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James Carmichael on writing Erra’s Throne

Writing, Erra's Throne and more
Writing, Erra's Throne and more
James Carmichael

Erra’s Throne is a young adult series set in New York City. We follow Emmeline (Emmy) Kim as she discovers herself through her adventures as a gamer.

Broken into five Columns, each ebook is a fast experience that excites the reader for the next.

Mr. James Carmichael, writer, social activist and hearty gamer talks about his writing practices, writing philosophies and the inspiration behind Erra’s Throne in Part I of a two part interview:

I read the book, Erra’s Throne Column One.
Oh, thank you. Thank you for supporting Erra’s Throne.

No, no. You rock. I had a lot of questions. I had to read it multiple times.
I’m very receptive and I’m also... in the course of this interview, you don’t have to be super delicate about questions.

I’m wondering how much, with Emmy being Korean, how much is culture important to you and your work.
I think it’s actually really important and I think there’s a pretty simple reason for it. I would understand anyone who would get their back up if they felt that I felt that my mission as a writer was to tell the Korean-American story. There’re a lot of really great Korean-American writers who should do that.

For this story, Emmy felt like the absolute right heroine. A heroine from my high school. The high school in it is a very deliberately, poorly concealed... Basically it's my high school, called Stuyvesant, which is sort of famous in New York. This math and science magnet. It’s very controversial. It’s a very particular school and a student at that school, I knew, would be perfect as the heroine. And Emmy sort of is emblematic of that student to some extent.

The other reason, which is much closer to home, is that my mother is the first generation daughter of an Italian father. While Emmy is obviously not Italian and those cultures are obviously pretty different, I think a lot of that architecture of parents who came from somewhere else and a kid who is then navigating America and American-ness in some way, even if...

Emmy is an American kid. It’s not like she’s not American, but she’s got these parents who are different in some way and have a strong cultural identification. That basic architecture is something I come back to again and again. It has to be because of that. That for me is one of the formative mythologies of growing up ‘cause that’s how my mom grew up. I heard about that, knew about that.

In terms of Korean-American I hadn’t decided. It just came out in the writing. It totally made sense for the school and I felt comfortable with it just ‘cause I knew...there’s no one person who Emmy is based on. If there’s a person that Emmy is based on, it’d probably be mostly me...but in terms of the cultural trappings, sort of the ways that people refer to each other in the household and things around the house I felt not presumptuous just doing hard work with my friends and with other people to figure out those details so that they would ring true. It came organically out of the story and then the basic thing of this daughter who’s kind of on her own with these kind of parents I think is a thing that in my writing I come back to over and over.

So, the significance that has for you and your identity that you do revisit it over and over in your work is, well, I’m assuming that you’re exploring that dynamic from different angles.
Yea, I think that’s true. I think that’s right. I also think it’s true for me in my work that a big motivation is just to write scenarios that feel to me very emotionally rich and impactful, that feel emotionally important and satisfying. I think that’s one of the main things that draws me to spend time writing every day -- the chance to dive into those. Purely on an instinctive level I find that storyline emotionally resonant. It moves me when things happen between characters who are interrelated in that way and so I explore that and try to write scenes that I think are moving and affecting.

You’ll see more in Column II. The relationship between Emmy and her sister winds up being very important in a particular kind of big sibling, younger sibling relationship and the most important relationship in my life is with my little sister. These relationships are all very different actually from how me and my sister interact. But I, as an audience member, am affected by those relationships. I find sibling relationships important and dynamic. When there’s a sibling relationship in a story I perk up. I cry. I’m moved by that. So, they wind up in my stories. Like Emmy and Grace finding a way to team up...that does something for me.

Read Worship at the foot of Erra's Throne

You seem very adventurous with the diving, the martial arts, the travel, and you write -- and I think writing is one of the most adventurous things you can do. Do video games serve as a metaphor for that lifestyle or is it an extension of that?
That’s interesting. I think a sense of adventure is something I really value. I value it in stories. I like genre fiction. I like things that have that sense. It doesn’t have to be a sense of fantasy adventure -- just anything that has a sense of the unknown or exploration. Video games, I’ve always played them.

My favorite games are these plot based games where you’re exploring new worlds and you’re learning skills and there is some kind of mystery that uncovers as it progresses. You get to have those feelings of adventure and entertainment that is created by these incredibly talented people who make these games.

One of the things that attracted me to Erra’s Throne is that MMOs when they’re good they’re like... I’ve had stretches, and I’m not a wedded to my computer type person in general, but I’ve had stretches when I’ve gotten into an MMO and I’m excited to go back to that place. I think of it as a place at the end of the day. Even if just for an hour to just run around and kill some monsters. It’s a sense of place and adventure that those games can provide, and discovery. That’s explicitly a part of the game. You’re supposed to run around and uncover the map and see what’s beneath this mountain.

Many people, women and men, maybe like adventure and maybe don’t have enough of it in life or have plenty of it and want even more.

Erra’s Throne reminds me of when I was little and I used to watch movies like The Neverending Story. I wished that it was real that we could really get into it like in The Neverending Story. Is that the appeal of games that they’re like that kind of adventure that you can really visit?
Yea. Games are so complex and multi-genre that I think it is, for a lot of people and for me. Obviously a big part of satisfaction of watching some kinds of movies, not all, but some kinds is that you identify with the main character, then things happen to them and you are a part of that truth. I love romantic comedies because of that. People wind up with each other. That’s great.

Video games are specifically designed to do that. You are the center of the story. You are the vehicle. You don’t have to be, but in most cases, you’re the vehicle moving through the story. If they’re good, they’re not just about like the jumping and the shooting and the spells. When they’re great, actually, the jumping and the spells all just serve to make that story. Definitely some of the most emotionally effective entertainment experiences I’ve ever had have been in games. ▪

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview with James Carmichael as we get deeper into Erra’s Throne.

Mr. Carmichael holds vestigial Master’s degrees in acting, business administration, and international relations. He lives near the ocean with two cats, one of whom is a jerk.

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