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Mercedes Helnwein is a visual artist and writer. Born in Vienna, Austria, she grew up in Germany, Ireland, and partially the US and UK, before moving to LA to pursue her art, putting on shows with her friends and selling her drawings.
 

Mercedes’ obsession with writing began at age ten when she wrote her first short story for a school assignment: The Celery Stick Who Became President.

Slingshot is Mercedes’ first book, and is taking the media by storm, described as ‘magnetic, honest and brimming with caustic wit’ (Booklist, 2021), and ‘wildly real and bursting with all the romance and pain of coming into oneself’ (Kirkus, 2021).

We’re super excited about this YA debut, and we reckon you will be too! Read on for our exclusive Q&A with Mercedes; Fall in love with the up-and-coming author, hear about her process, and get ready to add more than one book to your TBR.


A reader gets into a lift with you. Describe Slingshot before they reach their floor.

MH: Gracie is 15. She grew up in a trailer park and is in her Sophomore year at a non-prestigious boarding school in central Florida – education, curtesy of her dad, who lives in Beverly Hills with his real family.

As far as Gracie is concerned her life is definitely dumb enough already without the addition of friends, enemies or anyone else to interact with. Loneliness is as much a weapon as it is a guarantee for her survival. So, she would probably categorize Slingshot as a horror story - because it’s the story of how she fell in love. Fully, utterly in love. Soulmate-type love.

 

What was the main inspiration behind the story of Slingshot – how much of the story was inspired by lived experience?

MH: The main inspiration was heartbreak. First heartbreak – where you don’t know what the hell just happened or who you are or why things hurt that aren’t part of your physical body. A feeling that is completely impossible to prepare for and that more or less signals the end of childhood.

My personal first love/heartbreak journey was no fun, to put it mildly, and I hated everything having to do with this nauseating, crippling state of existence. A bunch of years later, I observed someone else in their teenage years go through this process, and although I could fully 100% sympathize with what they were going through, I also saw the absurdity of the thing - how way off they were with everything they were saying and doing in their love-sick state. It reminded me of all the stupid things I’d done at that age. That’s essentially what made me start writing Slingshot.

I never had any interest in writing a love story, but the idea of looking at the entire experience of first love and heartbreak through the eyes of a teenage kid with zero experience – all the bad decisions, wrong assumptions, delusions, and scrabbling for sanity – that seemed like it would have enough opportunity for humor to make the subject matter worthwhile.

A lot of the emotional elements in Slingshot were taken from my own experiences. That is how I felt about all those things – that’s how some of those things happened to me. It’s a pretty intimate telling of a story and I don’t know how I would have written that without using everything I know about being a teenage girl and going through those things. But Gracie is her own person. She didn’t grow up the way I did and her family is not as cool as mine, so she definitely has some extra stuff on her plate that I never had to deal with.

Mercedes HelnweinMercedes Helnwein

What did you enjoy most about the writing process?

MH: Creating a universe and characters that become insanely real elements of my life. I start to the know them so well because I’m spending more time with them than anyone else (they don’t leave my head ever). And this intimacy is something I think you can only have with your own creations. It’s a godlike activity in a way - you own this entire world and you can tip it any way you want. Writing a novel (for me, anyway) can really be torturous and maddening, but that torturous part is thankfully outweighed by the addictive quality and gratification of having created these characters and seeing them through the events of a story.

There’s definitely a high that comes with getting a dialogue or scene right that can’t really be compared to anything else, probably because getting there was no joke. The reward of solving those creative problems is the best. And whatever complaining I might do about writing while I’m in the thick of it, the truth is that whatever I’m working on becomes the only thing I own that means anything to me at that moment. No matter what else might be going on in my life or missing in my life or going wrong, the fact that I have this story kind of makes up for everything. It’s weird, but very true. So, as much as the writing process messes with my sanity, it also keeps it fully in-tact.

 

What is your top piece of advice for young aspiring writers?

MH: Not to belittle one’s own ideas, goals, dreams, or what one is capable of. To have as much blind faith in oneself as possible. This might sound like a useless inspirational quote – but it’s actually crucially necessary, I think.

Speaking from my own experiences: when I was writing this novel (over some years) there were so many instances where I thought I was wasting my time and I should be doing something “real” instead of writing, and that this story would probably never be published anyway, etc. Even if all those thoughts seemed incredibly legitimate to me, I had to eventually make a strict rule of always shutting them down when they started up. Without that operating basis it would have been hard to justify pushing away other work of mine in order to sit around day after day, working on this story, which nobody had agreed to yet was a real thing. It takes a lot of time and focus to write a novel; I really had no choice but to believe in what I was doing, even when I didn’t.

So that’s my advice: don’t betray what you set out to do. And then, of course, keep up your end of the bargain and make what you are writing worthy of your trust in yourself.

 

Which books have you recently read and loved?

MH: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Actually, my husband had ordered something from eBay and they accidentally sent him this book instead of what he ordered, so he gave it to me. I’m so picky with books that I honestly didn’t think there was any chance I would like a random book showing up accidentally from an eBay store – but I was completely taken by surprise with this story. So incredibly good! And hilarious.

Later by Stephen King. I love his language – he always has the best idioms. I mean, it’s Stephen King – I always know I’ll be well taken care of when I start one of his books. I never have to worry.

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly. I religiously listen to each new Michael Connelly book as it comes out. I love crime stories, and his are so cleanly written. Also, having lived in downtown LA since 2000 – it’s nice to know the city he is writing about so intimately.

Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey. So good. This book consists of mini biographies of different female artists, and how they worked. Endlessly fascinating.

For YA books:

The Project by Courtney Summers. I love all her books and have been reading them for years now. This one was so hard to put down!

MunMun by Jesse Andrews. I’m just in the process of re-reading this. I’m a huge fan of his books. I don’t think any author has made me laugh out loud as much and as this guy has.


Slingshot is available in store and online now.
Slingshot
Mercedes Helnwein
$16.99
  

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