On March 8, 2022, 7 PM ET, Heather Kamins (Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellow ’16) has a virtual book launch event for her young adult novel The Moth Girl (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books 2022), hosted by Odyssey Books in South Hadley. We asked the Western Massachusetts author about the origins of her new novel, the twists and turns of writing it, and her inventive work as a literary artist.
Where did your new novel The Moth Girl start for you (for instance, as an image, as a sentence, as a scene, etc.)?
I was playing around with writing about different moments from my life but adding fantastical elements to them and seeing what developed. I noticed that a lot of the moments I was drawn to were connected with my developing a chronic illness as a teenager, so the book began to crystallize around that. Significant life events like that have a sort of gravitational pull, I think, drawing artists in to focus on them.
Despite the seriousness of the topic, the element of play was crucial. I’ve realized that the best way to find my own voice and write the types of stories I need to be writing is by following what feels fun to explore.
Were there any “surprise twists” in writing The Moth Girl – the story or even the process of writing veering into unexpected territory?
The first draft was largely a collection of vignettes about a girl who develops a mysterious, unnamed chronic illness. It contained a variety of different fantastical elements, most of which were happening around the main character rather than within her. I wasn’t quite sure how to stitch the whole thing together into a cohesive story.
But after workshopping the beginning of that draft, I realized I needed to make the fantastical stuff part of the disease itself. I settled on an invented illness that made the character float in the air, and the rest of the worldbuilding and story grew out of that, from medical tests to assistive devices. Having that clarity about those details helped me focus on how the illness would affect the main character, allowing me to tell a more emotionally truthful story.
I would say probably less than five percent of the first draft made it into the final draft of the book, but that process of exploration was necessary to help me find the right path to tell the story.
Mass Cultural Council is proud to have you in our funding history! What other forms of support have been most impactful to you, as an artist?
The emotional support I’ve received from loved ones, friends, and the communities of writers I’ve been part of has been so important. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, rejection is a standard part of the process, and it’s easy to fall into self-doubt. Having people around you who believe in your dreams and encourage you to keep going is invaluable.
Do you secretly dream of being a) a pop icon, b) an algebra teacher, and/or c) a crime-solver/writer a la Jessica Fletcher?
I love to sing (and even studied music in college), so pop icon is tempting, but the truth is that my temperament is much more suited to being a writer. If I have to solve a few crimes along the way as part of the deal, I’ll give it a shot!
Do you live with any animals?
Indoors, two cats. Outdoors, there are foxes, bobcats, a large family of groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, all kinds of birds from chickadees to bald eagles, and lots of interesting insects. Seeing all these creatures in my own backyard has helped me feel more connected to the natural world, which has been especially welcome during the isolation of the pandemic.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished How High We Go In the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu, and I can’t recommend it enough. How can a novel about climate change and a worldwide pandemic be this hopeful? How can a book with a scope of millennia and galaxies be this intimate? I don’t know, but somehow this book pulls off those contradictions, and I think it will be resonating with me for a long time.
I’m currently working to finish a draft of another novel, and I also have short stories in various stages of completion that I’d like to get into a collection at some point. I would say most of my work falls into the gray area between literary and science fiction/fantasy, which is one of my favorite places to read as well. Defying those genre boundaries makes for interesting possibilities, and I always want to give a story the freedom to go wherever it needs to go.
Further reading: read Heather Kamin’s response in the artists’ discussion How Have Health Issues Impacted Your Art?
Heather Kamins‘ fiction has appeared in Guernica, Betwixt, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. She’ll read from The Moth Girl on March 8, 2022, 7 PM, at a virtual book launch hosted by Odyssey Books.