Red Chameleon by Erica Wright
The Red Chameleon
by Erica Wright
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An exclusive Authorlink interview with with Erica Wright,
Author of The Red Chameleon
By Diane Slocum

July 2014

Kathleen Stone had a face that easily blended in. With the help of wigs and wardrobe, this made her a good undercover cop – until she had a run in with Salvatore Magrelli and left the force. At the ripe age of 25, she went into hiding as a private investigator named Kathy Seasons. Her many disguises work well until she tails a possibly cheating spouse who gets murdered. It takes all her wits and wigs to keep from being the next victim or the suspect. Along the way, she crosses paths with old police buddies Ellis and Marco, who both have a certain allure beyond the professional. The twists and turns of the case take Kathleen from a high class cigar bar to a luxurious rehab resort, both reeking with an undercurrent of something fishy going on.

“I was thinking about facial blindness . . . wondering whether certain faces are more difficult to distinguish. . . .”

AUTHORLINK: Was Kathleen Stone’s ability to blend in and take on personas your first idea about the book? Where did you go from there to develop the character and the story?

WRIGHT: I was thinking about facial blindness, as one does, and wondering whether certain faces are more difficult to distinguish than others. That could be its own kind of superpower, being invisible in a crowd. I had already become fascinated by undercover work while teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and those two pieces of the story clicked together. When I was creating my first messy draft, I looked forward to writing each day and seeing where the story went. I’ve since learned that there’s a term for that: pantsing.

AUTHORLINK: How did you develop your secondary characters like Meeza and Dolly? Did you plan ahead or did they kind of write themselves?

WRIGHT: Meeza and Dolly were waiting for me like old friends. Dolly in particular was a surprise. When Katherine first went to the wig shop, I thought the scene would be all about the Russian owner, Vondya Vasiliev, then there was this other gem of a person sitting inside. My favorite piece of writing advice is from Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town: “In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout.”

AUTHORLINK: When you started writing, did you know who done it and why?

WRIGHT: I knew the who early on, and I tried to be patient with the why. I started looking for clues myself. The appeal of a Dexter is understandable, but I’m drawn to mysteries with more ordinary villains, men and women who make one compromise then another. The “like us” factor frightens me.

AUTHORLINK: Did you have to go back and revise earlier elements to fit with things you discovered later on?

WRIGHT: Oh yes, there were a lot of aha moments during the revision process. There were details about the crimes that needed to be consistent, but more importantly, I knew the characters better by the time I finished my first draft. There were scenes I had to change because I knew, say, Meeza wouldn’t use that kind of language or Kathleen wouldn’t be quite so flippant.

AUTHORLINK: What research did you do to put together various aspects of the story (ethnic foods and languages, for instance)?

WRIGHT: I took a translation class many years ago, which gave me a great appreciation for translators. I’m all thumbs when it comes to foreign languages, so I had help with the Spanish, Italian, and Hindi. Unfortunately, I still need a friend who speaks Russian. Maybe I should put out a Craiglist ad. It’s easy to get lost in the research, so there were certainly mornings when I intended to write but found myself reading about cartels or, yes, recipes for pani puri.

“There’s a delicious amount of living vicariously through characters for me.”

AUTHORLINK: You have an interesting line: “Often the collusion of doing good while being bad was the only thing that made sense.” How does that give us insight into Kathleen’s character? And couldn’t it also apply to the writers who create these stories – at least vicariously?

WRIGHT: There’s a delicious amount of living vicariously through characters for me. While I’ll sign up for any town’s ghost tour, I can’t sit through horror movies. And I’ll never be that tourist diving off cliffs or bungee jumping. But Kathleen takes risks. The sentence you mentioned speaks to a common dilemma for officers who work or have worked undercover. They sign up wanting to help, then find themselves in violent, high-stakes situations. What happens to their personalities in order to survive? For Kathleen, she’s become gun-shy, but I don’t think that’s her natural state. I think she’d like to be a hero.

“I learned to be detached from the business side of writing.”

AUTHORLINK: You previously published a book of poetry. Did it help that you’d been through the publishing process even though this is so different?

WRIGHT: When Black Lawrence Press accepted my poetry collection, I’d been sending out the manuscript for over a year, tossing rejections into the virtual trashcan as they arrived. I learned to be detached from the business side of writing. I’ve heard of these overnight success stories, but I’ve never actually met one. Plus, writing is such a solitary pursuit; suddenly working with editors can be a bit of a shock. But with both Black Lawrence and Pegasus, my experiences have been wonderful. I really lucked out.

AUTHORLINK: Will we be seeing Kathleen Stone in more of her disguises?

WRIGHT: I hope so! I’m currently working on the second book in the series, which I’m tentatively calling The Granite Moth.

About Erica Wright:

Prior to her debut novel, Wright published Instructions for Killing the Jackal, her first book of poetry. She is a senior editor at Guernica Magazine and lives in Atlanta.

Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.