This picture shows me wearing a sweater I crocheted and holding the finishers’ medal I received at my second half marathon, May 13/08.
About the Author:
Growing up, I was an avid (rabid?) reader. I am a natural speed reader, regularly clocked at about 1200 wpm (I read Harry Potter 5 in just under three hours), and always have several books on the go, nearly all in e-book form on my iPhone. I have always made up stories in my head, but never considered becoming a writer. Instead, I intended to be a high school music teacher. I was sidetracked by my enjoyment of my psychology courses in university, and ended up with a psychology degree with a concentration in computer science. This took me to a major Canadian bank as a software developer. I stayed there for just over four years, and then went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. After four years teaching elementary school computer science, I took up the National Novel Writing Month challenge and attempted to write a novel in a month. I succeeded, and the first draft of “Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo” was the result. I realized I love writing. I left teaching, and I haven’t looked back since! In my non-writing time, I read, run, swim, crochet (I am on Ravelry and would be happy to add you as a friend!), take care of my 55 gallon aquarium and my cat Sapphire, and play clarinet. Generally not all at once.
*Bio taken directly from Heather Wardell’s website.
Thank-you for taking some time out of your schedule to give a written interview. Your answers will be posted on my book blog, Books in the Burbs, and on Bay Area Book Club’s meetup page. It is my hope that readers will gain a better understanding about who you are and how your books are developed. We look forward to hearing from you!
Interview with Heather Wardell:
1. The first book I read from you was Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, which I absolutely loved!! Then, I read Planning to Live, which I also loved. In both books, the main characters (Candice and Rhiannon) have an “ah-ha” moment as they look at their life and relationships. When did you have your “ah-ha” moment to start writing and leave the workforce?
When my husband was away on a five-week business trip, I decided on a whim to see if I could write a novel, a sort of “National Novel Writing Month” on my own. I did, the first draft of Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, and realized I loved it. Luckily for me, my husband was both able and willing to have me quit my teaching job and write full-time. That was in 2005, and I now have five novels available with three more in the pipeline for 2011.
2. Prior to writing, I read that you worked in software development and elementary teaching. How have your two prior career positions helped you as writer?
I used the software development experience in Planning to Live, but more generally I think they both helped me work to a deadline, keep track of the little things (you haven’t learned to multi-task until you’ve taught twenty kindergarten kids to use a computer at once!), and be comfortable planning and following plans. I plan my books in considerable detail, using my own variation on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, and I know it helps me write with more speed and accuracy.
3. How would you describe your style of writing?
My style of writing tends toward the conversational. I am far more interested in letting readers “be” my characters than in flowery language, although I do spend a lot of time getting my words just right when I edit. I’m sarcastic and that comes across too but I do my best, in writing and in life, not to be a jerk with it.
4. When you are writing, what does a day look like for you?
Ideally, I start working at around 10 and go to noon with a short break in the middle. Then I work after lunch, with a break around 3, and then stop at 5 or so. The issue is, sometimes those breaks extend to 30 minutes or more without me noticing, so I’m doing my best to keep a handle on them by using my phone’s alarms to nudge me back to work.
In 2011 I’m working on two books at once (previously I did only one at a time) so I’m currently writing one in first draft and editing another. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to switch from one character to another in my head but it’s been just fine, and it lets me work when I’m tired since editing is easier for me than first-draft writing.
5. Are you still a marathon runner? If so, which marathon have you most enjoyed?
I now run half-marathons and shorter races. A full marathon just takes too much out of me! I think my favorite is the Mississauga Half-Marathon in 2009. I’d had an awful flu for weeks beforehand and wasn’t even able to walk around two weeks before the race. I went into it figuring if I finished it’d be a good day, and so I didn’t feel any pressure or worry about my speed. I just took my time and had fun, and I did finish and felt great.
6. I read, from another interview you gave, that you have “rambling files”. Can you share what that means? Would you share one “rambling file” line that you used to write Planning to Live?
“Rambling files” are my version of thinking about a story. I know some writers can work through plot problems while out for a run, but I can only think effectively while typing (and occasionally not even then!). I just keep my fingers moving and “talk” to myself through the keyboard and am constantly surprised by the things I discover as I go, by the unexpected concepts and ideas that appear without me realizing they’re coming. I rarely feel like I am creating the story; it seems to come from somewhere else and it’s my job to catch it and put it down. I love it.
Here is an unedited excerpt from Planning to Live’s rambling file. My original concept for the book was “woman is trapped in car after accident and calls her friends/family while waiting for the ambulance”. Here’s how it changed to “trapped in car with no contact with outside world”:
Is it reasonable, though, that she wouldn’t be able to get help right away? If she called 911 from some distant area, then yes, it could be reasonable.
What if it happened on a very distant road and she didn’t have any phone network available? Then she’d basically be waiting for someone else to come get her. Waiting for someone to drive by.
If it’s winter, then she’d be at risk of freezing to death. Trapped inside the car, she wouldn’t be able to get out – could it somehow have actually trapped her leg? And she doesn’t know it but she’s bleeding badly down there.
As you can see, I do really talk to myself as I go along. This excerpt doesn’t, but some of them include things like “I don’t know how this’ll work but I know it has to”, “keep going, you can do it”, and even “I’ll work on this for another fifteen minutes then have lunch”. They usually run around 70 pages, and the first huge part is often nothing to do with how the book actually ends up but is instead ideas that are “in the way” of what I need to know.
7. What was your motivation to self-publish? How has it helped you as a writer?
It was a gradual process. I made Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo available for free download at the end of 2008 to stop me fiddling with it. (I’d fallen into the “one more tweak and then it’ll be perfect” trap and I needed to leave it alone and move on.) It received a lot of downloads, so I decided to try selling my next book, Go Small or Go Home, for $0.99. It sold, so I did the next and the next after trying and failing to find a literary agent. My fifth, Stir Until Thoroughly Confused, is my first book to go straight to self-publishing without any agent queries and I plan to continue that. I LOVE having contact with my readers, either on Twitter or via email or on my Facebook page (all of which are available through my web site at http://www.heatherwardell.com) and I so love that my books are being read and enjoyed instead of sitting alone and unloved in my computer. That’s what I wanted and I am thrilled to have it. I’m not opposed to getting a “traditional” publishing contract, but I’m quite happy with where I am now.
8. How do you decide your book titles and covers? What made you decide the chocolate chip cookie as the cover design for Planning to Live?
I decide my titles and covers, and most of my writing decisions, by what feels right. If I’m off-track I get a nagging achy feeling right under my ribs, and I have learned to accept that no matter how much I logically want whatever feels wrong. It’s not right if it feels wrong.
I tried a number of different covers for Planning to Live, many centering around the car accident that begins the book, but the cookie is a repeating theme in the story itself, the whole “live for now and don’t wait for what you want” concept, and so it felt right to put it on the cover.
9. Both Bill and Rhiannon are put in serious cold conditions as they wait to be rescued. When you were writing this storyline, did you know what would happen to both of them prior to writing your novel or did it slowly evolve as you wrote?
Rhiannon’s situation was part of the plan. Bill, her fiance, was a complete surprise. That’s one of the “who is WRITING this thing through me?” scenes that I mentioned above. I wrote the first draft of that book in early 2009 and I still remember how that scene just unfolded as I typed, though it was painful and sad, like I was reporting something real instead of inventing a story.
10. I can imagine Planning to Live being a 2-3 person play on Broadway. If you could choose your cast, who would you want to play Rhiannon? What about Andrew? Who would be your 3rd character that you feel would be essential to being in the play?
What a fabulous question! I am sadly out of touch with the acting world so I honestly can’t pick actors, but I would want Rhiannon to be played by a woman who’s a little overweight (in real life, not just for the play) and able to be funny and serious too, and Andrew needs an actor who can handle a “still waters run deep” kind of character. I hate to say this, but I think the third would have to be Rhiannon’s weight loss coach Joel since he has such a huge influence over her.
11. Do you have an underlying theme or inspiration that you want your readers to be inspired from after reading your books?
My motto is “women’s fiction with depth, humor, and heart”, and it’s not remotely a marketing line. I think a lot of books today, a lot of media really, is lacking depth and heart, and I do everything I can to put those qualities into my books. I want my readers to feel that if they want something enough and are willing to do what it takes, they can get it. I firmly believe that’s true.
12. Who are some of your favorite authors? How have they inspired you?
I love Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella’s “Remember Me?”, and Maeve Binchy. They’re wonderful because they all focus on characters rather than crazy plots (although Sophie can head into the crazy-plot zone) and I love feeling like I know the characters as I read a book.
13. In Planning to Live, Rhiannon shares with her loved ones to enjoy the “lovely little things”. As I was planning for this interview, I came across one of your blogs, “Lovely Little Things”. How exciting! What was your motivation in starting this blog? What would Rhiannon think about your blog?
My motivation for this blog, which I have sadly been neglecting and should get back to, was Rhiannon realizing that we let those little things go by all too often. As she says in the quote I made into free downloadable desktop pictures (http://www.heatherwardell.com/free.shtml) it really is the journey, not the destination, that matters, and I wanted to help other people and myself notice those. I’d like to think that Rhiannon would subscribe to the blog and submit her own lovely little things that happened.
14. In the spirit of Rhiannon, which lovely little things are you most thankful for?
He’s not little, but my husband definitely is lovely. Not many men would be able to support me like he does, and I try every day to remember that. I get to write what I want when I want, and I have a still small but growing following of people who really get my books and enjoy them. I still get choked up with nearly every reader email, so happy that people take the time to write to me, and especially with Planning to Live when people say they think it’s changed their lives since the writing of it changed mine. I have everything I could possibly need and nearly everything I could want, and today my husband found a bottle of nail polish I’d misplaced for months so I am thankful for that too!
Thank-you so much for taking time to answer these questions! I wish you continued success on your writing and know many will enjoy reading your books as much I have :)
For a list of Heather’s books, please visit her website.
Lovely Little Things Blog
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To read Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo for FREE, visit Barnes & Nobles to download.
To purchase Planning to Live, visit Barnes & Nobles to download.
Her books are available for e-readers at a wonderful value of $.99.