Monday, December 7, 2009
Heidi Willis!! Debut Author Interview
Heidi Willis is expecting to see her debut novel in print sometime this month!! I have included on my blog her book trailer for Some Kind of Normal, released by NorLightsPress. She also has a website at www.heidi-willis.com
Some Kind of Normal is available for pre-order now! For a signed copy, go to her website!(I will be as soon as payday hits!) You can also order through the NorLights Press website.
All that stands between her daughter’s life and death is a tenth grade education, a zealous group of Baptist ladies, and 1.8 million Google hits.
If faith is all her daughter needs to be cured, Babs is sure the church and her family have more than enough. When twelve-year-old Ashley falls into a coma and is diagnosed with diabetes, everyone in their small Texas town deals with it the way they deal with everything else: food, friendship and prayer. But when Ashley develops a rare and deadly allergy to insulin – the only medicine that can keep her alive – Babs turns to the Internet and science instead of friends and God to find the cure the doctors say isn’t there. What she discovers is an answer no one wants to hear: a risky stem cell operation that pits her against her husband, her faith, and the conservative church that’s been their biggest support.
The first thing I want to know, and it’s a little cheesy….but how cool was it to see your name in the Authors list on the NorLightsPress website?!
It is SO cool to see my name on the NorLightsPress website! I think that was the first time I really felt like an author rather than just a writer.
How long have you been writing with the intent to publish?
I began writing a little over three years ago, but I started out with the intention of just writing a book. I'd always said I would write a book someday, and finally decided I didn't want to be one of those people who said I would but never did. So initially, I wasn't thinking of what happens after. I just wanted to write. It wasn't until I finished it and people started asking what I was going to do with it that I began looking into what it took to get published.
Did you originally plan on submitting to smaller publishing companies, or did you query agents too?
It didn't even cross my mind to submit to a small publisher. I planned on the traditional route of querying agents and submitting to larger houses through them, but even though lots of agents requested my full and had wonderful things to say about my writing, many of them said they didn't know who to submit to. It felt like a niche market book, I guess. It has aspects of faith so the mainstream agents felt it would do better with a Christian agent, but several Christian agents felt it seemed too mainstream. In the middle of all this, the editor at NorLightsPress saw my query pitch on a forum and contacted me, asking me to submit to them. I did, and they sent a contract within days.
I love the book trailer! Readers, please, please watch this! Heidi, did you do the book trailer yourself?
I did do my own book trailer. I have a background in media production, but it's been a long time since I've done much so the technology and everything has started to pass me by. Still, having some background made me feel a little more comfortable with it. Anything like that is going to have a huge "opinion" factor, so I knew not everyone would be a fan of the format I used. Still, it's been fairly successful in getting the word out about the book and generating some interest.
Tell me about the research that went into this book!! Stem cells, life and death, religion and science…I really can’t wait!! Excessive use of exclamation points is necessary when I’m portraying my giddy excitement.
Thank you!! I loved this book - the writing, the research, the interviews. It all felt very real to me, and I became very passionate about it. It starts with a diagnosis of diabetes, and since I have type 1, that part of the story was very personal. Because I live with it, I didn't have to do much research about diabetes itself, but I did interview a lot of parents about what it was like when their child was diagnosed. It gave me a round, wide view of experiences to draw from as well as the inside scoop on being the parent of a diabetic.
The stem cell aspect was all new to me. I read tons, and I mean TONS of article about stem cells. JAMA and I were likethis. I did all of my research online, because honestly, between medical journals, research papers, forums, blogs, websites... nearly every question I had could be answered, and so many people are available at the click of an email address to answer what I couldn't understand. I was floored by how willing people were to open up and talk about their experiences with me. There was some complicated language in some of the medical journals that I had to stare at really hard and decipher with a dictionary on my lap, but I was constantly amazed about the miracles that are taking place every day with stem cell therapies. I wanted to scream - "Why do we not hear about this on the news every night??" Doctors are curing paralysis, regrowing body parts, healing bullet holes in hearts... it's truly incredible.
The religious aspect, which is really more about faith than any kind of religion, wasn't planned. But as the characters took over the story their questions about how God could let their daughter die, and where was he when they needed him - these questions felt so natural. These are people who have been born and bred in the Bible belt, and suddenly God doesn't seem so good anymore. If they pray for her to get better, and she gets worse, does that mean God isn't answering their prayers? And if someone comes along with a cure, but it goes against everything they've believed up to this point, are they willing to take their chances on science over waiting on God? I don't care what religion you are, this is good plot stuff. It created a whole level of tension I never expected, but it was very organic.
What has it been like to work with a smaller publishing company? Have you found it to be a pleasant experience?
NorLightsPress has been an amazing company to work with. They are small and I work directly with the editor, Nadene Carter. She's fantastic about conversing back and forth about the editing. I agree with 95% of her suggestions, but the first time I wanted to keep something as I'd written, I was really nervous about bringing it up. Thankfully, she is great about listening to me, and when I explained why I wanted to keep them, she wholeheartedly agreed. And every time she sends editor notes, she always writes all the things she loves about the section as well as the things that need to be fixed. I love that! The entire team is that personal. If I write or call with questions, I always get a response immediately. They want me to be happy as a writer, so even on things like the cover, I get input. I have no idea how many publishers let you do that, but I know it's not many. They are working really hard to make the business like a large family, and we are all invested in seeing each other and NorLightsPress succeed, and not just ourselves. It feels like if one person succeeds, we all do, and that's something a big press couldn't do.
I don't know what it's like to be published by a huge publishing house, but I love how personal and involved I am in NorLightsPress, and I love knowing that they are invested in me, not just in this book but in me as an author. It's really been an incredible experience.
What have you learned about yourself through this whole process?
I'm tougher than I thought - and I'm not as tough. It's hard to get rejection after rejection, and I got a lot of them. In other areas of my life I would have quit and moved on to something I could be successful at more easily, but this time, every time a rejection came in, I sent another query out. I learned very quickly not to take them too personally. There are plenty of great books out there that just don't do it for me; why would that also not be the case for agents? I truly think so many times it is just a case of not being a good fit.
On the other hand, there were rejections that sent me into a tailspin of sorts. I'd always thought of myself as fairly even-keeled, but through this process I've discovered an emotional roller-coaster I didn't even know existed. It turns out, I'm pretty moody. I can go from utter elation one minute when an email request will come in, and then in moments be in utter depression when a rejection comes in. It's exhausting!!
What is your favorite past time (other than writing)?
My other huge love is photography. I've been doing that almost as long as writing, and I find it's a great creative outlet that helps me de-stress from the writing. There is something very calming for me in looking through a lens and framing the perfect picture and hearing the click of the shutter. I think capturing beauty in a visual image is the mirror image of capturing beauty in words, so they complement each other well.
What do you feel like you've struggled with as a writer, and overcome, because of this experience? (Like, style, voice, plot, characterization, research?)
I had a really hard time understanding what agents meant by finding your voice. When I started Some Kind of Normal, it was in the main character's point of view, and so it felt like it was very much her voice and not mine. I mean, she had a really strong voice, but it wasn't at all what I'd use in another book. But the more I've written since then, as well as writing my blog, I've realized I do have a voice - even buried under my main character's voice - and I've grown really comfortable with it. That's something you only find after writing for a while, I think. Once you write a lot, you start to recognize it, and once you know what it is you can strengthen it and work on keeping it consistent, and maybe more importantly, stop mimicking other writers, which is what I had a tendency to do early on.
One of the other more practical things was learning how much to include. When I began writing, I put everything that came to my mind in my books. The color of the walls in the living room, how full the water glass was, the entire history of the characters. I saw everything so vividly in my mind, I wanted the reader to see it exactly as I did. It took me a while to learn that I need to let some of that go and trust the reader to use their own imagination. The story gets way too bogged down writing every detail. So now, I do that in my prewriting. I write pages and pages of stream of consciousness of everything I can think of about the characters and the setting. Once I know those details, it's easier to decipher what the reader absolutely needs to know, and what is just background for me to know to use as their motivation or driving force. It's helped the pacing of my writing immensely!
Do you read the same genre you write, for pleasure?
This book is being classified as women's fiction first, and then literary and Christian fiction secondarily. I definitely read a lot of women's and literary fiction. Those are probably my two most heavily read. The Christian fiction I read is usually more historical fiction and less women's Christian fiction, which is probably why I had a difficult time categorizing the book myself. To me, it was just the story of a mom who happened to also wrestle with her faith in the midst of crisis, but that faith isn't necessarily central to the plot. I wasn't really sure if that would fit the Christian label or not.
Since agents told me they thought it was Christian fiction, I've been reading a lot more of it, and I think my publisher is right: mine falls somewhere in between.
Are you working on future projects, any teasers to offer?
I actually have three works in progress right now, which is the first time I've ever done that. They have very different plots and characters, but they all run along the same tag line as Some Kind of Normal - the "how far would you go..." kind of issues. The one I'm focusing the most on right now is about kids who get caught up in a sexting scandal. There's great conflict in that subject: is it just a harmless prank or is it a crime? How do kids, and their families, deal with a private matter that becomes extremely public? How far would a teen girl go to get a guy to like her? I think I like it because it feels like another one of those subjects - like stem cell research - that I could get passionate about.
Any advice for new writers?
Surround yourself with people who will push you and encourage you.
And when you get half-way through a book and think it stinks, finish it anyway. You may end up scrapping it altogether, or you may end up revising it. But at least you will have finished it. And finishing a book is the most important step towards getting published. Even if that book is only a stepping stone to a better one, the boost you get from knowing you finished, and the experience you gain from writing, is invaluable. You can only get better if you keep writing.
A first draft is for you. Don't think about the publisher or the agent or the beta readers or the end result. That's what the revisions are for. For the first draft, just write because you love to write, and you love the story. Worry about the rest when you've finished.
You've been an incredible author to 'speak' with. Thank you for sharing so much insight into the process of hard work, sweat, tears, laughter and conversations with characters with everyone here. I think it turned out alright for my first interview. No Jerry Springer moments and everyone is most likely in a great mood since hearing from you. :0) I for one, really appreciate it. Feel free to leave comments and ask questions! And don’t forget to look for Some Kind of Normal!