Heather is the co-author of Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Dutton, 2006), Dream Factory (Dutton, 2007), and Jars of Glass (Dutton, 2008). Her first solo novel, The Cupcake Queen, will be published September 17th 2009.
Heather Hepler grew up in North Texas. She has lived in Reno, on the coast of Maine, in the interior of Alaska, and near Death Valley, but she currently lives in Tyler, Texas where she is still getting used to heat, the East Texas accent, and the astounding obsession that women in Tyler have with big hair. She works as a reviewer for various publications, including Kirkus Reviews, and she teaches YA and Children's Literature and Creative Writing for the University of Maine and several other colleges.
In The Cupcake Queen, Penny’s mother transplants her from the city into the small town of Hog’s Hollow and opens a cupcake bakery. You grew up in North Texas but have also lived in places like Reno, Alaska and Maine. What are your thoughts on small town living and did any of these places inspire aspects of your novel?
I’ve lived in both big and small places. The biggest was Reno, Nevada (population over 200,000) and the smallest was Machias, Maine (population around 2,000). I think small towns are amazing. They are filled with quirky, interesting people, who you just don’t seem to meet in bigger places. It can be tough living in a small town though. Everyone knows everything about everyone. Like one of my characters in The Cupcake Queen says…. “Knowing things about people in small towns is like breathing. You can’t help it.” While it is geographically impossible, Hog’s Hollow is Machias, Maine with its beaches and artists and Tyler, Texas with its festival. (Although in Tyler, they crown a Rose Queen, not a Hog Queen.) Every place I’ve ever lived finds its way into my books in some way or another.You are a reviewer for various publications and also teach YA and Children’s Literature as well as Creative Writing at the college level. How does your background influence your writing?
You have co-written the novels Jars of Glass, Dream Factory and Scrambled Eggs at Midnight with fellow author Brad Barkley. The Cupcake Queen is your first solo project. How does the process of writing a solo novel compare to that of writing with a co-author? What are the advantages/challenges of writing with alternating points of view?
Writing solo is a whole different animal. When Brad and I wrote together, we made a game out of it. We would just trade chapters back and forth, never knowing what the other was going to write. In our first novel, Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, I gave Brad’s character green lips in the third chapter. Brad called me and asked “Why does he have green lips?” I said, “I don’t know. He’s your character.” Brad came up with this genius reason that I would never have thought of in a million years. It was also really great to have someone in the trenches with me. If I had an off day or an off chapter, I could call Brad and whine to him and he’d tell me to stop flailing and get back to work. Writing solo, I just grouse to myself and eventually have to tell myself to get back to work.
Writing from alternating points of view is pretty cool actually. It was always my dream -- to be able to climb in someone else’s head and see what he just thought of our conversation. With the ping-pong way we wrote, we could do just that. The hard part was that sometimes we had to really shift things around to make sure that one of our characters was going to be present for a certain event or a certain conversation. I have heard some horrible stories about co-authoring going awry, but with Brad, it was always fun.
Being that The Cupcake Queen is of course about cupcakes and you have mentioned that you have over 100 cookbooks, I have to ask you about your own baking expertise. Are cupcakes your favorite baked goods? Also – can you share with us an instance where you had a really great success in the kitchen and/or a mishap (if any)?
I worked for a couple of years as a baker when I was in college. It was really hard work, but fun. I am a really good baker, but a so-so cook. At my house, it’s pretty common practice for me to get immersed in some baking project only to find dinner time creeping up on me. My son has had to endure canned soup for dinner with elaborate chocolate éclairs for dessert.
I’ve had a lot of disasters in the kitchen. I once decorated the whole kitchen with pinto beans when my pressure cooker exploded. I had to open all the windows in the middle of December in Maine because I burned a whole pot of sugar when making brittle. I almost set fire to the whole kitchen when I was trying to make Cherries Jubilee. The list is endless, but it’s because I believe in just trying things. Sometimes they work out (like when I made chocolate truffles with wasabi) and sometimes not so much. (Don’t touch your eyes after you’ve just spent the last twenty minutes dicing jalapeños.)
The Cupcake Queen deals with family, grief, bullying and identity issues. Is there any one message you would like teens to take away from your book and possibly apply to their lives?
Laughing… I was very shy when I was a teen. I pretty much constantly had a book in my hand. I think I lived sort of half-way between real life and whatever fictional world I was reading about.
I don’t know if all writers do this… I suspect they do to some extent… but so much of me is in my novels. Sometimes people will ask me if a certain character is me, but it’s not quite that. It’s more like they are all me to some extent or they might be like I wish I were. Whatever I’m interested in while I’m writing a book ends up in there somewhere. It might be sea glass or the solar system or cake decorating or Disney World. Right now I’m reading about growing apples and lobsters, so my next book will probably have one or both of those in it.
Life can be really lonely at times… I remember thinking often when I was a teen that no one understood me, that no one really knew me. My biggest hope is that my books will make even one person realize they aren’t alone.
What can we look forward to reading from you next? Any upcoming projects or new novels in the works?
I have another novel coming out in a couple of years. It’s in the very early stages of editing right now. Luckily I have an awesome editor to help me with it. I’m also starting to write again after a bit of time off. Right now I’m just jumping between four different books (seriously). I don’t know which one is going to stick, so I’ll just keep playing with each of them until one starts to pull ahead of the rest.
Thank you Heather for taking the time to stop by and talk with us!
Publication Date: September 17th 2009 (Dutton Juvenile)When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny’s life isn’t what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn’t talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there’s Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily.
There are also bright spots in Hog’s Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again. A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life’s unexpected turns.