Oh gosh, all the time.

ASN: I think that will make a lot of writers feel better! (I do!)  So, how do you answer when someone asks what your book is about?

EB: My book has two layers…it’s lit-crit, but also has an inspirational element that isn’t quite self-help, which makes it more complicated.  I tend to think of my work as bringing much-needed context to what we think is familiar.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.  After all, the layers make the work more interesting (I hope).

ASN: What have some of your favorite reactions to THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF been so far?

EB: Of course I love to be told “This is exactly the book I needed to read at this point in my life,” because for me that’s the nitty-gritty of why I wrote the book in the first place!  It’s great to connect with readers who really get it.  I also love the conversations and arguments it inspires…what is a heroine, anyway?  Do we really need classic books anymore?  Should untraditionally heroic or antiheroic women like Colette or Scarlett O’Hara be in the book at all?  So much of my inspiration for the book came from my amazing and opinionated conversations with other women about books, so it’s surreal and wonderful to see the book inspiring the same kinds of dialogue.

ASN: With so much insight into these time-honored heroines, you’re like the Heroine Whisperer (which sounds ominous, but you get the idea).  So, what makes a women’s fiction character stick with you long after you’ve closed a book?

EB: A certain sense of timelessness and fearlessness is key for me.  I’m not interested in picture-perfect heroines…give me a Scarlett O’Hara any time!  Scarlett’s a great example of a heroine who has stayed with me long after closing the pages of Gone with the Wind. She’s spiteful, crazy, imperfect and utterly fresh and compelling.  Similarly, the real and utterly flawed human characteristics of Eleanor Brown’s WEIRD SISTERS and the prickly Nina Revskaya of Daphne Kalotay’s RUSSIAN WINTER have really stuck with me.  I love a weak, occasionally ugly, identifiable heroine.

ASN: What is women’s fiction to you?

EB: Um, let me know when you figure it out.  Honestly, I’m happy that the answer is so sloppy and ill-defined because it forces us to constantly push against the boundaries and find new modes of expression.  I’d say women’s fiction not only focuses on the experiences of female characters, but somehow highlights or challenges female lives in the present tense.  I know, could I be any vaguer?  I have a feeling I’ll be grappling with this question for a long time to come.

ASN: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction – or any fiction? (This a focused, yet inclusive blog!)

EB: Ah, my favorite topic.  I’m in the throes of writing fiction myself, and it’s so dang tricky.  I’d say that you should lean into what makes you unique.  What unique perspective, voice, or take do you bring to a story?  Why should we hang with you for 200+ pages? Having answers to these questions will take you a long way, even when it comes to marketing and promoting your book.  Plus, it’s a great energy conservation technique…when you focus on what you do best, you know you’re using your talents instead of spreading them too thin.  As for the world of publishing…respect the rollercoaster, and realize that there is more to the life of an author than writing books.  Being ready to think of my writing career as a business has made all the difference.

ASN: What are you working on now?

EB: I don’t have another book coming out (yet), but I’m working on SECESSION, a historical novel about how truth is stranger and scarier than fiction, that’s set in 1860 Boston while I brainstorm future non-fiction projects.

Erin Blakemore learned to drool over Darcy and cry over Little Women in suburban San Diego, California. These days, her inner heroine loves roller derby, running her own business, and hiking in her adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado.  Erin’s debut book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf, was published by HarperCollins this October.  Learn more at http://theheroinesbookshelf.com

9 thoughts on “Interview with The Heroine’s Bookshelf author Erin Blakemore

  1. “I’d say women’s fiction not only focuses on the experiences of female characters, but somehow highlights or challenges female lives in the present tense. I know, could I be any vaguer?”

    Not vague at all. In fact your comment helps me realize that the main characters of a novel needn’t be women, or the heroine doesn’t need a p.o.v. in order to classify the work as “Women’s Fiction.” I feel that so long as women readers relate to the heroine (a/k/a female main character), then the book qualifies. (This coming from a very unpublished writer of non-genre fiction.)

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  2. “Plus, it’s a great energy conservation technique…when you focus on what you do best, you know you’re using your talents instead of spreading them too thin.”

    Very inspiring, Erin. (Just like your book!)

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  3. My favorite heroines are always full of faults — interesting and 100% sympathetic in art as in life, seldom coincide.

    Ages ago I wrote a book, Great Women Writers, 1900-1950, that was great fun to research as it told me so much about what it was like to be a pioneer in women’s literary fiction.

    What I like about all my writers was none of them had that Jane Austen, gotta be on her side and she’s gotta wind up with the rich guy wedding bells ending.

    I agree with Edith Wharton, that the real interesting stories start AFTER the marriage. And one of my favorite heroines is the ill-starred Lilly Bart, in The House of Mirth, who runs up bills on dresses, gambling, and keeping up her social position. Alas, she doesn’t have the happy chick lit ending — I’m a realist.

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  4. Thanks so much for having me, Amy! I’ve had a million questions/challenges/thoughts swirling around in my head since your question about what constitutes women’s fiction…I think this could be a lifelong condundrum, and one I find most fascinating.

    Erin

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  5. What a fabulous interview, Amy and Erin. The book sounds utterly fabulous; I love a book that makes me think and pushes me to think beyond my own preconceptions and challenges my viewpoint. In fact, your definition explains that experience perfectly: women’s fiction not only focuses on the experiences of female characters, but somehow highlights or challenges female lives in the present tense. LOVE it.

    I, too, love tough OR weak, flawed characters. That is what makes me stick with a book as well: their shortcomings and strengths. Thank you for the great post.

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  6. Pingback: Lessons and Lists in Women’s Fiction « women's fiction writers

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