Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Happy Book Birthday for VINCENT and THEO with Author Deborah Heiligman + Giveaway

Dear friends,

Please welcome the always delightful, Deborah Heiligman, and join in the celebration of her new book, Vincent and Theo, the Van Gogh Brothers, released into the world today! Many of you will recall that Deb shared with us several years ago for her book, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist. Deb is generously donating an autographed copy of Vincent and Theo for the comment contest. All you have to do is leave a comment for Deb at the end of the post to congratulate her or share what resonated with you in her post. Now, here's a little about Deb!

Author Deborah Heiligman

Deborah Heiligman graduated from Brown University with an A.B. in Religious Studies. While that might not seem like an obvious major for a children’s book author, it turned out to be a perfect one! Reli stu taught her to ask questions. She now spends every day asking lots of questions, mostly about dead people.  (With whom she also tends to fall in love.) 
Deb counted up her books recently and discovered that Vincent and Theo: the van Gogh Brothers is number 31. Her last few have been: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of FAITH;  INTENTIONS (a novel); THE BOY WHO LOVED MATH: THE IMPROBABLE LIFE OF PAUL ERDOS (a picture book) and COOL DOG, SCHOOL DOG (also a picture book). 
Deborah grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and lived in Bucks County, PA for many years. She now lives in New York City with her husband, Jonathan Weiner, an author and professor, and their Cairn Terrier, Ketzie. Her two grown sons live in Brooklyn, thankfully only a subway ride away. For more information, please visit www.DeborahHeiligman.com

Writing from the Inside Out. . . .  Author Deborah Heiligman shares about the research and writing of Vincent and Theo, The Van Gogh Brothers

A writer spends a lot of time in her own head, and the challenge is to take the weird ideas/out-of-the-box conclusions/ connections/ themes/obsessions/aha moments/insights/etc.from inside and find a way to share them with others. Readers love to see themselves in a book, to get that feeling of being known. Readers also love to be stretched—to have a book take them beyond where they thought they could go. 
It is our job as writers to help readers achieve both kinds of connections. And the way to that, I feel, is to, essentially, as someone once said, open a vein and bleed. Writing from the inside out, indeed. 
Fiction writers do this, in large part, by inhabiting the characters they create. I remember while working on a novel about an insecure thirteen-year-old, I walked in a bathing suite from my chaise to the bathroom and thought everyone was looking at me! I confessed this to my non-writer best friend and she said nobody noticed me at all. Right. I was a middle-aged woman in an oversized t-shirt! But inside I was a 13-year-old girl. 
What about when you write nonfiction, when you write about a historical person’s life? How then to write from the inside out? 
It’s not that different. When I write biography, I inhabit real people. Though the process is slightly different--because I cannot make anything up. I can’t change something to suit my storyline or my plot, or even my wishes. I can’t make someone less or more mean. I have to discover who that person really was. 
I do that by using primary sources. What better way to get inside someone that to read his or her journal entries, diaries, letters? How better to understand how a person thinks than to listen to him or her give a speech, answer interview questions and interact with others? It helps to stare at photographs if you have them, or watch video of someone walking down a hallway. 
As you can probably guess, writing about Vincent van Gogh was daunting. He is, arguably, the most famous and beloved artist in the world. Many other people have written about him, have their own ideas and biases about him and his life. How was I to get inside of Vincent van Gogh to make him my own? The phrase elbow grease comes to mind. I first heard about elbow grease when my mother criticized someone for not using enough of it while cleaning. (That someone was me.) For a long time I thought that Elbow Grease was something you could buy in a bottle. Ah don’t we wish? Elbow grease is just hard work. Scrubbing scrubbing scrubbing. 
Writing a book from the inside out needs a lot of elbow grease.
And time. 
And sometimes stepping away.
I spent five years on Vincent and Theo. The first couple of years all I read was primary sources: Vincent’s letters to Theo and to some other people; Theo’s letters to Vincent; and Theo’s letters to his fiancĂ© and hers to him. After a bit I found and read the condolence notes to Theo after Vincent died. 
I took notes while I read. First impressions. Thoughts. Ideas. Questions. Lots of questions. 
Then I reread much of the above. While I was reading, I also painted. When I say painted, I mean I fooled around with watercolors. I am not an artist at all, but I wanted to know first-hand what it feels like to paint. Trying to get inside Vincent. 
I did all of this without reading any books or articles about Vincent or Theo. (I did have a timeline from this wonderful big volume set of Vincent’s letters.)
The secondary sources—and there weren’t that many that I trusted—came much later. This is the best way I know to get inside someone else—to meet my people in their own words, and not anybody else’s. 
Over the years of writing I have discovered this to be the best process for me. It’s not the easiest way to write a book, but it is the only way I can do it so that I achieve my goal.  
My goal is to inhabit these real people so that when I write the book I am inside their heads and souls and lives—to write about them from the inside out.  
But that doesn’t happen on the first draft. Or the second draft. Or the third… 
It takes elbow grease in the form of rewriting, thinking, and also stepping away to get perspective. 
With Vincent and Theo I was only truly inside them during the last big revision, what became the penultimate draft. It was then and only then that I knew those van Gogh boys were mine. And I was truly writing from the inside out. 

For more information and links, please visit my website page: http://deborahheiligman.com/books/vincent-and-theo/research/ 

And now, please welcome to the world, Vincent and Theo, The Van Gogh Brothers Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Books for Young Readers, Imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. 

"A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love." —Kirkusstarred review
"A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more." —School Library Journalstarred review

"In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined . . . This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. " —Bookliststarred review, on Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

"A unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love." —The Horn Bookstarred review

"An intensive exploration of their turbulent lives" —Publishers Weeklystarred review

"This title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry" —The Bulletinstarred review

Thank you so much, Deb, for sharing an inside look at the writing of VINCENT and THEO, The Van Gogh Brothers. Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by to celebrate with us.  The winner of the Comment Contest will be announced next week! In the meantime, please check out these links to learn more about Deb and her books or to follow her on social media: