Heather Gudenkauf is a New York Times best selling novelist and author of Channel 4 TV Book Club title 'The Weight of Silence'. Graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in Elementary Education, Heather has spent her career working in education with students of all ages. 'Missing Pieces' is her fifth novel.
A very warm welcome to you Heather, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
It’s my pleasure!
For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I live in Dubuque, Iowa ~ a beautiful Midwestern city on the Mississippi River. It has everything that I can ever ask for in a home town. There are rolling hills, rocky bluffs, nature preserves with acres woodlands. We have fabulous schools, a gorgeous public library and an incredible independent book store ~ River Lights. It’s been the perfect place to put down roots and to raise a family.
Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?
I read everything I could get my hands on but I was particularly fond of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series. I could practically imagine myself living in a sod house on the prairie back in the 1800s. I was also a big fan of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books. I always wanted to be as sassy and naughty as Ramona but was too much of a rule follower. I also loved to read mysteries like the Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children Mysteries.
Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
I absolutely believe that the books I read as a child have influenced me as a writer. When I read Harriet the Spy I became a spy and slunk around with a notebook covertly taking notes. When I read the Boxcar Children mysteries I pretended to be an orphan who lived in a train car. The books of my youth have allowed me, as an adult, to completely immerse myself in the inner workings of whatever story I am in the midst of writing.
Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
I can write almost anywhere and under any circumstances but having a Diet Coke nearby and music is a must!
Where do you do your writing best?
Since I'm a mom and also work outside the home I write wherever and whenever I can. Sometimes I’ll get up early in the morning and write before the rest of the house is awake, this way I can spend some solid, uninterrupted time on a the story. Other times I’ll work late into the night. I don’t have a set spot where I do my writing but I always buy myself a beautiful journal and spend the first month or so writing the story in long-hand. I've found that in writing this way I'm able to write nearly anywhere and minimize distractions. Later I transfer what I've written to a computer and continue to add to the story. I cannot write if the house is completely quiet ~ I have to have music or the television going in the background.
What helped you decide to actually write novels?
I credit my third grade students for inspiring me to finally start writing. We would end each day with a chant that we had to say – no matter what. Part of the chant talked about dreaming big and never giving up. Year after year and day after day of saying this with my third graders I finally realized that those words were also meant for me. The day after school let out for summer vacation I started writing my first novel 'The Weight of Silence' and finished the first draft before I went back to school that fall.
How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within in your books?
Often times, a headline from the newspaper or a news story from the radio really connects with me and a few days later a novel begins to take shape. From there I begin to develop the characters. I buy a multi-subject notebook and dedicate a section to each of my characters. There I record everything that I can about the character: physical traits, personality, hopes and fears – anything and everything that I can brainstorm. Not everything that I document in the notebook goes into the novel but because of this I feel like I have well-rounded characters with unique personalities.
Did you ever encounter any difficulties in getting your books accepted and published?
After writing my first novel I was fortunate to find a literary agent quite quickly. We worked for about eighteen months getting the manuscript in good enough shape to send off to publishers. Once we felt it was ready to go it took another year and a half to find a publisher. There were many rejection letters and anxiety-induced moments that only chocolate and a phone call to my mom could relieve. Thankfully Mira Books acquired 'The Weight of Silence' and all of my books thus far have found a good home there.
Did you have to undertake any research for your novels?
I do have to research certain aspects of my novels. I've been so fortunate to be able to spend time talking to and learning from many experts in their field. Our local police chief has been very generous in sharing his time and knowledge with me. He’s given me tours of the police station and has patiently answered every crazy question I come up with. I have also interviewed lawyers and social workers, sheriff deputies, and doctors. I even spent an entire day with two cattle farmers and came away thoroughly impressed (and exhausted) with the work they do.
What is your favourite book and why?
My favourite novel is My Ántonia by Willa Cather, I think her writing is just beautiful. I love the way that she could describe the setting in a novel and it actually seems to become a character within the story. I re-read My Ántonia and O Pioneers every year.
One of my favourite non fiction books is The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. It’s the story of President Teddy Roosevelt’s journey down the Amazon River after he left the White House. I love learning the details of historical figures’ live and what we’re not taught in history class.
Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?
Right now I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith’s The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine. I'm a huge fan of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and immediately run to the nearest book store and pick up the newest instalment the minute it comes out. I love the way McCall Smith writes with such beauty and wisdom and makes Botswana comes alive for me.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?
Along with my German Short-hair Pointer, Lolo, and I hike through the nature reserves that are near our home. We’ll spend hours walking through the woods, up and down bluffs and along creek and riverbanks. I find it very peaceful and rejuvenating. Plus it’s a lot of fun to watch Lolo splash in the water and chase butterflies and bumblebees.
Can you give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
I always hesitate to talk about current projects ~ they always change, but I can say I'm working on a story about a woman who recently recovered from a catastrophic injury, finds herself running for her life.
Heather, to conclude our interview can I ask if there is another question that I should ask you within this interview and what would be your answer?
I'm often asked about what advice I would give aspiring authors?
My advice to those who have the dream to write is to do just that, write. It’s so important to set aside time each day to get your thoughts and ideas down on paper. It can be an hour or ten minutes, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the pages start accumulating. I think it is also crucial for writers to be readers. Read widely and deeply.
Heather, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.
You are very welcome ~ thank you for having me!
Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. The case rocked the town where Jack was raised, and for years Jack avoided returning home. But when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, hospitalised in a coma, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.
Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago―barely a trace of the wounds that had once devastated them all. But as facts about Julia’s accident begin to surface, Sarah realises that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Caught in a flurry of unanswered questions, Sarah dives deep into the rabbit hole of Jack’s past, but the farther she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a hard reality she may not be prepared for.
If you would like to find out more about Heather and her writing, the link to her website is given below: