Interview with

Young Adult Historical Fiction Author Erin Gray

By Molly Anderson | Posted 10/22/08 | Updated 5/27/24

Erin GrayA native of Southwest Colorado, I first met Erin through my work with the Mancos State Park Guest Artist Program. She helped me organize a series of writing workshops there, and then attended them all herself — we've been friends ever since.

Erin has been a writer since the tender age of seven, and is currently working on several projects. She's also a young mother, struggling to balance her creative work while raising her son. How does she do it, folks? Read on…

Q: What was your first job as a young woman?

A: My very first job was a "river rat" assistant for a rafting company. I scheduled trips and tagged along on the river whenever I could.

Q: When did you first discover that you wanted to be a writer?

A: I was seven years old and couldn't stop the flow of story ideas in my head. I would pretend play as often as I could, but couldn't shake the characters from my mind. Too young to write well, I employed my older sister to transcribe my thoughts onto paper.

Q: Aside from your writing, you are the mother of a young son, and you work several day jobs. What is the most significant challenge you have faced in balancing your creative work with other parts of your life? How are you working to overcome this challenge?

A: The biggest challenge is finding the energy! Raising my son is my first priority. When he naps, that's my time. It's tempting to clean house or nap myself. I have to give myself a little treat before writing, such as a soda — which I never drink, or a bite of brownie. I take this to my office and tell myself I have to earn those treats. It gets me in the office, and usually from there I can get motivated.

Erin GrayQ: Do you have a set schedule for writing, or a certain ritual or routine for beginning work on a project?

A: I write four days a week, for approximately two to three hours, depending on the length of my son's nap. I try to do simple "pre-writing" items, such as organization of materials or article research when my son is awake, but this is limited. It may not seem like much time for writing, but because it is so condensed I don't have time to sit at my desk and think about working. I dive right in.

Q: I understand that you have been working on a new novel, and also revising Moonshine Murder, your young adult historical novel. Can you discuss the differences and challenges inherent in creating a new work, versus editing something that is more complete?

A: There is a certain kind of energy that comes from creating something new — a bit of anxiety and excitement in getting those ideas out of the head and onto paper. Almost like the first day of school — you're excited to be there, but nervous to see how things will turn out.

Editing takes a completely different mindset. To edit, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. It's more tedious because you are taking apart this creation you've made and piecing it back together, better and stronger. I personally love editing because I discover I am capable of taking something I thought was great and making it amazing. It's a great feeling.

Q: Which do you enjoy more, creating a new work or refining some existing project?

A: I can't say that I love one more than the other. There is certainly a rush about writing that new idea, but seeing your talents grow during revision is very satisfying.

Q: Talk a little bit about your new novel — how is it different from Moonshine Murder? Are there any similarities in the main characters?

A: Moonshine Murder is intended for a Young Adult audience, whereas my new project is targeted more to adults. The content is appropriate for a younger audience, but certain writing techniques differ, such as multiple viewpoints. In both novels I explore challenging subjects in history — prohibition, the KKK, prostitution. Many of these subjects are often overlooked.

Q: When working in the historical fiction genre, is it necessary to "disguise" certain historical personages or events in the service of the story — or to avoid lawsuits?

A: To a certain degree. It is fiction, not creative non-fiction, so there is some space to work with. When writing Moonshine Murder for example, I did change the names of certain individuals to protect the privacy of their living relatives. Moonshine Murder takes place in a small community, so even in my research I recognized family names still living in the area. It is important, however, to maintain the integrity of history, and to always consider what purpose of that bit of history has in your work.

Q: When you are writing about true events, or real people from history, how do the facts inform the story?

A: That's an interesting question, because I always start my project with an outline. As I investigate throughout the writing process, that outline changes. You can't make history fit your storyline and characters; rather, it shapes the work. By realizing this, a great gift is given to the writer — that of the unexpected gem of information. If you adhere strictly to an outline, you could miss a great piece of history relevant to the story.

Q: What is your method for letting facts and research make the story more realistic, without the whole thing turning into "a history lesson?"

A: This is tricky because I love history, and there are so many interesting facts you run across. I've come up with a simple but crucial method. A sticky note plastered to my monitor — "The character must care about the information." This helps me to weed out those great tidbits that don't apply to the progression of character development and setting.

Q: Facts can be pesky creatures. Do they ever get in the way of the story you're trying to tell?

A: If you fight it they can. Its best to see the fact for what it is — the truth. Then, ask yourself, how does this affect my story? Can I use it? I have found that re-working the story with the new fact can deepen it.

Q: If you could spend a day as any historical figure, whom would you choose and why?

A: The project I'm currently working on fictionalizes the legend of a preacher's daughter who led a gang of outlaws. Different names have been attributed to her, further mystifying the legend. I would choose to be her, to better understand her motivations.

Q: What is your favorite way to feed your creative fire?

A: With a great historical fiction novel. Exploring the works of other great writers helps me to realize what my writing strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve on them both.

Q: I know that, as a young mother, you are always on the go. Yet, somehow, you find the time to write regularly. This is inspiring. How do you do it? Do you have any last words of advice for other parents who want to make more time for creative work?

A: Look at your day. Ask yourself, what MUST you do that day to fulfill your parental duties, work duties, and household duties? What can go? Carve out a little bit of time — even if it's just 30 minutes. Then reward yourself for that achievement — as small as it might seem. I mark my calendar with a "W" each day I write. When I look back at the month, it's great to see all those "W's" covering the calendar.

Visit Erin's website at and learn more about Moonshine Murder.

©2008 by Molly Anderson. All rights reserved.