An Interview with Heidi Durrow

As we continue exporting and rendering and prepping past MBreauxsia films for your Vimeo-viewing pleasure, we took a moment to check in with author Heidi W. Durrow.

Heidi is the New York Times best-selling author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books), which received writer Barbara Kingsolver’s PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and was hailed as one of the Best Novels of 2010 by the Washington Post, a Top 10 Book of 2010 by The Oregonian, and a Top 10 Debut of 2010 by Booklist. Ebony Magazine named Heidi as one of its Power 100 Leaders of 2010 along with writers Edwidge Danticat and Malcolm Gladwell. She was nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut.

Heidi is a graduate of Stanford, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale Law School. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Heidi has worked as a corporate attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and as a Life Skills Trainer to professional athletes of the National Football League and National Basketball Association.

We asked Heidi a few questions….

What are you working on these days?

I’m working on my second novel and hoping that it starts to look like a novel soon. I thought I had learned how to write a novel after finishing The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, but I realize each book will have to teach me how it needs to be written.

What does your daily process look like (i.e., what’s a day in the life of Heidi Durrow)?

I don’t have a steady routine because I travel so much. The one thing that I do, though, wherever I am, is to write three pages long-hand first thing in the morning while drinking coffee. Sometimes it’s just journal writing but sometimes I find myself writing stuff that will end up in the book or become part of an essay or blog post. I try to read every day. It’s so important to have the well filled that way for me — and really for my writing.

How has the way you identify played into your writing, and how has this changed over time?

The fact that I finally, in my 30s, decided I could identify myself as I wished, and not as people saw me or expected me to, changed everything for my writing. I had an incredible freedom in my imagination that I hadn’t felt in the many years I struggled with being acceptable or understandable to others.

What keeps you up at night?

My never-ending list of things to do. And fear that the muse won’t come back again.

What are you totally over (i.e., what makes you sleep soundly at night)?

I’m going to answer the second question: good wine!

What advice would you give someone trying to self-publish a book? How would you suggest they handle marketing and publicity?

I have no clue about self-publishing. I looked into it many years ago, but the business is changing rapidly and I haven’t kept up. I did a lot of promotion on my own for my book but again I think it’s different if it’s a self-published book. I had a publishing house behind me and what I did in terms of promotion was to supplement the work that they did.

Heidi will be teaching a week-long writing workshop, “Writing the Debut Novel: Developing Your Manuscript and Your Career,” in January 2016 as part of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. To keep up with her other goings-on, visit her website at


7 Ways I Stopped Being a Jealous, Bitter, Dramatic Mess

ayahuasca ceremony in Peru

I attended a pretty fancy-schmancy university (Stanford, to be exact). When one graduates in the same class as famous political organizers, U.S. senators, and authors (or authors, or authors), there’s a lot of potential to develop a massive inferiority complex. For years, that’s kind of exactly what I did, i.e., compared myself to my peers, or at the very least, harbored a secret wish that they’d do something like eat bad fish, or stub a toe.

Well…as they say, that was then, this is now. I’m proud to say I haven’t harbored a jealous thought in a long time—probably for the last five or more years. How did I reach such a blissful state of confident Nirvana? How did I stop being a jealous, bitter, dramatic mess?

Here are 7 things that contributed.

  1. Started taking better care of myself. What you eat really does directly correlate to how you feel, and how you regard yourself. For the past several years (sugar addiction notwithstanding) I’ve focused on consuming lean meats, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plenty of nuts and legumes. I also exercise regularly and try to spend at least a little bit of time each day being mindful. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of self-pity if your staple food is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
  2. Gave up toxic habits. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I haven’t touched alcohol since 2005. This was a catalyst to find a lot of self-worth outside of a bottle, and led to a lot less drama in my life.
  3. Focused on accomplishments and the process. I used to scoff at people who said, “It’s all about the process.” Now I’ve discovered, without this being a goal, that I love the process—writing, working with actors, composing shots, editing, and everything having to do with movies. Also, “accomplishments” are such socially defined little bastards. Awards? Of course they feel great. Money? Everyone appreciates getting paid; this goes without saying so I won’t (quite) say it. Finding I have a strong set of friends and cohorts who get excited about my movie projects? Excitement is hard to come by these days, meaning generating it is a major accomplishment.
  4. Surrounded myself with supporters. This is related to the above. It’s not one-sided—these are the people who love me who I love in return. One might even say “like-minded”. It took many years and a process of elimination, but I reached a point where I easily:
  5. Identified detractors and steered clear. Know the signs: they never congratulate you on anything, they talk a lot about themselves, they point out your perceived shortcomings in the form of jokes, and they can do no wrong. God bless ’em. I have none of them in my life.
  6. Had an Eat Pray Love moment. This happened in late 2008. I spent 10 days in the Peruvian rainforest on a shamanic ayahuasca retreat. (After all, isn’t film a controlled hallucinatory experience?) I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone but it worked wonders for me. (It also worked for Isabel Allende in completing her trilogy of adventure books.) Yes, as I communed with the ayahuasca goddess at the edge of the unknown universe, I had a sweeping sense of being a supreme creative being. What did you do this weekend?
  7. Grew older. The aging process is great for self-esteem. It’s made me mellow out a lot and not care so much about what other people think. When one has to focus on maintaining the energy required to get things done, one has little time for peer comparison. The only person I find myself trying to one-up these days is me.

If you’re currently a jealous, bitter, dramatic mess, I hope you find some pearls of wisdom or some small level of solace in the above. But stop comparing yourself to me—go make your own damn list.