Sheltering: Andrea Bartz Recommends Calvin & Hobbes in Quarantine
The Author of The Herd Talks to Maris Kreizman
On this episode of Sheltering, Andrea Bartz talks to Maris Kreizman about her recently released novel, The Herd, a thriller set in an exclusive all-female co-working space… sound familiar? Bartz shares some thoughts on the female co-working space phenomenon, rues the day she chose to live in a 300-square-foot apartment, reveals her favorite popcorn topping she’s tried in isolation, and recommends we all just give in and reread our childhood comic books in this time. Bartz’s favorite local bookstore is Books Are Magic; please order The Herd through their website, or through Bookshop.
From the episode:
Maris Kreizman: Welcome to Sheltering. I am so delighted to be here with my neighbor, I believe, Andi Bartz.
Andrea Bartz: Are we neighbors? I didn’t realize that.
Maris: Hi! I’m wearing my Books Are Magic T-shirt to support my local bookstore, but also because a character in Andy’s new novel, The Herd, shops there. Why wouldn’t they?
Andrea: It’s the chic place to shop and buy books.
Maris: It sure is. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us how you’re doing.
Andrea: It’s a great question. Hi, everyone. I am an Andi, or Andrea Bartz is the name on the book. I’m the author of The Herd, which just came out March 24th. It’s a thriller that’s set in an exclusive, all-female coworking space. And I’m doing all right. I was always sort of self-righteous about living in this tiny, 300-square-foot studio with my cat. I was like, “It’s plenty of room for me, I have all of New York! It’s my playground.” And now I don’t. So, a lot of time with me and my cat. Luckily she’s very cute. How are you doing, Maris?
Maris: I’m doing okay. These chats are what’s getting me through. Oh, I see your cat!
Andrea: She’s making a cameo.
Maris: Unlike “business meetings,” I am very pro your animals or children.
Andrea: Yeah, we’ll see if she’ll do another run-by. She loves attention, so whenever there’s a camera rolling.
Maris: Tell me a little bit more about The Herd. We won’t mention the name of the place it appears to be based on.
Andrea: I’m happy to name it because everyone else does. It’s really fascinating to me how everyone’s like, “You wrote a parody of The Wing!” Did I? Because I don’t know too much about—I’ve been a guest at The Wing a few times. Audrey Gelman, she seems lovely. But I was inspired more broadly by the trend of all female coworking spaces. Yes there’s the Wing, there’s also The Riveter and Luminary and The Coven and The Assembly. There’s a lot of different ones. But to talk more about the book in particular, it’s about this exclusive, all-female coworking space called The Herd. The H-E-R is always purple in its logo because it’s all about her.
Maris: And lower-case D, right?
Andrea: In my head they’re all capital letters, but the H-E-R are a different color. They’re purple and everything else is gray. Did I actually include that in the book or is it only in my head? Unclear. But anyway, this space—this beautiful, idyllic space that women are dying to get in to, is upended one day when the glamorous and enigmatic and very perfect seeming founder, Eleanor, vanishes the night of an important company announcement, the night of a news conference. So, it’s up to her closest friends to try to figure out what happened to her. The two close friends who take it upon themselves, for different reasons, to uncover the truth are sisters, and so it’s told from alternating perspectives, alternating narrators with each character. They both have their own secrets that they’re trying to keep hidden, and the more they dig, the more they confront what really happens when high-achieving women’s perfect facades begin to crack.
Maris: I love that the younger sister is a tech journalist because overall, watching people with good facades cracking seems to be what tech journalism is nowadays.
Andrea: That’s true. There was a lot to play with having her as a tech journalist, who on the surface seems much less buttoned up than her sister and much more real, and she’s kind of brash and funny and she talks without thinking. Then her sister, Hana, is the head of PR at The Herd. She actually works for The Herd. And obviously PR is nothing but the intention of always giving the impression of everything being perfect. It was fun to alternate between their perspectives because I was able to get into how Katie, the journalist, seems to have this charm and she’s so magnetic, but she envies how her older sister is so effortlessly in charge, and how she’s always dependable and always seems in control, and Katie feels like a hot mess compared to her. But then you turn the page and you flip to Hana’s perspective, and Hana resents having to be in charge, and she’s envious of her little sister for being so immediately charismatic and magnetic.
I was kind of playing with that idea that we women, from the time we’re little, elicit feedback about who we’re allowed to be in the world and what will make us likable and lovable and palatable. And we put on that armor, and we do this funny thing where we feel like we’re being this imposter for having this veneer, this mask, but we assume that everyone else really is as effortless, and they’re being who they are.
Maris: Instagram has really made that even easier.
Andrea: That was a theme I wanted to play with too about social media, because we do the same thing. I’m even doing it now in the middle of quarantine. I look at people Instagram’s and I’m like, “God, they’re so lucky that they have this big yard. That’s so nice that they can go hiking. I’m so jealous, they have these two adorable kids and they’re doing all these fun activities, and I’m just stuck here.” But then I’m putting out these photos of cuddling with my cat and going for a nice walk in New York, and everything seems happy. Of course, we’re all just presenting these really happy, perfect facades that are not necessarily reality.
Maris: And certainly, everyone who I’ve spoken to who has kids, they are all struggling. I think it’s fair to say that they are all struggling, and being so happy to have family time but also, oh my gosh, family time.
Andrea: Right, absolutely. I don’t think anyone is doing super well right now from what I can tell, so who are we kidding?
Maris: Andi, tell me what you’ve been doing in your studio apartment, aside from snuggling your cat, to either pass the time, or I don’t know, calm yourself. Whatever you want to talk about.
Andrea: It’s been a strange few weeks, especially because I normally work from home, so on the surface things aren’t that different. But they’re extremely different. I normally like knowing I can leave and see other people. I’ve been working on book three. My revisions are due this month, so that’s been the work bit. I confess I haven’t been doing a lot of reading, which I feel guilty about when I’m encouraging everyone else to run out and buy my book. You can buy it and not read it for a while, that’s fine. I’ve just had a lot of trouble focusing and getting into a book, but I really went deep into my bookshelf and I have the whole thick collection of Calvin & Hobbes books, and for whatever reason, reading those has been so soothing and low stakes. They make me laugh, and they’re so charming. I highly recommend if you have childhood cartoons like that, now is the time to bust them out. That’s been a really nice moment.
Maris: Maybe I should just reread all of Sweet Valley High right now.
Andrea: This might be the time.
Maris: And tell me, what have you been eating?
Andrea: What have I been eating? A lot of bizarre things. I worked through all of my produce really quickly. I don’t want to go to groceries stores here, so I’m finding the deep cuts in the freezer and fridge. I’m making a lot of pasta, I’m making a lot of popcorn, just on the stove. Experimenting with spices. I just did a cinnamon and sugar last night, highly recommend that. Just coming up with bizarre combinations of frozen things. I made fish tacos the other day; I had frozen battered cod, and I had frozen tortillas, then I had a little bit of kale and baby carrots, so I made a slaw out of that, and I used some Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It’s like a weird cooking game. It’s like a reality show. What can I make out of these strange things left over in my cabinets?
Maris: Amazing. Tell me a little more about doing publicity for the book. What you intended for the book and what you’re actually doing.
Andrea: Things look very different right now than what I was anticipating. I was supposed to be on my book tour right now, which I had planned—I had self-planned, self-funded—and I started working on that in October. It’s kind of a delicate dance with a lot of puzzle pieces putting it together, so watching that crumble was obviously disappointing. Also because I just love celebrating with loved ones. It’s the fun part of publishing: when you feel like an author, when you’re doing a reading and all your loved ones come. That all fell apart. I didn’t get to do a launch event or anything. But instead, I’ve been doing a lot of this. I’ve been doing Zoom with interesting people, and Instagram Lives, and Facebook Lives, and I’ve been getting up to speed on the technology. Books Are Magic, one of my favorite bookstores, I was supposed to have my launch there, and so they hosted a Zoom launch party, which was fun. It meant that friends from all of the world could come. My friend from Australia tuned in. It’s kind of neat in the sense that I was geographically limited before. I could only appear in person in places where I knew enough people, and now there’s enough events going on that if someone from far away wants to tune in and chat, they can.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s like a best of times, worst of times situation, having a book come out in the middle of this. Because I’m still so proud of it, and proud of the great reviews it’s gotten and the great press it’s getting, but to not be able to go to a bookstore and sign copies or see it in a window is very strange. That’s the thing that keeps authors going. That’s the moment it feels real.
Maris: I hadn’t even put it together that writing a book is such a solitary act, and then the book publication is supposed to be the social part of it. It’s the part when you see the world again. I’m sorry.
Andrea: Thank you, yeah, that’s exactly it! It’s this one moment where you feel like an author, when you’re at the front of a bookstore and people are there to hear you speak. I have—you can see it behind me—I have huge boxes full of my book and nothing to do with them. I’m like the guy with his 17,000 bottles of Purell. I can hold it in my hands, but I can’t see it on shelves. I can’t ask people to send me photos from bookstores. It’s a very weird thing in a weird time to have a book come out.
Maris: I’m glad Books Are Magic is still delivering. We will link to Bookshop.org in this, so we hope that you can buy The Herd and benefit your local indie bookstore. Thank you so much!
Andrea: Support the ecosystem. Thank you so much for having me, Maris. This was really fun.