Sunday, May 15, 2011

HOW HUGE THE NIGHT - Heather and Lydia Munn - Free Book

I know that this is a collaboration. How did this story come about?

Lydia: It was a story I learned about while living in France. I researched it and wrote several revised versions of the story, before finally asking Heather to help me on the project.

Heather: I was about twelve when Mom first started it. When she finished it, she rewrote it, adding some extra stuff—I remember telling her there should be more action, so she added a fistfight. Around the time I graduated from college with an English degree she'd been shopping it around and had gotten yet another rejection slip that said “Great potential, but you should rewrite this”. Knowing she couldn’t rewrite this another time, she asked me to take a look. So I did

Did you find it easy to work together on it?

Lydia: Absolutely. Heather told me from the beginning that she wanted leeway to make changes. We agreed to certain guidelines, and then went from there.

Heather: The working together part I'd say was easy! Mom was really wonderful about being flexible and open to my ideas. We'd talk about it on the phone once a week, which we both really enjoyed, and then whenever I finished a chapter I'd send it to her. Sometimes something new cropped up as I was writing, and I'd preface the chapter with “Uh, Mom, Julien kind of did something I didn't expect here...” But the thing was, it worked—she'd created the characters and I was developing them further, but we both really kind of knew them, as people—what rang true about a character to one of us would ring true to the other. I remember a conversation with her when I was nearing the end of the book, about what was going on psychologically with this one character, and I remember how we both agreed it was really important for her to reveal this certain secret of her own free will. I remember feeling like we both really knew this girl by that point. That's where it becomes a deep collaboration.

How did collaborating with this team impact you?

Lydia: We started with a good mother/daughter relationship. The collaboration has enriched us both. We are still friends, and better friends for having worked together.

Heather: It was good for our relationship as mother and daughter, honestly. It kept us in touch quite regularly and talking together about something we both cared about. And there's something about working with a parent, when you're really working with them, you're as essential to the process as they are and not just “helping.” I think there's something very affirming there.

What is the hardest thing about writing as a team?

Lydia: I need to respect Heather’s instincts as a writer. Sometimes when she is rewriting a scene which I originally invented, she finds it going in an unexpected direction. We then discuss it, and I tell her, “No, I don’t think so,” if I need to. But her instincts are almost always right!

Heather: Well, for me the hardest thing is working from someone else's text in the first place. For a piece of writing to really come alive in my hands it seems like I have to be in it, be saying something I really care about through it. If there aren't themes in there that really came out of my soul, then I really can't make anything good out of it. Taking someone else's work and putting myself, or my themes, into it while also respecting the text that is there and the original author's intentions can be this arduous, confusing process. I once compared it in my head to moving heavy furniture around with your soul.

What are you reading right now?

Lydia: A book about the French resistance, a novel by Chaim Potok, and A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens (not for the first time).

Heather: I'm reading a French book my Mom just sent me called Ces enfants qu'il fallait sauver, which means “These children we had to save.” It's about individuals and networks in France during WWII that rescued and hid Jewish children from the Nazis. That's actually research for the sequel. It's fascinating, with a lot of personal stories. I always have a fiction book going too, so I'm also re-reading One Corpse Too Many, a medieval murder mystery by Ellis Peters.

How did you choose your characters’ names?

Lydia: At first I had chosen names that were common both in English and in French (like David). Someone suggested I make the names more distinctively French. That’s when I decided on Julien and Magali, with Losier as a last name, because they sounded French, but were not so strange as to be a stumbling block to American readers.

Heather: When I had to come up with a few minor characters, I just tried to find real French names that wouldn't sound too weird read by Americans who might not know how to pronounce them—or in the case of last names I'd try and make especially the names of farmers sound typical of the region of France I'm writing about, like ending in -ac or -aud. And I think I did give the “villain” his first name, which is Victor, because what he cares about in life is winning.

Would you want to work on another book together?

Lydia: We are working on the sequel to this book. I love the teamwork, but will end it when Heather is ready to write the story she has growing in her, instead of the story I wanted to tell.

Heather: The sequel picks up where How Huge the Night leaves off, but with a different main character—the younger sister of the boy who's the main character in the first book.

What do you want to tell us about the book?

Lydia: This novel is based on a true story from World War II in France that I discovered while living here. It’s one I’ve wanted to tell for twenty years. Julien, the protagonist, is coming of age in a very unusual town in central France, at a time of crisis for himself and for his country.

Heather: I've done my absolute best to tell the truth in this book, to show reality. The reality of what was going on in France at that time, the reality of life and its big scary questions, the reality of God when we can and can't see what he's doing. I hope I did a good job. I hope it comes through, and people see it, and it gives them something worthwhile.

What has drawn you to writing for the YA market?

Heather: It was Mom's choice in the first place to write How Huge the Night as a YA book, so I didn't really make a specific decision about the market. But I do like reading YA a lot, and I've grown to like writing it. Sometimes adult books get too stereotyped—it's either popular or literary, either accessible or deep, not both. I like books that have it all, that are highly readable and are really about something. You find more of that in YA.

Lydia: I grew up not having access to a public library. I discovered young adult novels in college and afterwards, and loved many of them. We later read them to our children. When I began working on the story of How Huge the Night, I was raising two teenagers who love to read. All good reasons for aiming at that market!

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?

Lydia: My husband and I were driving down the street on a spring day with the windows down. Just as we were about to pass a cyclist, Jim said: “Bark at him!” And I did.

When did you first discover that you were a writer?

Heather: When I was pretty little, my Mom read me the “Little House on the Prairie” books. As I listened to Laura Ingalls Wilder describe her childhood, I thought “That's so great how she remembered everything and wrote it down so we can know what it was like! I want to do that!” And then I got all worried, and thought “But how am I going to do that? I don't remember my childhood!” I was probably about six years old!

Lydia: I have loved stories all my life. I have also loved words, and loved crafting them into something that catches the interest, or moves the heart. My desire to create stories for myself (instead of reading what others created) came about gradually through studying literature in college, and through raising children who also loved stories.

Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.

Heather: I pretty much read only fiction. I love Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, I love The Brothers Karamazov, I love reading poetry. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Richard Wilbur are a couple of my favorites. Also William Stafford and Wendell Berry. I read a lot of popular fiction too. My favorite sci-fi and fantasy authors are Lois McMaster Bujold and Ursula K. LeGuin. I really love books that sort of transcend the lines people draw between literary and popular fiction—like The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.

Lydia: I enjoy biographies of great Christians, and books on history when they are well written. But I especially enjoy fiction. The classics (Jane Austen!), historical novels, historical mystery novels (Ellis Peters). I love some fantasy (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis) and some science fiction, when it’s character driven, and not all action.

What other books have you written?

Heather: How Huge the Night is the only one so far. I also write short stories and readings from the Bible—pieces where I take a Biblical story and expand on it from the point of view of a particular character. I'm building up a collection of these, most of them meant to be read out loud as monologues or dramatic readings in churches, and I offer them for free for anyone to use at

Lydia: A biography of my grandfather, an evangelist and pioneer of radio preaching in Texas. The book was not published. It was meant for his descendants, to preserve the memory of a very unusual and well-loved man.

How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?

Heather: I don't know that I'm really in a run, run, run world. I live in a Christian intentional community way out in the country where my husband and I host free spiritual retreats for people coming out of homeless and addictions. Life's not so fast here. Farmwork can be pretty demanding, I'll admit, in the heavy season (though it's more like weed weed weed... hoe hoe hoe...) but my husband and I do things a little differently: all the work we do is volunteer, and what we get in return is a donation—however much people can afford to give us—and that goes in with other freewill donations to support our ministry. So there's not as much pressure in the work—nor as much money! We're on a very low budget. So if I was going to give advice to anyone else on how to keep their sanity in the modern world, I would advise that time isn't money. Time is life, and that's far more precious. Figure out what God wants you to do with your life and do it, and take the time to do it well, and forget the money. God said he would provide, and it's true. He does.

What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of, besides family?

Heather: Whenever anything I've written opens someone up spiritually to experience or hear God a little more clearly.

If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?

Heather: I would be a cat. I practically am one. I like to sleep, sit in the sun and climb trees. And I'm practicing walking quietly in the woods. Cats are amazing at that.

What is your favorite food?

Heather: Food is like books. Picking a favorite would be unfair to all the other wonderful stuff in this multicolored world God created! If I had to narrow it down to two, I'd say peaches and cherries right off the tree.

Lydia: Grandmother McMahan’s peach cobbler (South Carolina peaches) with ice cream.

Is it hard to break into the YA market?

Heather: Hard to say. Technically, I wasn't trying to break into the YA market—though Mom's original version was meant as YA, by the time we were shopping the book around, I offered How Huge the Night to Kregel as a general-fiction book and it was their call to publish it as YA instead! I have had an editor tell me that demand is up these days for quality Christian YA. But I think maybe it can't be emphasized enough that it's hard to break into any publishing market, anywhere, these days. There are far more people writing books than the publishing industry could ever publish.

What advice would you give to an author wanting to do that?

Heather: My editor told me that the homeschool market is a great path to take if you've written a book that's at all educational (if it's historical fiction, for instance.) To utilize that, you'd probably have to find out what publishers are specifically selling to that market already and/or suggest in your book proposal that this be done with your book. Another interesting thing she told me—I don't know how useful this one is—is that if you're writing for the Christian market, YA is the place where it's OK to go a little more literary. There isn't really a market for Christian literary fiction for adults, but for teens and particularly in the homeschool market the field is a little more open for that.

Lydia: First write a really good story. Then try to interest editors or agents in your manuscript by meeting them face to face (usually at writers’ conferences), and selling them the story.

What would you like to tell us about the featured book?

Heather: To me, How Huge the Night is a story about teens having their world widened so much it hurts—and makes them stronger, and opens them up both to hard truths about life and deep truths about God.

Lydia: This novel is based on a story from World War II in France that I discovered while living in France. It’s one I’ve wanted to tell for twenty years. Julien, the protagonist, is coming of age in a very unusual town in central France, at a time of crisis for himself and for his country. 

Please share the first page with us.

“Isn’t that beautiful, Julien?”


Even without looking, he knew he had hurt his father. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stood there at the top of the hill, looking at the so-called view. A few hills with trees on them and cow pastures in between and, tumbled down the hillside like blocks some giant kid had spilled, the houses of Papa’s hometown.

Papa thought he’d given Julien a great present. Taken all his happy boyhood memories and wrapped them in a brown paper package and tied it up with string. Papa. I know where I’m not wanted. While Mama and Magali unpacked the boxes, he’d gone down into town and seen the flat, cold eyes of the guys his age. The stares that told him not to come closer. Not to say hi. He’d lost his way and wandered narrow dirt and cobblestone streets, not daring to speak to anyone. He passed old men in cloth caps, cigarette stubs in their dirty fingers, laughing; he heard one say something about “les estivants,” and his friend reply, “At least they’ll leave.” Les estivants. The summer people. No, see, I live here. Unfortunately.

“I know you miss Paris, Julien. But Tanieux is a very special town.”

There was a tightness in Julien’s chest. I tried so hard to lie to you, Papa. I can’t do it anymore.

“I hate it here.”

“Julien.” His father’s voice was sharp. “You know nothing about this town. Do you know what it’s called when you hate something you know nothing about? It’s called prejudice.”

“I know something. I know they hate me.”

“Julien, what basis can you possibly have—”

Day before yesterday on his way through town, Julien had seen a soldier in full uniform—a Third Armored Company uniform, brown leather jacket. A tank driver—man he’d wanted to talk to that guy—holding the hand of this beautiful girl in a white dress, with all these guys Julien’s age clustered round, and everyone going on about something he couldn’t quite hear—blah blah Germany, something something Hitler, blah blah blah army, get ’em, loud shouts of Yeah and laughter, and then the girl shouting, It’s not funny, it’s not funny, you could get killed!

Julien had stood there, riveted by that beautiful girl shouting at her soldier, and a hot whisper had run through his veins: It’s war—isn’t it.  And he’d taken one step into the street, to cross, to ask What happened? What did Hitler do?—and the soldier had turned to him with a flat, outraged stare And then the others, one by one—like he was a cat that had peed on the carpet. The girl in the white dress didn’t look at him at all. He could still feel it. It burned.

 How can readers find you on the Internet?

Heather: Mom and I aren't on Facebook, but we do have a website at that we just launched, and you'll find a forum there where I will regularly be there to chat with readers. You'll probably see Mom there some of the time too.

Readers, here's a link to the book. By using it when you order, you help support this blog.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)

Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.

The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 6 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.

If you’re reading this on Feedblitz, Facebook, or Amazon, please come to the blog to leave your comment if you want to be included in the drawing. Here’s a link.


Anonymous said...

I would love to win a copy of this book.

angela from KY

Michelle said...

Sounds like a great book.

mchapman (at) windstream (dot) net


Linda Kish said...

This sounds wonderful.


lkish77123 at gmail dot com

karenk said...

i'm interested in reading this novel...thanks for the chance :)

karenk...from PA
kmkuka at yahoo dot com

lovedandamazed said...

I really love historical fiction and this one sounds very interesting!

I live in Missouri. :-)

Jo said...

I enjoy reading historical fiction and would love to read this book. Please enter me in the giveaway.


Kari Linder said...

What a sweet interview! Thanks for the chance to win!
Kari in Oregon

Abigail said...

looks like a great book, enter me in the contest.
Abigail Richmond
Blanch, N.C.

kylady717 said...

Wow!a mother/daughter team....good work and keep them coming......looking forward to reading this book, hope I win it :)

Mona G./Ohio

Heather Munn said...

Thanks for interviewing us. Some really good questions, I enjoyed answering them.

(You don't have to enter me in the giveaway!) ;)

Angela Carpenter said...

Hi include my name in your contest for this book, I'd love to have it..Thanks

Angela C.

Claire Koenig said...

I'd love a chance to read this! Please enter my name.
Claire Koenig, San Francisco Bay Area

Kristen said...

This sounds like a great book, and the fact that it's based on a true story really intrigues me. :-) Please enter me into the drawing.

Kristen in TX

rbooth43 said...

How Huge the Night is a story about teens having their world widened so much it hurts—and makes them stronger, and opens them up both to hard truths about life and deep truths about God has me hooked to read the book. My two brother were in World War II, one in the Navy and one in the Marines.

Lydia: This novel is based on a story from World War II

Shirley Thompson said...

Would love to have this book,Thanks from Illinois

Ann Lee Miller said...

Thank you for the chance to win!
Ann Lee Miller

Jo said...

Great interview. I would love to win a copy of this book. Please enter me.


DJ said...

Thank you for offering a chance to win a free book. I recently heard of the name Le Chambon and when I did a search on it, found the websie "How Huge the Night". The story intrigues me and I would love to read more. Please enter me in your drawing.
Deb from Maryland
tickledpinkone (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

Bakersdozen said...

I think it is so cool that this is written by mom and daughter. I live in S. CA.