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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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. France
How did you choose your characters’ names?
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?
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?
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.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
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!
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.
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 http://secretplaceofthunder.blogspot.com.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.howhugethenight.com 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.
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