It is an honor to host author Heather Day Gilbert today for a blog interview. Heather just released her second book yesterday, a mystery novel called Miranda Warning. Her first book, God’s Daughter, is based on the Icelandic sagas and was released last October.
Aly: How did you learn the craft of creative writing? Did you study English or other writing intensive subjects in college? Did you participate in creative writing workshops? Or did you learn by writing over and over until you liked what you wrote enough to share with others?
Heather: Great question! I did indeed take many English/Creative Writing classes in college, one of which was Novel Writing. Let's just say the novel I thought I'd write then probably had a pretty lame plotline! I also wrote for two newspapers, so that helped me hone my writing "on the job," as it were. Also, I had an agent who was also an editor, and he opened my eyes to ways I could make my writing stronger. I have read a couple books on the craft of writing, but it seems like advice in that regard varies. The key is to know the writing "rules," learn how to work within them, and then learn to change them up and even break them as necessary to develop your own voice. I'm not talking about basic grammar rules, just stylistic things. :)
Aly: Miranda Warning is your first mystery novel, and budding detective Tess Spencer has great natural instincts for sleuthing. Did you grow up reading children’s books like Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, or did you discover the mystery genre as an older reader?
Heather: Yes! I did indeed grow up imbibing mysteries. Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew...then I graduated to Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, and others. Agatha is still one of my favorites and it's a wonder I didn't name one of my daughters after her...
Aly: Plants play a fairly prominent role in both of your books, though Tess is not an herbalist like fictional detectives Brother Cadfael or China Bayles. Do you enjoy gardening or herb craft?
Heather: I do enjoy flower gardening. I wouldn't say I'm an expert in any regard, but finding out how herbs/plants were used for healing in Viking times (with my first novel, God's Daughter) and how they can be used for nefarious purposes (as in Miranda Warning) is such an enlightening process. I think poisoners are pretty scary enemies...I'm picturing the poisoner wife in The Count of Monte Cristo, in particular. Chilling.
Aly: Both of your books convey a strong sense of place, through the setting are very different. Writing about Vinland and Greenland of a thousand years ago clearly required a great deal or research, but I am also wondering if you encountered any special challenges in writing about a very familiar place and time – in your case, present-day West Virginia? Do you have to be careful not to make a place or a person too much like the real version? Do neighbors and friends get upset if they think they are written in as an unflattering character, or not written in at all?
Heather: Insightful question...so far, no one has asked me if I've written a character based on him/her. Most of my characters are composites of people I've known, not just one person in particular. And as far as location...it was difficult to wrap my mind around Iceland/Greenland/Vinland in AD 1000; however, I knew the climate was different (warmer) than what it is now, given the trees they used to build homes, etc. I've lived in upstate New York, so I know a bit about that colder northern climate. It's the burning desire of my heart to visit L'anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland someday, to see where Vikings came to North America.
I think forests are a linking theme in all my books, and I know quite a bit about those, since I hung out in the woods every chance I got as a child/teen. As far as challenges writing about the West Virginia setting, the main one I have is that Tess Spencer lives in a different area of the state than I do, so I do want to make another research trip up that way and make sure I'm describing the topography correctly. I've already visited Point Pleasant, the town near Tess, since I knew I eventually wanted to write a book dealing with the legend of the Mothman (famous in that town). So I do have a basic grasp of that town and outlying areas. I do think many cultural things are the same throughout the state, however.
Aly: Conversion is a sub-plot in both of your books. In God’s Daughter we see Gudrid learning her new faith at the same time the Icelandic people generally are undergoing conversion to Christianity from their traditional pagan beliefs. In Miranda Warning, Tess is starting to show signs of a personal conversion towards a more active Christian life as she interacts with those around her. Are you inspired by conversion stories from your own life?
Heather: Yes, definitely, my Christianity plays a part in everything I write and how I view the world in general. I do love to show characters that are struggling with their beliefs, because I know we all wrestle with spiritual things at some point in our lives. Usually those struggles either draw us closer to God or we pull away from Him. For me to be honest in my writing, my characters have to ask those hard questions and they don't always find the answers easily. I think most classics wrestle with these larger themes, as well--the problem of evil, what role God plays in our lives, our purpose for living, etc.
Thank you so much for letting me visit your blog today!
Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Seventeen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as eleven years spent homeschooling. Heather regularly posts on Novel Rocket about self-publishing.
You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert--Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Her Viking novel, God's Daughter, is an Amazon bestseller. You can find it on Amazon and Audible.com. Her Appalachian mystery, Miranda Warning, released June 20th and you can find it here.