Winter chills from subzero temps and snow that refuses to melt are wonderfully seasonal, but we’d rather have the spine-tingling, OMG-don’t-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’s 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’t enough, protagonist Ellie arrives at her boarding school only to find out that she’s the #1 suspect in the murder of beautiful and popular Eliza Hart. You’ll 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’m so dull — I almost always write at my desk at home, and almost always in the morning. I’ve 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’s your go-to cure for when you’re stuck in a creativity rut?
AS: I read. I genuinely believe that everything I’ve 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’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for book research?
AS: When I was researching face transplants for Faceless, I spoke with doctors about the procedure — 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’s 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’s new face would feel like sort of a mask hanging off of her — 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’s 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— she’s smart and unafraid to be smart, even when people around her think she’s 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’t pretend to know less than she does to fit in; she doesn’t 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’s your latest Instagram obsession?
AS: I joined Instagram less than a year ago, and I seriously love #bookstagrammers. It’s so cool to see the different ways people find to display and share their favorite books — 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’s 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 — and I loved it. Now I’ve 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’s first book, Stern Men, and I can’t stop recommending it. And I have to recommend Edgewater, by my sister Courtney Sheinmel.
B+C: What’s next on your to-read pile?
AS: My to-read pile is so high that it’s about to topple over! I’m not sure which book is going to be next — I don’t always pick from the top of the pile — so here’s 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 Lúthien 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’s 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 — don’t feel guilty about setting time aside for it. Or at least, don’t 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 — and even if your creative outlet never becomes anything other than a hobby, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to set time aside if it’s something that brings you joy or satisfaction.
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(Photo of Alyssa Sheinmel via Alyssa Sheinmel, photo of Hermione Granger via Warner Bros.)
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