Winter chills from subzero temps and snow that refuses to melt are wonderfully seasonal, but we鈥檇 rather have the spine-tingling, OMG-don鈥檛-do-it! shivers brought on by an addictive murder mystery. In her newest novel, R.I.P Eliza Hart, Alyssa Sheinmel serves up a thrilling whodunit that鈥檚 the perfect excuse to slip into your stylish winter slippers, throw on a cozy winter pajama set, and read all night long. As if battling claustrophobia weren鈥檛 enough, protagonist Ellie arrives at her boarding school only to find out that she鈥檚 the #1 suspect in the murder of beautiful and popular Eliza Hart. You鈥檒l cheer Ellie on as she clears her name and uncovers some MAJOR secrets in the process. We caught up with the brilliant Sheinmel to talk creativity, books, and more.

Brit + Co: Describe your book in six words or fewer.

Alyssa Sheinmel: Claustrophobia. Boarding school. Big Sur, California.

B+C: Where and when do you do your best writing?

AS: I鈥檓 so dull 鈥 I almost always write at my desk at home, and almost always in the morning. I鈥檝e always been a morning-worker. (Even when I was in college and being a morning person meant waking up anytime before noon.)

B+C: What鈥檚 your go-to cure for when you鈥檙e stuck in a creativity rut?

AS: I read. I genuinely believe that everything I鈥檝e ever read has taught me something about how to tell a story. There are a few writers whose work I love so much that I can almost always count on reading their words to inspire me to write.

B+C: What鈥檚 the strangest thing you鈥檝e ever done for book research?

AS: When I was researching face transplants for Faceless, I spoke with doctors about the procedure 鈥 to give you an idea of just how specialized this branch of medicine is, the first few doctors I spoke to thought I was researching a science fiction novel! But eventually, I was lucky enough to talk to a plastic surgeon who specialized in reconstructive surgery. He had such insight and shared so many details I might never have known otherwise.

Here鈥檚 an example of a detail that really stayed with me: It takes a while for the nerves to grow into transplanted skin, so for a period after her surgery, a patient鈥檚 new face would feel like sort of a mask hanging off of her 鈥 it might actually feel heavy. Of course, that detail made its way into Faceless. (The best thing I ever got to do for book research was spend time in Big Sur for R.I.P. Eliza Hart!)

B+C: What two lady heroes do you turn to for inspiration, and why?

AS: My grandmother, Doris. She passed away a few years ago, but she鈥檚 been my hero for pretty much my whole life. She always worked hard, almost never complained, and kept her sense of humor.

And a fictional hero who inspires me is Hermione Granger (and by extension, real-life-hero JK Rowling). Hermione is one of my all-time favorite characters鈥 she鈥檚 smart and unafraid to be smart, even when people around her think she鈥檚 something of a know-it-all. She stands up for what she believes is right, even when her opinion is unpopular.

Though she grows up over the course of the series, she seems to know exactly who she is from the moment we meet her. She doesn鈥檛 pretend to know less than she does to fit in; she doesn鈥檛 stop raising her hand even when her teachers are sick and tired of calling on her. She inspires me to try to write great characters.

B+C: What鈥檚 your latest Instagram obsession?

AS: I joined Instagram less than a year ago, and I seriously love #bookstagrammers. It鈥檚 so cool to see the different ways people find to display and share their favorite books 鈥 in exotic settings, alongside a delicious-looking snack or cup of coffee, or surrounded by perfectly coordinated toys, trinkets, and accessories.

B+C: Can you name a book that you think deserves a little more love + recognition?

AS: If I read a book I love, I always look up the writer鈥檚 backlist and try to read pretty much everything they wrote, so I end up reading a lot of lesser-known novels by famous writers. The first book I ever read by Alice Hoffman was Practical Magic, which is probably one of her most famous books 鈥 and I loved it. Now I鈥檝e read almost every one of her books; a couple of my favorites are Blackbird House and The Red Garden, both a series of interconnected short stories. A few months ago I read Elizabeth Gilbert鈥檚 first book, Stern Men, and I can鈥檛 stop recommending it. And I have to recommend Edgewater, by my sister Courtney Sheinmel.

B+C: What鈥檚 next on your to-read pile?

AS: My to-read pile is so high that it鈥檚 about to topple over! I鈥檓 not sure which book is going to be next 鈥 I don鈥檛 always pick from the top of the pile 鈥 so here鈥檚 a random sample of the books in my current stack: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman; Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett; Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven; The Templars by Dan Jones; Beren and L煤thien by J.R.R. Tolkien; and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

B+C: What advice do you have for aspiring creative ladies?

AS: For those trying to write, my number one piece of advice is always the same (and it鈥檚 the advice I give myself): read. Read books that are similar to the book you want to write, and read books in a completely different genre. Read fiction and non-fiction and articles and essays and even textbooks. You never know what might spark an idea: A college textbook taught me how to insert humor into a dry topic; the idea for my book Faceless came partly from an article in The New Yorker magazine.

And whatever your creative outlet 鈥 don鈥檛 feel guilty about setting time aside for it. Or at least, don鈥檛 let feeling guilty stop you from doing it. My first few books were published while I still had another full-time job, which meant that I had to find time to write in the evenings and on weekends or vacation days. There were definitely plans I turned down and obligations I neglected to make time for writing, even when I had no idea if it was ever going to turn into anything more than a hobby. Lots of careers start out as hobbies 鈥 and even if your creative outlet never becomes anything other than a hobby, that doesn鈥檛 mean you don鈥檛 deserve to set time aside if it鈥檚 something that brings you joy or satisfaction.

Got an author you鈥檇 love to see interviewed? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know!

(Photo of Alyssa Sheinmel via Alyssa Sheinmel, photo of Hermione Granger via Warner Bros.)

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