Interview: Kat Heckenback


What genres do you read most?

Fantasy, especially YA fantasy. Just about anything with magic and dragons will grab my attention. Books like Harry Potter and Inkheart.  But I like YA books with faeries and other paranormal creatures, dystopian, horror, and science fiction as well.

Who are your favorite authors, and what makes them special to you?

JK Rowling, Madeline L’Engle, Suzanne Collins, Catherine Fisher, Nova Ren Suma, Scott Westerfeld, Christopher Paolini….this list could get rather long. What makes them special is their ability to draw me into another world. They have detailed and unique story worlds, incredible characterization and voice. Mythical creatures, magic, adventure…

When did you decide you wanted to write?

Oddly, I can pinpoint the day I decided to write, but the “when” of wanting to is another story.

One day in August of 2007, I was talking to my husband about feeling like there was something I needed to do, but I had no idea what. He looked me in the eye and said, “If you want to write a book, I’ll be supportive.” The words hit me hard, and I left to clear my head with a trip to Barnes & Noble (which shoulda been my first clue that writing was hovering there). As I strolled around, memories surfaced that had been buried for years—me, as a teen, scribbling on a legal pad, wishing desperately to see my name on the spine of a book someday.

And so I sat down and wrote. I gave myself one chance. Either words would flow, or they would not. If they did, I’d put 100% into getting the book published. If they did not, that day would be my one and only attempt at writing.

How many books have you written, and how many of them have been published?

Two books complete and published. My YA fantasy Finding Angel released September 2011 and the sequel Seeking Unseen released September 2012. I’m about 3/4 of the way through another novel, unrelated to the Finding Angel series. Everything else so far has been short stories.

Can you tell us a little about your latest book?

Here’s the official back cover copy for Seeking Unseen. I think it says it best:

It may be Angel’s wish…..
IT’S BEEN two years since Angel learned the magic chip of wood inside her locket would grant any wish. What is taking her so long to choose?
An alarming discovery about her beloved foster brother Zack makes the decision easy…but everything else gets complicated after she runs into her old friend Melinda, who demands to go along for the return to Toch Island.
…but it’s Melinda’s journey.
MELINDA doesn’t fit in with the magical freaks any more than she did with the losers back in Florida, but she never wanted to belong before. A secret world surrounds her where even the bugs have magic…
She’s more of an outsider than ever.
So when ex-con Doran Ashe slinks out of the shadows and offers her an easy road to powers of her own, Melinda follows him despite—or maybe because of—everyone’s warnings.

What one piece of advice would you give to a beginning writer?

Don’t rush. Take your time to learn craft. Take your time to rewrite and edit. Get critiques from other, experienced writers. LISTEN to them. Take their suggestions seriously, while learning what advice to discard. All of that takes time. The worst thing a writer can do is rush toward publication like a charging bull. Those stories you read about the first-time authors who become rich and famous are in the news because they are rare. Very, very rare. Chances are, that will not be you, so don’t try to force it. Concentrate on learning to write, honing your craft, and then when you have put in your time and sweated your share of blood, go in search of a publisher.

What is your writing schedule like? Do you write only when inspired?

Schedule? What is that?

Seriously, I homeschool so I have my kids around all day. I write when the kids are done with schoolwork, when the house (on those rare occasions) is quiet, late at night, early in the morning…when I’m inspired and when I’m under pressure of a deadline.

Some writers can set aside a certain time each day, set a goal of so many words each day, etc. I can’t do that. I am a very neat and orderly person when it comes to my physical environment (nearly obsessively so), but I am all kinds of messy when it comes to mental creativity.

Did your parents encourage your love for reading and/or writing? If not, where did encouragement come from?

Oh, yes! My mom read to me a lot when I was young, and as soon as I could read myself I took over. She encouraged that very much. So did my dad, even though he’s never been a big reader himself. And they BOTH have been incredibly supportive of my writing. Everyone in my family has been. My husband watches the kids when I go to writers meetings and such, and he takes them to my in-laws’ to spend time when I really need quiet days to write. My kids have been fantastic, too. So understanding of Mommy always clicking away at the laptop, rejoicing with me every time I sell a short story. My 9-year-old daughter proudly wears the t-shirt I designed with my first book cover on it, and thanks God every night that I am getting my writing published.

Do you like the promotional aspect of being a writer? What are your best promotional tools?

I’ll be honest–some days I think of giving up writing so I can never have to “promote” again. But the truth is, I enjoy meeting readers and talking about writing. I simply steer clear of anything that feels sales-y. I have found that my biggest fans have come from people I just connect with on a normal, day-to-day basis.

How did you study the craft of writing?

In any way I could. Actually, any way I can. There is no “did” in studying craft–it has to stay “do”–present tense. It should be something that a writer never stops.

I attend as many free writing workshops as I can in my area, and have spent a couple of days at writing conferences. I participate in three writers groups (critique groups) in my area, and I have several online critique partners. I read gobs of fiction to see how great writers do it. I also read books on craft, which is something that seems to be addressed in the next question….

Are you a plotter or a panster? Explain your writing process.

I am an in-between-ster. I tend to loosely outline. I have point A and point B all worked out. I plan the major plot events ahead of time. But I let all the details work themselves out during the writing. I also have scenes kind of just drop into my head now and then, so I will go ahead and write them and then weave them in as I go. Generally, I don’t write from beginning to end–it’s more like working toward the middle from both the beginning and end.

How did you get your first book published? How long did it take? Was this the first book you had written?

Yes, my first published book was the first book I wrote. I did the querying agents thing for a while, and toward the end started getting some good feedback. I realized, after some time, that my early query letters were awful. So it didn’t matter than my book was well-written, I was not hooking the agents with my stinky query letters. When I let go of trying to sound professional and perfectionist, and let my voice come through in my query, I started getting some nibbles, but by then I was so frustrated by the whole process.

Then, one day on a writers Yahoo loop I follow, a small press called Splashdown Books posted a call-out for an artist. I draw, and I thought I could handle the request, which was a rendering of an old-fashioned skeleton key. I submitted the drawing, they accepted it, and before long I was communicating regularly with the owner of Splashdown Books, Grace Bridges. After a while, she asked me if she could read my manuscript.

I said no.

Just kidding! Of course, I had it emailed to her in about 1/100th of a second. And after she read it, she offered me a contract! It was a bit of a step out on a limb for her, because until then she’d never published YA.  But it’s been a great experience for both of us. Finding Angel immediately became one of her top sellers, and the whole process of going from draft to published novel taught me much more than I think I could have learned by being published with a large press. I was allowed a peek into, and often participation in many of the steps along they way, including cover art. I did drawings for both my covers, actually, and designed the cover concepts.

Why do you write?

To be honest, I am one of those writers who started writing because I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book. I wanted publication. I was never compelled to write just for the sake of it, the way I was always compelled to draw just for the sake of it. But now, I don’t think I could just stop, regardless of publication status. I love the characters I’ve created, and the story worlds they live in. And I love the community of writers I’ve become a part of. I feel like I belong in the writing world, simple as that.

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Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her YA fantasy novels Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen are available in print and ebook. Visit her website and blog at:  http://katheckenbach.wordpress.com/ and http://www.katheckenbach.com/