Thursday, August 27, 2020

Heidi Pitlor

Heidi Pitlor is the author of the novels The Birthdays, The Daylight Marriage, which was optioned for film, and Impersonation. A former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007. She is also the editorial director of the literary studio, Plympton. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Lit Hub, Ploughshares, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. Pitlor lives outside Boston.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Hopefully, the title Impersonation does a fair amount of work for the reader. This is a story about a ghostwriter, but it's also about artifice, that which we encounter and adopt on a daily basis both in our private and public lives. People make incorrect assumptions about Allie Lang, the narrator and ghostwriter, but she finds herself doing the same of others. From where do these assumptions tend to come? What purpose do they serve socially and culturally? This is one of the central questions of my novel.

What's in a name?

I tend to give my characters names based on sound; ie, does the name suit the person on some visceral level for me? But sometimes I choose names that are also words, words that relate to the character's stage of life or state of mind. Allie is in a "blind alley" for much of this book, feeling her way toward a clearer voice and sense of herself. Nick Felles is ultimately felled by the #MeToo movement. Colin, Allie's agent, is of Irish descent, but also, and I know this is a stretch, tends to "call in" big, life-changing news to Allie.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Great question. I think my teenage self would be surprised that her future self would have written a novel at all, let alone three of them. My teenage self very much planned on becoming an international lawyer who lived in New York City and lived a glamorous yet edgy life. Teenage Me would have no interest in motherhood, but perhaps some in politics and ghostwriting, I'm sure. She might be surprised at how her future middle-aged self was still trying to push boundaries, protest social injustice, examine gender inequities while keeping one eye out for the comic absurdity of it all. Some things don't change.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Both are terrifically hard for me to write and I revise both equally, but maybe beginnings slightly more. Impersonation went through several different beginnings, but I eventually landed on a quick anecdote that set up the themes and narrator's character in order to orient the reader in what I considered the most important elements of the book. Beginnings are all about setting forth the most important points for the reader. What does the reader need to know most in order to fully engage with this book? To me, endings must do a lot of work too: echo outward, provide some amount of closure, leave the reader with a particular taste in her mouth. This also involves choices and prioritizing on the part of the writer. What sort of thought or sensation do you want your reader to experience as she closes this book?

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Yes and no. Allie Lang and I are not talented housekeepers. We both love our children and would do anything for them, sometimes to an unwise degree. We are both feminists and freelancers and basically worker bees, working for higher profile people. That said, I am not raising my kids on my own and I am not a ghostwriter. I never lived in Manhattan or worked for a private equity firm. I am not an only child or raising an only child. I do not have a testy but close relationship to my mother-- mine unfortunately passed away when I was young.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

So many non-literary influences! Here are a few: life, family, money, my work, the rapidly changing state of our country, #MeToo, parenthood, nostalgia.
Visit Heidi Pitlor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue