Monday, October 10, 2011

Heather Hummel talks writing...and I can't leave anything out. so here's part one.

Heather Hummel wears so many hats, I wasn't sure how I was going to keep this interview focused.  I wanted to talk to her about everything.  She writes, she ghostwrites, she consults, she edits, she runs Book Live over on Facebook, and -- my personal favorite except that I’m way over here on the wrong coast -- she conducts writing retreats at the Vagabond Inn in Carmel, California.  She has a big presence on Twitter, she's published with big houses and little houses, she's taught high school English, she's written fiction and non-fiction, and the second book in her Journals from the Heart series (Whispers from the Heart) is out and the Blog Tour kicked off this week.  Phew -- am I missing anything....
Want to hear from someone who has crafted a living out of her love of writing?  Well, here goes.  Part one.
Me: Each book in your JOURNALS FROM THE HEART series deals with journal writing in some way.  All my journals are locked away in the attic, with strict direction to burn them if anything should happen to me.  They’re way too embarrassing for even me to go back and read.  But I guess that’s the point – they show growth.  What do you see when you go back and look at your old journals?  Where did the idea for the Journals from the Heart series come from?
Heather: Believe it or not, the theme for journal writing was not intentional at first. Before I was a full-time author, I taught high school English and in my education classes at the University of Virginia the concept of journal writing was enforced quite a bit. As a teacher I integrated journal writing into my classes with great success. So, when I wrote WHISPERS FROM THE HEART, I wanted to explore the accountability a teacher has of encouraging journal writing in their classes. If students trust and have a good rapport with a teacher, they will open up quite a bit, and that can surely test the responsibility of a teacher.
When I wrote WRITE FROM THE HEART, I was exploring the use of positive journal writing and wanted to create a character who successfully turns her life around by reflecting on her growth¾as you mention¾the growth that comes with reflections on our past and where we are today.
It was hindsight that showed me the consistent theme between the two, and therefore I made the series Journals from the Heart. The third, forthcoming, novel is WISDOM FROM THE HEART and that is about a fourteen year old who finds out she’s adopted. She uses journal writing as a tool to heal and find her place in the world.
Me: Your second book in the series, WHISPERS FROM THE HEART, is about to begin its blog tour.  I see the places you’re going, but I have to admit that I’m still a little confused!  What is a blog tour, exactly? 
Heather: Blog tours are a great way for an author to present their work to their niche audience in a concentrated amount of time. Much like a book tour, an author and their book(s) are guests on various blogs that target their genre for a specific amount of time. For example WHISPERS FROM THE HEART’s tour is hosted by Samantha at Chick Lit Plus. Between book reviews, guest posts and author Q&As much like this one, WHISPERS will be visiting twelve blogs in three weeks that all focus on chick lit (or women’s lit). With social media being what it is today, blog tours can be a very successful way to get the word out about a book.
Me: You’ve made a career out of writing.  That’s hard to do – it takes not just good writing but good business skills, and those don’t often come together.  How do you do it?
Heather: Long before I was a writer, I was an office manager for about fifteen years, and most of my responsibilities involved bookkeeping. Admittedly, and my old bosses would agree, I was good at it, but not the best. My head and heart belong with words, not numbers. Fortunately, I do have somewhat of an analytical mind, and am very computer literate. I intuitively learned all the programs I needed to know to build my website, create Facebook Fan Pages, design book covers, design interior layouts¾if it’s writing, web and publishing related, I’ve made it my business to learn how to do it. If I didn’t know how to do something, I Googled it and took it from there. I love the challenge.
Me: Was there a point where you were sending work out to slush, looking for an agent?  What was the process of finding your agent, Olga Vezeris? 
Heather: I spent a year researching everything about agents¾what they wanted, how to write a query letter, how to pitch effectively. During that time I was also slowly shopping WHISPERS FROM THE HEART (then THROUGH HAZEL EYES) to about four to six agents at a time. (I always advised clients not to send out more than six queries at a time…from experience, I knew they’d want to change something in their query along the way and if you send them all out at once…well, you only get one chance.)
I came across Olga Vezeris and Jackie Meyer at Whimsy Literary Agency in the process. Jackie wrote back that she loved my writing style, but was only accepting nonfiction. At the same time, an article about my mother, Valerie Ramsey, becoming a Ford model at the age of 63 was published in a local paper and hit the newswires, landing in some big newspapers around the country. The responses she received from women all over the country (and even some men) inspired my idea to write GRACEFULLY: LOOKING AND BEING YOUR BEST AT ANY AGE (McGraw-Hill, 2008). I presented the proposal to Jackie, knowing she wanted nonfiction, and within two weeks we were signing papers, then within a few months it sold to McGraw-Hill. And yes, I used positive journal writing to help make all of that happen!
Me: With all of the changes in publishing, it seems sometimes like we have two camps.  There are doom-and-gloom folks, and then there are those who embrace change and make it work for them.  You are definitely the latter.  Any thoughts on eBooks, self-publishing, the closing of Borders, the use of social media to market yourself, or anything along those lines? 
Heather: I love to use my microwave analogy when it comes to eBooks. There are certainly those who are not yet embracing Kindles or the Nook…holding dear to their hearts the traditional paperback and hardcover books. I get that. I have dozens of my grandmother’s old books on my bookshelf. The way I have come to see the eBook revolution is much like when microwaves first came out (yes, I’m dating myself here). Microwaves did not replace ovens, they gave us new options for the way we cook. There are times you want a slow cooked turkey and then there are times you want to reheat last night’s dinner or have a bowl of soup without having to wash a pot or pan. eBooks give book lovers another option for reading that adds an element of convenience and to  degree, a more affordable one. I know a lot of travelers who love being able to take hundreds or more books with them when they travel.
In terms of social media, I use it mostly to connect with people. An author ought to limit the number and frequency of plugs for their books in these venues (John Locke became the master at this and was the first indie author to sell over 1 million eBooks). Facebook and Twitter (and wherever else) are your chances to bond with potential readers. You have to trust that they will like you and in turn will want to read your books. 
Me: Writing is a lot of ups and downs.  There’s good news, and then sometimes, right on its heels, there’s bad news.  How do you persevere?
Heather: I have had to remind myself that “bad news” just means there’s better, bigger news coming around the corner. It’s not always easy to convince yourself of that, but when it happens, the reinforcement kicks in and you persevere.
One thing I’ve found most valuable in being successful is collaborating with other authors. Cari Kamm, author of FAKE PERFECT ME, and I have done a lot of collaborating on Facebook, Twitter and e-mails. Since we’re the same women’s lit genre, our audience is the same and it’s been a win-win situation.
Heather Hummel, aka the Gypsy Writer, is the author of the Journals from the Heart Series featuring Whispers from the Heart and Write from the Heart.

Her nonfiction titles include:

GO BIKE & Other Signs from the Universe  (PathBinder, 2011)Gracefully Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age (McGraw-Hill, 2008)

Heather's books have appeared in newspapers such as: Publishers Weekly, USA Today and the Washington Post; and in magazines that include: Body & Soul, First, and Spry Living, a combined circulation of nearly 15 million. Visit Heather's website at Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatheHummel  and on Facebook

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