Hey everyone! I’m really excited to have Kathy Cunningham, author of Finding Erin Campbell (May 25th 2015), here for an interview. First, here’s more about the book:
Erin Campbell is lucky – she’s popular, she’s been accepted at Berkeley, she’s got the perfect boyfriend, a great car, parents with plenty of money, and a future that’s going to be even better than her dreams. Lucky, right?
But then one Tuesday afternoon, Erin’s luck runs out. She’s in her car, driving on a deserted country road, and she reads a text from her boyfriend. It’s only a few words, no big deal. What could happen in ten seconds, anyway? But she doesn’t see the boy on the blue bicycle. Not until it’s too late. Not until he’s lying in the road, broken and bleeding, and she’s standing there staring down at him, her cell phone in her hand.
Things get worse when another girl – Macy Wilkes, an outsider at Erin’s school – is charged with the hit-and-run. Macy is black, she doesn’t live in Erin’s upscale neighborhood, and it would be so easy for Erin to just let Macy take the rap. Or would it?
This is a novel about what it means to do the right thing in a world that isn’t always fair. Confessing could cost Erin everything – college, her boyfriend, her parents’ respect . . . even her freedom. But not confessing could cost her even more.
Sometimes the world can fall apart in the time it takes to read a text message. Erin Campbell lost herself on a Tuesday afternoon; finding herself again will mean looking at who she really is. Warts and all. And there’s nothing harder than that.
Goodreads | Amazon
And now here’s the interview. Enjoy!
Question: Your debut novel, Finding Erin Campbell, has been out for over three months. When you began the process of self-publishing, did you ever think you’d get to this point? How does it feel?
Answer: It actually took me quite a while to come around to the idea of self-publishing. It used to be called “vanity publishing,” and there was a stigma attached to it. Things have changed over the last few years; the Internet has made it easier (and much less expensive) for authors to get their work out there. I’ve read a lot of self-published books, and some of them have been fabulous. That’s what convinced me. I realized that if I wanted this to happen, I was going to have to do it on my own.
And it was scary! It really was! While I love the idea that one of my books is actually for sale on Amazon (wow, that’s a cool feeling!), it’s hard facing the fact that writing a book and selling it are two very different things.
Question: What has the process/journey been like? What was the hardest part? The easiest part?
Answer: The easiest part of this process for me has always been the writing. I love writing – I have stories in my head all the time. And getting them down on paper (or on the computer screen!) has always been great fun.
The hardest part is definitely marketing. The whole “selling” thing is totally alien to me. I don’t do twitter or Instagram, and while I do have a Facebook page, I don’t have anywhere near the number of “friends” you need to start a marketing campaign. It takes a ton of self-promotion to get your book into the hands of readers. And for someone like me, with little marketing background and no fondness for social media, it’s very, very hard.
Question: Finding Erin Campbell discusses an important and timely topic. What inspired you to write this story?
Answer: The accident part of the story (Erin hitting the boy on the bike) was probably inspired by a movie I saw back in 1999 called “Hit and Run” (about a wealthy middle-aged woman who accidentally runs over a child during a rain storm and flees the scene). But what happens to Erin (including her texting, her collaboration with her friend Annie, and the legal consequences) is all my invention. As for the racial justice aspect of the story (and what happens when Macy, a black girl from Erin’s school, is charged with the hit and run), that came from my years of teaching black and white teens at a Maryland high school. Prince George’s County is one of the few areas in the country where the majority of people – including the majority of wealthy, successful people – are black. Many of my students experienced a rude awakening when they went off to college and we talked about that. The world we live in isn’t fair. And it won’t ever be until we can talk about these things openly.
Question: What do you hope readers will gain/learn from reading your book?
Answer: The novel is really about personal responsibility. The most important thing for Erin is coming to terms with herself and what she can and can’t live with. She regrets the texting, yes, but I think she regrets leaving the scene of the accident and letting someone else take the blame even more. And that’s what I want my readers to think about. It’s one thing to say, “I’ll never text while driving,” but that isn’t really what Erin learns in the novel (she knew that all along). What she learns is more about taking responsibility, and about being courageous enough to tell the truth, even if it might cost her everything. She learns that she and Macy have more in common than she thought, and that people are people, no matter what color their skin is (or how much money their parents make). And she learns that life isn’t fair – that’s something I want my readers to think about, too.
Question: Did you do a lot of research for this story? What was the most interesting/disturbing thing you learned?
Answer: The research I did was mainly about the legal aspects of the story – what exactly is the charge for killing someone accidentally in a car accident and then running away? What are the potential penalties? I read a lot about plea bargains and how they work, and about the different levels of murder and manslaughter. I read about bail and what it means to use a bail bondsman. These aren’t things I’ve ever had to deal with myself, and I wanted the story to be as true-to-life as possible.
Probably the most disturbing thing I discovered was how different the sentences are in this country for people of color, as opposed to whites. There are assumptions made about white people – especially affluent white people – that are not made about black people. And that means it’s harder for a black person to get fair treatment in many parts of this country.
Question: You have four books listed as “coming soon” on your website. Which book are you planning to publish next? Which one are you most excited for readers to enjoy?
Answer: That’s a hard question! The other four books I’ve written are very different from Finding Erin Campbell, and from each other. Beautiful Lies is a mystery set in rural Pennsylvania, Now is post-apocalyptic, Mirror Vision has an element of science fiction, and Peanut Butter Effect is Middle Grade fantasy. Right now, I’m focusing on Beautiful Lies, mainly because it is the closest in style and content to Erin. But I have to admit I’m excited about all of them! I’m looking at getting the next book up on Amazon sometime this fall, so I’ll be making the decision very soon.
Question: Craziest thing you’ve had to Google for a work in progress?
Answer: I don’t know if it’s crazy, but I had to Google a bunch of stuff about horses for Beautiful Lies – I needed to know how long horses live, and what towns in Pennsylvania had horse ranches. I’ve also used Google maps for several of my books, since I had to figure out how characters could get from one place to another. I’ve also Googled bus fares and train schedules, parking options in Brooklyn, NY, and whether or not a can of tuna would be edible after ten years!
Question: What advice do you have for other writers who hope to self-publish?
Answer: Here’s my best advice: If you’ve written a book, publish it! These days, writers really are in control of their own work. That means you don’t have to wait for someone else to tell you your book is good. You know if it’s good, and if it is, it deserves to be read! So do it! Just make sure your manuscript is as close to perfect as it can be before you put it up for sale (proofread it over and over again, get editorial advice, and spend the time to make the formatting right, even if it drives you crazy!). The point is to make your book look as good as the books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. But the most important thing is to go ahead and put yourself out there. It hasn’t been easy for me – it’s been downright scary! – but I’m glad I did it. Even if my book never sells more than a few dozen copies, I’m still glad. Because it’s something I can be proud of.
And now for the giveaway! Four winners will receive digital copies (.mobi files) of Finding Erin Campbell! To enter, leave a blog comment on this post, telling me what you’d do if you were in Erin’s shoes. Also, leave some love for Kathy! Winners will be randomly selected on September 25th, 2015 at 11pm EST. Good luck!
My name is Kathy Cunningham. I’ve been a lot of things in my life — paralegal, newspaper reporter, religious educator, teacher, wife, mother. And I’ve been writing forever. According to my mother, I started writing when I was two years old; I would dictate stories to her, and she would write them down on my father’s yellow legal pads. She saved those stories. I still have a few of them. And they are pretty damned exciting — one is about a duckling named “Yellowy” who talks his mother into getting a merry-go-round for their backyard (good stuff, those stories from my youth!).
Now, I’m publishing my own novels. It’s very scary, this self-publishing thing. It means putting yourself out there without a net. It means saying to the world, “I think this book I’ve written is good enough to expect people to pay money to read it.” And after trying for three years to find an agent willing to agree with me — and failing — I feel very much on my own. You’ll find info about my books — including where to buy them — on the My Books page.
I’m also an Amazon VINE reviewer — you can read my reviews HERE. A lot of them are book reviews, including some for other self-published writers who have contacted me about reading and reviewing their books. It was actually that experience — reading other writers’ self-published work — that gave me the courage to do this myself. I owe them a lot.
I’m excited about what this website will bring to my life. I’m not a techie (as I’m sure is abundantly obvious!), but so far it’s been fun putting this together. I hope you’ll read my blog, post comments, and check out the books I’ll be releasing over the next few weeks and months. And who knows where things will go from here?