Helen Simonson on Her Indie Bestseller

By Maryann Yin Comment

Helen SimonsonHelen Simonson (pictured, via) is the author behind the indie bestseller, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. The novel just came out in paperback, so we caught up with the author for an interview about bookselling and writing.

Q: Given how independent booksellers were so important for the success of your book, how do you predict they will evolve to sustain themselves with the advent of digital book sellers?
A: I am delighted to see independent booksellers being connected to e-book sales opportunities through Google e-books. This bodes well for them and allows them to retain their community and curatorial status while servicing their customers’ e-book desires. I have also visited many independent stores and I see them finding more ways to embed themselves in the life of their communities – through charity efforts, book clubs, workshops, coffee bars and sales of upscale literary-oriented gifts and accessories. Some people turn up their noses at bookstores selling non-book items, but I’ll be happy to buy my note cards, lap throws and teapots at a bookstore if it helps them remain economically strong and viable. We need those well-lit windows filled with book jackets along our main streets and in neighborhood shopping centers.

Q: What inspired you to write Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand?
A: I was tired of writing gritty, contemporary stories – all cheap motels and dirty truck-stop floors! I came to realize that I don’t believe the human condition should be described only by its more marginal edges. My view of the world is more hopeful. I’m no Pollyanna, but I believe that if the world is a horrid place, we have only ourselves to blame – and only we are around to fix it!

Q: What is your writing process?
A: If I don’t get up and write first thing, without checking email, I have no head space for creativity. I also like to dress and ‘go to work’ in an office outside of my home. At home I am ‘mom’ but out of the house I can be the ‘writer’. I’m not one to flop about in flannel PJs and bunny slippers to pen my novel. As far as creative process itself – my characters appear first, slowly coming into three-dimensional relief – and the story is about following them around.

Q: At the Brooklyn Book Festival, you mentioned that you have 14 chapters about a woman in a coma? Are you ever going to finish it?
A: I think I’m ditching the coma bit – though I hate to give up all that research. However, there were many good themes in the story I was trying to tell and I think some of those characters are still camped out in my head, auditioning for a future role in a novel.

Q: What’s next for you? Any future projects being prepared?
A: I’m working on a second novel. I’m excited about my characters and my only trouble is that they seem to want to spread out around a fairly big landscape, and they are making me a lot of work! I wish I could write a ‘two-people-on-a-park-bench’ novel with plenty of white space, a loose connection to linear time and no minor characters! Unfortunately, that’s not what lives in my head. Finally–I’m off on a thirteen market tour beginning January and will be reading at the Barnes and Noble in Tribeca on April 28th.