An Interview with Author Esri Allbritten
by Chelle Martin
Sometimes you have to admit that you do buy a book for its cover or its title. Chihuahua of the Baskervilles caught my eye on a library shelf because Chihuahuas are my favorite breed of dog. The cover also showed an extremely cute little “ghost” dog. I was hooked, and that’s how I first came to read this author.
Esri Allbritten was kind enough to do an interview with me about her writing career that should appeal to both readers and aspiring writers. Her books revolve around three characters (Editor Angus MacGregor, photographer Suki Oota, and writer Michael Abernathy) who work for Tripping, a low-budget travel magazine that features vacation spots with paranormal goings-on.
CM: How did you begin your writing career? Tell us a little about yourself.
EA: I’ve been writing fiction since I was a child, and I started a Star Trek fan fic piece when I was about 30. At some point I realized that with minor changes, it could be removed from the Star Trek universe and stand alone. Soon I had a book-length piece of fiction about a rogue android and a female space ship pilot who are on the run. Knowing absolutely NOTHING about the publishing industry, I told my friends they could expect to see my book on the shelves in six months. Ahahahahahaha! (choke, gasp) I did win some contests and got an agent pretty quickly. That agent fired me when I didn’t respond to the idea of writing for TV. In retrospect, I should have listened to her.
Ten years and quite a few manuscripts later, I wrote Jokers & Fools (available on my website). My new agent loved it. Editors loved it. But it didn’t quite fit in any category, and no one knew how to sell it. Finally Kensington/Zebra asked if I had anything else. This was when paranormal romances were at the beginning of their upswing, and I had a romance with Lord of the Rings type elves. Kensington gave me a two-book contract for Bound to Love Her and Stolen Magic (available at online booksellers). Those books did okay. I got into the romance genre because those writers are by far the best organized, best informed about publishing, and the kindest to new authors. You will never meet a nicer bunch of women. Unfortunately, I didn’t read romance regularly. I read mysteries, but was too intimidated to try to write one. Still, when Kensington didn’t offer a second contract, I decided to try.
And thus Tripping Magazine was born. I wrote a book, and my agent (Jennifer Unter, who is fab) said, “You can do better.” So I wrote Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, and it sold to St. Martin’s/Minotaur in a two-book hardcover deal, probably on the title alone.
CM: I’m a Chihuahua lover (I own two of them.). In fact, it was Chihuahua of the Baskervilles that drew me to your writing as I’m writing a Chihuahua mystery of my own. Why did you choose this breed for your book?
EA: Aren’t they great? I want to hear about yours. I’d always had cats, and knew I had an allergy, but I developed a pretty severe reaction to my current cat—my first with long hair. One sinus surgery later, I decided I would switch to dogs after Musette died. In the meantime, I had books to write, with characters who could own any dog they wanted. I researched breeds, starting with ones that were similar in size and shape to cats. Chihuahuas fit the bill, and the more I read, the better they looked. I’d yell at my husband from my computer, “Chihuahuas live a long time—like cats! You can train them to go potty on a pad or in a box, like cats! They’re cheap to feed, like cats!” After including a Chi in Jokers & Fools, I wrote Chihuahua of the Baskervilles and Portrait of Doreene Gray (both with Chis), and then I broke down and got my own Chihuahua, thanks to the lovely members of the Denver Chihuahua MeetUp. My cat is very patient with her. My husband went from, “We don’t need a dog,” to “How’s my cute little puppy girl?!” Chihuahuas are fantastic dogs, as long as you get them out of the house and don’t ignore bad habits just because they belong to a small dog.
CM: My state has a magazine called Weird New Jersey, which covers strange people, places and things in the Garden State. How did you come up with paranormal investigators as your protagonists? How many books do you plan for the series?
EA: I love publications like that! Fortean Times, Mysterious America, Weird Florida... I have a shelf full of books like that, so why am I writing from a skeptical standpoint? Well, I was there at the beginning of the latest paranormal fiction boom, part of it, but at some point the sheer number of ghosts, werewolves and vampires in fiction started to irritate me. It was all you could find! As a reaction, I decided my characters would work for a travel magazine that covers destinations of paranormal interest, but every time they investigate a story, it turns out to be a hoax, a la Scooby Do. It helped that I’m fascinated by magicians/illusionists, who have a history of debunking psychics (they consider them unfair competition). Frankly, the ways you can fake things are as fascinating to me as the idea that ghosts, etc. might exist. I wasn’t alone. It was about at this time that Psych, the Mentalist, and Lie to Me came out on TV. But it’s an old tradition. The Hound of the Baskervilles was debunked by Sherlock Holmes, after all.
As for how many books in the series… I turned down a second hardback contract with St. Martin’s in favor of e-publishing, so I’ll bring out books as long as people keep reading. (I’ll try to make paper copies available as well.) According to my last contract, I can’t bring out the next Tripping mystery, Critter from the Black Lagoon, until July of this year. Depending on how things go, I might approach a smaller publisher to see if they’ll handle only paper sales and give me cover control. That would help with getting books in libraries. If you’re reading this and you want to hear when future books come out, sign up on my website, esriallbritten.com. The amount of mail I generate is vanishingly small.
CM: Your website offers a free short Christmas story. Did you write a lot of short fiction before selling your first novel?
EA: Some. I think it’s a very challenging form. If you want to read great short-story mysteries, check out Steve Hockensmith, author of the Holmes on the Range mysteries. I hope to offer more short stories that expand the Tripping universe. They’ll be free, so again, subscribe to the website for updates.
CM: Do you write from an outline or as you go along? Does your method have a particular advantage for you?
EA: I start with an outline, but I usually depart from it about the 60- to 100-page point. When you write down the details, some things turn out not to work physically or logistically, or they aren’t true to your developing characters. I also like to leave room for exciting new ideas. When I get stuck, I brainstorm in a notebook until I figure out where to go next. I usually change the killer during the course of writing, too. Oh, and make sure all your suspects have something to hide that has nothing to do with the crime/murder. Basically, I like to retain a desperate flexibility.
CM: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you like to give to aspiring authors?
EA: Anne Lamott’s advice to write a “shitty first draft” is the best advice I’ve even gotten. It’s in her book on writing, Bird by Bird. It’s so important to avoid perfectionism during the first draft. My tendency is to slave over word choice and rhythm at all times, and it’s stupid, because I love to revise. Beyond that, I’ll offer the following:
--Treat writing as a very involving hobby. You’ll stay a lot saner.
--Create a coherent brand/personality for yourself or your books. Either will work.
--Push your characters outside your comfort zone. Let them take chances, hook up with inappropriate people, and say/do outrageous things. I don’t always use the results, but I find it incredibly stimulating as a writer.
CM: Is there anything you’d like to tell your fans about upcoming books, tours, etc.?
EA: Critter from the Black Lagoon will be out in the second half of July 2013. The staff of Tripping travels to central Florida, where Porky Johnson, proprietor of the International Bacon Museum, claims to have seen a living Daeodon, a one-ton killer hog from the Miocene era.
In addition to hiring an editor for Critter, I hope to commission original artwork for the cover — think 50’s era horror-movie poster, only funny. I’ll probably spend money on online advertising rather than tours or conferences, but if you have a book club or writing group, contact me through my website. I like an excuse to travel, and can provide reading guides or give writing workshops on branding and high-concept. If circumstances allow, I might even bring Josie O, my Chihuahua. She’s fantastically well-behaved.
Finally, I want to thank all the lovely people who have contacted me. It means so much when I hear that I’ve entertained someone, I can’t even tell you. If you want to help any of your favorite authors out, post a positive review on Amazon. That’s probably the single most helpful thing you can do. Happy reading!
Chelle Martin lives in NJ and is the proud “Dog Mom” of two Chihuahuas, Sassy and Rex, who are the inspiration behind her work in progress, “Dog Mom Mysteries,” which she calls “funny mysteries that are just begging to be read.”