Author Erin Flanagan on Losing Her Stage Fright, Winning an Edgar, and Writing Her “Scary” New Thriller
By Doug Moe
Erin Flanagan might have thought she was dreaming, except she had just awoken from a nap. While Flanagan was sleeping, her good friend, the mystery novelist Jess Montgomery, had sent her a text. This was last January. The text read:
“Holy s—t! You got an Edgar nom!”
Flanagan, who teaches creative writing at Wright State University, was one of five nominees in the Best First Novel by an American Author category of the prestigious 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Awards presented by the Mystery Writers of America.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Flanagan told me recently by phone from Ohio. “’There must be a mistake.’ It was the shock of my career.” Flanagan’s novel, Deer Season, was her first to be published, but several unpublished earlier manuscripts spoke to the dues she’d paid. She wasn’t about to miss the Edgar Awards ceremony in April in New York City.
“I said this may be the only time I’m ever been nominated for anything,” she recalled. “We are doing it up. My husband rented a tux, I got a new dress, and we went to New York.” New to the community of mystery writers, Flanagan enjoyed meeting the other nominees. “So welcoming,” she said. As her category was about to be announced, she turned to her husband. “Whatever happens, I’ve had a great night.” A few moments later, it got better. She won.
Deer Season, published by the University of Nebraska Press, was launched with a starred review from Publishers Weekly that called it a “masterly debut” that “dissects a young woman’s disappearance from a small town in 1980s Nebraska and the pervading suspicions throughout the community… Flanagan balances the mystery and its surprising resolution with her emotionally rich character explorations.”
It was at the University of Nebraska that Flanagan took her first creative writing course and began reading contemporary short fiction, stories by writers like Lorrie Moore and Charles Baxter. She recalled, “I was like, ‘What is this wonderful world I didn’t know anything about?’”
Her grades as an undergrad in Lincoln were mixed: she did well in literature and writing classes but was indifferent to subjects she didn’t like. “My mom says I’ve been like that since first grade,” Flanagan said.
She made it into graduate school with the help of an instructor who advocated for her. Flanagan earned both a master’s and a doctorate at Nebraska. She figured she would eventually teach literature, but she was also, tentatively, writing stories. A pivotal moment came when Flanagan and a friend were set to attend a literary reading on campus and one of the writers cancelled at the last minute. The friend volunteered Flanagan, who had a story with her.
“I was probably more nervous than I’ve been in my entire life,” she said. “But I did it, and I stopped shaking eventually. People seemed to really like the story. I was like, ‘This is kind of fun. Maybe I’ll try writing.’”
She has been teaching – largely creative writing – at Wright State since 2005. “It’s been a gas,” she said. “What a great job. I can’t believe I get paid to do it.” She was also writing, and the University of Nebraska Press published two of her short story collections. But publishing a novel eluded her – “I had four dead novels in a drawer,” she noted in a later essay – and a colleague said publishing only stories meant she was “still sitting at the kids’ table.” Flanagan didn’t agree with that assessment, yet the failure of the novels had left her, in her words, “burned out and beat down.”
In 2015 – having been promoted to professor at Wright State – Flanagan took a year off writing fiction and instead plunged into reading and writing book reviews. The experience of analyzing fiction – with a positive but not uncritical eye – helped her once she returned to her own novel in progress.
Then, too, with Deer Season Flanagan hired a developmental editor, Tiffany Yates Martin, whose advice was priceless.
“It was an absolute master class in revision,” Flanagan said. “At the end of the process I said to her, ‘That was joyful.’ She’s so good she could see exactly what I was trying to do and where I wasn’t succeeding.”
Flanagan secured a literary agent for her follow up to Deer Season, and the new novel, titled Blackout, will be published by Thomas & Mercer, which specializes in mysteries and thrillers, on July 1 (pre-order here!). “I tried to hone in on things that were scary to me,” Flanagan said of the new novel. Her protagonist, Maris, though seven months sober, begins suffering blackouts, and soon discovers other women having the same experience. The novel, Publishers Weekly noted, is a “gripping psychological thriller… The stakes rise as Maris tries to discover exactly what is happening, who is responsible, and what links her to the other women. Flanagan keeps the reader guessing to the surprising climax. She remains a writer to watch.”
Friday, June 3
5pm to 8pm -- Celebrate our Birthday Month!
It's First Friday on Monroe Street. At Mystery to Me we'll be celebrating with a cake and, delightfully, 10% off everything in the store ('cuz we're entering our 10th year...). Click here to find out what else is happening on the street. Shout out to Joanne's friends - Ann, Kathleen, and Linda for the celebratory flowers!
Saturday, June 4
10:00 am -- Live at MTM!
Cinderelliot... a scrumptious fairy tale, by Mark Ceilley
Celebrate the beginning of Gay Pride Month with author Mark Ceilley as he introduces his new book, Cinderelliot--a delightful, queer re-telling of the classic fairytale! This event will be in-person at Mystery to Me! If you're joining us from your home or from afar, tune in to the Crowdcast livestream! Click here for more details.
Saturday, June 11
12 noon -- a book signing!
Matt Goldman will be here to sign his new book, Carolina Moonset!
Both suspenseful and deeply moving, Carolina Moonset is an engrossing novel about family, memories both golden and terrible, and secrets too dangerous to stay hidden forever, from New York Times bestselling and Emmy Award-winning author, Matt Goldman.
Thursday, June 15
6 pm - Live at MTM!
What Arises Out of Silence - A conversation between authors Dale M. Kushner and Mare Chapman
Dale M. Kushner’s new collection M testifies to the heroic dimensions of women’s lives. The urgent voices in these poems, including Mary Magdalene, Eve, the Virgin Mary, and women experiencing violence across centuries and continents, are bearers of the sacred into the profane world of history—of men and war. Addressing both personal and collective struggles through a series of dramatic monologues, the speakers explore both radical and tender moments that break through the myths perpetuated in the name of the feminine. Ultimately, these poems become an enduring map of how resilience is forged from suffering and how desire, loss, and struggle are the spiritual path to transformation. Click here to learn more and to reserve your spot!
Mare Chapman, M.A., is a mindfulness-based feminist therapist, mindfulness teacher, consultant, and author. Building on forty years of clinical experience and thirty years of studying and practicing mindfulness, she is devoted to understanding how cultural conditioning trains women to disconnect from their authenticity, thereby losing their voice and power, and how mindfulness can be applied to transform these habits so women can live fully empowered, vibrant, and healthy lives. Her recently published book, Unshakeable Confidence, the Freedom to be Our Authentic Selves: Mindfulness for Women, is based on the class she’s been teaching to women in Madison, Wisconsin for over 20 years. Her audio podcasts and guided meditations are available at her website: www.marechapman.com
Thursday, June 30
6 pm - Live at MTM
Dr. Sagashus Levingston (founder of Infamous Mothers, LLC) will be here to talk with us about her new book Covet - the "Disrespectful" Health and Wellness Journal - Volume One.
Covet invites you to unapologetically bring sass, attitude, and edge to the world of personal reflection. If the cover and title haven’t yet convinced you that this series is untraditional and meant to expand the face and voice of health and wellness, the content will. It is a robust, guided, three-month journal that invites you to check in with your entire self—self-confidence, self-value, goals, habits, and more. Created for women by women. Click here to register for the event!
And a hint about what's coming up in July...
Barbara Graham, Jennifer Chiaverini, Patricia Skalka... and more!
June New Releases
Indie Next Picks for June
inspired recommendations from independent booksellers!
The #1 Great Read this month is Emma Straub's new book This Time Tomorrow.
“The pages brim with tenderness and an appreciation for what we had and who we were. I could not have loved it more.”—Ann Patchett
"The kind of book that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you call the people you love. Exceptional." --Emily Henry
New Cozy Mysteries - The Cozy Mystery List Blog!
The Tuesday Night Survivor's Club is the 1st in a new series by Lynn Cahoon. The book releases June 14! Pre-order your book now!
The New York Times bestselling author of the Tourist Trap mysteries launches a new series perfect for fans of The Thursday Murder Club. New-age Sedona, Arizona seemed like the perfect place to open up a bookstore devoted to healing. But when a member of a local cancer survivor support book club goes missing, will this group’s sleuthing skills be enough to find her?
LitHub's Book Reviews
Check out the wonderful articles on Lit Hub to discover articles about your favorite authors or discover new ones. Book Marks offers a selection of "The Best Reviewed Books of the Month."
First on the Book Marks list is Either/Or by Ellif Batuman:
"Batuman possesses a rare ability to successfully flood the reader with granular facts, emotional vulnerability, dry humor, and a philosophical undercurrent without losing the reader in a sea of noise … What makes a life or story exceptional enough to create art? What art is exceptional, entertaining, and engaging enough to sustain nearly a thousand pages?" Lauren LeBlanc, The Boston Globe
Check out the new mystery releases! The short list below is just a quick sneak peak of what's coming... (be sure to let us know if you want to pre-order any of the titles!). We've provided links to the authors websites below - an interesting mix of very talented people!
The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths
Vera Kelly Lost and Found by Rosalie Knecht
The Maker of Swans by Paraic O'Donnell
The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
The Local by Joey Hartstone
The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
Oh Gosh, it's difficult to know where to end this section. There are so many great books that are about to be released.
One of the books you're likely to hear a lot about is Horse by Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks (author of People of the Book). It is set to be released on June 14, 2022.
Here's a teaser: "Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.
New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.
Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse—one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.
Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism. Be sure to pre-order your copy now!
Rather than go on and on about all of the great titles we know you'll love, we suggest you come visit! We'll help you to find just the right book for what you need right now - because that's what we're all about.
Here's to being nine years young.
Thanks for your continued support - and thanks for considering local, first!