I have been a fan of Deborah Heiligman’s books for years. Last summer I had a chance to meet Deborah at the Association of Jewish Libraries Conference in Houston where Deborah was presented with the Sydney Taylor Book Award for her YA book, Intentions. Deborah is delightful – charming, fun, and a terrific speaker, too. I admire Deborah’s diversity as a writer. From Emma and Charles to Celebrate Hanukkah, Deborah’s work spans all genres. Her latest book, The Boy Who Loved Math, is about mathematician Paul Erdos. I couldn’t wait to learn all about it!
You write such a wide-range of genres – from picture books and biographies to young adult fiction. Are the writing processes different for each?
I THINK THE WRITING PROCESS IS IN SOME WAYS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FOR EACH BOOK, AND ALSO THE SAME. FOR ME IT IS ALL ABOUT FINDING THE WAY IN, HOW TO TELL THE STORY. ONCE I FIND THAT, THE WRITING HAPPENS. SOMETIMES THAT TAKES ME WEEKS, SOMETIMES MONTHS, AND SOMETIMES YEARS.
Your newest book, The Boy Who Loved Math, is about mathematician Paul Erdos. What drew you to his story?
MY SONS TOLD ME ABOUT HIM! FIRST MY “MATH SON,” DID, AND I THOUGHT WELL, HE’S A PERSON THAT OTHER MATH GEEKS WOULD LIKE. THEN MY OTHER SON TOLD ME ABOUT HIM, AND I REALIZED HE WAS A PERSON EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT. HERE’S A GUY WHO WAS VERY DIFFERENT, HAD A HARD TIME FITTING INTO THE WORLD IN A REGULAR WAY. AND LOOK AT WHAT HE DID! HE FOUND A WAY TO FIT INTO THE WORLD THAT CHANGED IT! AND HE IS BELOVED BY SO MANY PEOPLE. IT’S SUCH A WONDERFUL STORY.
What was your reaction when you first saw the illustrations by LyUyen Pham?
I WAS OVER THE MOON. IT TOOK MANY YEARS AFTER I SOLD THE BOOK TO SEE THE FIRST ILLUSTRATION, AND IT WAS SO WORTH THE WAIT. I HAD HOPED SOMEONE WOULD REALLY GET IT, AND I KEPT SAYNG I WANTED THE ILLUSTRATOR TO PUT MATH IN THE ART SO THERE WAS THE FEEL OF MATH ALL OVER THE BOOK. AND SHE HIT IT OUT OF THE BALLPARK!
What was the most unexpected discovery you made in your research The Boy Who Loved Math?
THE DISCOVERY CAME TO ME AFTER WRITING THE BOOK, AS SO OFTEN HAPPENS. JUST THIS PAST SUMMER I WAS HAVING LUNCH AT A MATHEMATICIAN’S HOUSE. HE WAS MY MAIN EXPERT ON THE BOOK. AND AFTER LUNCH, HE TOOK ME INTO HIS STUDY AND STARTED SHOWING ME MEMORABILIA FROM HIS MATH LIFE, AND I ASKED HIM WHAT SOMETHING WAS AND HE STARTED TALKING MATH TO ME. AND I LOVED IT!! I REALIZED THAT I DO HAVE A MATH INCLINATION. IT’S SOMETHING LONG FORGOTTEN, BURIED, EVEN. SO NOW I WANT TO DO SOME MATH.
If you could meet Paul Erdos today what would you ask him?
I WOULD ASK HIM IF HE THOUGHT HIS LIFE WAS A BOOK PROOF. BECAUSE I THINK IT IS. I THINK THAT HIS LIFE IS THE SIMPLEST MOST ELEGANT ANSWER TO THE “PROBLEM” OF HOW TO MAKE A LIFE FOR YOURSELF WHEN YOU DON’T FIT INTO THE WORLD THE WAY PEOPLE EXPECT. I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO ASK HIM IF HE LIKED OUR BOOK.
What is your favorite holiday?
MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY?! I THINK THANKSGIVING, BECAUSE I HAVE SO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR! AND I’M USUALLY SURROUNDED BY MY FAMILY, WHICH IS NOW FILLED WITH CHILDREN. AND EVEN THOUGH I’M A VEGETARIAN, THERE’S ALWAYS SO MUCH GOOD FOOD TO EAT!
Thanks, Deborah! To learn more about Deborah visit her web site at www.deborahheiligman.com/