Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Mail Order Man" available now

I am very excited and pleased to share with you the following interview with brand new author (and life-long personal friend) Heather Gray. I was given the opportunity to ask about her debut book "Mail Order Man", her characters, and her writing process, along with some other fun tidbits. We would both appreciate you downloading a copy of her book today.  Read on...

Amie:  First of all, can you summarize how we know each other without possibly using the words goofy, silly, or BHASL? 

Heather:  I laughed so loud when I read this question that my thirteen year old had to ask if I was okay! We met about 853 years ago as freshmen in high school. Our lockers were right next to each other, and neither of us had tattoos or body piercings. Okay, so none of the other freshman had body art either, but still, I feel that's a bonding point. Our high school had, what, a hundred students in it? I knew exactly five of those hundred students. After all, I'd been in town just long enough to finish up 8th grade at my school…where I was one of six 8th graders. (Which is how I knew the names of five other people in that high school!) For the record, I do have to say this to your loyal blog-followers: Amie has not an oofygay, illysay nor ASLBHay bone in her odybay…I mean body. I won't tell you what the last word means, though A little mystique never hurt anybody!

What do you love about writing?

Writing makes me feel alive. It lights a fire in my soul that I can't explain. I hope everyone has something in their life they feel as passionately about. There is something special about finding the thing that fits you so perfectly that you can't help but say, "This is what I was born to do."

Who are your favorite authors?

Oh! Ugh! Ack! Really? Okay, I read so many different things across so many different genres. I will read nothing but suspense for a while, and then nothing but regency romance for a while. I will love an author until I've read everything they've written, and then, with a sigh of regret, I will move on to the next great author. Then, years later, I'll come across the other author's name and think, "I wonder if they've written anything new," and will voraciously take in anything of theirs I haven't yet read. I will spend a month reading contemporary laugh-out-loud novels and then fall into a phase of pass-me-a-tissue historical dramas. There are simply too many authors out there whose books I have loved, and all for different reasons at different times of my life.

You're stuck on a desert island...L-train...18-hour flight to the Phillipines (yes, I googled places it would take 18 hours to get to from the DC area), what one book would you prefer to have with you to entertain and occupy your time?

Does the desert island have electricity? I'll bring my tablet with all my ebooks stored on it. I know, I know, that's cheating. Okay, if I could only have one book… If I were stranded forever, I'd have to go with my Bible. Don't laugh yet. Not only is it the most encouraging book I've ever read, but face it, it has everything from intrigue and murder to romance and small town life. If, however, I'm stuck on an 18 hour flight with a crying baby in the seat behind me and an airsick giant in the seat in front of me, you will probably find me with a great comedic romance in which I can bury myself. Sure, people look at you funny when you laugh so hard that you snort, but since I'll probably never see them again after the flight's over, I'm okay with that.

Tell us about your book, let's hear a synopsis. :)

Here's the back cover blurb. We'll call it a synopsis without spoilers. J Or maybe a teaser…

Some people get a mail order bride. She got a mail order man.

A well-meaning friend places an ad to find a mail order husband for Sarah, the proprietress of Larkspur’s stage and mail office. Sarah, who is generally quiet and reserved, doesn’t know about the ad and has no idea what to do with all the people that are showing up in her community. Before long, the town is overrun with men and mail alike. Sarah is trying to avoid some men who have accosted her on the street when she stumbles into Samuel. Through long days spent together at the stage office, some very adventurous pots of coffee and a shared faith, the two become friends. Sarah knows that Samuel is hiding something from her, something important, but that doesn’t stop her heart from leaping wildly into love. Lacking the confidence to trust her heart, Sarah wars with herself over the feelings she can no longer deny. When some of the men who have come to town show their true intentions, a shootout follows. Sarah finally gets answers to many of the questions circling through her mind. One question remains, though. Where will her mail order man go when the dust settles?

What do you love about your characters?

Beside the alliteration, you mean? I'm not sure how I ended up with Samuel and Sarah, but I love the way their names sound together!

Samuel is fun. He laughs, teases and jokes. He brightens the lives of everyone who loves him. He cares deeply for others, has tremendous patience and is a bit of a rebel. While everyone else in town is wearing drab browns and greys, Samuel lives his life a little bit outside the box. Not so much that he gets ostracized, but enough that people notice and can't help but smile when he walks by. The thing about Samuel is that his life hasn't always been easy. I don't want to give too much away, but one of the things I like the best about Samuel is that, despite the difficulties of his past, he has turned into a wonderful human being who loves life.

Sarah is quiet and a little bit on the shy side. She grew up in a quiet home and, frankly, never really learned what it means to have fun. She meets Samuel, and suddenly she finds herself laughing and joking, and she's shocked because she didn't know she had it in her. The thing I love the most about Sarah is that, she could have chosen to continue living her life just the way it was, but instead, she chose to change and grow, even when it was awkward and uncomfortable. She wasn't happy with "good enough" for her standard of life. She decided that she didn't want to survive life…she wanted to LIVE life.

Are any of your characters like yourself or based on people you know?

I don't think a writer can create characters without including elements of self. Whether it's in the form of thoughts, themes or ideas, the writer's fingerprints are found throughout the pages. The answer to this question in reference to this book, however, is likely much more complex than you bargained for.

No parent should ever have to write a eulogy for their child. Yet, in April 2012, that is exactly what I was doing. My vibrant, loving, vivacious, wonderful nine-year-old daughter was gone, and I was left with a broken heart as well as a husband and son who needed me, it seemed, to be whole. The week following my daughter’s memorial service, a friend asked, “What are you going to do now?” It was a big question. Following my daughter's death, it felt like all the passion I’d held for life had evaporated into the air like mist and been blown away by the cold wind of grief. “You should think about writing,” that same friend said. And so I did.

I needed to find a way that I could honor and celebrate my daughter's life. When you lose a child, one of the things you fear is that people will forget your child and how wonderful they were, how special they will always be to you. So, when you ask if any of the characters are based on people I know, I have to be honest and tell you that parts of Samuel's character came from my daughter. I wasn't yet emotionally able to try writing a female character for her, but I was able to give Samuel much of her zest for life, and I think he carries it off with great aplomb.

Though the situations faced by my characters are different than what I was going through, I did, figuratively speaking, put questions in their mouths. If you look closely, you will find shared conversations throughout the book that reflect some of the topics I wrestled with as I worked through my grief.

What did you learn in writing Mail Order Man?

SO MUCH!! I learned not to follow a formula. I started that book with a specific formulaic outline for "how to write a romance," and I stuck closely to those guidelines. After all, the guidelines had been put out by a world-renowned publisher of romance. The problem? Certain situations in the book still don't quite "feel right". They weren't natural for me, so they're not natural for my characters. I learned to let the characters speak for me. I did a lot of "preaching" in this book. It wasn't intentional, but as I said, I was working through a few things. In the manuscripts I've written since, I've done a much better job (in my humble but almost completely accurate opinion J) of weaving the faith of my characters into their actions and words rather than allowing my characters to beat each other over the heads with their proverbial Bibles.

I learned to love my editors! I was so excited to get my first edits, and that enthusiasm didn't wane with any of the following rounds of edits. Each time, I saw my manuscript improve by leaps and bounds. Though I'm certain I'll always find things to improve, Mail Order Man is so much more than I ever dreamed it could be, and I owe a LOT of that to the editors with whom I worked. I learned thank you is a verb and thank-you is an adjective. I learned the word that is the most overused word in the English language, or at least in my language. 

Lastly…drum roll please…I learned I can do it. I started it, I finished it, and I loved every minute of it. If they were characters in a book, I'd tell you that my dear friends Confidence and Self-Esteem have learned to stand up straighter, step out of the shadows and take a turn around the dance floor. They're no longer hiding in the corner hoping no one will look their way.

Given that your book is Christian-based, how do you appeal to larger markets?

I have no idea! If you figure this out, please let me know. Honestly, marketing is tough tough tough. I have spent so much of these past months learning about the publication process and editing that spending time on understanding marketing has not been a priority. As I heard another first-time author say recently, "Okay, everyone who loves me has bought the book. Now what!?" If I always have a smaller market share because I write Christian fiction, I'm okay with that. As I said, my subsequent books do a much better job of subtly weaving the faith of the characters into the plot, but it's still a part of the story because it's a part of who I am. I'll tell you a secret, something I'll always believe. Writing this first book and getting it published during a time in my life shrouded with sadness has been nothing but a gift from God. When I could have been consumed by loss, He gave me something to celebrate. How could I then do anything less than honor Him with what I write?

How have your experiences in the past year affected your writing style and/or habits?

My writing style has matured a lot over the last year. I hope it continues to do so. I want to be able to say about each book I write, "This is better than anything I've done before!"

The biggest change to my writing habits has been time. The company I'd spent the last seventeen years working for (from my home office) closed its doors at the end of 2012. I still homeschool my thirteen year old son, but this change in my employment status has freed up a tremendous amount of time for me. Last year, as I was writing Mail Order Man, I'd write any chance I got – even if it was a five or ten minute snatch of time here and there. The problem with that was, there would be something I'd want to say in a chapter, and when I'd go back to review the chapter, I'd read where I'd said it ten times. Because it took multiple snatches of time over the course of a week to complete the chapter, I could never remember from one time to the next what I'd actually written and would end up repeating myself. A lot.

On my first round edits, the editor highlighted a passage of about four paragraphs in Mail Order Man and said "You're use of the word XXXX is distracting." I read through. I swear, I'd used the word about fifteen times in those four paragraphs. And that was AFTER I'd done my own revisions! So – as far as writing habits go, I have been given the ability now to invest chunks of time. It's not a change I'd planned myself, but it's one that has worked out well in the long run. My writing is now more cohesive and less confusing because, when I do write, I can make sure I complete a chapter (or at least a scene) from beginning to end.

Are you writing other books? And are they follow-ups to this one or brand new with new characters?

Yeah!! I love you for asking this question! I have two additional books under contract at present. Mail Order Man is book one in a series called Ladies of Larkspur. In the pages of Mail Order Man, you will have a brief introduction to a young woman named Mary Fitzgerald. Mary is the heroine of my book Just Dessert, which should be out sometime later this year, probably in the fall. The back cover blurb is:

Dessert...the perfect remedy when nothing in life seems to be going right.
What do you do when you are the sole protector of four children, your brothers and sisters?  When each day is haunted by disappointment, disillusionment and desperation?  When you believe that everyone who ever loved you, including God, has abandoned you?
You bake a pie, of course.
What do you do when you find a woman whose heart is consumed by fear?  Who does not know how to trust?  Who scoffs at your faith and throws your kindness back in your face?
You eat a pie, of course.

I also have a contemporary novella coming out later this year, hopefully by late summer. The title is Ten Million Reasons, and I'm including the back cover blurb of that for you as well.

Money talks, and the way she spends hers tells him all he needs to know…
Richard needs to find a woman he can trust, and he needs to find her fast.  He doesn’t have time to waste on getting to know people, which means dating and interviewing are out of the question.  So how can he get past that initial mask of good behavior to learn what people are really like?  Easy!  Give them ten million dollars and watch to see what they do with it.
Genevieve is a free-lance journalist who talks to herself, constantly forgets to put appointments on her calendar and can’t go anywhere without being asked to take a survey.  Why on earth is Richard interested in her?  She doesn’t know it yet, but he has ten million reasons…

I've completed the first draft of another installment in the Ladies of Larkspur series. I don't have a title yet, but it includes murder, political intrigue, kidnapping, and…well, you'll just have to wait and see what else!

Tell us about the editing process. Do you have an editor/agent/publisher ?

Astraea Press is my publisher, and I love them! I've never met a better group of writers, editors and encouragers. Okay, so maybe I haven't met ANY other groups of writers & editors, but you know what I mean. I'm proud to be a part of AP.

My publisher provides editors for me. Each manuscript goes through four rounds of editing because, let's face it, no matter how many times you read a page, you're still going to miss something. I am just at the very beginning of the process with my second and third manuscripts, but with my first manuscript, I had two different editors, which pleased me to no end. Someone might complain about "too many cooks in the kitchen." I, on the other hand, was thrilled! The way I see it, the more skilled sets of skilled eyes I have on my manuscript, the more likely it is that problem areas and mistakes will get caught. There are authors out there who pay for editing, and had my manuscript been rejected, I would have looked into that…and would have quickly fainted at the cost. For me and my family, it would have been far too cost prohibitive.

No agent for me just yet. It's difficult for a beginning author to get an agent. I have such a good working relationship with my publisher, too, that I don't feel the need right now. I am, however, working on a collection of essays about – or insights into – grief. At this time, AP does not publish non-fiction, so when I complete those essays and pull them together into a manuscript; I will likely try to find an agent to help me get it published. By then, I will hopefully have enough fiction titles in publication that it will be easier for me to get an agent to consider my work. It seems a bit like a catch twenty-two – If you need an agent to get published, but you can't get an agent until you've already been published, what are you supposed to do? I am thankful that I found a publisher willing to consider my work without an agent and without previous publications.

Will you be on GoodReads?

YES! My publisher will be getting the book listed on GoodReads sometime soon. Once the book is on GR I'll be able to create an author profile so that, in the future, people will be able to go to my author page right there on GR and see all available books.

For now, “Mail Order Man” is available as an $2.99 ebook on the following sites:


Barnes & Noble:

Direct from Publisher:!/~/product/category=662245&id=22044087

**edit**  There is also a way to get a downloaded copy of the book onto your iPhone, and I only mention it  because I had to do this, and the process was new for me.  First, make sure you have the iBooks app on your phone.  Then download the book Direct from the Publisher, then connect your iPhone to your computer.  iTunes will open up.  At that point, open up the Books option as well as the folder you downloaded the book to.  Drag the book file to your Books folder and voila!  Book on iPhone.  Yay!

I am so proud of my friend Heather for finding and pursuing this dream, for looking adversity in the face and producing something positive, and for being such a wonderful example of Christ's love for us. I look forward to reading "Mail Order Man" and future works from her as well.


jeff7salter said...

Enjoyed the interview.
You certainly covered a LOT of material.
I identified with many of your comments, especially about how characters borrow parts of the author's being.
Also, that writing is a drive which can't simply be ignored or swapped for something else.

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

I had no idea a mere hyphen changes "Thank you" from a verb to a adjective. Good to know since my knowledge of grammar and punctuation is embarrassing me each day.

I love the pie book, sounds like a winner!

Christi Corbett

Heather said...

Thank you for letting me stop by today! Maybe you should have included some pictures from "the old days"...NAH!! Good call on that one! :)

Lisa @ Fern Creek Cottage said...

I so enjoyed this interview! Your friend has a wonderful voice and after reading the interview I really want to read her book!