Hating Heidi Foster Is Heartbreakingly Compelling…

ImageSometimes you read a book that stays with you for a long while. You think about the characters and their fates, what they’ve learned through the course of their emotional journey. Hating Heidi Foster by Jeffrey Blount is one such book. The deceptively slim book packs major emotional punch.

Hating Heidi Foster is a YA novel about friendship and what happens when one selfless act destroys what was considered by all to be an unshakeable, unbreakable bond. Mae McBride and Heidi Foster have been friends for as long as they both can remember. Even in high school, everyone thinks of them as being joined at the hip. All that changes when Mae’s father dies while saving Heidi’s life. A distraught Mae cannot forgive her father for leaving her and for saving Heidi instead of saving himself. As Mae’s anger intensifies and consumes her every waking moment, Heidi’s own guilt eats away at her, breaking her down physically and mentally. Heidi longs for Mae’s friendship again but Mae–unable to forgive and forget–cannot see past what losing her father has done to her and her family. Is there any way these girls can find their way back to friendship?

If I were still teaching, Hating Heidi Foster would be required reading for all of my students. This chronicle of the trials and tribulations of what can divide and ultimately reunite friends was powerful and beautifully written. Don’t be fooled by the slimness of the book; the emotional complexity of the novel and the pitch-perfect way it handles the ups and downs of being a teenager and how grief and anger affect each person differently…just read it. And then give it to your teenage daughter or niece or cousin.

You won’t be disappointed. Hating Heidi Foster is a definite must-read.

Getting to know Jeffrey Blount

ImageOn this cold, snowy day in Stockholm, when the streets are slick with ice and you just want to curl up with a good book, it seems fitting that you should meet the author of the beautifully-written Hating Heidi Foster, Jeffrey Blount. Jeffrey and I have a lot in common: we both have roots in historic Smithfield, Virginia; his grandmother and my grandmother were sisters; and we’re both writers. 

Jeffrey is an Emmy-winning director of Meet the Press, the Chris Matthews Show and other NBC programs. He’s also an award-winning scriptwriter for several documentaries. 

If you haven’t yet discovered Jeffrey’s young adult novel, Hating Heidi Foster, then get thee to your favorite bookstore (or Amazon) and buy it immediately. You won’t be disappointed. 

When did you first realize you wanted to write a novel?

Many, many years ago!  I can remember very well the moment I knew I wanted to write.  I was in a high school English Literature class and we were given the assignment of writing a descriptive paragraph.  I don’t remember why I made this particular choice, but I chose to write about a homeless man and his environment.  After reading my paragraph to the class, I noticed that everyone was silent.  The teacher smiled and nodded at me.  I had always loved reading and realized at that moment if I could emotionally touch very smart and very cynical teenagers with my own words, then maybe I could be a writer as well as a reader.  That day, I decided that I wanted to write short stories and novels.  In college, I wrote my way out of my freshman English class and  then met one on one with my professor for the rest of that year as she guided me through the process of writing my first real novel.  It was called Freshman Year.

ImageWhat inspired you to write Hating Heidi Foster? How did the story grow?

Hating Heidi Foster was inspired by the friendship between my daughter, Julia and her best friend, Emily.  They had been friends since early elementary school.  On weekend night, in the fall of their senior year of high school, Julia had a gathering of friends at our home.  At one point, she and Emily passed each other and I saw them speak and laugh briefly as they quickly crossed paths. But it was a special moment, shared in the way that only best friends could share it. I recognized an amazing connection. In a few months they would be graduating and probably not going to college together and maybe even studying a full country apart. And I wondered what would happen to this friendship once life got in the way.  Would they drift apart like so many old high school friends? It made me sad to think that this was a possibility. So, I decided to write them a story about the importance of friendship with the hope that in the years to come, just a glance at this book would remind them of the wonderful and powerful friendship they had.

The story grew out of the selection of a major event, which was the death of Mae’s father.  I wanted an event that would test the relationship of the best friends, but that would also highlight the depth of the connection between them. Their struggle, as painful as it is, brings to light how much they’ve meant to each other. If they didn’t care so much, couldn’t they easily let go and move on? Didn’t they need to find that out?  After finding the big event to hold the center of the story, I had to find a way to provide some closure for many characters in the book, but mainly the two girls. I used a device based on a favorite pastime of my daughter’s as she grew up. The rest of the story grew easily around those two events.  I had a story synopsis in mind, but not an outline and every time that I sat down to write, I allowed Mae to take the story in new directions.

Is Hating Heidi Foster your first novel?

No, it isn’t. The first was in 1991 and it was called Almost Snow White. It was an exploration of race relations in the 1940’s United States. One day I listened to my father and my grandmother, also named Julia, discuss African-American people who had passed as white. They wondered what would happen if those people were found out.  How would they survive? Could they come back home after turning their backs on the community that raised them? Almost Snow White follows Precious Sprately, a young Virginia woman, on such a journey of discovery.

Has your background in broadcast journalism influenced your writing style?

No, because I wouldn’t let it. The style of writing I learned in my college journalism school was extremely fact based, with little room for personal style or expression. I was able to do both.  At the same time I was writing for media, I was in creative writing classes.

I really like the immediacy of the first person narrative. Did you know from the very beginning that you would tell Mae and Heidi’s story in first person? 

Yes, because I wanted it to be a very, very intimate story.  For me, novels written in the first person allow the reader to go deeper into the personality of the main character.  I needed the readers to be totally invested in the character in order to feel her pain in the way I wanted them to. Creating an emotional attachment was critical to the story’s success.  Being inside Mae’s head and heart was the best way to achieve that.

How long did it take to complete the first draft of Hating Heidi Foster? How long did it take to reach the point when you were satisfied with your final draft? 

It took about six months. I had a deadline. The moment of inspiration occurred in the fall of their senior year and I had to have it ready to deliver as a graduation present by late May of the following spring. I was satisfied with my final draft about three years later after I decided to move forward with the book and after a very helpful editing process.

What’s a typical writing day like for you? Do you have a special place that you feel is most conducive to writing?

I write in the mornings and late at night. After taking my son to school and my wife leaves for work, I hit the office. Then after everyone is in bed, I hit the office. I can write anywhere really, but I love my office and I like to write mostly at night.

What books would you say are on your must-read list? What book are you currently reading?

The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Cove by Ron Rash and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I am currently reading The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge by Christine Nolfi.

Have you already begun working on your next novel? Could you tell us a little about your new project?

I have two ideas and I am in the process of deciding which one I’m more prepared to write.  Emotionally and intellectually. That’s all I’m really prepared to say right now.

What was the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? What was the best?  The worst piece of advice is in order to find success, you need to consider the market and write to it.  The best piece of advice was to write, first and foremost, for yourself.

Thanks to Jeffrey for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to reading your next novel and meeting the next time I am in the US so we can talk books and writing. 🙂 And for those of you who are curious–a review of Hating Heidi Foster will be online later this week! 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! And now it’s time for me to get back to the revision process. 

Christmas greetings…

ImageI’m off for a few days to celebrate Christmas in Innsbruck, Austria. It’s the perfect change of scenery after what has been one of the most stressful years I’ve ever been through. I’d hoped to have a new interview and review posted today but I ended up having to spend way too much time stuck in a queue at the post office/Hemköp in Solna Centrum, only to be told that the package (which they lost last week) they said they’d found is, in fact, still lost. At least my other packages where there. But then, on the way home, my bus was late and, when it showed up, there were too many women with baby carriages boarding the bus so I could not get on with my little “dra-mat-en” (a little umbrella-like shopping cart that was full of packages). I had to wait for the next bus, which was also late due to snow. So an errand that should have only taken an hour took almost the entire afternoon.

Anyway…when I return from Innsbruck mid-week, I’ll be posting an interview with Jeffrey Blount, the author of the fantastic YA novel Hating Heidi Foster (available as a print edition and for Kindle). I’ll also post a review of the novel.

Hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Christmas!