Author Interview With Libby Heily

Hey gang! Today I'm extremely honored to share my blog with author Libby Heily. She's a dedicated writer and a true up-and-coming talent. Her new book, Tough Girl, is out now. I've read it, and it's different and wonderful. 

Here's my Goodreads review:

"A fearless author needs fearless readers...

Tough Girl is harsh ... and sweet ... and gritty ... and endearing. It truly is all of those things, which is no small thing for a single book to accomplish. The story of a young girl (Reggie) and her imaginary guardian, Tough Girl, is a--at times--brutal examination of the isolation and hopelessness brought about by mental illness, bullying, and poverty. The author does a wonderful job of making the reader both admire and pity Reggie by fearlessly examining the realities of her world, and juxtaposing it against the beauty and power of a child's imagination.

Ultimately, Tough Girl will be a difficult read for many people. It pulls no punches, and doesn't apologize for making you squirm--and it will make you squirm, or should. Tough Girl feels real and raw, because for many the torment Reggie experiences IS very real. However, if you are a fearless reader who doesn't shy from the bright lights of self-examination, and the often hard truths of human nature, I think you'll find Tough Girl to be an excellent and worthwhile read."

As you can see, I loved it. I hope the following interview lets you get to know Libby a little better, and also encourages you to connect with her. She's a cool person, a talented woman, and you won't regret it a bit.

And on top of all that, today is her birthday! So be sure to wish her a happy one in the comments. :-)

Author Interview: Libby Heily

E.J. (Me): Tough Girl is a unique take on some (unfortunately) timeless social issues like bullying and poverty—what was your inspiration for writing it?

Libby Heily (LH): Reggie's story grew from the seed of a very basic idea, a girl escapes into a dream world. The actual issues explored came slowly over time as I got to know the story better. The closer I grew to Reggie, the more I was able to delve into the problems Reggie was facing. The piece was definitely informed from Dale City itself. 

Dale City is the town Tough Girl takes place in, and it's also my hometown. For instance, in one year, I had three run ins with three separate people who should have either been institutionalized or at least should have been receiving consistent psychological care. At least one of them was the sole guardian of a child. The Apartments were also a real place, though they were depicted less like they are in reality and more like the inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhoods feared them to be. 

As for bullying, I think you only need to go to school to do research on that issue.

Me: I was very fascinated by the interplay of genres you used in Tough Girl. Reggie’s tale is almost contemporary fiction, and Tough Girl’s story is Sci-fi-ish. Why those two, and what were the challenges of mingling the two?

LH: When I set out to write Tough Girl, I didn't really know I was going to be delving into both genres. The contemporary fiction of Reggie's life was deliberate. I drew on my experience with (both viewing and shooting) independent films to tell that half of the story. There's a starkness to smaller budget films, mostly from necessity. The lack of flashy effects, super high production values, or scene-chewing actors really makes the audience focus on the story and the characters. I kept that style and that focus as the goal for Reggie's reality.

Once I got into the story, I realized that while I could go over a few of Reggie's thoughts and emotions, there was no easy way to explain her to a reader. Reggie is eleven and she is trying to understand the world around her. She is extremely guarded about her physical and her emotional safety. I knew pretty early on that I had to show her dream world and not just the character of Tough Girl. 

Science fiction, which is actually a pretty new genre for me, provided a wonderful escape for Reggie. There is safety in the realm of sci-fi. Reggie can process her own world by creating similar situations on different planets and she can have adventures that are not tinged by reality. For a kid whose reality is definitely depressing, a dream world full of wonders and possibilities just made sense. 

Me: Reggie’s character is middle-grade aged. However, after reading the story, I’m not sure I’d classify Tough Girl as Middle Grade lit—or that it is perhaps more mature than most of the MG I’ve read. As the author, how would you classify it?

LH: Definitely not MG. I even put a warning on the sales copy that the novel contains adult themes and adult language. I feel it's better fit for contemporary fiction or for a sub-genre I'm not positive exists: contemporary young adult fiction. 

High school students are concurrently reading Jane Eyre and Twilight. There are these huge swings from high school curriculum and what teens are picking up to read in their spare time. I think there's a middle ground there that can be explored. My hope is that this middle ground is where Tough Girl lives.

What’s your writing process like? Specifically, what was it like for Tough Girl?

LH: Tough Girl took me two years once I put pen to paper. Before the writing started though, I'd spent a few additional years mulling over the idea while working on other projects.

The actual writing process went much like this:

Notes - scene sketches - plot outline - character journal - revise plot outline - scene sketches - revise plot outline - write draft - repeat.

All in all, it took four full drafts and by that I mean complete rewrites. It also took many many rounds of editing for each draft, especially the last one.

Me: Tell us about your chosen publication path for Tough Girl. Any tips for others?

LH: I stuck with the independent streak and self-published Tough Girl. There were many reasons but the big ones were speed and freedom. Self-publishing was the quickest way I could get the story out to readers. I started as a playwright and to this day, after years of sending out plays and getting readings, I still have not had a full production. I just could not let that happen with the novel.

As for freedom, there were a lot of risks taken in Tough Girl. It's too adult for YA, too YA for contemporary fiction. I was advised to age up Reggie, or tone down the story in order for TG to find an audience. I would love nothing more than for Tough Girl to sell a million copies, but not if it means the story gets ruined in the process. Self-pubbing means Tough Girl can be what Tough Girl is, and does not need to be manipulated or massaged for sales.

Me: Best for last: Where/when can we get Tough Girl?

LH: Whoot whoot! Best. Question. Ever. It's available now:

Barnes and Noble

Connect With Libby

I'm a bookworm and a writer, a nerd that's seen every episode of Farscape and can't wait for the next Dr. Who Season to begin. I enjoy running and playing sports and am always hopeful the Baltimore Ravens will win a superbowl. I love movies but don't care about the Oscars.

I eat apples regularly but find apple juice bitter and don't like it.
 I'm a foodie and a beer snob. I eat babies. Okay, just baby carrots. I studied acting, video production and creative writing. I've had very few jobs that reflect any of those years of study. I am Libby Heily, and it's nice to meet you.

Twitter - @LibbyHeily


  1. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I loved all the excerpts I've read. I think Libby did a great job of selecting a graphic artist for her cover.

  2. Libby, you told the story you wanted to tell, and that's something to be proud of. Congratulations and happy birthday!

  3. Excellent interview EJ and Libby-- it's so exciting to see a book making its way in the world that's not just like all the others. Kudos to you Libby!

  4. I love that you talked about the mix of contemporary and sci-fi. I think that sometimes we contemporary writers shy away from other genres, when in reality there are lots of talented writers working in slipstream or mixed genres to great success (Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Karen Russell to name a few). Great interview, and happy birthday, Libby!

  5. Thanks everyone!!! It's been a great day so far!

  6. Happy Birthday! Thanks for sharing a bit about your writing and publication process~ I always learn something new from author interviews. Tough Girl sounds like such a powerful story and that Talk about making an impact. Thanks to EJ and Libby for the post!

  7. Happy Birthday, Libby! May "Tough Girl" sell a million copies :))

  8. Tough Girl reminds me of SE Hinton's, "The Outsiders" with a sci-fi subplot. Libby takes you into Reggie's world so deep, you want to go adopt as many kids as you can afford!
    See you tomorrow of luck with your tour!

    1. "Libby takes you into Reggie's world so deep, you want to go adopt as many kids as you can afford!"

      that might be the best quote about the book I've seen so far.

  9. Hmmm, I could almost believe you planned to have your book's birthday the same week as yours. :D

    Cake for you and Reggie, only Reggie gets seconds 'cause that girl needs to eat something.

    1. Nope, I eat all of hers cause she's used to starving. EVIL! :)

  10. Oh yes, hi E.J. My brain kicked in and I got who you are now. Thanks for being a follower, and for stopping by on kick-off day! It's going to be a great ride this year, I can feel it!

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  11. Excellent interview. I enjoyed learning more about the process that brought Tough Girl to life.

  12. Great interview EJ and Happy Birthday Libby!
    Tough Girl sounds like an incredibly powerful read and what intrigues me is the mix of genres you mentioned. I also admire your reasons for self-pub. "...Tough Girl can be what Tough Girl is, and does not need to be manipulated or massaged for sales." Right on, and I wish you much success with TG!

  13. This book is getting lots of great reviews. Congrats, Libby... and happy birthday!

  14. Great review and great interview! Happy birthday Libby!

  15. Cool review and interview - -love that cover. Happy Birthday Libby, and thanks EJ for hosting her.

  16. Happy Birthday, Libby. (Belated)
    I enjoyed reading the interview. Best of luck! :D

  17. Happy Birthday! Tough Girl does sound different, and it's good that Libby didn't want to compromise on it. Congrats and best of luck!

  18. Hi and Happy Birthday, LIbby. Great to see your book getting all this coverage!

  19. Happy Birthday, Libby! Tough Girl sounds like a fascinating read. It's going on my wishlist.

    Thank, EJ.

  20. I'm seeing Libby and Tough Girl everywhere. Very cool!

  21. I've been seeing Tough Girl everywhere too and it sounds like such an awesome book. Congratulations again and a belated Happy Birthday, Libby! :)

  22. Great interview and happy b-day to Libby. Best! :)

  23. A belated happy birthday to you, Libby! Great interview, and a tough subject to write about.

  24. Loved the review and interview. Scene sketches? Wish I could do those in my pre-writings. Happy belated birthday, Libby.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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