Charity, August 06, 2012 at 6:08 PM

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!

Charity, August 03, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Next Reading, August 8th

photo by Priya Patel

Thanks to everyone who made it out to Wednesday night’s book launch party at powerHouse Arena.  Such a wonderful night! And guess what? I have another reading coming right up! Wednesday, August 8th, 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Come on out!


Charity, August 01, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Hey, That’s Me on HuffPost Women!

I chatted with the lovely Lori Fradkin of HuffPost Women earlier this week, and the interview is up today! Wondering what I think about Girls or Fifty Shades of Grey? Wondering about the golden years (haha) of my 20s? All your questions answered!

Charity, July 31, 2012 at 1:07 PM

Today’s the Day!

Ten Girls to Watch is in bookstores TODAY!!!!! Go get it! Library lovers, check it out! Fancy techno-kids, download away! Want to read the first chapter? Here you go. Want to read a synopsis and some reviews? Sure thing. Want to hear my sweet voice reading it aloud to you? Come to the book party tomorrow! (Or any of the readings in the coming months!)

p.s. In case you’re looking at yesterday’s post and today’s post and wondering how many of those “perspective shots” I have of the book, the answer is INFINITY.

Charity, July 30, 2012 at 8:07 PM

TEN GIRLS TO WATCH Comes Out Tomorrow!!!

Just in case I’ve failed to mention it, my novel, Ten Girls to Watch, comes out TOMORROW!!!! (Yes, this is an all caps, multiple exclamation point situation!!) Want to read a synopsis and some reviews? Tada! Want to buy it? (Yes, you do!) Pop on in to your local bookstore, or hop on over to any of those fine websites listed there in the right hand bar. Want to read the first chapter for free? Check out the Atria Summer Beach-Read Bag. Want me to read the book aloud to you??? Come to my readings!

Fair warning, there are going to be even more exclamation points tomorrow.

Charity, July 27, 2012 at 4:07 PM

Molly Wizenberg on Big Leaps and David Byrne

Success isn’t always straightforward. I mean, duh. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that in real life. That’s what my novel Ten Girls to Watch is all about (did I mention that it comes out IN FOUR DAYS!), and Molly Wizenberg is an amazing real-life case in point. She’s the author of the book A Homemade Life and has another book on the way. She’s also the author of the lovely blog Orangette, co-owner of the restaurant Delancey and the craft cocktail bar Essex, both in Seattle, and she’s about to be a mom! Pretty great, right? But flash back a few years and she was dropping out of her PhD program and trying to figure out how on earth she was going to follow her food and cooking dreams. Not exactly a kushy spot to be in, but look at her now! Read on for her whole story. It’s pretty awesome.

What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
I had no idea. Absolutely no idea. I had a degree in human biology and a minor in French, but I had chosen them because I liked them, not because I had big aspirations in those areas. I loved food and cooking, too, but I’d tried working as a restaurant cook, and it wasn’t a good fit for me, so that sort of went nowhere. I would eventually wind up going to graduate school for cultural anthropology, but it would take me a few months after college graduation to even begin to think about that — and even then, I didn’t have firm plans for what to do with the degree. I just wanted to keep learning.

What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school? 
During winter quarter of my senior year of college, I was taking a French literature class, and in it, I met a fellow student who told me about an incredible program offered through the French Ministry of Education. Basically, the program brings in native English speakers (and speakers of other non-French languages) to work for a year as language teaching assistants in French schools. (Here’s a website about it.) You work 12 hours a week and get all the benefits of being a legal resident, and the money you make isn’t bad – really good, actually, for just a dozen hours. I applied and was assigned to teach English conversation classes in a high school just outside of Paris, in a town called Saint-Cloud. It was pretty awesome, because I was 23 and living on my own in Paris(!!!), but it was also awful at times, because I only sort of knew what I was doing with the kids. The program gave us assistants an orientation session and some teacher-training sessions, but it wasn’t really enough for me to feel like I knew how to do my job well. I spent a decent number of class periods playing Hangman with my students. (Sorry, French taxpayers!) And my supervisor in the English department had had a not-so-secret affair with a previous teaching assistant and seemed to be hoping for a similar situation with me, so at times it was… awkward.

What was your first real apartment like? 
My first real apartment was in Paris, and let me tell you, typing that sentence still makes me a little giddy. It was a small studio apartment in the 11th arrondissement, and the kitchen was essentially an alcove — two electric burners, a tiny sink, and a mini bar-sized fridge – in the hallway between the front door and my bed. There was one chair in the corner, but most nights, I sat on the bed to eat dinner. I loved that apartment. I can still hear the sound the door made when it closed behind me. It was heavy and loud, and whenever the weather got hot, it swelled and stuck like crazy.

Are there any particular experiences that capture the essence of your early twenties? 
I think mostly of music. I was listening to a lot of Fugazi then — that’s true of me from age 14 to 24, actually, and still sometimes now — and a lot of Radiohead, too. Radiohead’s album The Bends particularly reminds me of the year that I was doing that teaching gig in France. My boyfriend at the time was back in the States, in Oklahoma (where I’m from), and the whole time I was in Paris, I felt this potent mix of euphoria (I’m in FRANCE!) and longing (I’m in love with someone who’s 5,000 miles away!). For me, that album is those feelings.

Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?
Let’s see. After that year in France, I came back to the States to start a doctoral program in Seattle (where I live now), and after my second year of that, I decided to quit. I’d lost my dad to very aggressive cancer during my first year, and I’d struggled all along with a nagging feeling that I just didn’t want the degree the way my peers did. I didn’t want to be an anthropologist or a university professor. At a certain point — when I needed to be applying for big dissertation grants and such — I realized that I had to make a decision. It’s not really a break in the sense of success, but that moment was a biggie. I decided to leave graduate school and instead focus somehow on food and cooking, a hobby that had begun to feel more and more important to me. I wanted to be a food writer. But of course, I had nothing to show for myself! (The only writing I’d ever had published was a poem in a literary magazine in high school.) So the worse case scenario, I figured, was that I would get a job doing something, anything — working in a grocery store sounded pretty good — and work on writing in my free time.

As it happened, though, I wound up staying in school for a third year, because I got an internship that gave me free tuition and part-time income. And from there, after I finished that last year of school, the internship turned into a full-time job, which got me through the next year and half. It sounds cheesy, but the decision to quit my PhD program turned out to be a real “leap, and the net will appear” situation.

How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”? 
Getting my first book deal, without a doubt. I started my blog Orangette the summer that I decided to leave graduate school, and I worked on it during my last year of school and the year after, when I was working full-time. By that point, it was really starting to take off, and one thing led to another. I was put in touch with an agent and an editor who believed in what I was doing and gave me the opportunity to write full-time, to write my first book. That was five and a half years ago now, and it still feels pretty unreal sometimes.

Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you?
David Byrne! He’s a singer, songwriter, author, artist, movie director, bicycling advocate, former leader of Talking Heads, and general brilliant weirdo. I love that he’s reinvented himself many times over, and that he’s been successful at doing his own thing according to his own rules. (If you want to see something great, watch this.) This is really going to get cheesy, but he kind of makes me feel like I can do anything.

Thanks so much to Molly for answering all my questions! Now go get her book!