It’s been a while since I got to interview an author and I’m super excited about this one. I got to work with Anne a bit when I interned at Abrams Books for Young Readers in the spring and she’s amazing. Check out our interview below and make sure to check out her book, Charlie, Presumed Dead, which is out now!
Author Spotlight: Anne Heltzel
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy writing. An obsessive (not just avid!) reader as a kid, writing seemed like an obvious extension of my interests. I filled a new journal each year in school, was gifted blank books for holidays, and added fictional elements to my academic essays to liven things up. For fun, I took fiction writing and journalism classes and competed in writing competitions. I was the type to cry at the end of a book because it was over. A true nerd.
The genesis of that idea came from a conversation I had with a friend in my teeny-tiny room when she was visiting me in Paris. She knew a guy who had passed away, and his two girlfriends had discovered one another at his funeral. I’d had some experience with a cheating boyfriend and lots of experience traveling, and it seemed a natural opening scene for a book that would meld those two themes.
I’m ghostwriting an adult novel right now, but I’m not allowed to talk about it. =)
I often write in my bed, surrounded by snacks. When writing commissioned content, I am usually given a concept or an outline. When writing original content, I like to develop a “one page” pitch before I begin, to show my agent. Then he either shoots it down or says he loves it. If he loves it, I write a few initial scenes. Many of these don’t wind up in the book; it’s just me playing with my characters in different scenarios to get a feel for who I want them to be. When I know my characters very well, I tend to have a beginning and end in mind. Then it’s a matter of connecting the dots. I almost always write out of order.
Really, really hard. Exhausting and frustrating. You’re only in this business if you love it; and luckily I do. But editorial work carries over into nights and weekends—and nights and weekends are my only opportunities to write. It’s a very tricky juggling act, and often it requires some tough sacrifices (vacation time, a social life).
It changes every day. I truly love both and can’t pick between them. During my interview for my first editorial job nearly a decade ago, my soon-to-be boss asked, “What do you see yourself doing in five years? Editing or writing?” I answered, “Both!” And I was being very honest. I really enjoy the collaboration and craft of editing, but I need the creative outlet writing offers me.
I don’t have a stable of go-to favorite authors; but here are some books I’ve read lately and enjoyed:
I always sort of chuckle when I hear that phrase, “free time.” What’s that? Seriously. I usually do let myself have weekend nights off, and I like to spend it with my friends—at dinner parties, movies, plays, concerts, beer gardens….I also travel internationally quite a bit, probably more than average. This is because I often have a free place to stay—I’m fortunate to have lived in both Europe and Asia, and usually have a couch to crash on. If I ever take afternoons off, I love reading in the park with my dog, or just taking him to the dog run. My favorite place to get away from everything is the Catskills—near water, with my dog and some friends. I’m a big fan of simplicity.
That was awesome, but I had to stop because it became too time-consuming. You can reach out directly to the organization—both mentors and mentees need to complete an application process. Then aspiring writers (usually in high school) are paired with professional writers, and you meet weekly to work on writing. It can be fun writing or academic writing, whatever the mentee wants. There are also monthly workshops on topics like screenwriting and comedy writing. It’s a really great program and I can’t recommend it enough. My former mentee, Shirleyka, and I still keep in touch. She’s starting college this coming fall and got a full ride, because she’s awesome.
Do the work. That’s my best advice. And do it without an agenda—just for the love of it. There is never a guarantee of publication; but finishing a draft is something to be incredibly proud of. It’s fulfilling—as rewarding (in my opinion) as running a marathon.
Make connections in the industry! Reach out and be proactive. Forming relationships is a large part of the job, and it’s never too soon to start. Find editors whose work you admire on LinkedIn or on their websites, and shoot them an email. See if they’re available to grab coffee or schedule a brief call. The worst anyone can ever say is “no.”