—NEWSDAY: Author Interview
Who would have thought that a self-published 600-page literary novel about a young woman's coming of age would sell out its entire first edition and eventually be picked up by a mainstream publisher? Not Hilary Thayer Hamann, who began writing fiction because she was frustrated with filmmaking and wanted to be at home with her children. The 47-year-old writer, who grew up between New York City and the East End and now lives in Sag Harbor, spoke with Newsday about the unexpected success of Anthropology of an American Girl (Spiegel & Grau, $26) and how it changed her life.
Were you surprised by the response to your novel?
Definitely. My then-husband and I had a printing company, this was our first book, and people kept blogging about it and quoting from it and contacting me. That eventually provided the impetus to get an agent and a publisher, because doing it ourselves just wasn't sustainable. But it was a great learning experience: If you really want to write something and you don't like the model of sending out a manuscript and getting rejections, then try doing a little printing for family and friends, go a little farther, establish a legacy; that way your voice is tested, you're not simply writing and submitting anonymously and getting anonymous rejections.
How did you capture the voice of a teenage girl so believably?
I used material from journals written a long time ago that I saved. Some of it was really maudlin and trite, but I did do a lot of detail writing, which was lucky. I tell young girls who want to write that they should just observe details, because that evokes memories as much as writing down feelings. I did have a lot of Eveline's feelings as a girl, and I wonder if the reason I didn't go mainstream with the novel the first time out is because it was a really personal story; even now, I feel funny about being exposed like that.
So the book is autobiographical?
Well, the setting, in East Hampton and New York City in the early 1980s, was my world, so it was easy to write about. I was partly raised in the city, which made Long Island really vivid for me. The natural world out there has great energy and beauty, and it shapes Eveline's vision. She's really connected to the environment; it's something she trusts when she can't trust other things.
You're working on a screenplay for Anthropology of an American Girl, and your background is in film. Do you plan to write more novels?
Yes. I didn't intend to be a writer. I wanted to be an actor, and then a director, but I didn't like the film business; you have to work your way up for 20 years to get to the point where you have control and can say what you want to say, and that's hard to do when you have kids. So now I'm working on two novels, and that's become my way to make art, to create something out of nothing.