When I asked Heather about her work, her work ethic, and what's in store for her readers in coming years, here's what she had to say ...
KC: My first question for you has to be “HOW DO YOU DO IT?” You’ve had so many wonderful books come out, and receive critical acclaim, in such a short space of time. Have you cloned yourself? Do you have any writing/time management tricks you can share with the rest of us?
HD: Cloning is too messy a process, so I just asked Professor McGonagall if she could lend me her time turner. It works wonders! But Hermione wanted it back, so now I’m royally screwed. Don’t tell my editors! No, but seriously, I’m just really lucky to have an incredibly supportive spouse and amazing beta readers and writer friends. I also don’t have kids. Once I do, I’m not all that certain I can keep up this pace. It sounds morbid, but I honestly just have all these stories I want to tell and I need to make sure they get out there before I die! I’m also a horrible workaholic, the absolute queen of multitasking. I love working—when it’s writing, that is. I don’t understand hobbies, I don’t know what to do when I’m not working on mysteries, unless it’s reading or binge watching something. I’m afraid, I think, of losing the opportunities I have right now. So I work myself to the bone in the hope that I can continue to be a full-time writer until I quit writing and become a spy and international ne’er-do-well.
KC: One thing that’s very noticeable about your work is its variety. Of your three most recent books, one is a contemporary fantasy (Exquisite Captive), one is a quirky contemporary realistic fiction with comedy and romance (Something Real) and the other is a contemporary, somewhat gritty, but very real, romance (I’ll Meet You There). Where do you get your inspiration? Is there one genre you prefer over the others or do you like exploring?
HD: I get my inspiration from every little thing you can imagine. For example, I’m reading a biography of Chanel right now and something in it sparked the idea for my first adult novel (which is super on the back burner, but simmering). I was just reading the book because I love fashion and am intrigued by Chanel herself, but look what came out of it! Inspiration is all around you; that’s why it’s important to venture out of the YA bubble. I love writing contemporary YA and fantasy and I go back and forth on which one I’m enjoying most at any given moment. I think all my work is in conversation with itself, so regardless of genre, I’m always interested in exploring power dynamics and situations in which my characters feel imprisoned.
KC: Exquisite Captive is the first of a trilogy. How have you found the experience of tackling a trilogy as opposed to stand-alone novels?
HD: Oh, Lord. Trilogies are beasts. I prefer working on standalone novels because it’s less panic-inducing, but for fantasy, my stories are so big that it’s just not possible. I have to think about the trilogy as one big book, but it’s hard to do that sometimes. I just finished the first draft of Book Three in my trilogy and the writing of it was downright terrifying. By now, readers have certain expectations and hopes and I don’t want to let them—or my characters—down. It’s interesting to live with a story for so long, though, to see the way it can surprise you because of the amount of time it takes to write it. Freedom’s Slave is nothing like what I planned. I’m really proud of myself for doing it, but I don’t think I’ll take on another trilogy for some time. My next fantasy is a duology and that seems like a sweet spot for me right now.
KC: I’ll Meet You There is written predominantly in one character’s point of view (Skylar) with small additional chapters inserted occasionally from her love interest’s (Josh's) point of view. How did you arrive with this structure for the narrative? Did you ever consider telling this book from one single point of view?
HD: The story—after initially playing around and trying to figure out what it was about—has always had this structure. I didn’t want to write the book if it didn’t have Josh’s sections. People were of two minds as I was drafting it, but once my mentors guided me a bit—especially A.M. Jenkins on the Josh sections—I was able to look at them as prose poems, as bursts where every word counted. The book wouldn’t be nearly as strong, I think, if I’d left those out. It’s also a very personal story, as my dad has PTSD from when he was a Marine, so I had to do right by Josh.
KC: You recently graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. How did the training you received at VCFA affect your writing practices and your writing life?
HD: Oh, it changed my life. I had just gotten my first book deal just before I began the program, so my work ethic and much of my process was established, but VCFA gave me the tools to bring my writing to the next level, to interrogate every aspect of it. My work with A.M. Jenkins was especially life-altering. Her focus on character has become the foundation for the way I now approach story. It also gave me a second family. My class is incredibly close and the school as a whole has become the most important community in my life. I feel challenged, loved, and buoyed by the students, staff, and faculty of VCFA. Truly, it’s Heaven on Earth.
KC: Who are some of your favorite authors and what are you reading now?
HD: I’m currently reading Sarah J. Maas’s A Court Of Thorns And Roses, a biography of Chanel, and Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan books. I always read several things at once, which can be annoying because it takes forever to finish a book. I’m trying to get out of the YA bubble, to make sure I’m reading far and wide.
My favorite authors are Walt Whitman, Elena Ferrante, E. Lockhart, Maggie Stiefvater, John Green, L.M. Montgomery, Laini Taylor, David Levithan, Carlos Ruiz Zafon…I could go on and on.
KC: Once the final two installments of the fantasy trilogy are out, what can we expect to see next in your writing?
HD: My next fantasy series is what I’m calling “noirpunk” – it’s basically Cabaret meets The Godfather with magic and 1930’s fashion. It takes place in a Gotham-esque world, an alternate reality of sorts. I’m also working on a memoir about a horrible relationship I had in high school called Bad Romance. So, as you can see, I’m always switching it up. I do have another contemporary work in mind that’s about sisters and New Orleans, but that’s probably a year or so off. The important thing for me is to always have the next few projects lined up. I switch up what I write every day, unless I’m really flowing with one or on deadline.
KC: How do you go about creating such beautifully distinctive and well-rounded characters?
HD: The thing that’s the most important aspect of character—for me, anyway—is specificity and a commitment to getting in their skin, really getting in the trenches with them for every moment. The stories I love best have characters with strong, authentic voices and whose lens through which they look at their world is singular, unique to them and them only. There are a myriad of ways to go about this, but I’ve found A.M. Jenkins’s idea of “side writing” to be the most helpful. This is an idea, by the way, that many craft books also suggest. The idea is to do writing that is outside the novel, writing that is just for you to get to know the character. It could be journaling as them, turning a prose scene into verse, writing scenes from their backstory or just throwing them into the Coliseum to see what they do. One of YA’s biggest problems is the glut of characters who are just variations on archetypes, flat characters and big plots and little heart. Character is everything. If you don’t have that level of specificity, I’m not interested in the story you have to tell.
Thanks so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Heather! Can't wait to see the new books hitting the shelves (and flying off the shelves into happy readers' hands).