Interview with Erika Swyler, author of The Book of Speculation
10 Aug 2015
Tell us a little bit about your new release, The Book of Speculation.
A librarian receives a book that reveals a centuries-old curse, a curse that’s claimed the lives of women in his family, a curse that now threatens his sister. He must discover the curse’s source, and how to break it, before it strikes again. It’s a genre bender in that it’s a literary mystery with elements of fantasy, historical fiction, and magical realism. There are circus mermaids who can hold their breath for ten minutes, a mute fortune teller who can disappear, and a very frustrated librarian whose house happens to be falling off a cliff into the Long Island Sound. Ultimately it’s a story about families, obligation, and sacrifice. Oh, and bibliophilia.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Say yes. This was drilled into my head when I was a performer. Much gets made of saying no and setting boundaries. Boundaries are essential, but nothing interesting ever happens if you only say no. To date, every good thing that’s ever happened to me has been as a direct result of saying yes to something I found intimidating.
Where did your affinity for Whac-a-mole come from?
The carnival that came to my town every summer always had Whac-a-Mole. As a kid there are times when you need to smack things with a mallet without repercussions. I had a powerful need to bop things on the head. Looking back, it must have been frustrating for all those guys trying to impress their girlfriends—here’s this annoying girl just annihilating mechanical moles. I won a lot of stuffed animals.
You now host a talk show (congrats). Who would be your first guest?
Stephen Fry. If I’m ever going to make an idiot of myself on television, I’d prefer to do it alongside an incredibly intelligent and charming person. Plus, then I can convince myself I’ve met Oscar Wilde.
Who is your favorite fictional character from literature?
Oh, it has to be Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He’s so incredibly relatable. His entire planet gets bulldozed, he’s tossed into a strange new universe, and there he is in his bathrobe, unable to get past the fact that he’ll never again have a good cup of tea. That’s all of humanity right there, isn’t it?
What was your most spectacular fail on your baking blog? or biggest win?
The orange curd cake. It was memorable in that it made me cry on my kitchen floor. Most of the orange curd was spilled down a burner and into my stove. We do not speak of the orange curd cake. The orange curd is dead to us. There was a lemon chiffon pie that deflated, but really, that’s nothing when compared to cleaning a quart of curd out of a stove.
Who was your childhood hero?
I had two: Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride. For me, the skies and heavens have always belonged to women.
What’s on your writing desk?
Pens, endless pens. Two small sculptures. A legal pad. A Jane Austen action figure, of course. A notebook. Two printers (it’s a long table). My sketch pad. Speakers for my music. A really haphazard stack of pages that probably shouldn’t be discussed. I’ve somehow fit an entire room on a table.
What’s your favorite quote from The Book of Speculation?
“Hard thoughts are held in small words.” I can pull out a lyrical phrase when I need to, but there’s no sentence that more perfectly captures my meaning. In context it’s loaded.
Do you have a favorite local bookstore we can give a shoutout to?
The Astoria Bookshop has been a huge voice on my behalf. They’re a fantastic addition to the neighborhood, and they’re just great book people.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Hard work speaks for itself.
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