New Voice: Heather Anastasiu on Glitch

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Heather Anastasiu is the first-time author of Glitch (St. Martin’s, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Zoe lives in a world free of pain and war. Like all members of the Community, a small implanted chip protects her from the destructive emotions that destroyed the Old World. Until her hardware starts to glitch.

Zoe begins to develop her own thoughts and feelings, but nothing could be more dangerous in a place where malfunctions can get you killed. And she has another secret she must conceal at all costs: her glitches have given her uncontrollable telekinetic powers.

As she struggles to keep her burgeoning powers hidden, she finds other glitchers with abilities like hers, and together they plot to escape. But the more she learns about beauty, joy, and love, the more Zoe has to lose if they fail. With danger lurking around every corner, she’ll have to decide just how much she’s willing to risk to be free. 

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

Facing resistance to getting words on the page is definitely something I’ve fought with. I’ve come up with an arsenal of tools that can usually get me past the paralysis so that I can get working each day.

My most basic tool is setting a daily word count and sticking to it. No. Matter. What. The actual amount varies depending on what kind of deadlines I’m facing, but it’s usually somewhere from 1,000 to 2,000 words a day, and I try not to let up for even a single day.

When approaching a new scene, I’ll do a brief sketch of the goal, conflict, and end point, then I make myself start writing. Even if it feels stunted and wonky, I just keep going.

Most often the writing will start loosening up as I get into a scene. Some days it doesn’t, but that’s okay too. Words are still getting down on the page and the story is moving forward.

When I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll meet my word count in the morning, then do an editing session in the evening. Editing as I go is something that’s become necessary to avoid tons of wasted pages. It helps me stop and think through the plot as I go. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasted pages.

Then again, my last book had to be completely rewritten from scratch, so I’m trying to be more zen about embracing the process, even if it means tossing out whole drafts! Each step gets me closer to a book on the shelves that I can be proud of.

While getting words on the page is the first and foremost challenge, finding the inspiration to keep the writing and the characters fresh is also something I’m constantly aware of.

On Sara Zarr’s podcasts, she talks about the need to keep the well of creativity full and finding ways to refill it when you feel depleted. When I’m feeling creatively exhausted, I try to go back to the basics. Spending time surrounded by the beauty of the natural world is something I find very fulfilling. Because of a chronic illness I have, I can’t go hiking like I used to, so instead I go for long drives.

When I lived in Texas I couldn’t count the number of hours my husband and I spent driving around the central Texas Hill Country. I love that moment of getting to the top of a hill and seeing the incredible vista spread out below, with hills sloping into one another as far as you can see into the distance.

Another regular source of inspiration is Natalie Goldberg’s books, especially Writing Down the Bones (Shambahala,1986). She approaches writing practice as a means of getting to know one’s own mind and as a way to be fully present in the moment. That’s what I want both for my writing and for my life in general—to be fully present.

As a science fiction writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

As I was coming up with some of the gadgets for the world of Glitch, I was definitely thinking about how the increasing role of technology in our lives affects the way we interact with one another.

Community garden outside Heather’s window.

In general, I think that the things that make life feel meaningful will continue to be a constant, no matter how technology affects the ways and means of communication. There is no substitute for the physical and emotional intimacy of relationships with the people around you. The impulse to love and make love is the best of what makes us human.

In Glitch, true to dystopian form, those in power attempt to regulate, control, and dampen individuality and the emotions which create those important human connections. For me, a main theme in the book is about the way human nature fights back and evolves to conquer even the most invasive means of control.

Even without a dystopian setting, though, it’s easy to fall into certain patterns of living that are drone-like. Commute back and forth to work, come home with only enough energy to watch TV, fall into bed, then wake up the next day and do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Busyness eclipses everything, and days or decades can pass half asleep.

It reminds me of that quote from Thoreau about why he went into the wilderness:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately […] and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

Waking up from a life spent as an unthinking drone is the central metaphor in Glitch, and one that I continue to find very personal. In writing the novel, I was excited to explore what it would be like to watch a person wake up from a lifetime of emotionless monotony and discover the world around her.

I think that sense of passionate discovery is also a good parallel to what it’s like to be a teenager. Suddenly everything seems brighter and more intense, and you get to start deciding what kind of person you want to be in the world.

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