“Heartless” begins with the aftermath of a battle. How hard was this story to write? What was the idea that got you started on this story?
This story was incredibly difficult for me to write. For a long time, I wrote the beginnings of stories and couldn’t write the endings. It wasn’t until after I finished my first novel, Tithe, that I understood enough about structure to finish short stories. This was the second one I completed.
The thing I wanted to write about was being so cut off from one’s emotions that they’d become inaccessible. And I’ve always been fascinated with the story of the wizard who put his soul into his own finger, so that he couldn’t be killed. I thought that if I changed “soul” to “heart” then I could do something new with the tale.
The desolation in the story, the “adultness” of the world, makes Ada’s age all the more striking. What prompted this choice?
I think I’d first thought of this as a kind of plague story and did a lot of medieval plague research, but I settled on a battlefield instead. It allowed for a lot of mythic and fairy tale elements—crows, knights, the young heroine in Ada, etc.—along with the gritty and horrific descriptions that I hoped would create tension in that they promised a potentially darker ending.
The timing was interesting for Ada to break the spell on herself. Why do you think she chose to do so right then?
Well, the spell is metaphoric as much as anything else. The moment she chose to break it was the moment that her humanity was starting to wake up again and the numbness was starting to recede. She was ready to feel again.
You’re wildly successful in the writing world. Do you have any advice for the newbies?
Thank you! My best advice is to write to please your reader-self rather than your writer-self. The stuff that thrills you as a reader will most likely be the exact same stuff that thrills other readers.
Do you have any writer’s rituals, i.e. a tea before settling in to work?
Coffee, definitely. Other than that, putting on headphones and listening to music while I’m working helps me focus. I try to turn off the internet for stretches of time; sometimes I am more disciplined about that than I am at other times.
I try really hard not to have too much of a ritual, because I think it’s important to be able to write in lots of different places under a variety of circumstances.