Books

new england writers at work

Heidi Pitlor drops off kids, heads to library

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Heidi Pitlor published her first novel, “The Birthdays,” nine years ago to great acclaim. Since then, she has worked as series editor of “The Best American Short Stories” for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Algonquin Books will release her second novel, “The Daylight Marriage,” on May 5; “100 Years of the Best American Short Stories,” a volume she co-edited with Lorrie Moore, is due in October. Pitlor lives in Natick with her husband and twin daughters and writes at the library.

LADY READSALOT: I read so much, somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 short stories a year. I read in waiting rooms and in the car, while waiting for my kids. My title as the editor of “The Best American Short Stories’’ is something of a misnomer, because basically I read and select things — I don’t actually edit anything. Now that so much of my job is reading, I feel really inspired by good writing. But I was an acquiring editor for 10 years before that, so that person is still within me. I’m really self-critical; it’s hard for me to write a first draft.

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TWINNED PURSUITS: I have twins and I work . . . My husband is a teacher, so he’s gone before they get up. I walk them to school, drop them off, and come back. I’m a total Twitter and Facebook junkie, so I do a little bit of that. I usually talk to my sister on the phone before she goes to work, then I go to the library, turn everything off, and go to work.

SINGING IN HER CHAINS: For the past couple years, I’ve been very nomadic with my writing. I live in Natick, so I’m often at their public library. [At the Morse Institute Library], if I need a break, I’ll go downstairs to the children’s room and look at books for my kids. It’s walking distance to town if I need coffee, and there’s always room to sit down. I really love working in libraries. A carrel is the perfect amount of space, and you’re kind of held captive.

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STRANGE PLACES: My husband and I were living in a small town in Massachusetts. I had been noticing these stories of these beautiful women that went missing — Laci Peterson, people like that — when I started toying around with a story about that. Then a woman in my town was shot with her baby. It was the Entwistle case. The husband was a British guy and he wasn’t the brightest, since he left all these clues. There was something about the energy of the case such that I found myself driving past their house. I thought, “What is my problem? I’m smarter than this,” but when you sit home and read and write all day, your mind wanders to strange places.

LETTING GO: The idea of why we as a culture are so interested in beautiful, missing women got the story up and running, but it took a long time to get it right. It’s a dark book, and I was hiding from the center of it for quite a while. Writing the book was insane. Much of the work was shaving away the parts that didn’t need to be there. I said no to many people by clinging to the parts of the book that weren’t working until the very last minute. It’s an uncomfortable book, and it was hard for me to take away the safety of the scaffolding and leave that [discomfort] on the page.

Pitlor keeps a hand written notebook with word count totals and times.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Pitlor keeps a hand written notebook with word count totals and times.

Eugenia Williamson can be reached eugenia.williamson@gmail.com.
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