TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
The year is 2023, and America has officially begun its second civil war. Meanwhile, Hestia Harris is forty, newly single, and her parents are absconding to the confederacy. She is adrift, save for her coworkers at the retirement village and her best friend, Mildred, an 84-year-old resident, who gleefully supports Hestia’s half-hearted but hopeful attempts to find love.
Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And which character gave you the most trouble, and why?
Writing Mildred, the 84-year-old retirement villager and best friend, was a joy, because I was able to draw on several older women from my life. My maternal grandmother used to look at me while she adjusted her dentures, and say, “Don’t get old, kid,” which to this day has me pondering what she thought the alternative was. My ex-husband’s aunt used to pull me aside when we were at family dinners and ask me how my sex life was. Like Mildred, she loved, loved to smoke. I probably had the most trouble writing Sarah, who is a beautiful young Black woman. As I white woman, I couldn’t presume to know her experience, so I tried to “write what you know,” which was Hestia’s well-meaning cluelessness.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
Trying to find an agent who believed in this novel was difficult. My low point was when a smart, successful agent told me that she didn’t think she could sell it because it wasn’t landing squarely in any genre: it wasn’t rom-com enough, or dystopia enough, or literary enough. I nursed that wound for a while, but finally found someone who loved it. She sold it within two weeks of putting it on submission, and the process has been rainbows and unicorns ever since.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
I’ll be the jerk who lists my two favorite pieces of writing advice. The first one will not be news to anyone, but kill your darlings. I’ve backed myself into so many writing corners because of a line or a moment that I love, but it turns out be only a dumb infatuation. The second piece of advice is to keep it simple. I’ve had so much writing overlooked because I thought I was being subtle or lyrical, clever or nuanced—but the truth is that no one reads my writing nearly as closely as I do. I have to keep reminding myself to write for the reader who sometimes skims.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
HESTIA is a novel about friendship and love, and I guess I was surprised by how much I seemed to know, intuitively and comfortably, about friendship, and how little I knew about love. When I had to make my characters talk about why they wanted a partner, I found myself grasping. For young people, pairing up is such a biological drive that it doesn’t need to make sense. But I’m not young anymore, and when I look logically at partnership, it’s not clear why we need or want it. I canvassed friends about love and was surprised by the wide range of responses. Some people want a partner but can’t explain why, while others do the cost-benefit analysis and decide to take a pass.
How do you approach revision?
My best revisions happen when I open a new document and start re-writing a scene from memory and instinct. My worst revisions happen when I edit a scene that’s right in front of me. There’s something tyrannical about an existing document, the way it hems you in.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
In HESTIA, trade routes to America have been disrupted by civil war, so there are some foods that are difficult to get. Things like prosciutto, macademia nuts, and Kentucky bourbon are hard to come by, and they take on a currency of their own. There is one character, an Italian named Marcello, who insists that ziti should be baked, like manicotti, and I can attest to the truth in that.
READ MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250883773/hestiastrikesamatch
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