Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Author Interview w/Heather Hummel, Author of Whispers From The Heart

In association with Chick Lit Plus (CLP), Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host a Virtual Book Tour Event: Author Interview w/Heather Hummel, Author of Whispers From The Heart!

Welcome Heather to Jersey Girl Book Reviews!

Before we start the interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

In an interview with Victoria Moran, she introduced me to her audience by saying, "Heather Hummel is a writer's writer" because I write in multiple platforms and genres. I've won awards, I've had best-selling books, but at the end of the day, I am a writer's writer who writes because I love it more than anything else (well. other than my dogs). 

How long have you been a writer?

I'm one of those writers who wanted to be a writer my whole life. Finally, for my fortieth birthday, I gave myself the gift of leaving teaching (high school English) to write full time. That was six years ago; shortly thereafter I landed my first big gig with McGraw-Hill and haven't stopped since. 

Do you have a "day job," or is being an author your career?

I have a very cool day job - walking, feeding, walking (again), and entertaining my two dogs. They're the best bosses. When we're done, they let me go work on my career, which beyond writing my own books entails ghostwriting, editing and publishing for clients.

What inspired you to become a writer?

My grandmother was a writer, and I spent much of my youth writing stories that I sent to her for review and critique. This was long before e-mail, of course, and she lived in California while I was in Connecticut, so there were lots of envelopes going back and forth.

What was your inspiration for your first book?

My high school students inspired WHISPERS FROM THE HEART. I had a very good rapport with them, and when I incorporated journal writing into my curricula it opened up a whole new world for all of us. When teens trust you, they will be brutally honest and open with you. That speaks volumes about your relationship with them, but also creates a great level of responsibility for the teacher. It's that connection between teacher and student that I wanted to explore, while also showing the real issues teachers face in their daily lives outside of the classroom. In Madison's case, she faced recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship and learning to trust in herself for the first time in her life.

Please give a brief description / storyline about Whispers From The Heart.

The previous answer is what prompted the storyline:

Madison Ragnar is determined to connect with her high school students, to finish her next running race with a respectable time, and to avoid ever falling in love again. 

But life has other plans for Madison. Michael shows up in her life in the most unexpected places, raising questions from her best friend, Olivia, and issues around Madison's last relationship.

When Madison meets Phil, who throws a wrench in her declaration to not fall in love, it seems that her escape through miles of running is the only real footing she has in life. So, I ask the readers which they believe: does fate determine Madison's life? Or does she have a say in its outcome? 

What was the inspiration for the Journal From The Heart series?

Journal writing is an incredibly powerful tool, and it can be used in so many ways. With each novel of the Journal From The Heart series, I explore different uses for journal writing - a high school teacher who incorporates journal writing into her classes (WHISPERS), an aspiring writer who reflects on old journals to see where her life went wrong and then uses positive journal writing to to reinvent a better life (WRITE), and finally, a fourteen year old who learns she was adopted (WISDOM ... forthcoming). 

What genres are your favorite(s)? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why?

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was my favorite as both a high school student and years later as a teacher. Madison in WHISPERS explores why a mockingbird sings with her students, which leads them to a very powerful lesson.

Do you have a special "spot/area" where you like to do your writing?

Even though being a full time writer gives the illusion of a lot of freedom with my time, I'm very ritualistic and write from the same coffee shop daily (they have my Arnold Palmer ready for me when I walk in!). At night I write at my grandmother's old writing desk.

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books?

Cycling is my muse. I ride about 16-22 miles almost daily and while I'm out there the ideas just flow. The problem is trying to remember them all by the time I get home, shower and sit down to write. I've had to train myself to store the thoughts in part of my brain where I can pull from again!

From concept to publication, about how long does it take for you to complete a book and have it released?

Nowadays a writer can write a book and have it on Kindle in a matter of days. Traditional publishing is quite different. With my first release, GRACEFULLY: LOOKING AND BEING YOUR BEST AT ANY AGE, I started the process in November of '06. I landed my agent within two weeks; we secured the publisher (McGraw-Hill) within two months; I wrote the book in three months time: it went through copyediting, layout and design for about seven months, and we celebrated its release in the spring of '08. That was about an 18 month process from landing the agent to release, and for the traditional publishing route, that's pretty much a Cinderella story!

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes? 

Both. Being so routine oriented, I tend to write for several hours from morning to mid-afternoon, then I head out on my bike or for a hike or swimming (motion is my muse), and then after dinner I write until around midnight. Unless Grey's Anatomy is on. All things stop for McDreamy.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most?

My novels' characters tend to set up shop in my head and tell me how it's going to be ... how their story is meant to play out. Story writing has always felt as though they're using me as a vehicle to tell their story. It's a great way to write because it takes the pressure off of me, and I have never had writer's block.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing?

Cycling, of course. And taking my dogs to Carmel Beach. The sheer joy they have playing on the beach is priceless. It's a dog-friendly beach where dogs can run and play off-leash. My lab especially loves to run in after the waves, but when he sees they're coming at him, he runs back to shore. My mini German Shepherd loves to bask in the sun. It's a win-win-win when we head down there. 

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received? 

"Be the writer," which was told to me by a very wise spiritual counselor. It seems so simple, but if you think about it, talking about "wanting to be a writer (or anything for that matter) is just your lips getting a workout. Sitting down and doing it, being it, is what makes you a writer. 

My cousin, artist Dick Crispo, also once said: "Don't ever let anything get in the way of what you love to do!" complete with Italian finger shaking. Sometimes we need to hear the simplest of words. 

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?

Knowing when I wake up that I get to spend my day doing what I love.

How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans?

I've connected in a variety of ways. I used to do a lot of book signings, which were always great for connecting directly with readers. These days it's all social media, so I'm on Facebook and Twitter often (probably too often!). I run contests on my fan page often, too. Once in a while I send out an e-announcement to my e-list when I have something big and exciting to report ... in fact, I have one of those coming up soon!

Are anythings in your books based on real life experiences, or are they purely all from your imagination?

WHISPERS is based on my teaching experiences. WRITE is based on my breaking away from a 9-5 office management job and later my aspirations to be a full time writer. But, the forthcoming WISDOM is pure fiction. It's about a fourteen year old who finds out she's adopted. And though my five siblings would probably like to believe I was adopted, alas, we have the same parents.

What author(s) have been your inspiration to become a writer?

I love answering this question because I believe there's a difference between inspiration and influence. So, to answer it fairly, just one author was my inspiration: my grandmother. Yet, I have been influenced subconsciously by many others over the years.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

I pass on George Martin's advice. He was the producer for the Beatles and was once asked the same question about people wanting to break into the music industry.

His response was, "I would discourage them." 

Naturally, the interviewer would respond with, "But, why? It's such a great and exciting life!"

And it's George's follow-up response that holds the truth.

"Because if they can be discouraged, they should be discouraged."

And the same goes for writing or any other career. If it's not your passion, if you can be discouraged, then go find what makes you excited to wake up in the morning. 

I will add that I don't take kindly to people who say they want to "quit their day job so they can do what I do." I've worked incredibly hard to be where I am today and though people see this career as a "luxury career," it's anything but. You have to have the gumption to stick to writing daily, you have to have thick enough skin to handle negative reviews and still keep on writing, you have to be prepared to work twice the hours that your 9-5 job requires of you because it's not just writing - it's marketing and self-promoting, and you have to be a good enough writer. 

Ultimately, answering to yourself about what you did or didn't accomplish that day can be more brutal than answering to a boss. So, if you can do these and have the passion for it, then indeed, it's a fabulous career. 

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit with us?

I am. I'm finishing WISDOM FROM THE HEART, the third in the Journals From The Heart series. I'm also really excited about my fourth novel. It's different than any other I've written and will be accompanied by a documentary. Both the novel and the documentary are titled $1 AND $100.

The novel tracks a $1 bill and a $100 bill through the different hands/time/places they pass through, with an emphasis on how each person relates to them when they have them in hand. It starts off in the mid-seventies with a young, widowed waitress working at a diner on Route 66. She receives a $100 bill as a tip from a family who learns she's a widow with a son. Her son, Jack Sampson, is 7 and receives the $1 bill. Jack writes his name on both bills before they find their way out into the world and into others' hands.

For the documentary, I'll be traveling in early 2012 filming interviews with people of all walks of life about how they relate to money: what did their parents teach them? Has their perception changed? Did they have a financial-defining moment? Did they have a financial mentor? What are they teaching their children about money? All of those types of questions that will in essence get to the core of how our society relates to money. I don't know if it's been done before - a novel launched with a theme related documentary - but it's allowing me to incorporate my love for photography and film as well and, of course, to continue to expand my platform and genres. 

I would like to thank Heather for the opportunity to interview her, and for being so gracious to spend some time with us! Good luck with your writing career, I look forward to reading many more of your books! :)

** Leave a comment on Heather's blog tour page to be entered to win a $10 gift card to Amazon: Heather Hummel's Blog Tour Page. If you purchase your copy of WHISPERS FROM THE HEART from October 7-31 and send your receipt to Samantha at, you will get five bonus entries! **

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  1. Fantastic interview Kathleen! (And Heather :))

  2. I can't help but think that the students who had her for a teacher are very lucky :)

    Great post!

  3. I would agree, I think they were lucky too! :)