Interview with Erika Turner, Author of And Other Mistakes

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Feb 21, 2024

Erika Turner is a writer, a poet, and the daughter of storytellers. Sometimes, she writes songs she may one day share. Once, in a Brooklyn community center, she read James Baldwin’s quote “You can’t tell the children there’s no hope,” and she carries those words from the city to the desert and beyond.

I had the opportunity to interview Erika, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hiiii! I’m a debut author, raised in the city that is centered in this book. While my day job is working as a book editor, my nights and weekends are spent writing, dreaming, and making sure my dogs are fed.

What can you tell us about your debut book And Other Mistakes? What was the inspiration for this story?

There were a lot of things I wanted to accomplish about this story – part of it was centering queer friendships, while understanding that romance is always sort of inevitable when you’re a teenager figuring out your emotions for the first time. I also wanted to write a contemporary story about a queer protagonist that went beyond the issues of identity – something that recognized that our highs and lows often do exist outside of who we’re attracted to, even if that’s always a part of it. In this instance, for the character Aaliyah, it was having a rocky home life due to her parents’ own issues with each other.

Finally, I really wanted to talk about music in a way that was fun and relatable. I was a black kid who loved emo and rock, and didn’t grow up knowing very much about black culture, of which music is a huge part. While that’s not at all unusual, it was something that made me feel really isolated as a teenager, so I wanted to write a relatable character for other teens who have similar experiences.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters that will be featured in your book?

It would probably be easier to tell you about the straight characters, ha! Aaliyah, the main character is a lesbian, and there are bisexual, queer, and trans characters throughout the book.

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction?

I’ve always found writing to be the best medium to process the world, and when I started to write a book for the first time, this is the one that pushed itself forward. Part of it, probably, is that I was in my mid-twenties at the outset of this project, and that’s usually a good time to start processing your own teen years. For me, I also had cousins and siblings who were just starting to come into their late teens, so seeing how they were processing those first steps into adulthood and independence inspired me to write something that I hope could be a little bit of a roadmap, especially for brown and/or queer kids trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t always deem their experiences worthy of examination, or nurturing.

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ll put it this way – I discovered recently that I have an ADHD diagnosis, and that’s been pretty transformational in me being much kinder to the chaos that is what someone might hope to call “a process.”

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Ella Enchanted was one of the first books I read constantly, and Gail Carson Levine became my “go-to” author, as a child and teenager. Anything she wrote, I read. I’m fairly certain most of her characters would be considered white and straight, but I think I connected to the fact that the girls were always brave, stubborn, and strong. As a kid, I wanted to be the same.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

As a young writer just starting out, I had the incredibly privilege of being mentored by Naomi Jackson, Janet Mock, and Kirya Traber… black, queer, female writers who taught me the value of pushing forward, pushing through, and believing in yourself. Their wisdom and encouragement helped me get through some of my darkest days of uncertainty, and also gave me real, in-person models of possibility.

In a similar vein, I have been an eager student of James Baldwin as a writer, and his incisive and brilliant work always keeps me motivated, especially when the world seems at its most unreal.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

I love writing dialogue. It’s really fun to think about how people connect to one another – jokes, quips, sarcasm, flirtation. An entire personality can be expressed in one word, and I find that so fascinating to explore.

The most frustrating aspect of writing is the act of putting a vision into words. It’s like painting a moving image – you know what’s supposed to happen, you even know how it’s happening, and who’s making it happen, but how do you show that on a page? And besides making it as clear as possible, how do you make it exciting? How do you make it sound good? It can be fun when the words flow, but that’s not always (or often) the case.

Aside from your writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I love dogs, the first several seasons of Grey’s Anatomy saved my life, and I will drink fully caffeinated coffee at 10pm, and you can’t stop me.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Who was your first queer role model, and that would be Aaliyah Dana Haughton – hence the name of the protagonist in AND OTHER MISTAKES. I remember watching the ARE YOU THAT SOMEBODY music video when I was like…seven? Maybe? And just knowing that she was magic.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?

Keep going, and surround yourself with mentors and community members who will encourage you, fight for you, cry with you, and know that you have a voice worth being heard.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m incredibly thrilled about a YA anthology I have coming out with Versify, with a cast of incredible authors – including Kirya Traber, who I mentioned above! And I have an adult holiday novel with Avon coming out this summer. Also, on the day-job side of things, I’m editing a middle grade series that I’m completely ecstatic about, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

Jacqueline Woodson, Malindo Lo, Robin Talley, and CB Lee all day every day. The incredible Jaz Joyner, whose debut graphic novel, DEVOUR, is coming out from Abrams this May. Kalynn Bayron, naturally. One of my favorite contemporary YA novels of all time is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. Oh! And, obviously, James Baldwin. I could go on!

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