Amy Hatvany on Dreaming Big as a Barista
Ten Girls to Watch is all about the many ways women’s lives and careers can unfold. Sometimes: Boom! Fireworks, right from the start. But much more often, even for the most ambitious of us, we don’t explode onto the scene. Life takes time to figure out. The author Amy Hatvany is a perfect example. She’s now the author of four novels, including the Language of Sisters, re-released last week, but before that, she was a barista and a cake decorator and a receptionist. Here’s her story. I especially love what she has to say about the idea of “making it.”
What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
Honestly? I had no idea. I originally planned to get a degree in psychology and become a therapist, but then I realized that sociology only had two math requirements while psych had something like six, so ever the avoider of anything having to do with numbers, I switched majors. I loved that field of study – learning how society molds and influences us as individuals – and was truly passionate about it, but certainly didn’t want to become a professor, which is what most soc majors end up doing. When I graduated, I was proud, but also filled with an enormous sense of “Well, great. Now what?!?”
What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school?
At the time, I lived in a smaller college town filled with over-qualified, well-educated restaurant workers, so I simply followed suit by waiting tables and pumping out espresso as a barista. I’d done the same things in high school, so I spent some time wallowing around in self-pity, thinking I could have just skipped college all together. Moments of it were great – I really did like interacting with customers and the feel of a big wad of cash in my pocket at the end of a shift, but other moments were filled with pure drudgery and despair, thinking that I’d never make a difference in anyone’s life, which at my core, is what I longed to do. I’d always loved writing, but never really considered following it as a career until I was twenty-four and feeling like if I didn’t at least try to write a book, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
What was your first real apartment like?
Hmm. It was a small studio right off the college campus, with an ugly, orange, 1970’s shag carpet and one very tiny window. There was basically room for mattress (on the floor – couldn’t afford a frame), and a 13 inch TV. It smelled like mold and stale cigarettes (from a previous tenant). But it was mine!
Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?
I would say the first came when I got a call from my agent over ten years ago, after she’d read the query letter that had garnered many other rejections, and wanted to read my first manuscript. And since I took a long sabbatical from writing after my first two novels were published, I think my second big break came the moment Greer Hendricks at Atria Books read BEST KEPT SECRET and wanted to sign me as an author.
How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”?
For me, as a slightly neurotic writer, that feeling is more a cumulative experience, so picking an actual moment is difficult. Defining what it is to “make it” has shifted for me over the years – at first, it was to just get published. Now, it has more to do with trying to stay present and aware in each moment, fully appreciating kind words from my editor, my peers, and most of all, from the readers who take the time to write and let me know how one of my books affected them personally. Every time I hear from a reader, it cements in my mind that I’m doing the right thing with my life. I’ve made the right choices.
Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you?
There are two writers who have been huge inspirations for me. First, Elizabeth Berg, whose book TALK BEFORE SLEEP was the one I read almost twelve years ago and made me believe that I could be a writer, too. She wrote about emotions with such aching, beautiful simplicity and I thought, this is the kind of writer I want to be. Not flashy, not hugely commercial, but instead, focused on the characters’ feelings, their normal, everyday lives. I wanted to write to connect with readers’ emotions. Figuring that out was a true revelation for me, and it’s still my goal, every time I put words on the page.
Another woman who has been a huge inspiration for me – and I’m sure many others – is Jennifer Weiner. Her whip-smart, hysterically funny, and inherent understanding of women’s relationships and their lives never ceases to amaze me. On top of that, as a person, she is authentic, kind, and extremely generous in her support of other, lesser known authors. She speaks out against inequities in the publishing world with grace, poise, and intelligence. She’s a true professional, and a gifted writer. Also, she live-Tweets The Bachelor. How could you not love her for that?!?
Thanks so much to Amy for taking the time to answer my questions! Take a look at her books — I have a feeling you’ll thank me if you do!