PW: You started writing when you were eight. What drew you into storytelling?
Julie Hecht: There was an assignment in grade school to write a story. My teacher read my stories to the class and my classmates found the stories entertaining, so that was an incentive to keep writing them. It's very nice to look at a group of people and see them all smiling and laughing.
PW: You have written both short stories [the collection Do the Windows Open?] and now a novel [The Unprofessionals ]. Which medium do you prefer?
JH: I don't really think about that. I just write and see where it goes. This book started out as a story and grew into a book. It's not something that I plan out or have in my mind.
PW: Is it more difficult to work on a novel than short stories?
JH: Yes, because it's more time alone with the work without any reward. [A reward finally comes upon] publication, or hearing from people that they liked it. [Until then,] you're just on your own with the work.
PW: You used the same protagonist in your short story collection and in The Unprofessionals. What inspired you to write from her point of view?
JH: That just happened. I don't really think about characters, I don't do a lot of planning and thinking and constructing the way some writers do. Too much thinking and planning would ruin things for me.
PW: The subject matter in the book shifts between moments of dark humor and extraordinary realism. Was it difficult for you to find a balance between the two?
JH: I didn't even think about that. I just wrote the story and then edited out whatever seemed to be too much. The thinking comes with the editing.
PW: Do you ever worry that you could have done something differently, or do you feel that the finished book is in its best form?
JH: No, I don't know any writer who has such a healthy attitude as that. The more you read it, the more you want to edit. That's the writer's dilemma.
PW: How did you physically write this novel?
JH: I started to type it on my typewriter, a Smith Corona portable from the '60s. I've written all of my stories on that. Then I got very tired of sitting in a chair and typing, so I set up a way to work with some firm support pillows and back cushions and wrote whole sections of the book by hand. And my typist typed them up for me. I'm not a good typist, I never learned how to touch type because I didn't want to be someone's assistant. When I was in high school and college, typing was a sexist thing.
PW: What's your next project?
JH: I'm working on a complicated story that may turn into another book the way this one did.
PW: It took you about two years to write The Unprofessionals. Do you think it will take you the same amount of time?
JH: I hope it doesn't take me a long time, but that's the nature of writing. I don't know if I could stand writing and being alone with the work for such a long time again. Of course, I know writers who have spent much more time on books. I don't know how they stand it. I don't think it's a great life to be alone with a book for a long time.
PW: What do you hope readers will take away from The Unprofessionals?
JH: It would be good if people liked some of the sentences or laughed or felt good for a few seconds. That would be enough for me.