Erin O’Briant

Today’s guest is Erin O’Briant, author of Glitter Girl.

Shelagh: Please tell us a little about yourself, Erin.

Erin: I’m a San Francisco Bay Area writer and the author of the novel Glitter Girl. I’m a former glitter spray salesgirl turned college writing instructor; I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College as well as a bachelor’s in Religion from Emory University.

Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite and in what genre?

Erin: I first started writing when I was a senior in college, when it occurred to me that I’d need to get a job soon but my religion major had left me with few practical skills. I heard that writers got to work from home sometimes, and that was good enough for me. I apprenticed myself to a local weekly magazine, and was there bitten by the bug. I was a journalist for about 10 years, and I got involved in spoken word in Atlanta and then later in San Francisco; I ran a show called Oral Fixation for a while in SF. Eventually it became clear that I needed to move into writing fiction, but I didn’t know how, so I went to grad school.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish?

Erin: When I started writing Glitter Girl, my goals were nearly nonexistent, but I wanted to be a better writer. I had been doing spoken word readings for a while, and had written up a short piece about my miserable four months selling glitter spray. Then when I started my MFA, I began to develop the main character (later Gloria) into someone other than me and made up a story for her and her family. I’ve noticed that people seem to take “messages” from Glitter Girl, but that actually wasn’t my intention. Still, the book deals with big political issues – abortion and gay rights, in particular – and I hope it makes readers think about the ways we ostracize each other, often in the name of our own political or religious cause.

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book.

Erin: Glitter Girl is about a family that splintered because one daughter converted to Christianity – the conservative kind. The other daughter, Gloria, is a happily out lesbian and glitter spray salesgirl who sets out to make up with her sister. Easier said than done.

Shelagh: How do you develop characters and settings?

Erin: Since this was my first book, I went with “write what you know.” The things that happen in the novel are completely made up, but I set it mostly in familiar locations – Atlanta and San Francisco, both cities I’ve lived in for years at different times – and gave the characters situations that I could relate to. I sold glitter spray for a while, I studied religion in college, I’m gay, I’ve been part of the San Francisco writers’ scene – so all those things were easy for me to imagine and then develop scenes and characters from there. Also, I once worked for an LGBT newspaper in Atlanta where I was on the “church lady” beat: I wrote a lot of articles about Christian views of gay rights, and that gave me really useful material. Gloria and I probably have the most in common, though I’m not a liar, like she is. But how can you believe anyone who says that, right?

Shelagh: Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

Erin: I think the most likeable character might be Gloria’s best friend, Max, who falls in love during the course of the novel with a guy he meets in Atlanta. He’s a painfully honest New Yorker and a deeply loyal friend: a good guy with bodacious vocabulary. If I met him, I’d love him.

Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Erin: I had to send in 30 pages every three weeks to avoid being kicked out of school. So I just made up the plot as I went along, thinking: what could I write that would take up 30 pages? My dear friend Carolyn and I would sit up late, drinking beer and plotting schemes for the characters. And then I did a lot of plot revision afterwards to pull it all together. Mainly, though, my technique was to just keep writing. Also, I was in an awesome and encouraging writing group, which every writer needs.

Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?

Erin: I try to keep my writing simple. My grad school mentor, Rebecca Brown, has a beautifully streamlined style, and I tried to learn as much as I could from her. She taught me about taking out the unnecessary words so the meaning can shine. I also use humor, because I like to read funny books, especially when the humor is part of the story and doesn’t distract from the plot. In Glitter Girl, I write from two POV’s: Gloria’s and Angie’s. I don’t prefer one over the other, but Gloria’s POV was easier for me.

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Erin: Currently I’m writing a second novel, which in a nebulous state and hard to talk about yet. It’s tentatively titled Reading Orlando. The novel is something of a homage to Virginia Woolf, and the three main characters are all survivors of childhood abuse, who heal together while reading Orlando. This one has no autobiographical elements so far, though it is set in Georgia, where I grew up. (It helps to know your location.) So it’s a big challenge and will certainly stretch my imagination, but I’m up for it. Now that I’ve written one novel, I know I can do it again.

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Erin: My book, Glitter Girl, is easy to find, and it’s free! Just visit You can listen through iTunes or sign up to get episodes by email. The final episode will be published on Sunday, January 3, 2010. If you enjoy listening, please leave a comment – it makes my day.

My website:

Shelagh: Thank you for joining us today, Erin.

Erin: Thanks Shelagh! I’m truly grateful.

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