Inside Erin's Head
Q. How do you know about the inner workings of a large corporation?
A.I worked for Enron from 1997 until 2001, when I joined Dynegy. I stayed with Dynegy for about a year, until the summer of 2002. I worked in Employee/Internal Communications at both companies and had exposure to the CEOs and COOs, as well as leaders in Public Relations, Human Resources, Risk Management and Finance, among other areas.
Q. When did you start writing?
A. When I was about 10 years old. I used to make up characters and stories and write about them for days. I spent a lot of time in my room. My parents probably thought it was a little odd, but they were very supportive. And they probably also figured it kept me out of trouble. Until now, anyway.
Q. What is your typical day like, as a writer?
A. I do freelance marketing projects for a variety of clients, so that consumes a lot of my daylight working hours, as do my three children. I usually manage to get in about three hours of solid writing time each day. I spend so much time in my head that I don't need a lot at the computer, or with pen in hand, to make progress.
Q. How many books have you written? Where do you get your ideas?
A. I've written four, complete books. The ideas come from a combination of life-experiences and a non-stop, uncontrolled imagination. It's usually the imagination that carries the heavy workload. The life experiences fill in the little details that I think identify my writing style. At least, I hope they do.
Q. How do you research your books?
A. It depends on the subject. For What Happened on Smith Street, I studied the timeline of the 2008 financial market collapse, beginning in the 1980s (but you could go back all the way to the 1960s). I also interviewed subject-matter experts, including some former Enron and Dynegy colleagues. For other books, I have relied on non-fiction works, other subject-matter experts and, in some cases, the Internet. Beyond that, I remember really strange details about situations and things I've learned; so a lot of the material is just there in my mind, waiting for me to use it.
Q. Do you have a specific genre?
A. I know I'm supposed to say yes, but it wouldn't be true. I like to write about all sorts of different subjects and life experiences. I would say the common theme will be great attention to detail and an educational or historical bent, but I could see myself writing about monsters, too. I mean, why not, if the idea takes root?
Q. How long did it take you to write What Happened on Smith Street?
A. It took about a month of dedicated writing time to get it down on "paper." And then probably another month of revision. It took much longer to publish than it did to write!
Q. So, is this a book about Enron, as the title suggests?
A. No. The title is ironic. For seven years, we thought the problem was all about Enron, but it really wasn't. People familiar with Enron and Dynegy will recognize some very specific elements (the lay-off scenes, the embezzlement angle), and that was intentional, but only to illustrate that this sort of thing can happen anywhere. I think the tendency--or perhaps the need--is to believe that "what happened on Smith Street" was somehow unique, when in fact it wasn't. It could all happen again, and has happened again, with a different set of characters. As the book description reads, these situations go beyond a company's walls; they are about the market, unreasonable expectations, failure to heed warning signs. We are a nation of insatiable consumers. Even today, in the aftermath of what has happened. We say we have changed, but I'm not so sure. I still like stuff; I still want things.
Q. Are you taking a position on the legal decisions that came out of Enron's collapse?
A. I've tried to create a provocative story; to show a different perspective without drifting completely into a fairy tale. I didn't want to tell the story of a greedy CEO, because the newspaper is full of those--true or not. Regarding Enron, though, I do think the brush of criminal behavior was applied very broadly and that political maneuvering outweighed thoughtful assessment in some cases. I believe this happens with all high-profile subjects; not just Enron. We've seen it recently with AIG, the banks, the car companies. Basically anyone who has to sit down in front of Congress and defend himself is fighting a losing battle from the start. I know that I've made mistakes at work, and I would hate to have my entire worth as a human being judged by those mistakes--even on a sliding scale of the impact those mistakes had. There's a lot more to all of us than what we do between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. It might not all be good, but at least it completes the picture.