Shootin’ the Breeze With Gwendolyn Heasley

Gwendolyn Heasley’s debut novel Where I Belong is a real gem! It’s full of great writing, a memorable plotline, and outstanding characters. How could anyone not want to know more. More about the book and about the awesome author behind it.

Recently, Gwendolyn Heasley was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions. Read on for the answers to those questions!

BookBandit (BB): Can you tell me about yourself, and your writing?

Gwendolyn Heasley (GH): Sure! I live in Manhattan and I teach college in New Jersey.  I love running, skiing, ABC Family TV shows and all “kid food”—especially mac n cheese and grilled cheese!

BB: What was the inspiration behind Where I Belong?

GH: At the time, I was looking for a job and living with my parents. The recession was all around me, so I decided to write a hopeful story about how the recession did have positive elements—like reminding us what truly has “value.”

BB: Where I Belong is full of great, memorable characters. Part of what makes them so unforgettable are their names. How did you come up with them?

GH: I have a good friend Corrinne. She goes by Corrie, but I love her name and I liked the alliteration of Corrinne Corcoran. While on a visit to Texas, I really did meet a Bubby and I just loved his name. I found the name Kitsy on the Internet while researching rodeo queens. Kitsy is definitely my favorite name in the book. There’s a Waverly Diner in New York, so that’s where Waverly comes from. Rider is from the actor Rider Strong, who starred on Boy Meets World, although my readers might be too young to have seen that TV show.

BB: My two favorite characters were Corrinne and Kitsy for obvious reasons. If you had to say, which one reminds you most of yourself and why?

GH: While I grew up in a small (ish) town in Minnesota, it wasn’t the size of Broken Spoke.  But I was definitely not raised as a city girl like Corrinne. Also, neither girl grew up in a family similar to mine! I have one older sister and no little brother… so I’m pretty different from both girls in the background sense.

As for personalities, I’d love to say that I’m as sweet and optimistic as Kitsy, but I’m not.  She’s one of my heroes; she’s got such an amazing spirit.  I’m not that much like Corrinne either though; she’s much bolder than I am but I really appreciate her honesty and adaptability. I’d say that there’s a lot I look up to in both girls and I loved living in their heads.

BB: What kind of research did you do for this book?

GH: I wrote the book during the recession so that didn’t require much research.  As for Texas and rodeos, I’ve been to Texas many times and have a bunch of Texan friends. While none of my friends are the inspiration for the book, I learned a lot about Texan culture and pride through them. As for rodeos, I’ve been to a couple of them but I also did a lot of internet research and youtubing for the details.

BB: When you were writing Where I Belong, where there any other titles that you were considering that just didn’t make the final cut?

GH: The original title was CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE RECESSIONISTA but we decided that wasn’t a classic title. Although the book takes place during the recession, that is truly only one element of the book.

BB: If Where I Belong were to be made into a movie, who do you think would, or should, be cast as Corrinne? Kitsy? Bubby? Waverly?

GH: I’ve always seen Kitsy as Taylor Swift. As for Corrinne, I think Alexandra Chando, who plays twins Emma and Sutton Mercer on ABC Family’s The Lying Game, is super talented.  As for Waverly, I really like Vanessa Marano, who plays Bae on ABC Family’sSwitched at Birth.

BB: Corrinne spent a lot of time listening to her iPod in the book. If you could choose one album that would describe her,  what album would it be and why?

GH: I  think she wouldn’t pick one album; she’d make a playlist. She’d definitely put some country on it, but it would also have some classic rock and a few NYC anthems on it too. As she grew up in the book, I think her taste evolved to include more and more things and I think the mix would reflect this.

BB: You have a new book coming out this June, a sequel called A Long Way From You. Can you tell us what it’s going to be about, and how your writing process differed from Where I Belong?

GH:  This time it’s Kitsy’s story and she’s coming to NYC for art classes. Over the course of the summer, she learns a lot about herself, especially since she’s away from all of her familiar surroundings. She also truly develops as an artist, which is something I loved writing about.  I got to visit art museums and imagine that Kitsy was there with me!

I wrote the book about Manhattan while living in Manhattan, which was great. For research, I could mine my own experiences, especially my initial experiences living here when I was first learning the city.

 BB: Any advice you can give aspiring writers?

GH: Everyone always says it so it’s almost becoming a cliché but my best advice is to read a lot. Spend at least as much time reading as writing. Read anything and everything, but only write things that interest you. If you only like telling stories about unicorns, then write only about unicorns. You will write much better if you focus on topics that you’re passionate about.

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