Pen Friends ~ Come hear Harper Collins Debut Author, Heidi Heilig, share about her book, The Girl From Everywhere, and her road to publishing!
SP: Welcome Heidi! Can you tell us a bit of who you are and when you started writing?
Let’s see—my name is Heidi Heilig (thought it hasn’t always been,) and I was born in Hawaii but left for New York City in high school. Back then I thought I actually wanted to be an actor, although now I realize what I really liked about that was telling stories. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, though I never realized I wanted to write novels until perhaps five years ago, when I started THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE. And I didn’t realize I wanted it to be published until almost three years ago, when I was looking at a fairly polished draft and thinking, well, what now?
SP: Where did the idea for The Girl from Everywhere come from?
It started with a newspaper article dated December 1st, 1884, from the Daily Alta in California, detailing a heist in Hawaii. Apparently, a group of pirates, led by a mysterious man who seemed to know the city quite well, anchored in Honolulu harbor and stole over a million dollars in gold and silver from the treasury and the richest families downtown. I started to wonder how on earth this could have happened, and the obvious answer (to me, anyway) was time travelling pirates.
SP: How long did it take you to complete it?
It took me about two years to get from inspiration to the draft I queried, but of course, even after the book is sold to a publisher, there is more editing and rewriting to be done. I went through a total of about twenty five drafts—the first fifteen or so were on my own, and the last ten were with my editor. (Don’t despair—a few of those drafts only needed minor changes, like spelling or “the first page.” It wasn’t all completely overhauled twenty five times.)
SP: What was the hardest part of this process?
The hardest part, for me, at least, was the actual publication of the book. I wrote it for fun—for me—and without ever having an end goal. I never imagined holding the final book in my hands, or what the cover should look like, or anything like that. So seeing the solid, final version was actually shocking and took a bit of adjustment. I’m used to the fluid nature of a draft, where, if you decide later that you don’t like something, you can just change it.
SP: Which character surprised you the most?
Kashmir did, actually—the charming Persian thief. He became real very quickly, and started telling me all about his life. He also fell terribly in love with the main character, Nix. (My original plan had included no romance at all, if you can believe it. I thought they were only going to be friends.)
SP: How’s the sequel coming along?
It’s quite different writing a sequel under deadline than it was meandering dreamily through the first book. But it’s a fun new challenge.
SP: Can you share how you went from finished book to agent to pub deal?
When I had a draft I was fairly happy with, I was actually all set to post it on Wattpad for free and start the next book, but my mom told me I should try to find an agent, just on the off-chance an agent could sell it. I grumbled a bit because I really knew nothing about the publishing world, and again, I’d never really imagined Being Published. But my mom is the smartest person I know, so, I decided to give it a shot for six months, after which I told myself I would follow my original plan. My mom forwarded me the link to Query Shark’s blog, and I studied the archives to write my query. To my surprise, the query was a “yes” on the first try—which bolstered my enthusiasm for the process quite a bit. So I took that letter and started querying. I found agents through QueryTracker, and I’m ashamed to say that I simply queried the first agents that popped up under a search for YA Historical and Fantasy. I queried a couple of agents a week for a few weeks, ending up with a total of 17, before I got burnt out on emailing. Luckily, several requested fulls. Out of those, two asked for a call, and of those two, Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency seemed like the best fit.
Molly and I did one round of edits together, and got the manuscript ready in time for the Bologna Book Fair, where she shopped it around. By the end of the weekend we had several interested parties–offers and auctions came shortly after. It was a bit of a blurry time for me because I was on bed rest for pre-term labor and told not to become flustered or excited. Thankfully Molly guided the process expertly—she has a sixth sense for these things. I can’t imagine better homes for the book than Greenwillow and Hotkey.
SP: You live in NY, right? So whats your favorite day out? Do you miss Hawaii? Move back there one day?
My favorite way to spend a day is just to wander around the city. I love seeing new things in an unplanned, unexpected way. I miss Hawaii sometimes but I don’t think I’d like to move back, at least not for a long time. Things there are much slower paced and I’m not ready for that just yet.
SP: Any writing wisdom you can share with us writers?
I don’t know how wise I am, but I have here a short list of things that have helped me become a better writer:
Thoughtfully critiquing the work of other writers
Receiving thoughtful critique with an open mind
SP: Thanks Heidi ~ you are a delight to talk with!
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*For our China Friends & Folks: Heidi is half Chinese and there’s unanticipated Chinese culture and history and mythology lodged in her story.
Nova, signing off.