We're happy to have Alyssa Sheinmel stop by to chat about her latest novel, R.I.P. ELIZA HART.
Alyssa, what was your inspiration for writing R.I.P. ELIZA HART?
The idea for this book came to me in bits and pieces, but there were a few pieces I was always certain about: I knew that I wanted to write about two former best friends, one of whom had died under mysterious circumstances. I knew that the surviving girl would have claustrophobia. And, I knew that I wanted to write about burl poaching in the redwood forests in places like Big Sur.
I’ve always been fascinated by redwood trees. A few years ago, I saw a story on the evening news about burl-poaching. The intricately patterned wood in redwood burls can weigh hundreds of pounds and unfortunately, it can bring in thousands of dollars for poachers. When you see pictures of trees without their burls, they just look butchered. I immediately thought of the line: “Someone is stealing the redwoods” and filed it away, waiting for the right story.
Like Ellie, I moved from California to New York when my parents got divorced when I was young. And like Ellie, I had to leave behind my childhood best friend whose name was almost identical to mine—I’m Alyssa, she was Alisa. I always wondered whether Alisa and I would have stayed friends if I hadn’t moved to New York.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
It was a challenge for me to write the scenes when the main character, Ellie, who suffers from claustrophobia, was confined to a small space. At one point in the book, Ellie mentions that she knows there are some people who actually take comfort from small spaces—personally, I’m more that kind of person, so it wasn’t always easy for me to put myself in Ellie’s shoes. I spent a lot of time researching claustrophobia and I really hope readers will feel that I got those scenes right.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
I’m very lucky that R.I.P. Eliza Hart found a home with a wonderful publisher—but even after years of writing professionally and having published a handful of books, I would estimate that only about....Hmmm—maybe fifty percent of my ideas ever turn into actual books? Honestly, fifty percent is probably generous! Whenever I’m in between deadlines, I’m usually working on a few new ideas at once—in fact, I started writing R.I.P Eliza Hart at the same time that I started working on another idea. (Luckily, that second idea eventually turned into a book, too—but believe me, that isn’t always the case!)
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I have to confess that I have a pretty dull writing ritual: I just sit at my desk at home and write. I can’t listen to music—I get the singer’s voice in my head when I should really have my character’s voice in my head. I’m a morning-person, so I write mostly in the mornings. I do have one odd writing-quirk: I almost always chew gum while I write. I got into the habit if keeping gum in my desk-drawer when I was in college and now I just kind of automatically pop a piece of Trident in my mouth when I sit down to work.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
My number one piece of advice is to read. I wholeheartedly believe that every single thing I read teaches me something about how to write. So, read books that are similar to the book you want to write, and read books in a completely different genre. Read fiction and non-fiction and articles and essays and even textbooks. You never know what might spark an idea: a textbook taught me how to insert humor into a dry topic; the idea for my book Faceless came partly from an article in The New Yorker magazine.
About the BookR.I.P. Eliza Hart
by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
When Eliza Hart, the most popular girl at Ventana Ranch boarding school, is found dead on the cliffs outside her dormitory, Ellie Sokoloff is determined to figure out what happened to her. After all, Eliza was Ellie’s childhood best friend.
Never mind that ever since Ellie arrived at school Eliza has spread terrible rumors about her, calling her a liar and a stalker, when all Ellie wanted to do was rekindle their old friendship. Or that Ellie’s claustrophobia limits where she can go and what she can do. Or that Ellie’s suitemate, Sam, is the only one who will help her . . . because to everyone else, Ellie looks like the top suspect.
Can Ellie clear her name and solve the mystery behind Eliza’s death? Her hunt for the truth will uncover secrets she never imagined, sending her deep into her own memories of her childhood with Eliza Hart.
New York Times bestselling author Alyssa Sheinmel delivers a gripping mystery and a sensitive and moving examination of the secrets that can hold us back—and even destroy us.
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About the Author
Have you had a chance to read R.I.P. Eliza Hart yet? Writing a POV character whose beliefs are different from your own is tricky. How do you handle these situations? What's the most fun you've had writing such a scene?
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