Kristen Heitzmann: Inspirational Writer
(January 22, 2004)
"In writing an inspirational romance, I first create the characters, put them in conflict, give them "real-life" challenges that provoke questions into the deeper meanings of life, and give them an opportunity to confront the things of faith, relationship, grief, longing, and the myriad emotions that drive our thoughts and decisions."
Inspirational romance has been a fairly mixed bag to me, as a reader. I've read some very good authors like Francine Rivers and Jane Orcutt, but much of the time I end up frustrated that the romance content of the book doesn't match the inspirational content. So I was excessively pleased to come across Kristen Heitzmann, whose books are both romantic and faith-centered. She writes about the hard places in life people sometimes find themselves in, and how God uses the hands of the faithful to touch those who are hurting. I had some questions for Kristen about how she manages to do this so well, and she was gracious enough to provide the answers.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Colorado with my husband, two sons still at home, and a son and daughter in college and two cats. I am a music minister with the People of Praise, an ecumenical covenant community with branches throughout the U.S., Canada, Jamaica, and Haiti. I like to hike, camp, read, and do anything artistic.
How long have you been writing professionally?
I have written professionally for six years, though several of my stories were in my head long before that with rough drafts already written.
You seem to have had a number of new releases over the past several years. How long does it take you to research and write a book? How much of your life is given over to your writing?
The time it takes to research and write a book really varies for me. Some of the books have poured out in weeks, others have taken years. This last year my husband has come home to assist our writing endeavor by handling the house and much of the kids' activities, and that has enabled me to focus more time on the stories. It can get pretty consuming, and one of the difficulties is finding a balance. It is sometimes really hard to move from the fictional world to real one and vice versa.
As a writer, what is more interesting to you, developing plot or developing character? Which is harder to accomplish? Do you start a book with a set-in-stone, detailed outline, knowing exactly what is going to happen? Or do you start with a set of characters and see what they do?
As a writer, I am completely character driven. My plots are what happen to the people I create, and I definitely don't determine the plot in advance. I don't think I could outline a story to save my life. Well, maybe under life threatening circumstances, but what fun would it be to know what happens before my characters do?
When writing an inspirational romance, how hard is it to balance the inspirational with the romance?
In writing an inspirational romance, I first create the characters, put them in conflict, give them "real-life" challenges that provoke questions into the deeper meanings of life, and give them an opportunity to confront the things of faith, relationship, grief, longing, and the myriad emotions that drive our thoughts and decisions. It isn't a problem for me to balance the inspirational nature of the story with the love story because to me they are intricately entwined.
Your books seem more ecumenical and accepting of different sects of Christianity than some inspirationals I’ve read. Is that deliberate?
Part of my writing mission from the beginning has been to build unity in the body of Christ. I do include many faith walks and show people finding and serving the Lord through different expressions. I believe this is the way the Lord manifests himself in the world and try to show that in my stories. While discerning the call to write for the Christian market, I understood my message should be broad and inclusive, while focusing on the truths that are central to Christian belief. My own experience in ecumenical community life supports that focus, and it's a joy for me to explore the diversity of faith that is the fabric of Christ's church.
What was your road to publication like? Have you ever considered writing a different kind of fiction?
My experience of publication was not typical in that I did very little toward that end, being utterly unschooled in any sort of self-promotion. I attended a writer's conference, showed my work to two acquisitions editors and was contracted for my first series shortly thereafter.
You started off writing historicals. Why did you make the switch to contemporaries? Which do you prefer to write?
My first two fiction series (8 books in total) were historical, but I had some contemporary stories in my head that were not going to go away. Marketing was reluctant at first since readers knew my historical work, but I knew the Lord had a plan for Twilight, A Rush of Wings, and The Still of Night. I really enjoy both and take the stories as they come. It's refreshing to make a change, and I think keeping the process fresh strengthens the work.
Who is your target audience? I think that often inspirational writers have as a goal to make the message of Christianity real to their readership, but they use terminology or ideology or concepts that would only be familiar to the already churched and possibly offensive to other people. How do you successfully avoid “preaching to the choir?”
Because I approach writing with a nearly complete ignorance of marketing and target audiences, I don't write to any particular readership. Maybe that keeps me from "preaching to the choir," but I also have a different mission. Mine is to tell a story through which the truths of faith can be seen through my characters. I know that my books will be read by people of many different churches, and no churches at all. I try to make the reality of God, his love and his call, the joy of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection as clear as I can without overwhelming the story. I want people to experience the story on many levels and be blessed and drawn to the grace available through faith.
What kind of boundaries does Bethany House give you in terms of language, subject matter, or plotting? Are there things you'd like to write, but can't? Have they been supportive of you as an author?
Bethany House Publishers has been incredible to work with. While there are limitations in language etc., I have not found that to be an impediment, but rather a challenge. I do include edgy material, but I find a way to demonstrate the darkness and, likewise, the beauty and intensity of physical love without explicit details. We have discussed at times how certain elements might be received in the market, and I take that into consideration, but the editors have been very open to "risking" a thing or two that I deem essential to the story.
Which are your favorites of all your books? Are there any you look back upon and wish you'd written them differently?
I can't open a book of mine without seeing all the things I would edit, develop or change. I'm compulsively perfectionistic and the hardest thing of all is sending in the final copy. Time and effort develop skill, and I have to look at my early works with that in mind. I was finding my voice and getting into stride. However, I still have readers who say that first series is their favorite. As to mine, I guess the ones that took me the deepest into the story would be the Diamond of the Rockies series as well as the two connected contemporaries, A Rush of Wings and The Still of Night. The last was such an overpowering experience I literally had to recover.
Do you read romance? Have you been influenced by other romance writers? What do you think makes a book romantic? What are your other influences? Your favorite books?
I read voraciously many different genres, literary to pulp, though I like there to be a central relationship in the story. I read Tolkien's Ring Trilogy every summer for at least ten years, and basically have it memorized.
I read Elizabeth Goudge and Mary Stewart, anything Arthurian, Gone With the Wind, Tristan and Iseult. My interests vary from Jodi Picoult's Picture Perfect and Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy to Dean Koontz's One Door Away From Heaven. I also find good movies creatively stimulating, especially non-depressing dramas and romantic comedies.
I loved the cover on your book, Twilight. It seems like inspirationals quite frequently get noticeable covers. So you have any input as to how your books are packaged or marketed?
I do have input on the book covers, more so now than earlier in the process. Being an artist myself, that's been an area of surrender at times, but I'm very happy with my latest covers, especially Twilight and A Rush of Wings.
What is up next for you?
Halos, my newest title, is now on the shelves, and is the story of a young woman looking for a place to belong. At first Charity seems like the perfect town, until everything begins to go wrong and there just might be a darkness no one wants to admit. My work in progress is a contemporary story that connects to the Diamond of the Rockies series. It's a mystery drama in which a descendent of thelead characters in the historical series, Quillan and Carina, tries to uncover the secrets to his family's past. It's titled, aptly, Secrets.