Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature
Kristen is the bestselling and much-loved author of a number of works of fiction, including The Still of Night and Halos. In addition to her writing, she is also a teacher, conference speaker, music minister, wife, and mother of four. Kristen lives with her family in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.
Focus: Kristen, thank you for joining us! Iíd like to begin our interview by talking about your love for writing. Do you believe writing is a calling God has placed on your life, or simply a talent or career direction youíve chosen to pursue?
Kristen Heitzmann: I prayed for two years for the Lord to take these stories out of my head so that I could do what I was supposed to do without distraction. When they didnít go away, my womenís group suggested the stories were there for a reason and maybe that was what I was supposed to do. So writing was definitely a call on my life that I couldnít ignore.
Focus: You were offered your first writing contract in a way that youíve said is not typical for most writers. Could you share a bit about that? How long was it between the day you began writing your first draft and the moment you held your first book in published form?
Kristen Heitzmann: Honorís Pledge was pure gift. I wrote the book in about two weeks, pouring it out non-stop, sleeping maybe four hours, eating at my deskóif I ate, and all but taking dictation. It was the call coming in like a flood and taking me where God wanted me to goónow that he had my attention. I knew nothing about publishing and told God that was His department. But after reworking every word of the novel about two hundred times, I went to the Colorado Christian Writerís Conference and pitched it to two acquisitions editors. Then I went home to wait for the rejections. Six months later, Bethany House contracted me for a three book series and a year after that, the first was in the stores. God was leaving me no room for doubt.
Focus: Since that first contract, how many books have you had published?
Kristen Heitzmann: I have eight historical novels in two series, and five contemporary novels with a sixth in progress that has both a historical and contemporary story line.
Focus: Many book reviewers have commented on the incredible depth of your characters. How long do you spend getting to know a characterófiguring out their thought patterns, habits, gestures, etc.óbefore you are ready to write about her/him?
Kristen Heitzmann: I donít know my characters at all. I frequently meet them in a dream, then get to know them as I write. I might have a visual impression, or just a sense of them. I know nothing of their history until a reaction to something in the plot reveals it. Itís similar to developing real friendships in that people are fleshed out little by little through their thoughts, words, and actions as you get to know them. I never plan the sort of people my characters are, just throw them into situations and see what theyíll do.
Focus: Letís talk about two of your characters, Rese Barrett, and Lance Michelli, from your latest novel, Secrets. What do you like most about their story?
Kristen Heitzmann: Well, I had fun with the role reversal, Rese being the construction worker and Lance the chef, also giving Lance the emotional role, and finding Rese to be quite serious minded. But of course they didnít stay that simple, and as their insecurities and struggles came out, they both found strengths and vulnerabilities in themselves and each other. A strong theme in Secrets and its sequel is that God uses the foolish to shame the wise. I show the hand of God shining through characters who are terribly flawed and might even be considered useless, like the institutionalized mother with schizophrenia.
Focus: One of the things I enjoyed about Secrets was the continued story of Quillan and Carina from your Diamond of the Rockies series. And thereís more to come in Unforgotten, the sequel story you just mentioned. Can you give our readers a brief synopsis of what they can look forward to in this next book?
Kristen Heitzmann: To find a middle ground between his grandmotherís request and their current reality, Lance takes Rese to his home in the Bronx, an Italian enclave that has changed very little in seventy years and is as foreign and overwhelming to Rese as another planet. He hopes for a blessing to move on with his life in Sonoma, but also to learn the story of his familyís past, a story his grandmother Antonia continues to suppress.
In a dual time line, Antoniaís story is told. As a seventeen-year-old in 1931, her life has taken a sudden and devastating turn, and she must forge a new life, leaving silent the secrets that have haunted her ever since. Now those secrets might cost Lance more than he can give.
Focus: If we could do a survey of Italian restaurants located near your readers, Iím sure theyíd tell us of a dramatic increase in business starting with the first book in your Diamond of the Rockies series, and continuing with Secrets :) Your descriptions of food would make anyone hungry! Whatís life like in your kitchen? Are you a cooking dynamo like Carina or Lance?
Kristen Heitzmann: I love to cook well when I cook at all. Itís feast or famine around here. Bursts of brilliance amid periods of helpless grazing. Iím not a recipe follower in general, and I love creatively using whatever I have on hand. But I tend to have interesting and savory choices to play with.
Focus: In Halos, another of your recent releases, Alessi didnít have amazing food when she was a child, just an amazing mother whose imagination could make anything seem like a fairy banquet. Would you tell us a little more about this book? Where did you get the inspiration for ĎThe Pactí?
Kristen Heitzmann: Halos was a lark, a story written for a friend for Christmas. I had no deadline, no contract, just the fun of writing a story. So I let my imagination run with it. Itís hard to say where my impulses come from, since they just materialize as I writeóI donít plan my plots either. I needed something dark to contrast with Alessiís light. And cloaking the darkness in supposed goodness seemed to enhance the evil. It started as a simple allegory, then developed from there.
Focus: In all of your books, your characters face difficulties and heartbreak, but I think none more than those in A Rush of Wings and The Still of Night. To call each of these stories a riveting emotional experience hardly does them justice! Abuse, teen pregnancy and death are just a few of the tough topics you addressed. How challenging were these books to write?
Kristen Heitzmann: Because I wrote A Rush of Wings while I was still publishing historicals, it had years to simmer and develop. The opening had come to me in a dream, and was one of the stories that kept recurring and that I prayed to have taken away. I would spend whole days with it progressing in my mind, engaging my emotions as well in a most distracting way. Writing it was true catharsis.
The Still of Night came out of A Rush of Wings, but was an even more emotional experience. Morganís story had to be resolved, but it had such a painful beginning I knew it would be difficult. So I added a dying child, with all the research needed to make that real, and a woman struggling to make sense of her life. I literally had to recover from writing that book, but it has a place in my heart Iím not sure any other can touch.
Focus: When you wrote A Rush of Wings, did you know you would do Morganís story next? Or did he become such a strong character as you wrote that you realized he would have to have a book of his own?
Kristen Heitzmann: I did not plan The Still of Night until Morgan became irrepressible. After finishing A Rush of Wings, he was the character I couldnít let go.
Focus: What impact do you hope your books will have on readers?
Kristen Heitzmann: My goal in writing is to tell a story that resonates in the reader. I hope the truths will encourage and challenge, that the characters will become friends, that the story will cause wonder and what ifs. Life is full of possibilities, and fiction helps us see outside ourselves.
Focus: In addition to being an author, you are also a conference speaker, music minister, wife, and mother. Thatís a lot of hats to wear! How do you maintain a balance between writing and family responsibilities?
Kristen Heitzmann: With difficulty! Itís very hard for me to live in two worlds, and when the story line is flowing itís as though Iím wearing Frodoís ring. My bodyís in the real world, but my mind is certainly not. My kids have learned to recognize when someoneís homeóor not. Having two in college has eased the load, but it is difficult to balance, especially working at home where everyone has access to me all the time.
Focus: Writing can be a solitary and sometimes emotionally draining endeavor. How can your fans be an encouragement and support to you?
Kristen Heitzmann: I love to hear what people think of the stories, the characters, the ways the book has touched lives. Spreading the word, since the successful sales of a book determine whether an author can continue. And prayer. There is serious warfare against anything that shares the message of Godís love and faithfulness. I am continuously assaulted by doubts even though the Lord has made his path clear.
And if anyone wants to do bathrooms . . .
Focus: Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Kristen Heitzmann: This is a wondrous privilege the Lord has given me, and I stand in awe of Him and all his works. I so appreciate all of you who have read and responded to my efforts. Iím in love with the life God has given me to build his kingdom here and now through words and stories. And to him be the glory.