Meet Emma Berquist.
Welcome Emma! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Austin, TX, but for some reason I can’t seem to stay in one place for too long. Since college I’ve been a librarian in San Antonio, a teacher in Singapore, a barista in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and now I finally get to say I’m a writer. I love horror movies, miniatures, peanut butter, and jigsaw puzzles. You can probably find me hiking somewhere around New Zealand with my tiny rude dog.
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How do you deal with writer’s block and writer’s burnout?
One thing I find helpful is treating writing like a job. Every day I have to hit a certain amount of words, and when I’m done, I’m done. Even if you’re only writing 500 words a day, if you make it a habit, eventually you will have a complete book. And just like a job, I make sure my days off are really days off—it’s important as a writer to give yourself time to live, to go for walks and watch movies and read books that inspire you and make you excited to get back to work.
From Texas to New Zealand – how cool! Did you traveling influence or hamper your writing at all?
Yes! I like to set my books in places I’ve lived or feel a strong connection to because it helps with descriptions and authenticity. DEVILS is set where I grew up, my next book is based in LA, and New Zealand will definitely make an appearance in a future book. But the move was for sure a big disruption—I was in the middle of drafting my second book, and having no furniture or reliable internet made everything a lot harder.
“Keep together. Keep your eyes open. Keep your wits about you…” I already got chills! Please share your origin story and journey to publication of your debut novel, Devils Unto Dust.
DEVILS was the second book I wrote. (The first was a terrible mistake that will never see the light day.) I started writing it in 2013, after a trip out to the California desert. It reminded me of where I spent my summers as a kid, and I fell in love with the idea of the desert as a horror setting. It took me two years to finish and edit the book into something I felt could be shown to agents, and then I spent another year in the query trenches. I got a lot of rejections, but luckily all it takes is one yes. Once I signed with my agent, we did another round of edits and I went out on sub. From there, the process went slowly but steadily, and five years later I got to hold a copy of my book in my hands.
How did family relationships influence your plot for Devils Unto Dust? We know from the summary Willie’s mother is dead, she has siblings to care for, and her father is MIA.
I’m from a big family that grew up in a small house, which means no privacy, a lot of chaos, and a lot of closeness. I wanted to bring some of that mad energy into Willie’s relationships with her siblings, but couple it with the responsibility that comes with being the oldest. For her younger siblings, Willie is really the only parent they’ve ever known, and she feels a strong sense of obligation. With her brother Micah, she’s able to be just a sister, someone who can tease and squabble with her little brother.
Advertised as a “True Grit with 28 Days Later blend” did you rewatch any scences from either to help work out kinks in your debut?
Absolutely! I’m a big horror fan, so I watched a number of zombie flicks to get ideas about fight scenes and physical descriptions. And while I did watch True Grit, I also read the book the movie is based on to get a feel for the time period and language.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
I just saw HEREDITARY and it’s super creepy. Also John Wayne’s real name is Marion Mitchell Morrison.