PW: You've said that deciding to write your first novel, The Hottest State, was one of the scariest things you've done, and now you've gone and written another. How did your experience differ with Ash Wednesday.
EH: Writing was more difficult the first time around; I didn't really know what it meant to publish a book. Also with the first one, there was so much trepidation. It was kind of a novelty to have a young actor write a book, and people were going to come at me about it and I knew that. So there was a lot of anxiety, whereas this time around I'm a little over it.
PW: Do you find that shifting from being an actor to being a writer is difficult?
EH: The first time it was, because I got a lot of resistance about it. People feel like you're not in your place. But the second time, it's been a real pleasure—once you break that wall, it's gone.
PW: Your decision to have two first-person narrators tell the story was an interesting one. What made you choose such a strategy?
EH: I think it was just a natural way to do it. You're setting out to tell the story of two lovers, and we all know that they each have their own reality of the situation. I thought that, rather than try for some kind of omniscience, like there is some existing truth about how the situation occurs, [having two narrators] would be more interesting. I think there's a value to having a dual perspective on a story. Actually, I had always intended to switch it to third person when I was done, but I felt so happy with how it was working that I committed myself to it. I thought about how you can get so much information from what the characters don't say, from the blank spaces. And there are certain things that one character would never tell the reader, that the other character could tell about him or her.
PW: Who is Jimmy Heartsock? Where did the character come from?
EH: I don't know. I think a lot of people have this experience—where you just start hearing a voice. It's certainly a part of me, but I kind of found a voice and, in a sort of extended improv, went with it.
PW: Do you find that writing is similar to acting or to directing?
EH: Well, they're all similar, because they're all about storytelling. Acting is about translating the written word to an audience. And I think almost all actors you meet have a great love for writing. It's what acting's all about—when you read something you love so much, you're dying to share it with people. That's really the basic instinct that propels acting. And directing is about shaping writing. Writing is the organic art, I'd guess you'd call it. Directing and acting are both interpretive arts. So writing is a little bit more difficult because of that.
PW: In Ash Wednesday the topics of religion and spiritual rebirth seem to come up quite a lot. Are these themes drawn from your own experiences?
EH: Yeah. I don't know how other people do it, but I really tried to come up with a story line that was a crucible for some of the emotional topics that I felt like discussing. And I think that marriage and childbirth and things like that are among the few things that really propel us toward asking ourselves questions of faith in our contemporary lives.
PW: Is there another novel in the works?
EH: Hopefully. I'm so happy to be done with this one right now. I have a couple of different things I've been flirting with, beginning in earnest, but I haven't really done it yet. I'd be really surprised if I didn't.