Last summer, I stumbled upon a review of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky in Elle. I was getting ready to place my usual order for summer reads and the review really caught my eye. I immediately added the title to my order and am I glad that I did. As fate would have it, Heidi Durrow, the author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky agreed to an email interview. Here’s what Heidi shared with me…
Do you have a favorite place where you write? Describe it for us.
I write at my desk. I write in my favorite chair. I write at the kitchen table. I write on the plane. I write in my hotel room. I write in airport lounges. My favorite place to write is where the writing is working. It can be anywhere, and anytime it feels like the words are flowing.
What sort of reception did The Girl Who Fell From the Sky receive in Denmark?
The reception in Denmark has been wonderful. I think there’s excitement for it in part because Denmark doesn’t often figure in American books. But also, I think that readers are enjoying the book because of the story – the country in the last many years has started to look at its multicultural state—past and present. It’s very exciting.
How would you describe your writing process? Are you very structured or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I wish I could say that I have a structured way of writing. I just don’t. At best, I’d call my writing process as organic. I never know what the story will bring until I start writing. I am constantly surprising myself which I think is good because I think that means the reader will always be surprised too.
What compels you to write?
I can’t not write. I make sense out of emotions and memories through writing. Writing makes me happy. Okay, it tortures me as well, but ultimately, when the essay, chapter, or book is done, there is no greater happiness for me.
In February, you were part of the “Three Books…” series on NPR and suggested three books to dispel the current idea that Nordic literature is a dark, crime-ridden landscape. Why do you think so much contemporary Nordic literature is focused on crime fiction?
It’s funny you ask that. I think it’s more a function of what American publishers are willing to translate. I know at least in Danish contemporary letters there is a lot of variation in styles and genres. And then there’s the publishing habit of doing what worked before – Stieg Larsson sells so publishers hope they can find the new Stieg Larrson.
Have you begun working on your next novel? Could you share with us a sneak peek of its plot?
I’m hard at work on the new project. It’s a novel set in the late 1800s in Paris and London. The main character is inspired by a real woman named Miss Lala who was half black and half white born in the 1850s in Poland. She became a very famous circus performer and bodybuilder—so famous that Edgar Degas did a portrait of her. The book is my imagined biography of her life since there is not much known about her.
Which books are on your must-read list this year?
I’ve been reading a lot for the new book – models of historical novels as well as non-fiction books on evolution, Darwin, the circus, and the Impressionists. My must-read books are always in service of the new project.
What are you reading at the moment?
Mostly I’m reading for the new book project. And I’m reading books to review – I review occasionally for NPR now which has been fun.
You mentioned on your website that you spent summers in your mother’s hometown in Denmark. Do you speak and write Danish? Would you consider writing a novel in Danish?
I do speak Danish, but there is no way I could actually write a book in Danish. I’m a terrible speller in Danish! But I would like to try my hand at translating a Danish book at some point. That would be fun.
What advice would you give to novice writers working on their first short stories or novels?
I think it’s important to remember that as an artist you don’t have much control over whether you get published or not. But you can give yourself as many opportunities to get published as possible. I had a rule for myself that for every rejection for a story I got, I had to send out the story to two more journals that very day. I spent a lot of money in postage and I got a lot of rejections this way, but I also got closer to the acceptance that way. Most importantly, remember that the number of rejections don’t matter (I racked up almost 4 dozen from publishers for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky) – all you need is one gatekeeper, your job is to find that gatekeeper