Meet Writers

A Palpably Kind Conference: Interview with Erika Mailman

A Palpably Kind Conference: Interview with Erika Mailman

I met the award-winning historical fiction novelist Erika Mailman at the Gold Rush Writers Conference in Mokelumne Hill, California, last spring. “Gold Rush takes place in a funky, old, haunted 1870s hotel that really did have Gold Rushers staying in its rooms,” Erika says of the weekend-long event. “I love this conference and hope readers of this interview might be persuaded to sign up.”

Meeting Erika was a thrill because I had just devoured two of her novels, Woman of Ill Fame, about Gold Rush prostitutes, and The Witch's Trinity, about medieval elders accused of witchcraft. I have since read and adored The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel and the first of her young adult series. Under the pen name, Lynn Carthage, Erika writes unashamedly Gothic young adult fiction. Next on my list is House of Bellaver, her novel about Oakland suffragists. She has been a Yaddo fellow, has an MFA in poetry, and is a co-director of the Gold Rush Writers Conference, coming up May 3-5, 2019.

What makes Gold Rush such a special writers conference?

I'm excited about all our presenters and attendees. This conference is truly for those who want to write, and not feel tension or stress around possibly engaging an agent's interest. We don't have agents or editors here, just writers and nice people. A few years ago I was a featured presenter at the conference, and I talked about how the founder, Antoinette May, had managed to create a palpably kind conference, where everyone was cheering each other on and being friendly, without any of the competitiveness that can sully other conferences. Gold Rush offers access to NYT bestselling authors and their wisdom, lets you take your choice of four of twelve workshops, and provides two dinners and one lunch. Mokelumne Hill is driveable from San Francisco and environs, and it's a pretty drive, too.

What do you love about writing?

I love the pleasure of a well-turned sentence or a metaphor that surprises me, coming as it does from a part of my brain I wish I knew better, or exercised more often. It's fun when you find something you jotted down quickly and forgot about, and it's wonderful, and it inspires you to use that scrap in something, to honor it by giving it a scene built around it.

What do writing and sex have in common?

I love Emily Dickinson's fabulous thing where she said she knew something was poetry when it felt like the top of her head had been taken off! Is it disrespectful to Miss Dickinson to apply that to sex?

Name an early literary influence:

Whoever wrote those orange-bound biographies of women! Actually, I suspect it was not just one person who wrote for this series. I loved that all-orange row in my town library and forged my feminism there. How wonderful to learn about Clara Barton stepping into a nursing role in the Civil War, or Florence Nightingale or Louisa May Alcott, Jane Adams and so many more. I haven't seen those books since I was a child, but now so many other strong women narratives exist for young readers (I love the Rad Women series, for instance). I loved reading about women bucking the odds and doing powerful things.

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I convince sexy writers like Erika Mailman to reveal their creative secrets and process to arouse you and your own writing projects. Read more inspiring writer interviews and my glowing GoodReads reviews of Erika’s novels.

Sex and Fiction: Interview with Richard Schwarzenberger

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