I had the great fortune to interview Meg Leder, author of THE MUSUEM OF HEARTBREAK, a YA contemporary novel published by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster. This interview originally appeared on the 2017 debut author group website.
About the Book:
In this ode to all the things we gain and lose and gain again, seventeen-year-old Penelope Marx curates her own mini-museum to deal with all the heartbreaks of love, friendship, and growing up.
Welcome to the Museum of Heartbreak.
Well, actually, to Penelope Marx’s personal museum. The one she creates after coming face to face with the devastating, lonely-making butt-kicking phenomenon known as heartbreak.
Heartbreak comes in all forms: There’s Keats, the charmingly handsome new guy who couldn’t be more perfect for her. There’s possibly the worst person in the world, Cherisse, whose mission in life is to make Penelope miserable. There’s Penelope’s increasingly distant best friend Audrey. And then there’s Penelope’s other best friend, the equal-parts-infuriating-and-yet-somehow-amazing Eph, who has been all kinds of confusing lately.
But sometimes the biggest heartbreak of all is learning to let go of that wondrous time before you ever knew things could be broken.
About the Author:
A former bookseller and teacher, Meg Leder currently works as a book editor in New York City. Her role models are Harriet the Spy and Anne Shirley. She is the coauthor of The Happy Book, and spends her free time reading, looking for street art, and people watching. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her on Twitter at @MegLeder.
Danielle: Museums play a big role in the novel–not only Penelope’s hand-made “Museum of Heartbreak,” but also the Museum of Natural History where Penelope and Ephraim’s fathers work. Why that image? What made museums the right guiding metaphor for this story?
Meg: One of the hardest things about heartbreak is the absolute leveling devastation you feel when things end. It seems like all the good things you just had are completely gone. But even though it feels like that in the moment, the reality is that things still remain—there are artifacts that hold some of the memory and love from what you lost. I think museums are proof of that—even though the dinosaurs are long gone, parts of them remain in very real ways. I see museums as a reminder that nothing is ever lost—that something remains on the other side of heartbreak.
Danielle: You write beautiful sentences! What is your drafting process like? Fast and messy? Or slow and precise?
Meg: Thank you! I tend to be a very fast and messy writer, which doesn’t make for the most efficient writing process. I tend to toss a lot of what I initially come up with—mostly because it’s overwritten. But having all that “stuff” there on the page makes it easier to cut and to really narrow down on what I want to keep.
Danielle: I found the character of Ephraim, in particular, with his tiny dinosaur drawings and boyhood Superman obsession, extremely rich and vivid. Are there specific techniques you use to develop your characters?
Meg: I’m glad you like Eph—he’s one of my favorites! For my characters, I start by imagining what they look like, and then I like to build a world around them. When I started this novel six years ago, Eph was a supporting character and he had fiery red hair. But then I imagined him looking like he is now—tall and lanky with brown hair, and he clicked right into place—I knew then that he was going to be a much bigger part of Pen’s story than I first expected.
I also like to build in bits and pieces of some of my friends into the characters. A lot of the good parts of Eph come from people I know and love—the same goes for the rest of the characters in the book.
Danielle: You’ve been on both sides of the publishing fence–you’re an editor as well as an author. What’s it like to live in both worlds at the same time? Has the experience left you with any specific advice for aspiring or debut authors?
Meg: I came into this thinking I knew what to expect from my experience working with my own authors. And while that’s been true to a large extent, I’ve discovered knowing something and going through it are two entirely different things. I’ve been surprised at how raw and vulnerable this all feels! But I like to think it’s made me a more empathetic editor—I’ve tried to be more transparent with my authors about the publishing process, and to remind them on a regular basis of what I love about their words.
My advice is to be nice to yourself during the publishing process. It’s hard to put yourself out there, and you’ll feel very open and terrified for a lot of the time. Make sure you have a good support group to build you up and to remind you of why you want to do this—for the writing.
National Museum of Natural History in Paris. It’s in an old train station and it’s gorgeous.
T-rex! I love his ridiculous tiny hands and furious heart.
When it comes to snacking: Salty or Sweet?
Coffee or tea?
Neither. I’m more of a hot chocolate girl!
Music to write by?
None–I like white noise of coffee shops!
If there were a “Museum of Meg Leder,” what would one of its most significant artifacts be?
My old copy of Anne of Green Gables, cracked spine and all.
THE MUSEUM OF HEARTBREAK can be ordered from Indiebound, BAM, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, and Amazon.
About the Interviewer:
Danielle Mages Amato works for a theatre company in San Diego, California. When she’s not collaborating with playwrights on new work or researching obscure facts about theatre history, she writes YA novels about the places where the past and the present collide.
Danielle’s novel, THE HIDDEN MEMORY OF OBJECTS, will be released by HarperCollins / Balzer+Bray in Winter 2017.