Dying to Be Part of the Club
By Dawn Ius
Andrea Bartz has never been a member of an all-female coworking space—but she’s visited a few, and found herself intrigued by their increasing role in the modern urban life for career women—“part desk-for-hire, part grown-up sorority, part networking scene, part bourgie club.”
Sounds lovely, right?
Far too lovely for a thriller writer. So Bartz decided to “thrill” things up a little. In THE HERD, Bartz introduces us to an elite coworking space, the kind of “club” New York women “in the know” are dying to be a part of. Literally. And when one of them vanishes without a trace, this coveted work-space becomes the scene of a crime—and every member is a potential suspect.
Sisters Hana and Katie narrate a story that under Bartz’s deft hand demonstrates not only the pressures women face in their strive for perfection, but also how dangerous it can be when “women’s perfect veneers start to crack, crumble, and then fall away altogether.”
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Bartz, a former journalist and the acclaimed author of last year’s The Lost Night, shares insight into the inspiration, themes, and perfectly imperfect characters that make up one of this year’s highly-anticipated thrillers.
You’ve created an incredibly diverse and flawed cast of characters. If you were to assign them “most likely to” yearbook headlines—without spoilers!—what would you say about each of the women in THE HERD? And in particular, what can you share about the inspiration for Hana and Katie?
Eleanor, the Herd’s glamorous founder, would definitely be crowned Most Likely to Succeed—she’s your typical Type-A, hyper-ambitious Woman Who Has It All. Mikki, the crew’s resident bohemian, would probably be Most Artistic (is that a high school superlative? It’s been a while), and the brash and outspoken Katie would probably be Most Sarcastic. Her older sister, Hana, might be deemed Most Mature, a title I myself got in eighth grade and hated as much as Hana would. I think it’s said with admiration, but it feels like “most matronly” or “biggest stick-in-the-mud.”
All of the women have very different approaches to succeeding in a man’s world, and Katie and Hana—the sisters who take turns narrating the book—both follow MOs I sometimes fall into. Katie is funny and outgoing, eager to impress the right people with her wit and ambition. Hana, on the other hand, is conscientious and careful, always reading the room and putting others’ needs above her own. I think most women see themselves in both: There’s the urge to seem charming and confident, but also to be the organized adult in control of every situation.
Social media has been both a blessing and a curse. What have you found most fascinating about “influencers” and how did your perspective contribute to this story?
What’s fascinating to me about social media is how dissociative we are when analyzing others’ feeds: I recognize that I myself post only the highlights reel even when things are spinning out of control, and yet when I browse friends’ perfect-seeming photos and updates, I sigh wistfully and think, “Must be nice.” There’s such a disconnect! In the world of THE HERD, Eleanor’s whole life looks like an Instagram feed: She’s charismatic, beautiful, successful, humble, and good at everything. Of course, there’s always more than meets the eye. Using dual narrators, too, allowed me to play with the gap between how we feel and how others perceive us. As a thriller writer, I love uncovering the darkness just below the shiny, happy surface, and social media is a huge part of that exhaustingly perfect-looking veneer.
Many authors often suffer from second book-itis, especially when their debut was such a hit (as was The Lost Night!). What were some of your strategies to combat this?
In terms of nailing down the idea, my editor, Hilary Teeman, was a godsend; she rejected my first two ideas for Book 2, which of course displeased me at the time, but she held out until we hit on an idea that played to my strengths and felt fresh. She really wanted to keep the focus on female friendship and complex, flawed heroines, and now I’m super grateful this is where we landed.
In terms of the actual writing process, I drafted THE HERD because I had to! I wrote The Lost Night in a vacuum, with fits and starts and periods of despair. Then I sold THE HERD to my editor (based on a treatment and a few sample chapters), and my deadline for the first draft was just four months after we signed the deal—so I had no choice but to start drafting! I treated it like a full-time job (which it was—I stopped freelancing for a while) and just focused on getting words on the page. I find the Pomodoro Method incredibly helpful: write for 20 minutes, then take a five-minute break, lather, rinse, repeat.
THE HERD hits on some timely and relevant topics. What would you like readers to take away from this book?
Women are always walking a tightrope between seeming pretty but not superficial, in-charge but not intimidating, easygoing but not weak, ambitious but not career-obsessed, and so on. The contradictions leave us doomed to fail and take up so much energy and mental space. Men just don’t face the same standards. (Anyone else been watching those democratic debates?) With THE HERD, I wanted to get people thinking about the ramifications of living in a society that works hard to keep one gender down—and explore how far women will go in the name of self-preservation and getting ahead.
Like many authors, you cut your writing teeth in the nonfiction world. How did your past careers as a magazine editor and journalist prepare you—or challenge you—as you transitioned into fiction?
When I write or edit as a journalist, I’m beholden to the truth; I dig for the facts and then try to present them in a compelling way. Writing fiction is both easier and harder because there are no rules: A character or location or detail doesn’t exist until I craft it on the page. It’s freeing but also overwhelming at times. The most important skill I got from starting out in magazines is writing and editing quickly. I’m comfortable working on a deadline, and I’m not precious about anything I’ve written. Some authors take themselves and their words very, very seriously, but not me—I’ll scrap or rework whatever my editor thinks needs changing.
Can you share anything about what you’re working on next?
I’m hard at work writing my third book, tentatively titled The Visitors. It’s a twisty thriller with a female friendship at its center, but unlike my first two books, it isn’t a mystery. Instead, it follows two globetrotting best friends whose relationship is stretched to the limit after they kill a backpacker during their travels…and things only go downhill from there. It will be published in early 2021, and I’m having the best time writing it!
Andrea Bartz (home) photo credit: Kate Lord