In the spirit of brave self-promotion, I continue today’s post (see Heuer Advance Review) with an interview given by yours truly to the ever intrepid Bernard Foong. It’s another first for me, and another reason to do a victory lap around the neighborhood (after I shovel the sidewalk), because self promotion goes against everything I was taught growing up. Careers in politics, the car business and funeral service notwithstanding, I have managed to stay under the wire…until now.
Heuer, Heuer. What have you done?
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
That’s always a bit tough for me. I was raised in another time where shouting out accomplishments was
considered rude. But I’ll try. I’m a Pisces that celebrates the Year of the Snake, but unlike dear vain snake, work extremely hard not to be mendacious. (Laughs) I have a furtive imagination, love art in all its forms, and cannot live without music playing somewhere in the background. If forced to choose between comedy and drama, comedy wins…every time.
- What do you do when you are not writing?
That’s easy! I’m outside. Unlike you, dear friend, I live in the four seasons (hint of jealousy here) and have the coats, boots and sunscreen that goes with them. I have a large wild flower garden that I tend in summer, and a very long driveway I shovel in winter. And I love classic cars, particularly those from the muscle era. Summer and autumn are for road tripping to see the shows. I try to get to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, Michigan every other year.
- Do you have a day job as well?
Yes, although I am on hiatus and that has paid off, as you see (big grin). I’m a funeral director, licensed to practice in Ontario, Canada. For me, it ranks as one of the best jobs I’ve ever had next to seeing to my family.
- When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I began writing in 2010 in response to the loss of a dear friend. In funeral service, the families we serve ask how to cope with the pain. One way to manage is to seek out others—groups, counselors—those who have walked in their shoes and really know how it feels. Another approach is to write a grief journal. My friend and I went through school together, and during that time we became sympats where comedy was concerned. We laughed at the same things. It didn’t take long for my journal to take a comedic turn before straying off into outright fiction. I finished Heuer five years later.
- How did you choose the genre you write in?
The characters decided it for me. They are bossy, incorrigible and I completely adore them. They were impossible to ignore.
- Where do you get your ideas?
I put a foot out the door and live day to day. You wouldn’t believe the kind of trouble you can get into at the grocery store.
- Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Absolutely, but it’s more likely because another story or character is nagging at me. My first teacher called this popcorn writing, where you just push away from the current project and go on a tangent with a wild horse scene. It’s exciting and informs the other projects.
- Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I mull for about a year, and then churn out the first draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I don’t plot per
se, but I do know where I’m going before I begin. This is also where some of those popcorn scenes find a home. After the first draft is complete, I return to the previous project in line to revise and refine. It’s a whole system that works for me. You see why I had to go on hiatus?
- Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Absolutely everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote. From him and Dr. Seuss, I learned the value of having outrageous character names. My current fiction includes a hysteric named Sigrid Bork. I love her.
- Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I worried a lot about having one book followed by writer’s block to shut me down for good. So I decided to
get some manuscripts down—four to be precise—so that I’d have a body of work to play with when pitching to agents and publishers. The last four years were dedicated to pure creation without pressure to produce to a contract. It was sensational. During that time, I plugged into Twitter pitch parties on the recommendation of a writer friend, and that’s when things really started to happen. I queried, synopsized, wrote dozens of tag lines and met hundreds of amazing people who got me to Solstice Publishing. Now I have to learn about and engage in—boots first—marketing, which is very challenging because of the way I was raised (see question one). I’m enjoying Twitter parties and blogging. Frankly, I didn’t know I had it in me. A great surprise.
- If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Nope. It was all organic. I tripped, I fell, I studied, and I applied. I got better.
- How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
It’s early in, so stats aren’t there, but I will direct a lot of applause to the writing groups I belong to—The Booklin 7, Writers Community of Durham Region, and amazing teachers at Writescape—for plugging me in with others dedicated to the same goals. Marketing is a learning curve and a steep one, so look to others engaged in the same activity; ask questions and try things on. Tweet, Tweet, Tweet. Blog, blog, blog, and follow your publisher and agent advice. Support other writers by reading their work, reviewing and attending their promotional events. If you want society to know about you, you must socialize.
- Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
I love them all, but can only dedicate my energies to one at a time. The others? Their day will come.
- Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Heuer Lost and Found is adult, unapologetic and cognizant with a hint of dark humor. At 237 pages, it is a
compact study that rocks ’n’ rolls with the help of an erudite Latin speaking rat and a wise-cracking floor lamp with ulterior motives. They’re off beat and badly needed to help my protagonists: a dead, unrepentant cooze hound lawyer, and his very much alive boozy lady undertaker who he used to know back in the Eighties.
- Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I think all fiction is informed by real life experiences, but I have yet to meet sentient rats or floor lamps. (laughs) The funeral home in Heuer is actually a composite of four different establishments, none of which survives today. As to the characters, some guy buddies insist that they are Heuer, but they’re not. There’s actually a little of me in him, but I guess it’s to be expected if I’m the one behind the keyboard.
- What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
SPOILER: The very end, because it’s where the Kleenex box comes out. When that happened, I knew I’d got it right.
- How did you come up with the title?
From the short story. Heuer actually made it into three separate shorts before becoming a full-fledged novel character.
- What project are you working on now?
Poor Undertaker is next in the series, which tracks the ups and downs of the Weibigand Brothers funeral establishment. Its every bit as much a joy as the first, second and so on, because I see this remarkable building go through all its incantations. At one point, it’s actually bought up and is not a funeral parlor any more.
- Will you have a new book coming out soon?
We’re at least a year away, I think. Scooter Nation is next, but I’d like to give it another go over before setting it free.
- Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
Absolutely. My series is non sequential, so the character that dies in one is born again in the next. They’re
never far away. There are a number of themes I return to, but some of my favorites include: the negative impacts of nostalgia; the problem with prying; insular people coming out into the light; finding kindness in peculiar places; and letting go of that thing you need so that you can keep it forever.
- What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I’m an upbeat person, so if I’m criticized, I turn it into a plus by learning something from it. The best compliment I ever had came from a teacher who said my voice was “strong and unusual”. That really made my day.
- Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Get it all down before trying to make sense of it. It’s a journey and often a very long one. Enjoy every leg of it knowing that there’s more just ahead.
- Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Observe, listen, and do not ignore the excellence to be found on HBO, Netflix, Showcase, etc. This is your university.