Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Author Interview- Anne Heltzel

1) How did you get the idea for Circle Nine?

Way, way back, I saw a cute guy in the Times Square subway station and basically started fantasizing about his life. I don’t do that *very* often (fantasize about strangers), but he was a really good guitar player and he caught my eye.The fantasy life I made up for him involved a subway stop that only he could access. It let him off each day in a parallel universe, and his only exposure to our world was that little hallway in Times Square, where he worked. Then I started writing and realized I was actually drawn to a totally different (but equally isolating) world – the world in the cave in Circle Nine. And I started wondering how someone could wind up so alone.

But there’s another layer to the inspiration that really didn’t occur to me until after I’d finished writing the book. At the time I was writing it, I’d just moved to India and was mostly alone all day in a hotel. I’d left my life in New York behind entirely. I didn’t even have internet for a couple of months. Now it seems obvious – that experience definitely informed the novel in a big way, though at the time I had no idea I was indirectly negotiating my own feelings.

And on an intellectual level, I was really interested in the theme of betrayal and what makes it truly horrible.

2) Tell us all about The Call/The Email for publication! Where were you when it happened? Did you do anything to celebrate?

I was in Mumbai, obsessively checking my email every morning/night for a week. I set my alarm for 8 am every morning (I know that’s totally normal, but at the time it seemed early) in case my agent called. (He used Skype to call my India phone.) It was SO FUN to get responses from editors, one at a time. (Even the rejections were fun, in a way – it was just exciting. Kind of like the college admissions process but a million times better. Like my fate was being determined before my eyes!) So finally I got a call from Josh (Adams, my agent) saying that Candlewick was putting together an offer – and the days dragged and dragged until I received the official email. Then at about the 2-week point, it was official! And my editor called me and we chatted and I loved her. I celebrated belatedly because I wanted to do something really special with a little bit of my advance money, since it was my first book and basically a lifetime goal. I couldn’t decide; and then this past summer,I stumbled across this really pretty and unusual ring in Brooklyn and bought it right away. I knew it was perfect because it reminded me of my great-grandmother’s ring, which was stolen in Italy. (I’d inherited it from my mom on my 21st birthday.) Now I can look at this one (looking at it right now!) and have a little piece of that and a reminder of my first book all at once.

3) You're an editor at Penguin. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job? Was it hard to juggle your day job with writing and revising Circle Nine?

Haha – I’m trying to figure out how to answer this honestly without getting fired. I’ll start with favorites: I love falling in love with a book. There is possibly nothing more exciting (to me) than shepherding something you believe in wholeheartedly into the world. I love my colleagues – I have such a fantastic group of colleague-friends, new and old. Most of all, I guess I really love knowing that I am lucky enough to be able to combine my skill set with my passion. It’s more of a lifestyle or a vocation than a job; and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever dreaded coming into work. Ok, so now for the bad stuff: It really sucks to go home from work…and keep working! And then there’s the weekend – phew, you think; I can rest. But no! There’s more work to be done! In fact, there is actually no such thing as being caught up. I know this is probably the case in a lot of industries; but it’s extra-tough when you’re trying to manage a writing schedule, too.

It wasn’t hard at all to juggle my day job with writing/revising Circle Nine, because I was in India and jobless. (I left Penguin for a year to go to India, and came back this past January.) Now, though, it’s very difficult. It involves making a lot of sacrifices – sacrifices I’m not good at making, most of which involve my social life.

4) What book(s) are you reading right now, or are about to start?

I am reading an excerpt from Roberto Balano’s The Third Reich, which is being published in installments in The Paris Review before it gets published by FSG in book form at the end of the year. I’m reading it on my commute. I’m about to read The Night Circus. I am mostly through The Sun Also Rises and have a few more pages in The Solitude of Prime Numbers.(I read a lot of things at once.) In terms of YA/middle grade, I have Lola and the Boy Next Door in my pile and just finished The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and a galley of The Catastrophic History of You and Me.

5) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor (or flavors, if you're so inclined)?

I really, really don’t like jelly beans. But if I were force-fed one, I’d pick the orange bean.

6) I see you studied creative writing in grad school. Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes! And I have been scoffed at enough times to stay motivated. One memorable naysayer includes a psychologist my mom made me see when she discovered I was abandoning thoughts of law school for writing. Another was a guy I’d been in the middle of making out with at a house party in college on my 21st birthday. His unsolicited opinion really killed the moment.

7) What are you currently working on? Can you tell us anything about it?

I am working on a dark, grounded YA for Candlewick. It’s based (very loosely, so much as to be unrecognizable) on an experience I had when I was seventeen, and I’m blending that experience with a topic I’m really interested in right now. It’s sort of a love-triangle-domino-effect story about the sometimes devastating consequences of the “small” mistakes we make; and the unusual, obsessive relationships that aren’t love and aren’t friendship but fall somewhere in between and change us forever. The main characters are called Olivia, Layla, RJ, and Julian. I’m only being vague because I’ve been known to throw out entire drafts and start from scratch multiple times during the process.

1 comment:

  1. She looks like Tibby from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! Great questions! :)