Interview with Harlie’s Books
First Published at Harlie’s Books
March 10, 2017
Please start off by telling us a little about yourself.
Hello Harlie, I’m the author of The Secret Billionaire, a young adult mystery novel and my first published book. I was born in Paris of Persian parents, and I moved to the US—Boston to be precise—to go to college, where I studied Comparative Literature and Mathematics. These days I live in New York City, where I’ve spent the last few years among serious professionals, many of whom probably prefer to read nonfiction.
Is a single title, or part of a series?
I planned it as a series from the start… and incredibly generous readers are now encouraging me to write the sequel!
What were your inspirations for the story?
This book is inspired by the great stories of my childhood, stories of adventure and lost treasure, like Ali Baba or The Count of Monte-Cristo, and stories about heroes and supervillains.
Please share your setting. Have you ever lived or visited there? If so, what did you like most?
The story is set in a fictionalized version of the beautiful Hudson Valley, near New York City where I live. In particular, the lovely town of Cold Spring, which I first discovered when looking for a day hike near the City, is the inspiration for Spring Forge in the book. It’s the kind of small town that feels cozy and magical at the same time, where life seems frozen in time and yet anything could happen. There’s even a real-life person whom I met in Cold Spring who made her way into the book… But I’m almost certain she doesn’t know yet 🙂
When did the writing bug first bite?
I was a very sickly kid, and because I spent much of my childhood in bed with a book in my hands, fiction soon became my world. Once I started becoming healthier, I discovered that the real world is filled with stories, even richer stories than I’d found in books. And so, I started writing them down in the dark, using a flashlight in my bed at night.
Do you have any hobbies or special things you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a huge movie fan. I also love classical music. And I’m obsessed with food. One of the three, at least, is highly obvious from the book.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard or seen?
Once, when I was in my early twenties, I vividly heard something that sounded like a real-life Star Wars space battle outside my window. The sounds lasted a good twenty minutes, and they were as loud and clear as anything I’ve ever heard. But everything outside looked perfectly normal. And I’ve never come across anything like that again.
What is the one thing that you would tell an inspiring writer to do?
Set a writing schedule, even a modest one, and stick to it, with no concern for quality. Your writing will take on a life of its own. Wherever it may take you, that in and of itself is a miracle and a joy.
Interview with Books in the Hall
First published at Books in the Hall
Mar 8, 2017
Why do you write juvenile fiction? What draws you to it?
Everyone knows that teenagers are constantly changing. They’re moving in a direction that seems to shift as they approach it. What I didn’t know, when I was a teenager, was that this is true of everyone, of every age. Youth is the time when it is most obvious that simply being alive is an adventure. The life of a young adult is inherently a journey, a quest. But we should never forget that the adventure, the quest, never ends, because no one ever grows up.
What’s your favorite sweet treat?
Make a giant cookie brownie cake in a cast-iron skillet and cover it with nuts, ice cream, and chocolate sauce. The batter must include Nutella.
What would you write in a letter to your teen self?
One day you’ll look back and realize that there could have been a way to understand and befriend every single person you know.
Favorite hot beverage. Why?
Perhaps because I’m originally Persian, tea is our family drink. It’s my magic potion and the aroma of my home. It’s a strict requirement for: mornings, afternoons, any kind of work, brunch, any event with “coffee” in the description, and almost any type of cozy circumstance.
Ideal summer vacation.
Some place where mountains meet the sea, and where every meal lasts three hours.
Coal or candy in your Christmas stocking? Why?
Candy, 100%. And that has to be true of most people in the world. Sure, there’s some real evil out there, but most of us—the clear majority—are ultimately kindhearted.
You’re stranded on a desert island—which character from your book do you want with you? Why?
Andrew Day would have the highest survival skills… but Olivia Gladys might be slightly more fun to survive with.
What It Feels Like to Read a Review for Your Book
First published at Fabulous and Brunette
March 7, 2017
It is terrifying to read someone’s review of your book. The seconds before you start reading—when perhaps you’ve recognized a dreaded subject line in your inbox, or you’ve noticed a higher number of reviews on your book page since you last checked—are filled with horror. I check the page about once a week, and I employ more creativity in procrastinating against that moment than I could ever pour into any book. It’s not the nervousness you feel before jumping off a cliff, or when you’re about to take the stage, or when the audience is suddenly silent, just a few feet away from the piano, waiting for you to play. Those are active, empowering fears. The moment is yours to strike back; you can attack and be victorious. When you’re reading a review, you’re defenseless. It’s the trepidation you feel when the person you care about more than anyone else in the world has heard your deepest truth, has seen your soul bare, sees you with all you have, with every effort you could ever make, and is about to respond. Maybe there’s a thrill in it. But mostly, it’s agony.
Then it comes. You start to read. You hear what you cannot change. It’s an intimate moment but you are mute. Bad reviews come in two kinds. There are the bad ones that are wrong. I received two stars on Amazon not long ago from a woman who had read another book, which apparently had lots of sex. I don’t have the power to remove the review, but I can get over it. You can’t parade yourself in the sun all day without the occasional bird dropping on your coat. But there are bad ones that could be right, bad ones that could feel right. And those are painful. But the pain is surmountable. The pain is what you feared a moment ago, and in the mere revelation of that fear, there is relief. Then there are the medium reviews. These are almost harder, because their edges are dull, and their words can take their time against your defenses. With those, it is best to try to learn something, and to feel grateful that you may have a chance to do better with your next book.
Finally, there are good reviews. And there are shades of good reviews, just as there are shades of good weather—but even the worst shade is still good, just as every beautiful day is joyous. Good reviews are the happy ending. They’re the applause you never knew you were waiting for. On your side of the book, there are years of toil and doubt, mountains of loneliness and fear. But the review is on the other side; and with a good review, that side wins out. It’s when you read a good review that you realize the fear was worth it, that you recognize you were never alone. I read a review this morning from a fifteen-year old girl. A few months ago, I read one from a young man in Australia. And one of the Facebook friendships of which I am most proud, of which I am most protective, is with a sixty-eight-year-old woman I’ve never met, who reached out to tell me how much she loved my book. People think writing is solitary, but the kindness of a reader is a friendship entire.
It is not easy to read a review. But it is not easy to write a book. And for years—about two decades—I wrote for myself. That is no longer true. Reviews have made me realize that all this time I was writing towards adream, both a blessing and a privilege: that of writing for someone else.
If I’d Never Heard of Me Would I Read my Book?
First published at Long and Short Reviews YA
March 6, 2017
I studied both comparative literature and math in college—please forgive me if I seem to start on the wrong side here. One of the mathematical concepts that have inspired me the most (by which I mean, outside the realm of homework) is proof by induction. It’s used to prove that a certain statement holds true for all natural numbers. You start by proving that, if the statement is true for a given value n, then it’s true for the next natural number, n + 1. Then you prove that the statement is true for the number 1. Based on the first proof, if the statement is true for 1, then it must also be true for the number 2. Which means it must also be true for the number 3. And so on and so on, showing that the statement is true for all the natural numbers. (Aren’t you picturing glass dominoes knocking one another down into infinity? If only life were as clean as math…)
This principle of proof by induction perfectly encapsulates, in my mind, what a book should do. (And I promise I’m not just trying to justify my college degree as more than randomness and indecision.) In a good book, if you pick up the story on any given page—let’s call it page n—you should feel compelled to turn over to page n + 1. Different authors may compel you with different tricks: with a gripping mystery, with snappy dialogue, with a mesmerizing character, with the beauty of the writing… What matters is that any page you read will make you want to read another. Now, ideally, this statement holds true for page 1 of the book—or even page 0: anyone who sees the book cover and the description on the back should feel the urge to turn open the first page.
Therefore, I measure my own book by the answer to this question: if someone sees the book, glances at the book cover (designed by the brilliant Kelly Ellis), and reads the description, would that person then want to start reading—and go all the way to the end? Success, for me, would be to answer the question with a confident yes.
And so, if I’ve done my job correctly, then, if I’d never heard of me, I wholeheartedly wish to believe that I’d still read The Secret Billionaire.
How I Came to Be a Writer
First published at Straight from the Library
March 9, 2017
I was born into two circumstances that predisposed me to falling in love with writing. The first was to be the child of immigrants. Because my parents were Persian, the flavors and superstitions of our home were a world apart from the life outside our apartment in Paris. But there was one distinction that fascinated me more than any other, and that was language. Words, at first, were a great divider. But soon, as I became less of a foreigner and more of an adopted native son, at that age when languages seep in like baby lotion, they became a great equalizer. I learned French, and I learned English, and because I had to work on being proficient in every language (and, to this day, I’m envious of all who are immediately fluent in any), I learned to treat words themselves as a subject of study and adoration.
The second was to be born with inflamed tonsils. Up until a series of surgeries when I was just a few years short of my first decade, I had a fever almost every day of my life. I still remember: a good day meant being only a couple of degrees higher than the norm—which meant being able to get out of bed and go to school. Most days, my universe was reduced to three objects: a cold towel on my head, a bucket on the floor, and a book in my hands. Books became the world to me, and from the start I could think of them only with thankfulness. Maybe it’s because, for the first few years of my life, books were one of the few things I could do that I soon became convinced that I needed to write.
From my teens to the present day, I can summarize my journey as a writer in a few quick sentences. I continued to love reading, and I continued to write. There was also another constant—rejection. I wrote four novels before The Secret Billionaire, I tried to publish every one of them, and I know as many agents who took a chance on me as I know fairies and leprechauns. I’d never written a young adult novel before this fifth book, but there were two things about it that were certain before I wrote the first page, and I’m not sure why: I knew that this story of teenagers setting out to solve a mystery felt more real, more natural, more urgent to me than anything else I could write; and I also knew that the time was right (both in my life and within the book industry) to publish it myself.
I wish I could avoid the cliché, but holding my own book really is a dream come true. The one thing that hasn’t changed all along is my feeling towards writing—towards this book and every other book, written by anyone. It’s a feeling of love, of closeness, and, most of all, of gratitude.
Interview with The Avid Reader
First published at The Avid Reader
March 6, 2017
What inspired you to write The Secret Billionaire?
This is not a fantasy book, but I wrote it as an escape from reality. I drew inspiration from the great stories of my childhood, stories of adventure and lost treasure, like Ali Baba or The Count of Monte-Cristo, stories about heroes and supervillains. And my story seemed to belong naturally in a fictionalized version of the beautiful Hudson Valley, near New York City where I live.
Can you tell us a little bit about the next books in the same series as The Secret Billionaire or what you have planned for the future?
My goal from the beginning was to write a series. I’ve planned it out from the start, and there are secret clues in the first book as to what lies ahead… But for now, the main order of business is to finish the second book. I’m extremely excited about it. And every time a reader asks for the sequel, I feel a new burst of energy and courage for the road ahead.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Secret Billionaire?
They’re all entirely fictional (as far as I can tell), except for three. Two of these are major characters, and they’re inspired by people who are close to my younger brother. I’ve never met them, but he’s described them so thoroughly and so beautifully over the years that they made their way into the book. The third character is based on a real-life person whom I’ve met and spoken with. But I’m almost certain she doesn’t know, and maybe I’d prefer to keep it a secret…
You know I think we all have a favorite author. Who is your favorite author and why?
I grew up in Paris, on Avenue Victor Hugo, and I couldn’t imagine a greater honor than to have his name on my address. He was a great man, who fought for those who were defenseless against his government. Moreover, every page of his writing, his poetry, his drama, and his prose, is filled with beauty. And the characters he created and the tales he told will live forever.
If you could time-travel would you travel to the future or the past? Where would you like to go and why would you like to visit this particular time period?
I would much prefer the past, and ideally the ancient world: Rome, Egypt, or the Persia of my ancestors. I’m fascinated by myths and empires – which might be one of the many reasons I love New York City 🙂
Do you have any little fuzzy friends? Like a dog or a cat? Or any pets?
An imaginary pet wolf.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us today.
Thank you, dear Avid Reader!
Interview with LIL Book Lovers
First Published at LIL Book Lovers
March 3, 2017
How would you describe The Secret Billionaire?
The Secret Billionaire is a young adult mystery novel. It tells the story of an enormous fortune that a tycoon left in his will for “his dear friend Lucian Baker.” Only there is no trace of anyone by that name. Decades later, three high school students set out to solve the mystery.
Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
I love the two main components of writing: storytelling and language. (I suppose I’m cheating, because then I should explain why I love each of these two… But writers are good at using words to cheat – surely you know that already J) I’ve loved writing as long as I can remember. I would stay up writing in secret, with a flashlight, as a kid. And I have embarrassing proof locked away in my closets.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I work full-time in a field that has nothing to do with writing, and I’m incredibly lucky to love my job. I’m even more fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who support and even celebrate my writing. And by challenging me and teaching me in ways that are seemingly completely unrelated to fiction, they constantly help me grow as a person – and therefore as a writer
If you received an entire fortune, what would you do with the money?
I would do five things exactly: (1) share the wealth my family; (2) help support causes that matter infinitely more than my writing – in particular children’s medical research; (3) build Iron Man’s house; (4) start a business; (5) keep on writing.
Do you like to go about solving mysteries? If you could, would you be a detective?
Sure – but I’d need: (a) a creepy real-life movie score playing wherever I go; (b) an awesome raincoat.
Which literary character would you pick as a sidekick? It could be one as a detective sidekick, a writing sidekick, a vlogging sidekick, whatever you like!
I want White Fang, the wolfdog of Jack London’s novel, to be with me at all times. I would have given you the same answer twenty-two years ago. I’ve made my peace with it.
It’s so cool that you have your own Youtube channel! What is it like being a vlogger? Do you have some tips to making a great video, especially one about books?
Thanks! The channel made a huge difference for me: it allowed me to connect with strangers from all over the world who helped me every step of the way (for example by voting among possible covers – or even telling me whether toward or towards sounds better). More importantly, they became my first readers – and some of the most encouraging friends I’ve ever encountered. I’ve found that the best way to make a good video (about books or anything else) is to be yourself. Nothing is more compelling than the opportunity to connect with a real person.
How was it like winning three awards for the Best Young Adult Book at three book festivals last year?
It is an extremely joyous and strangely personal feeling. It feels like a hug from people you’ve never met. I don’t know about achievements in other fields, but there’s something deeply emotional and intimate about winning an award for a book. Each time, the first thing I do is tell my family. Perhaps it’s because I feel honored, grateful, and humbled beyond belief – these are all emotions best shared with the people you love the most.
What do you do if you are not reading, writing, or doing anything book-related?
I daydream about food. But you could guess that from the book. I’m also a big movie guy. So put on a movie and give me a pancake. We’ll be best friends.
How do you want your book to impact your readers? What is the message you want readers to get from The Secret Billionaire?
Nothing makes me happier than hearing from readers. I feel a combination of profound thankfulness and love (I was going to say friendship – but really, love) for anyone who tells me that the book kept them reading late at night, or made them miss a train stop. But as for the message of the book… I wouldn’t want to share my own assumptions with readers, especially since I’ve seen some incredibly thoughtful and generous reviews about the book’s message on Amazon.
What are your current plans with your writing career?
Every time I read a new reader review, I feel the strength to write a whole new chapter for the sequel! More immediately, I’m almost done recording the audiobook for The Secret Billionaire, which I’m very excited to release.
Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?
I have only one: just write, gratefully and joyously, as if the world needed you to write. It does!
What Was the Inspiration for The Secret Billionaire?
First published at Desert Rose Reviews
February 28, 2017
The most truthful answer for this book (for any book?) might be at once the most magical and the most banal – maybe even the saddest. Most probably, I wrote the book for the reason that some might read it – for the same reason that all of us, book lovers, crack open any book: to escape. I started writing it when my life was, arguably, veering a little too close to seriousness and adulthood, to predictability and safety. My response, naturally, was to create a situation – to invent lives for a set of invisible human beings – in which none of these things would be certain.
It’s understandable, therefore, that the ideas that came to me originated in all the places where I’ve found escape throughout my life – especially in the stories of my childhood. I’ve been haunted by tales of hidden treasure since reading “The Count of Monte-Cristo.” I fell in love with that story since I first heard about it around the age of ten, and I finally read the book a few years ago in my twenties. To me, that makes it count as a childhood favorite – especially given my alarming lack of evolution over the years.
Beyond the story, The Secret Billionaire is set in a universe that is primarily influenced by two worlds. The first is the world of comic books. I’m probably the person in the world whose love of comic books is the most disproportional to the number he’s read. (I remind myself of Hansel in “Zoolander” when he says, “Sting would be another person who’s a hero. The music he’s created over the years, I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it, I respect that.”) In other words, I’m in love with everything about comic books – their mythology, their rules, their aesthetic, and their pantheons – and someday I’d be very excited to read them. Comic book heroes have inherited the role of pagan gods in our culture; we look to Wonder-Woman and The Hulk with the same awe that people once felt for Athena and Ares. For my book in particular, I’ve probably been inspired by Batman the most, because his world, like that of The Secret Billionaire, bends the laws of physics and society to their extremes without ever shifting into fantasy. The second inspiration for the setting of this book is small town America – a world that is still, in my eyes, filled with the hope, excitement, and bighearted values that fairytales are made of. (If you want pictures of the real-life town behind the fictional Spring Forge, please shoot me an email.)
Finally, I’m deeply indebted to my favorite children’s story of all – the one that inspired not only The Secret Billionaire, but my lifelong love of stories. That is the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. There are moments in the book that specifically reference events in Ali Baba’s tale. Like the treasures themselves in both stories, these references are secret, but just like those treasures, the thought of them makes my eyes glimmer. And I’m particularly proud of the link to Ali Baba because the legend takes place in Persia, the land of my own ancestors, and one of the great sources of storytelling in the history of humankind.