Heather Huffman, whose books include Throwaway and Devil in Disguise, talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
For someone who has never read any of your books, how would you describe your writing?
My books don’t shy away from the darkness in life, but they don’t dwell there, either. I’d say they’re mostly warm and funny. The heroines are strong, and there’s usually plenty of sparks and suspense in their stories.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do?
I’ve always loved to write. Throughout high school and beyond, I was told over and over that I should be a writer, but I resisted. At first, it was because I wanted to be an actress. Later, I was looking for a more “practical” career. It wasn’t until about four years ago that I admitted to myself and the world that writing was very much a part of who I was and who I wanted to be.
Before that time, I’d go through spells of writing constantly then others of not writing at all. Now, I can’t imagine not writing. I keep saying I plan to take a break in between novels to regroup, but then I get twitchy because I’m not elbow-deep in a story, so off I go again!
Are there any writers who inspire your own writing?
That’s a pretty varied list – Janet Evanovich taught me the value of a good laugh in a novel. Sylvain Reynard reminded me of the importance of passion in a love story. Everything I read – from the Bible to a magazine article about ducks to the latest romance teaches me something about being a writer, whether it’s inspiration to try something new or a cautionary tale of what not to do in my own work.
Do you remember the very first story you ever wrote?
The first story I really remember was one I wrote in fourth grade. It was for a fiction contest that I was pretty excited about – my story came in dead last. After that, I wrote for my own enjoyment and quickly filled my closet with binders full of novels, screenplays and poetry. One screenplay in particular, that I wrote at about age 13, I still hope to one day turn into a novel. It was about a young woman in the 1800s who disguised herself as a man and took up with a band of outlaws to escape a bad situation in the Midwest and find her older brother in San Francisco.
Some of your books deal with some quite heavy themes, such as the human trafficking in Throwaway. Did you do a lot of research before writing that book?
I spend a lot of time researching all of my books. At first, my research was limited to the Internet, seminars and documentaries. As I became more involved in the fight, I began to connect with organizations on the front lines. They shared their stories with me, and I used those to help piece together the fictional world my characters live in.
How do you start writing a new book? What comes first? The characters? The story?
Both! The stories themselves always originate from a dream, even if indirectly. My most recent release, Devil in Disguise, sprang from a couple of my other novels that sprang from a dream.
The dream is usually just one scene and I wake up the next morning knowing I have another book to write. I jot down what I saw and put it away until it’s time to write that book.
When it’s a particular book’s turn, I pull out the dream and spend time thinking about what’s happening on either side of it. Who are these people and why were they in that particular situation?
As the pieces begin to fall into place, I start to do research for the parts of the storyline I know. Other pieces begin to fall into place from there.
Before I start writing, I research which actors I think fit the characters. The initial dream usually leaves a strong impression on me of who my characters are. They permeate my thoughts for days after the dream and who they are is integral to my story. By the time I start to pick my “cast,” I have a fairly good idea who I’m looking for. Once I’ve picked my actors, I’ll watch movies with them for several days. That helps me picture gestures and mannerisms as the characters interact in my head.
I begin writing when I know the first sentence. Sometimes most of the book is mapped out by that point, but usually I have no clue what’s in store.
Your publisher, Booktrope, uses a new model they call Team Publishing. Are you happy with that model?
I love the way Booktrope approaches publishing a book. Writers work with a team to get their book to market; I have an editor, proofreader, graphic designer and a book manager that I work with for each novel. It’s an interesting model that takes the best of each publishing world and blends it in one hybrid approach. I have the support of a publisher, but I also have a lot more control over the books than many writers enjoy. I can’t say enough how happy I am with my current publisher!
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with their own novel?
Write. Don’t worry about having every detail perfect on the first draft. Just let the story tell itself.
Know grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. They are invaluable and often overlooked tools to help a writer convey their story.
Sort the wheat from the chaff. You’ll get lots of feedback on your writing. Try not to let pride get in the way of listening to the valuable feedback. On the flip side, don’t worry about pleasing everyone and try not to let it eat you up when you get your first bad review.
You’ll probably hear the word no a lot when you submit. Try to learn from what they’re saying and keep moving forward. It might be cliché but it’s true – all you need is one yes.
We interviewed Sylvain Reynard recently and he said you and he might be collaborating on a book about human trafficking. How did that come about?
Even reading the question makes me smile. I’m stupidly excited about this project. The book itself isn’t about human trafficking, but we’ve decided that the collaboration should benefit organizations that fight trafficking. We plan to donate 100% of our share of royalties from this book to organizations like The Covering House, a shelter for human trafficking victims under the age of 18.
I haven’t asked SR how much we plan to share, but I suppose a sneak peek wouldn’t hurt. The book is called Twitter War, and it’s about a couple that met via Twitter. A software malfunction and a few miscommunications start things off, and antics ensue. It’s a romantic comedy novella. It’s a fun project; I can’t wait to share it with our readers!
Finally, what’s next? Do you have any new books coming out in 2012?
Hopefully, Twitter War will be out this year. I can’t give an official date yet, but readers should definitely stay tuned.
My latest novel, Devil in Disguise, just released this month. It revisits characters introduced in Throwaway, Suddenly a Spy and Jailbird. In this novel, Rachel Cooper and Conrad Langston get their own story. I’ve been waiting a while for this book’s turn to come; I’m thrilled it’s finally here!
My next full-length novel will be Roses in Ecuador, which is tentatively slated for release early 2013. Devon McAlister from Suddenly a Spy and Ring of Fire will be the main character of that story. I’m chomping at the bit to get that book released if for no other reason than the cover; it’s pretty fantastic!