2017 debut author Rhoda Belleza recently interviewed Emily Henry, about her 2016 debut YA magical realism, THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD (Razorbill, January 26, 2016).
About the Book:
Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.
That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.
Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.
Emily Henry is a full-time writer, proofreader, and donut connoisseur. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the New York Center for Art & Media Studies, and now spends most of her time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the part of Kentucky just beneath it.
You can find Emily on Twitter.
Rhoda: Your main character, Natalie, is amazing! I’m talking funny, brilliant, caring. Though she’s flawed in all these complex ways, too–and her identity issues really resonated with me. How did you “find” her? Was there a process of refining her voice or did she come to you quickly?
Emily: Thank you so much! This book, more than anything I’ve written before, draws largely from my own life (other than the fantasy elements, of course) and so finding Natalie was really natural. That said, filling out all her details just happened throughout the writing process. It was easy to get a grip on her so a lot of her background sort of burbled up while I was writing. I don’t think I had to do much refining of her voice, but I had to do a lot of refining of her “motivation.” So often I would write her saying or doing something without giving her a good reason to say or do that thing, and my editor was great at challenging those points. In a lot of cases I did have a reasoning behind it/believe she would do or say what I had written but I had to decide whether it was worth it to justify that on the page or just scrap the bit entirely. When readers see a character do something they’re not convinced that character would do, it can really interrupt the narrative and sometimes it’s just not worth devoting a paragraph to convincing a reader of something that’s not all that important. I think it’s one of those things where fiction has to be more believable than real life. We all know crazy, weird coincidences happen in our lives, but it can feel too convenient within a story. Sometimes real people do things that surprise us, but in a story, it shouldn’t feel like a character’s actions are shoe-horned in to move the plot how the author wants it to move.
Rhoda: There are so many rich stories told and remembered in your novel. Was there a period of research involved on your part? Or are you a life-long studier of religions and cultures?
Emily: There was definitely a huge period of research! You’ll notice the book doesn’t include a lot of interpretation of the stories themselves, and the only bits it does include came directly from that research. I also had been reading a lot of contemporary essays by Native American women writers, which helped inform the book as a whole a lot. That said, most of the research was done before I started writing so that I could be free to draft quickly.
Rhoda: Do you have a love-at-first-email story about you and your agent? What broad revision notes did s/he give you, and what was your pitch/strategy when submitting to publishers?
Emily: YES! I found my agent, Lana Popovic, from an interview she’d done where she talked about walking home with her earbuds in and brushing her own scarf with her hand, and suddenly being convinced a serial killer was following her. I loved her from that moment, and she was actually the only agent I queried that day. I hadn’t realized she had one of the best response times on Query Tracker until she requested the full a few hours after the query. As soon as I sent her the book, I just had a gut feeling she was going to offer, so I sent out a few quick queries just so I’d have choices, and she actually offered via email the following day. We set up a call for the next week so I could give the other agents a chance but I was pretty smitten before we’d even talked.
On the phone she gushed about the things she loved but she also warned me that she’d have pretty hefty revision plans. She went through them and I loved everything she suggested, so that was a really good sign. The Love That Split the World was actually the second book we worked on together. I wrote it while my first was on submission so after one round of editors, we decided to pull the first book and sub TLTSTW instead because it felt like the right book and the right time. Lana’s revision notes for every book we’ve worked on together have been largely about honing characters, cutting the excess, and hammering out logic. She’s reeeeallly good with questions of logic, and so often I don’t explain things either because I think the explanation is obvious (It isn’t.) or that it’s unnecessary (It isn’t). She doesn’t let me off the hook for that, which I’m really grateful for. She’ll usually see a book about three or four times, like an editor, with each pass getting more focused and detailed.
Rhoda: How did you snag Razorbill as a publisher and what is your editor like?
Emily: My editor, Liz, had seen the first book we had on submission. She’d sent such a glowing rejection (ha!) for that one that Lana and I both made a mental note to send her future projects. When we went on sub with TLTSTW, we were able to pull a few editors who’d really connected with book 1 into the mix along with some new ones. From the very beginning Lana and I were whisper emailing “I hope it’s Liz!!!” back and forth. We both had a really good feeling about her from the beginning and we were so thrilled when the book felt like a perfect fit to her.
She’s been a dream to work with: very collaborative and kind and funny, but also just super smart. I remember there was one scene in the book where the characters left off on a “meet me here at this time!” note and the scene that followed had this forced “Why did you bring me out here?” conversation. Liz pointed out that in real life people don’t explain what they’re doing when they get somewhere. They make plans. I’m so used to seeing that on TV shows that it felt natural to me when writing it, but that was one (of many) times that I felt really grateful to have an editor who catches things that I think a lot of people would miss or let slide. Also her edit-letters are really organized and thorough but include both what she likes and what needs work, which I really appreciate. It’s easy when you’re looking at a list of broken things in your book to think “this sucks! I suck!” but she’s so encouraging and positive even while providing excellent criticism. Editor jackpot.
- Do you have favorite writing snacks?
Coffee! Anything else slows me down. Usually I get snacks when I really don’t want to write.
- Do you have a pre-writing ritual?
Get up, shuffle downstairs, drink one cup of coffee while skimming things online, then get a refill and start! That’s pretty much it.
- Choose one pop star to want to hang out with!
Beyoncé, although I wouldn’t be able to speak around her. But in this scenario, I would.
- Choose one fictional character to hang out with!
This couldn’t be any harder. Maybe one of the Weasley twins? Or maybe Charlotte Holmes of A Study in Charlotte.
- Are you an outliner or a pantser?
Panster to the bitter end, unfortunately. Outlines kill my productivity.
- Do you write in MSFT Word, a writing program (like Scrivener), by hand, all or none of the above?
Sometimes I make a rule that I’m not allowed to start a project until a certain date. Before that I’m allowed to write stuff down by hand but I can’t type anything until that date. Then I’ll draft in Scrivener but once I start working with my agent or editor, I tend to do most of my work in Word.
About the interviewer.
The story for Belleza’s first book follows “two sisters — sole survivors of a murdered royal lineage – must reunite from opposite ends of the galaxy to salvage what’s left of their family dynasty and save the universe from a greater threat.”