YA Author Tackles Prohibition Mystery for Her First Novel

CoverMy guest this week is Erin S. Gray, author of Moonshine Murder, a young adult novella.

Synopsis: It’s 1925. The small cabin deep in the San Juan Mountains is the only home seventeen-year-old Lenora Giovanni has ever known. But when her father dies from tainted moonshine, leaving her alone, she is forced into a life of danger.

Lenora is determined to find whoever sold the poison to her father–a determination that leads her into working as an undercover agent in the town of Durango, Colorado. She meets Rusty, a young moonshiner who guides her through the world of bootlegging.

As Lenora gets to know this intriguing young man, three things become clear: Her father was entangled in a scheme of deception. Rusty is keeping secrets–secrets about her past. And she is falling irrationally and unconditionally in love with him.

Faced with betrayal, Lenora is tempted to protect Rusty and preserve her father’s memory, rather than bust the illegal moonshine business that destroyed her family. How will she choose: with her head or her heart?

This is your debut novel. Tell us about how the idea and the story came about.

I first met my main character, Lenora, on a backpacking trip deep in the San Juan Mountains. As I sat watching the sunset, light reflected on a small cabin across the canyon. I dreamed of a girl surviving in harsh conditions. What would her world be like? Over the years, I became more acquainted with this character, Lenora, until I felt she was alive and breathing. Almost a decade later, I made the trip to the cabin that started Lenora’s journey. A well hidden treasure, it still stands today. Between my imagination and the research I conducted, the story fell into place.

How long did it take you to research, write and get it published?

I started writing Moonshine Murder in 2003 and finished the first draft in the fall of 2004. I was teaching full-time and wrote after work and on the weekends. I added more historical details during later drafts, and spent a large portion of time researching. Then I began submitting to publishers in the spring of 2006 after the birth of my first son. I received eight rejections from publishers, and would consider their advice and if warranted, change my manuscript, then submit again. My acceptance for publication came in the spring of 2012.

What made you decide to write a mystery?

The story evolved into a mystery from the research I had done. I became fascinated with all the secrets I uncovered about Prohibition in the Durango, Colorado area. As my characters developed, I knew that a mystery was the best mode for my story.

Can you tell us what is unique about your book?

There is very little written history about Prohibition in Colorado, and even less for young adults. My book captures the culture of mining immigrant communities as well as explores some of the “dirtier” secrets of Prohibition in a book appropriate for young readers.

What other writing have you done before this?

I wrote a complete manuscript about a decade prior to Moonshine Murder, which explored the Irish immigrants during The Great Potato Famine. I never pursued a publisher for this piece, but received encouragement from the English Department at Colorado State University to continue writing. I’ve also written a handful of short fiction pieces, and some poetry.

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Down the Long Hill by Louis L’Amour. My dad would read this novel over and over to me, at my insistence. I fell in love with historical fiction, particularly western historical fiction at the impressionable age of eight. I was collecting my own L’Amour novels shortly after that, and could not put them down.


What other books or authors have influenced your writing?

Without a doubt, Louis L’Amour has been a large influence in my writing. I met his wife once, after he had passed away, who told me that persistence was the key to his success. I was in high school at the time and decided I could do this writing thing then, because I’m stubborn!

Other influential authors are Janette Oke, Lori Wick, in the Historical Christian Romance category. Classic Christian writer, Grace Livingston Hill has been a recent and most loved discovery. I can’t discount some of the current young adult writers out there like Suzanne Collins for writing about difficult situations

You are a mother of two, a part-time bookkeeper, President of Women Writing the West, and a writer. What is your writing routine, and how doerin you unwind from all of this?

I work outside of the home a couple days of the week. I have a home office in the basement (I call it the studio – much less depressing) so when it comes to writing, I write when my oldest son is at school and the baby is napping. When nap time is over, I answer WWW emails and market Moonshine Murder while playing with the baby. I “unwind” on my treadmill, although here I’m working too. Believe it or not, I use this time to catch up on my reading – done much easier with a Kindle then back when I used to use “chip clip” to hold the book open! Evenings are family time, though.

Where can we purchase your book and get more information about you?

Moonshine Murder can be obtained at my website at http://www.erinsgray.com, http://www.trebleheartbooks.com, Baker and Taylor Books, or at www.Amazon.com, . I have developed a complete teaching guide for Moonshine Murder as a free download on my website. Teacher copies are FREE, so if you know a teacher who may want to teach Moonshine Murder, please send them to my website.


Erin S. Gray writes historical fiction for adults and young adults. She backpacks through the very mountains about which she writes and was inspired to begin her novel, Moonshine Murder, after stumbling across an abandoned cabin during a trek deep in the San Juan Mountains.

Erin is the 2013 president of Women Writing the West, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in English, she lives in southwest Colorado with her husband and two young sons. For more information about the author, visit her website.


Published in: on January 11, 2013 at 6:03 am  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/ya-author-tackles-prohibition-mystery-for-her-first-novel/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very interesting setting and background for the story. Great interview. I’m in the process of trying to come up with more stories for my characters to make the girls a series as opposed to that particular plot line, so I’m looking for some small town mysteries that can be solved rather quickly. Heidi, thanks for sharing Erin’s story with us. E 🙂

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of Finally Home, a middle grade/YA mystery

  2. Great interview, Erin and Heidi. I love to hear how stories came into being. I’d love to see that cabin!

  3. Thanks Heidi and Erin for a great story-behind-the-story. I can identify with your process, Erin, in the development f character and locale. Looking forward to more from you.

  4. Okay, I’m hooked. Will be taking a look at Moonshine Murder. I too loved Down the Long Hills by La’mour, my favorite of his books.(I think.) Would love to see that cabin where your inspiration began and from where your story grew into Moonshine Murder.

  5. Very nice and informative interview, Heidi! I hope to mention this in a presentation coming up on “Kid Lit” at the Denver Woman’s Press Club. Erin, you do a great job of balancing a full life! Sounds like a great read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: