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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Desire to Write: Author Interview with Heidi McCahan

Heidi secretly dreamed of writing a book for most of her childhood, but a particularly painful rejection letter in middle school convinced her to tuck that dream away. Instead, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Medicine from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, and a Master’s Degree in Athletic Training from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. But those writing and publishing dreams eventually became reality.

What made you decide to write your first novel?
I've always wanted to be a writer, it just took me a long time to finally sit down and figure out how to make it happen. The concept for my first novel, Unraveled, came to me when I was feeding our first child in the middle of the night. I wrote a paragraph or two the next day, then several years went by, we had two more kids and moved across the country before I felt a strong desire to pursue creative writing. I feel writing is a calling, so to not write is to waste a God-given gift.

Are you an avid reader of sweet romance novels?
Yes, I am. I read both inspirational and general market romance. 

How long did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
I spent approximately two years writing Unraveled. The rewrites were numerous. Some chapters were re-written 7 times, others had 2 or 3 rounds of revisions.

Who helped you with the editing?
Sally Bradley was my editor. My friends and family are very supportive and encourage me with every book I write and celebrate when a book is published.

Are you active with any writing critique groups? 
Yes, I have been a part of critique groups in the past, which I found through my membership in American Christian Fiction Writers. At the moment, we are all busy with family and jobs and writing so we aren't actively critiquing as often as we'd like. Generally speaking, if a writer can find a critique group that's a good fit, it's wise to have a critique partner. 

Did you ever want to give up on writing the book and getting it published?
There's a period of time with every manuscript when I want to give up. That's part of the process. I just finished my 11th manuscript, and even though I'm proud of the story and I look forward to seeing it published someday, writing is very difficult work and I was tempted to quit several times. But if I quit, then that story won't ever reach my readers, so I try to keep that in mind and just keep going, one scene at a time.

How many publishers or agents did you pitch before getting your manuscript published? 
My first novel, Unraveled was originally published by a small press that's no longer in business. I didn't want to lose momentum with my readers when the publisher unexpectedly closed, nor did I want to un-publish the book, so I had a new cover designed and independently published the novel as a second edition. I'm glad I was able to do that because Unraveled is a favorite among my readers. Because of their enthusiasm and requests for more stories featuring the characters, I've written and published a novella and a sequel, and have plans to write at least two more books in the series. 

What was it like doing your own publishing of that book?
Whether independent or traditionally published, being an author is the equivalent of running a small business and demands a lot of time and attention to detail. There's a myth in this industry that traditional publishers handle everything once the book is contracted, and that is just not true. While a publishing house takes on the expense of editing, production and some of the marketing, every author has a responsibility to market their books, build relationships with readers, and stay informed about current trends regardless of their path to publication.

How did you find your agent?
I am represented by Jessica Kirkland. I met her at the national conference for American Christian Fiction Writers. I believe she was the second agent I pitched to and she offered representation a few months later. For those who aren't familiar with pitching to an agent at a conference, this means writers attending the conference sign up for appointments with agents and editors.

The appointments are usually 15 minutes and the author presents the agent or editor with a brief summary of a completed manuscript, unique details about the work that set it apart from titles already published, perhaps discuss plans for marketing the book, etc. It's an exciting and stressful experience. I'm very thankful that Jessica is my agent.

What was that process like? How did you get involved with Harlequin?
I started entering Harlequin Love Inspired's contests in 2012 or 2013. I can't remember the exact year. I did not advance to the final rounds in the first two contests I entered, but the feedback I received encouraged me to keep trying.

In 2015 I entered a paragraph and a back cover blurb in the Blurb-2-Book contest. That led to a request for a full manuscript. Although I didn't win the contest, the process required that I complete the manuscript. Then the editor I worked with encouraged me to keep revising and she offered a contract after the revisions were complete. That book is called The Firefighter's Twins and it was published in 2018. Harlequin Love Inspired also offered me a second contract and that book releases in May of 2019. 

What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The hardest part of writing for me is completing the first draft. Discipline and determination are necessary to get the words on the page/screen and it's also emotionally exhausting to draft a complete novel. Revisions are where the magic happens, and I know that, but it takes a great deal of effort to get to that magical place. 

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
My editors remind me to do A LOT of things. Consistently I'm encouraged to make sure there is enough external and internal conflict to sustain the plot throughout the whole novel.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Never, ever give up.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it?
Rejection is a part of the writing process and it is painful and discouraging. However, there is something to be learned from every rejection, even if it takes a few days or weeks or months to see the proverbial silver lining. I don't have a formula or an easy method for bouncing back. My best advice is to read books you really enjoy, put the rejected manuscript away for a while and fill up your creative well.

Maybe that means you read or try a different form of creative art, watch movies, spend time with people and live life. Eventually, the desire to create a new story will spring up and it will be time to try again. This is when strong writing friends can come alongside and encourage, offer constructive feedback on your new idea, and generally cheer you on. 

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
The wheels of traditional publishing turn slowly, while things move really fast in the indie world. That contrast is both surprising and frustrating. It's tricky to navigate both realms sometimes. 

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
Writing a full novel is much harder than I expected and requires a lot of time, energy and intentional living. I didn't realize all the ways creative writing would impact my life. While I can step away from the computer or put down my pen and close my notebook, I can't exactly turn off my brain. Writers are either writing or thinking about writing.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
In addition to never giving up, I'd recommend reading voraciously, especially in the genre you're writing and if you want to be traditionally published, read the books your ideal publishing house is currently releasing. Harlequin Love Inspired editors say this over and over: read currently published books to get an idea of what sells. A lot of writers don't want to take this advice and I'm offering it again because it is so important.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Even if a writer isn't published yet, start connecting with other writers and readers. The internet makes it so easy. Pick one social media platform that you like and build a presence there. Join a Facebook group with readers who read what you write and actively participate in the conversation. Try to get on a launch team for an author you admire so you can see how he/she markets the book. There's always something to learn and opportunities to grow.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
My next Harlequin Love Inspired release is Their Baby Blessing and it arrives May 21, 2019. Here are some brief details…
The Navy prepared him for anything … except for an instant family.
When Navy veteran Gage Westbrook promised to look out for his late best friend’s son, he never imagined he’d bond with the baby boy. And he definitely didn’t plan to fall for Connor’s gorgeous temporary guardian, Skye Tomlinson. But weighted by guilt for the accident that took Connor’s dad, can Gage find the courage to forgive himself and embrace the chance at a family?

That’s all for today’s interview. If you’d like to learn more about Heidi’s writing and new books, here are some links to get you started.


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