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Katherine Heiny’s 'carefree, mellow' journey to acclaimed writing

The writer proves short fiction stories are still relevant.
Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny's book "Single, Carefree, Mellow" includes 11 short stories."

Leila Barbaro

The very first short story Katherine Heiny ever published was in The New Yorker. Her first book, “Single, Mellow, Carefree” (out now) has Lena Dunham — among others — raving. We call Heiny up to get inside the brain of this wildly talented fiction writer.

The short stories in your book all take ordinary experiences, like a children’s birthday party, and turn them into something exciting. Do you have a habit of creating stories about people you see every day in real life?

Oh, all the time. Ordinary things are really interesting to me. If I’m watching a reality show and people are fighting about who didn’t get invited to a party, to me, that’s fantastic. I think if you pay close attention to everyday things, they are often funny.

How does your writing process work?

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When I start writing, I get the first line of the story and it always stays in the story, but it doesn’t always stay as the first line. But there’s always one line that sticks with me and the rest of the story will come over a few days. It takes me a month or more to write a short story. … I don’t write chronologically; I write little scenes and then I have to put them together.

Most of your stories are about affairs. What makes you drawn to writing about forbidden love?

My husband is a former MI6 agent and he was undercover for most of our relationship. We had to be careful. I couldn’t tell people what he really did. This whole secret life thing was just part of our lives, so that’s part of it. The other part is that I’ll start writing about something other than the affair, and then I’ll add it in to round out the story.

So many writers dream of being published in The New Yorker. How did that come about for you?

I wrote this story while I was in graduate school and sent it all over the place. I got 31 rejection letters. Then a friend of mine said, “What did The New Yorker say?” I told her I didn’t send it there. She said, “Katherine, you’re supposed to send it there first.” So I mailed it off on a Thursday afternoon and they called Friday morning to accept it. I didn’t even know the mail worked that fast. They took it and published it, not changing one thing. … It’s like an urban legend or something.

Katherine Heiny book reading:
Wednesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m.
McNally Jackson Booksellers
52 Prince St., 212-274-1160
www.mcnallyjackson.com

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence

 
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