Author Spotlight: Heather Kamins
Feb. 18, 2022
We are thrilled to feature Heather Kamins and her debut Young Adult novel, THE MOTH GIRL (Putnam Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Teen), out on March 8th. Enter to win a copy!
Cover artist: Hsiao Ron Cheng, Designer: Kristin Boyle
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for teens.
My name is Heather Kamins, and I’ve loved reading and making up stories my whole life. When it comes to books, I’ve never paid too much attention to the boundaries of age or genre (I remember reading my parents’ cast-off Agatha Christie mysteries and gothic novels when I was around 10), but I do think teens are inherently interesting to write about. That time in life is full of growth—and natural conflict. You’re figuring out and defining your identity. You’re having a lot of new experiences. You’re probably still tied to your family of origin, but you’re also pulling away toward independence. There are a lot of fits and starts, trial and error. When a character is going through all that, it makes for good fiction. And when a real teen is going through it, a book can be a lifeline.
Congratulations on your young adult debut, The Moth Girl! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thanks! The story is about 15-year-old Anna, who is an average high school sophomore. She starts to feel mysterious aches and pains, and then one day at cross-country running practice, she faints. But instead of falling down, she falls up, floating several feet off the ground. This turns out to be one of the symptoms of a strange chronic illness, which affects her friendships, her activities, and every other part of her life. The book follows her as she adapts to her new circumstances and figures out who she is, and who she wants to be.
The book was inspired by my own experience of developing lupus at age 14. Like Anna, I found myself in a weird new world of doctors, hospitals, and medications, and in the book I tried to capture how surreal that can feel by using a made-up disease with fantastical properties.
Growing up, I saw very few stories about chronic illnesses like mine. Often, stories about serious illness used the sick character as a plot device to further other characters’ development. I wanted to see stories that centered chronically ill characters and didn’t have them die tragically or be inspirational props. So this book is a message in a bottle back through time to my younger self, and it’s for anyone else who has been or is currently going through something like what I went through.
Was your journey to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I started writing this book in 2012, so it feels like a very long time! Each step of the way—writing, revising, querying agents, submitting to editors, getting through developmental edits—took its time, but I’m very happy with how the book turned out and so excited for it to finally be out in the world!
When working on your book, did you have a playlist or inspiration/mood board? and if so, can you share?
Music is an important part of my process. I don’t usually listen while I’m writing, but I make a project playlist and listen to it constantly while exercising, driving around, gardening, and so forth. Music helps me get in the right headspace for a particular project, so I’ll listen and daydream while doing other things. (Daydreaming is also a very important part of my process!)
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a multi-POV novel right now about a murder in a small town with supernatural elements. I also intermittently write short stories, and I’m hoping to get together a collection of those at some point.
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
I would tell both my younger self and aspiring authors to tune into what brings you joy. Following what makes you happy is essential to living a good life and to writing the projects that you’re meant to write.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Ever since I read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in fifth grade, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with secret passageways. I had just moved to a new house that year, and I looked for trap doors everywhere I could think of. Sadly, I’ve never found secret passageways anywhere I’ve lived, but I have been contemplating building a hidden bookcase-door in my current house someday.
Where can people find you online?
Heather Kamins is the recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and her short fiction has appeared in Guernica and elsewhere. The Moth Girl is her first novel. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, two cats, and the variety of woodland creatures who stroll through her yard.
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