Sweet Sixteener Jeff Garvin recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Maggie Lehrman about her YA contemporary debut novel, THE COST OF ALL THINGS (May 12, 2015, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray).
Maggie Lehrman is a writer whose first novel for young adults, The Cost of All Things, is available from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. For nine years she was an editor at Abrams Books, where she edited middle grade and young adult novels and graphic novels, as well as a handful of picture books. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she graduated from Harvard College with a BA in English. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Kyle.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets We Were Liars in this thought-provoking and brilliantly written debut that is part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama.
What would you pay to cure your heartbreak? Banish your sadness? Transform your looks? The right spell can fix anything…. When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden—and sometimes dangerous—connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.
Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy.
Jeff: Hi Maggie, thanks so much for taking the time out of your crazy schedule to do this this interview.
Maggie: Thanks, Jeff! Glad to be here.
Jeff: When I first came across the word “Hekamist” in your book [the name of the magic-users who cast spells for a price], it sounded so legitimate that I spent ten minutes on Wikipedia and Google trying to research it. How did you come to invent Hekame?
Maggie: The magic-casters in the book started as witches, but very early on my editor and I talked about how they weren’t quite the same thing as witches—they were their own strange category. So I set out to find a word to describe them and their magic. I made a ton of word lists, and used Google’s translate function liberally—what’s “magic” or “witch” or “power” in Latin? In German? In Greek? Eventually I came across the ancient Egyptian god Heka, who was the personification of magic. I liked the suggestion that these women came from a culture that old. Plus I liked that “hekamist” sounded a little like “chemist” and “alchemist.” It felt right. Glad to hear it also sounded real!
Jeff: You wrote THE COST OF ALL THINGS from not one or two, but four different points of view. Why did you decide on this approach? What was the biggest challenge you faced in bringing it to life?
Maggie: In some ways it wasn’t a conscious decision. I started with Ari’s story, the girl who erased all memory of her dead boyfriend, but I found that it was almost impossible to write her story on its own—there was too much she didn’t know. I experimented with the other characters’ points of view just to see what I could learn about them and their world. And then during my explorations each of the main four developed conflicts and drama of their own, and I started to see how all four could come together. It was a puzzle. Luckily, I like puzzles.
Jeff: How did you approach revising a story with four distinct points of view and two separate timelines?
Maggie: Revising was so, so important. The book only came together after many revisions. In the first draft, I got to know the characters and had a broad strokes sense of each of their stories. But in order to make these POVs into a book—a single story—I had to be able to chart where each of the characters were, how they interacted with the others, and how their individual stories developed. I ended up sticking a lot of post-its on the wall of my apartment and making interminable lists. I revised many, many times, because changing one moment inevitably changed a dozen others because of how the book was structured.
Jeff: As your title suggests, the costs of magic to the hekamist and her subject play a crucial role in shaping not only your characters’ choices, but their self-images as well. One hekamist describes herself as a “spiritual accountant” who can’t change the total of a person’s natural resources, but instead reallocates them among three categories: body, mind, and soul. Looking back on your own teen years, what spell would you have taken, and what would you have preferred to sacrifice?
Maggie: You know, I’d like to think that I wouldn’t take a spell—that I’d have known better. But I don’t think that’s true. I felt everything so deeply; I thought so hard about everything until nothing made sense anymore. I have relaxed a bit over the years but that person is still very much a part of me, and I know she’s got blind spots. I will say this: I don’t think I would erase a memory. I obsessed over my memories, even the bad ones. I can’t imagine giving them up. So what would I have taken? Okay, it’s embarrassing, but I might’ve gotten a beauty spell. Losing smarts would’ve been a blow, but I bet young Maggie would think she could get them back somehow by outsmarting the system. Don’t do it, young Maggie!
Coffee or Tea?
Tea! Specifically: Tetley
Favorite magic-user in any book ever?
Nathaniel in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus books
Writing to music: yes or no?
Yes, but no lyrics
Favorite method of procrastination?
All of them
You’re 15. What band would you spell away brain cells to see?
Would have to be really good and pretty much impossible so I’ll say The Beatles
Song that gets stuck in your head that you’re ashamed to admit you enjoy?
“Fancy” by Iggy Azalea
Song that would play as you entered the boxing ring (if you were a boxer)?
“Gasoline” by the Dead Weather
What were you reading when you were 16?
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Superpower: Invisibility or teleportation?
1000x teleportation! I don’t see the point of invisibility except to be a creeper
About the Interviewer:
Before becoming a novelist, Jeff Garvin acted on TV and toured as the lead singer of a rock band. He has a BFA in Film from Chapman University and lives in Southern California, surrounded by adorable, shedding beasts. In his debut YA contemporary novel, SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN (Winter 2016, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), Riley, a 16-year-old gender fluid teen, starts an anonymous blog to deal with hostility from classmates and tension at home. But when the blog goes viral, a storm of media attention threatens Riley’s anonymity.