"The bond between author and reader has always fascinated me. Without the reader's imagination, an author's words are dead in the dark. Only when you open their book do you make them come alive. It's like a spell. And you spread that magic because you talk about the book, post about it, or give it away to someone." - Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Hex & Echo.
Our next author featured in our series is Anne Heltzel. I thought I'd leave it to a writer to explain why I am doing this series of author interviews and I couldn't have said it better than Thomas Olde Heuvelt above. Just Like Mother is a disturbing page turner with elements of disturbing horror that blended cults, fictional true crime, and horror. I'm looking forward to discussing Just like Mother in our upcoming Virtual Horror Book Club this July and then anxiously awaiting Anne's next book.
You can order Just Like Mother HERE via our website (support indies). I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Stephanie Rose: Can you take us through your writing process for Just Like Mother? Where did this terrifying idea come from?
Anne Heltzel: Just Like Mother stemmed from a sense of alienation I felt from friends in my early-to-mid thirties, when I was single and everything around me was changing (as people began to start families). The more I reflected on the pressure to settle down and have children—to disrupt a life I’d created and was happy with—the more it seemed utterly terrifying.
I was also reflecting a lot on how women often unconsciously support these systems, participating in events we don’t always like (gender reveals, baby showers, something called a “sip ‘n see” that I just learned about…). It’s not as though everything we participate in has to feel profound, but I do believe we ought to interrogate our participation. I reached a point where I wasn’t sure of my own potential buy-in as it applied to traditional next steps—but I also didn’t like the way others sometimes reacted to my resistance. That’s where the idea for the cult of motherhood (the Mother Collective) came from and where Maeve’s character came from.
SR: Were there any alternate endings?
AH: I don’t want to reveal spoilers, but I struggled a lot with Maeve’s choices in the epilogue. On the one hand I wanted her to be consistent and empowered; on the other, I had certain ideas for her fate as the protagonist of a horror novel. It came down to a gut feeling based on Maeve as a character, her upbringing, and the structure she found herself participating in, however involuntarily. There was never another ending, though at one point my editor suggested I cut the epilogue. I felt strongly about keeping it!
SR: What character do you most identify with?
AH: I identify with Maeve to a degree—she has trouble knowing whom to trust because of some damaging early experiences. She’s a book editor, and that’s my day job. She struggles financially, and that’s something I contended with for a long time in New York. Our perspective on motherhood is similar but not identical; I am ambivalent whereas Maeve explains to Andrea and Emily that she doesn’t want children, period. Those qualities aside, Maeve and I aren’t much alike. I connect fairly easily with other people and invest heavily in my relationships. I think I’m a little more clearheaded when it comes to career, too.
I don’t relate at all to Emily and Andrea, although Emily was my favorite character to write! I love Emily’s striving personality. At her core she’s impressionable and insecure, though her physical beauty and polished, aloof persona would have people believe otherwise. Emily is always on the verge of cracking, and that was a fun character to write!
SR: Do you listen to any music when you write? If so, what kind?
AH: I don’t! I have a really hard time focusing on writing with music on.
SR: What is the best piece of life advice that you’ve received?
AH: This is a hard one! Okay. One that comes to mind is: Never, ever communicate when upset (in writing or otherwise) if it can be avoided. It is always better to wait. Another one is: own your mistakes.
SR: Can you tell us about your upcoming horror projects? Any other adaptations in the works?
AH: I’ve never written an adaptation, and I likely won’t pursue one moving forward unless I adapt one of my existing books for film or TV (which I’d love to do!). Right now I’m working on a second horror novel for Tor Nightfire. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but it loosely centers around a fear of ageing. I really enjoy playing with common, relatable fears in my work: distorting a relatively banal fear, amplifying it, taking it to the extreme.
SR: Any recent books, films, shows, or podcasts you want to recommend to our readers?
AH: I’ve been recommending the movie Fresh (on Hulu) lately to everyone I know. As for podcasts, I’m currently listening to one called Sauve about a man who was sentenced as a minor to life in prison. And I watched a great documentary the other week: Navalny, about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
SR: What is your favorite word?
AH: I don’t have a favorite word, but “flagrant” comes to mind, as in “flagrant disregard” (because of the melodrama it evokes).
SR: What is your least favorite word?
AH: No least favorite word either. I don’t love the word “glad” because of the way it sounds, though.
SR: What is your favorite scary movie?
AH: As a kid I loved Arachnophobia and The Omen, and in my early 20s I loved a Thora Birch / Kiera Knightly movie called Hole. Let the Right One In is a great one. More recently I’ve liked Under the Shadow and The Invitation.
SR: What is your favorite horror book?
AH: I don’t have a favorite, but I’m reading Carmen Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties right now, and I love the horror bits.
SR: What sound or noise do you love?
AH: That one time my dog howled. I wish he’d do it again.
SR: What sound or noise do you hate?
AH: The buzzing of a mosquito.
SR: What is your favorite curse word?
AH: Like, the one I use the most? Umm…maybe the F word? I like old-fashioned curses like “drat” and “holy smokes.” I say “holy moly” a lot.
SR: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
AH: Food critic or writer of travel guides.
SR: What profession would you not like to do?
AH: Once I had a job entering data into spreadsheets, and that was a torture I’d like to avoid returning to.
SR: What is your favorite fall/spooky activity to do?
AH: The Great Jack ‘O Lantern Blaze in the Hudson Valley.
SR: If you knew you were going to die and only had a chance to read one more book what would it be?
AH: The Brothers Karamazov.
SR: You plan a movie night and can watch one movie with any one writer. What writer and what movie do you choose?
AH: Andy Marino (my partner). He’s (most recently) the author of a middle grade novel called Escape from Chernobyl and an adult horror novel called The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess. We’d watch The Innocents (Eskil Vogt), a horror movie I’ve been wanting to see.
SR: What author, dead or alive, would you want to spend a night in a haunted house with?
AH: At the risk of sounding extremely boring, it would be my best friend, Caroline Donofrio. She wrote a middle grade series called Best Babysitters Ever and is one of the funniest and wisest people I know, in addition to having a remarkable sixth sense. She may also be a witch. She’d be a lot of fun in a haunted house and might also save our lives. A lot of people in my life are writers, so it’s hard to imagine choosing a writer I don’t know over one I already know and love!