April 2, 2013
By Lillian O'Rorke
Writer follows in her mom’s footsteps to publish her first novel, ‘Blood Money’
Once upon a time, Erika Mitchell’s husband promised her that if she ever got a novel published, he would take her to Seattle’s nicest restaurant: Canlis.
When her book “Blood Money” hit the shelves last month he kept his word. She ordered the lobster.
“Ever since I was a little girl,” Mitchell said, “I would go to Barnes & Noble or Borders, or other book stores, and find the bookshelf where my book would be if I wrote one.”
Now, she can. Under “M” in the fiction section, she can find her tale of an accountant, Azzam Abdullah, who informs on the terrorism group he works for. After his boss finds out he’s been talking with the CIA, the group takes a woman from Abdullah’s past captive, and he has to choose between her life and the safety of millions.
When she first sat down to write the book in 2010, Mitchell, who lives in Sammamish with her husband and two children, worked doing accounts receivable for a local ecommerce company. Working in accounting, she said she often felt like a bounty hunter, gathering info and nitty-gritty details.
“I decided it was high time that an accountant got to be a hero,” she said.
That’s how it started. She took the idea and ran with it, Mitchell explained, writing from “the seat of her pants.”
“I don’t plot my books out ahead of time. The books go where the characters take them,” she said. “I am just constantly thinking what could happen next … it’s a little bit like driving at night time with the headlights on — I can see a little bit ahead of me in the story, but not all the way down the road.”
An active imagination
Mitchell has always had an active imagination, her mother Rowena Portch said.
When her daughter was young, Portch recalled that she would begin telling Mitchell stories and then have her daughter finish them. She and Mitchell would also play the “what if” game, where Portch would give Mitchell nearly impossible situations like “You’re on a desert island and you only have a pocket knife…” Mitchell would respond with questions like “Are there trees there? What about animals?”
“Her imagination would take over,” Portch said. “It was a fun game, and we had such a good time with it.”
Portch is also a writer and has gone from being published by Tor Books out of New York nearly three decades ago to publishing her own romantic urban fantasy series, “The Spirian Saga,” from the Olympic Peninsula. So, when 10-year-old Mitchell told her mom she wanted to enter the Beverly Cleary writing contest in Orange County, Calif. — where they then lived — Portch knew just what to do. She and Mitchell sat in a coffee shop, she said, repeatedly reworking the young girl’s story about an adventure in a library.
“I think she thought I was the most evil mom on the planet,” Portch said, recalling she had Mitchell reworking plot lines and sentence structure. “‘Don’t tell me, show me,’ I would have her constantly going through, revising the story so it was more dynamic and real.”
Mitchell was angry with her and said she didn’t want to become a writer, Portch recalled. That was, until she won the contest, and her story was published in a small anthology with other pieces written by young authors.
“It was big moment in her life and mine,” Portch said. “That was the beginning of her writing career.”
A way with words
Mitchell didn’t quite see it that way. She grew up, graduated from Skyline High School in 2003 and earned a degree in psychology before taking a job in human resources. Eventually, she began blogging and made her way back to writing. Then, in November 2010, Mitchell asked her mom if she wanted to take part in National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo, with her.
“I was thrilled,” Portch said, adding that she told her daughter that it was about time she realized her true talent. “She has a way with words. She can choose them, she can plot them. I think it is her calling.”
In that one month, Mitchell wrote the first draft of “Blood Money,” which was then titled “Enemy Accountant.”
“It was really hard to do,” Mitchell said. “But, once you’ve done it and get to the end of it, you’re really happy. And also, your fingers hurt.”
Since then, Mitchell has been reformatting and polishing her novel, attending writing seminars and bringing what she learned home to tweak her story. Mitchell also employed the help of another author, Karen Burns, of Kirkland. The two would exchange chapters and give each other advice and guidance.
“It’s hugely helpful to have someone read your stuff and react to it,” Burns said. “You are just so much into it that you don’t notice stuff, really obvious stuff.”
By the time she pitched it at a Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference, she had already been working on it for nearly two years. The publishers at Champagne Books liked it and have since done their own polishing — including changing the name.
“It’s really fun to read it after being in on it from the beginning,” Burns said. She added that her favorite character in the book is Ashley, the girl from Seattle who ends up being kidnapped. “Just the way Erika describes her and her life is just so spot on. I also think she did a good job with the bad guys.”
Mitchell said her favorite part of the book is the surprise ending.
“It kicked my butt when I wrote it,” Mitchell said. So far, she added, she has gotten a lot of emails from people about how blown away they were by the ending. “People have really been responding to it, and that is really gratifying.”
Mitchell said she uses those rare moments when her son and daughter nap at the same time to write. She will be at a “meet the author” event at the Sammamish Library on June 26.
On the Web
Learn more about Erika Mitchell and read her stories on her blog at www.erika-mitchell.com.