Founded by the beautiful and charismatic Eleanor Walsh, Herd is an elite, glamorous all-female co-working space in New York City. It’s a scene where employees are considered celebrities and a lure for young and ambitious women. Katie Bradley believes she has a serious in there, her older sister Hana was Eleanor’s roommate in college and is head of Herd’s public relations department.
But Eleanor, who always treated Katie like a younger sister, isn’t so sure that she has what it takes for Herd. After all, Katie had a spectacular book deal that fell apart and for the last year she’s been living in Kalamazoo, Michigan (which for this uber group of New York women is like time spent on the Mongolian Plains) taking care of her mother who was undergoing cancer treatments. For her part, Katie, desperate to jumpstart her failing career, is secretly planning on making Eleanor the subject of her new book. With all these factors in play, on the evening when Eleanor says she will be making a huge announcement, she disappears instead.
And so begins The Herd, the second thriller written by Andrea Bartz, who the Los Angeles Times called a master “of the female thrillers.”
As Katie, Hana and other staff members attempt to discover what happened to their missing boss, they unearth secrets not only about her but each other. It seems that everyone had something to hide.
“I had the idea for The Herd a few years ago, when I was trying to come up with a great setting for a mystery: somewhere exclusive and tightly knit, with its own complex social dynamics,” says Bartz whose first novel, The Lost Night, was optioned for TV by actress Mila Kunis’ production company, Orchard Farm. “A lightbulb went off when I pictured The Herd with the H-E-R in purple, and I was off and running. The Herd is a dark and twisty take on commercial feminism, ambition, and the pressures of being a woman in the world, and hopefully it’s a super fun read.”
Bartz, who never outlines and allows her many plot twists to “develop organically as she writes,” says she learns about her characters while working on her first draft.
“Trust me at the beginning they were much less interesting,” she says. “Once I’d hammered out the theme I wanted to explore–how hard it is for women to succeed in a man’s world, I wanted all the female characters to have very different approaches to success.”
Where the book goes is as much a surprise to Bartz as it is to her readers.
“To give one of many examples, in the first chapter, someone scrawls misogynistic graffiti in the Herd; until the very end, I had no idea who had done it, or how, or why,” she says. “But somehow, the pieces come together at the eleventh hour—and then I go to work revising so that all the pieces align. It’s not very time-efficient, but it works for me.”
Female empowerment and the ensuing backlash is an important theme in Bartz’s book.
“I’m frequently annoyed and exhausted by the double standards of how women are supposed to behave,” she says. “We’re supposed to be competent but not bossy, ambitious but not work-obsessed, agreeable but not weak, authoritative but not intimidating, pretty but not superficial, and so on. Men don’t have to bend themselves into a pretzel to be liked, the way that women do. The pressure to be perfect is such a huge mental and emotional drain on ambitious, high-achieving professional women, and I hoped to get readers thinking about the consequences of holding half the population up to impossibly high standards. All that said, I mostly hope it’s a fun, escapist read.”
Sidebar: Virtual Book Events with Andrea Bartz
Working with influencers, bookstores, podcasts, and Facebook groups, Bartz has set up virtual events that are livestreamed (and, ideally recorded so people can watch them later), to keep in touch. For the most part, she says, she chats about the book as she would in conversation with someone in an in-person bookstore event.
Though it’s not as good as meeting people in real time, Bartz says it does allow folks from all over the world to tune in.
Check out her virtual events at AndreaBartz.com/events.