We're rather excited about the publication of The Seventh Miss Hatfield! What can you tell us about it?
I’m super excited about it too!
The Seventh Miss Hatfield explores a series of firsts--first love, first loss, and the first realization that memories are fragile.
When a drop from the Fountain of Youth turns 11 year-old Cynthia immortal, she is forced to take on a new identity as Miss Rebecca Hatfield—the seventh Miss Hatfield to be exact. Sent on a mission to time travel back to 1904 to retrieve a secret painting, Rebecca uncovers more than what she bargains for: the turn of the century transitioning into the modern world, a man terrified of death, and a love that will leave her reeling.
Where the idea came from and what can you tell us about your writing process?
Even before I came up with the story, I came up with the character of Henley. After Henley, I dreamed up Miss Hatfield. I fell in love with these characters and built a story around them.
The concept of the story was largely inspired by my curiosity with why we as humans are always so equally fascinated and frightened by death. One interesting way to examine mortality is to write a story about immortality, and explore how the characters deal with such issues as identity, love, and loss. These are among the central issues of all stories, but by introducing immortality into the mix, I was able to have fun seeing what changed, and conversely, what is unchanging in all of us. I hope that I created an enjoyable story, but left the reader something to think about when it is all over.
My writing process frequently involves me staring blankly at a wall. Every so often, I’ll jot a note down in a notebook I keep on my desk, but I really look like a procrastinating teenager. I try to think through the story and imagine it playing out, writing down notes for crucial parts or scenes I can imagine clearly. I then take these notes and try to formulate an outline, so I feel I’m not going into the writing process completely blind. Once I start writing, I almost never follow my outline. The story seems to write itself and I just follow along.
Without succumbing to spoilers, Rebecca is a very feisty girl and I've really enjoyed following her adventures. What can you tell us about her and how much do you resemble her? If you were in her position would you behaved differently?
I think there’s a part of me in every character I write. I find it’s almost unavoidable when I try to make characters as realistic as possible. Each one carries a bit of my hopes, beliefs, and flaws.
If I were Rebecca, I think the book would have turned out every differently. For one, in the beginning, if someone told me all of a sudden that I was immortal, I would have panicked a lot more. I’m also known for being much more gullible and easily strung along than she is. I have a feeling that Miss Hatfield would have definitely used that to her advantage.
I've been especially impressed by the setting of the book and the seamless transition between different eras. How do you get to create something like that? Have you done a lot of research?
I did do a lot of research, but it was very fun, so I could hardly call it work! The more I learned about the turn of the century, the more I was enthralled by it. To me, the time traveling, along with the immortality, was a vehicle to further examine what it means to lose your childhood, your family, and your friends—everything that roots you to a particular time and place. I also wanted to examine a few relationships on a closer level, including romantic relationships, and the father-son relationship. To do all this, it was necessary for me to use enough historical detail to set the scene, but not so much that the modern reader could not connect with the characters.
I found it fascinating that you've finished this novel at the age of seventeen. Personally, I think that it is a great achievement. But since then I've discovered that you've actually written a dystopian novel "All That Is Red" even before. What made you want to start writing in the first place? How does your working day looks like and what motivates you keep on writing?
I’ve always loved to write. Of course, when I was little, that used to be extremely short stories often accompanied by crayon drawings. Ever since I could remember, I told myself that one-day, I was going to write a novel.
Another thing you should know about me is that I’m an only child, and normally every summer my dad does what most parents of only children do—sign their kid up for summer camp so they don’t spend their summer on the couch. One summer, to escape summer camp, I told my parents that I was going to write a novel. I loved to write short stories, and I had always meant to write a novel someday, so I decided that that was as good a time as any. Of course, my dad said what any parent in their right mind would say: “Yeah, right.” I ended up parking myself right in the middle of the dining room table all summer to write the first draft of what would later become my first novel, All That is Red.
A typical work day for me includes getting home from school to work on homework, before trying to squeeze in a little writing before the end of the day. In the summer, like most students, I have more time. I spend most of it indoors writing, which explains why I seem to be the only person in California without a tan.
My motivation comes from the fact that I love what I do. Writing is a cathartic experience for me. I love being able to explore, through my writing, the experiences I have growing up. I hope I get to continue to write about what I think is important. As I get older, I think the subjects on which I write will change. I just want to keep doing it!
So how did you feel when you eventually signed contracts with Gollancz?
It’s always such an amazing feeling when you find people who believe in you and the story you have to tell. I’m especially fortunate to have signed with Gollancz with a fantastic editor and an equally stellar team.
Who were the authors who originally inspired you to write and what recent titles would you recommend to our readers?
Francesca Lia Block's I Was a Teenage Fairy is one of the first truly shocking books I remember reading. Being no older than 11, I had originally picked up the book because of the word "fairy" in the title, but I soon discovered it was more than just about a tiny mythical girl with wings. Instead it was a metaphor for a young girl's painful encounter with an uncaring adult world that used her for its own ends. I think it was the first book that made me start thinking about using writing as a vehicle to explore difficult emotions.
The Everafter by Amy Huntley is another book that fostered some growth in me. It's a YA book in which the protagonist is dead and has to piece together her life and the circumstances of her death, through glowing objects in the afterlife, which turn out to be all the objects she lost while she was alive. She realizes that using these lost objects, she can re-experience and sometimes change the outcome of certain events from her life. It was fascinating for me to experience the afterlife Huntley created for her character and the importance she places on past memories.
More recently, I’ve read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I think ranks as one of the best books on writing and life that I’ve ever read. Lamott keeps a fun voice, while imparting such wisdom. There’s so much in the book that I agree with, but have never found quite the right words to express. Lucky for me, Lamott does it with grace. I highly recommend this book to anyone who writes, wants to write, or wants to get an inside view into writing.
To conclude, what can we expect in the next books?
I’m currently working on the sequel to The Seventh Miss Hatfield. It’s definitely exciting to be working with some of the same characters again. It’s like meeting old friends again. As for the plot, I can’t say much, but I think this one might even be more exciting than the first. There’s more in store for Rebecca than she had planned for!
Thank you for talking to us and good luck with "The Seventh Miss Hatfield"!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!
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