Hi! Welcome to the Island! My friend Kat Heckenbach stopped by, so I did what I usually do when I get around a fellow author — we talked books! But specifically we talked about her newest book, Relent. Don’t forget to comment below to enter into the giveaway. She’s giving away an e-file of Relent to a lucky reader!
Hi, Kat! Thanks for joining me today. Tell our readers a little more about yourself. Have you always liked to write? When did you start writing?
I didn’t start writing until I was in my thirties. I’d grown up thinking of myself as only an artist. I loved to draw, and figured that was my area of talent and creativity and never gave writing a try. But, eventually, I started feeling like something was missing and talked to my husband about it. He said, “I told you if you want to write a book I’ll be supportive.” My reply: “I never said that.” Him: “Yes, you did.” Wow. I took a few days to ponder his words, and then sat down one Wednesday morning (weird how I remember specifically the day of the week, but not the date) in 2008 and started writing chapter one of what eventually became my first published novel, YA fantasy Finding Angel.
Your husband is so supportive! What keeps you writing when inspiration vanishes?
Stubbornness. Seriously. It’s totally an “I started this, I’m gonna finish it” thing. Also, every time I feel like I’m ready to give up, I end up getting an email from someone who loved my books, or a new review, or something else that tells me I belong doing this.
My family and I call these little gifts “God-things,” and they really can keep you going. What does your writing space look like?
I bought this awesome roll-top desk from a friend. It’s the perfect size for my laptop and all my stuff. It has all these cubbies and drawers. And I have it surrounded by artwork. Unfortunately, it has to be located in my dining room, which is also our homeschool room, which is open to the main part of the house, so it’s not very private.
My writing area is in the same spot — dining room. At least it gives us an excuse to eat while working, right? Do you do any other creative activities other than writing?
Yes, yes, and yes. I’m a visual artist as well. I draw (mostly charcoal and regular pencil) and paint (mostly acrylic on canvas). I also make Harry Potter-style wands out of real wood, and I’ve made a few walking sticks/staffs as well. Honestly, I am drawn to all things artsy and creative. I spent years scrapbooking, and I have made my own curtains and cornices, and recovered chair seats, and helped my dad (a contractor) design our bathroom remodel. I’ve also made my own props for costumes, like a paper mache Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors.
I’ve seen your art — it’s beautiful! How do you select the names of your characters?
I love picking character names, but I don’t have a set method. Some are strictly by “feel”—the name just seems right for the character. Maybe it’s what comes out of my fingers typing on the keyboard when the character is first introduced. The main character in my YA fantasy series (Toch Island Chronicles) is named Angel because my daughter, who was around five at the time, had started naming all her stuffed animals AngelSomething (Angelheart, for example) so Angel was literally the first thing that popped into my head. Oddly, her name becomes relevant later in the story and it would not have worked had I named her something else.
Other names I choose because they have a particular meaning. Also in Toch Island Chronicles, I named a character Dr. Damian because his magic talent is Taming wild animals, and the name Damian comes from a Greek word that means “to tame.” The villain in the story is called Dawric, because a jackdaw is a thieving bird and ric- is the root of Richard, which means “power”—so the villain, who is out to steal magic, is “thief of power.”
I have named characters after people I know, usually small side characters and usually last name only. In my newest book, Relent, I gave a cop the last name Carter because a friend with that last name helped me with all the police procedure stuff.
I bet your friend loved being included in Relent like that! So, what slows you down? What’s your writing Kryptonite?
If I have to be honest, it’s distractions like TV and Facebook. I tend to also be someone who wants all the “little stuff” out of the way so I can really concentrate when I sit down to write…and let’s face it, that’s just procrastination.
Yeah, I’m the same way with social media. Just terrible. If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome is not comparing my beginning to someone else’s ending. What I mean is, there are things I’ve just been a natural at – art, math, grammar – and when something didn’t come easy to me, I told myself, “Oh, that’s just not for me.” When I got older, and particularly when I became a parent, a lot of things were really, really hard at first. I looked at parents with older kids and saw how easily something was going with them, and didn’t think that maybe in the beginning it was just as hard as it was for me.
Writing can be the same way. We look at that finished product, someone else’s book, and compare that with our mess of a first draft, and we can get really discouraged. Or, some other author just got a great publishing deal or hit the NYT best seller list, and it registers in our brains as though they were an overnight success. But that author may have just sold their fifth or tenth manuscript after having all the others rejected. Or they may have been submitting and editing and improving for ten or twenty years. It just took me far too long to realize I need to remember that those accomplishments come at the end of a lot of hard work.
That’s an important thing to remember, especially when the writing process gets hard. Where did you get the idea for this book?
Relent started with a short story years ago, a story written for a specific call-out for an anthology. Which I never actually submitted to. I found my story deviating from what they wanted, so I let it take off in another direction. I eventually submitted it to some other markets, and it got published by an online magazine called Absent Willow Review, and won their Editor’s Choice Award for the month it was published.
I loved the characters so much, and at the encouragement of my husband, I decided to make a novel using them. I had to change so, so much, though. Other than physical descriptions and some personality stuff, and their names of course, pretty much everything is different. And I love these new and improved characters even more!
It’s great you were able to stay “in touch” with those beloved characters. What’s the theme of the book? Why did you choose it?
The book is called Relent because it’s about letting go. Not hanging on to your anger or digging your heels in stubbornly just because you think things should be a certain way. Finding out that when you do finally let go, you may discover the thing you were trying so hard for will actually come much easier.
I’m not sure I chose it, though, outside the fact that I tend to be stubborn myself – which can be helpful in a perseverance kind of way, but can be very unhelpful when you’re doing something for the wrong reasons.
I think most stubborn people (myself included) are always learning about letting go. What was the hardest scene to write?
Honestly, all the scenes building the romance between Simone and Reese. The love-hate frenemy stuff between Simone and Wraith came so much more naturally. I write dark. Tapping into anger and angst is easier for me.
You mentioned Simone, your main character. Is she your favorite? Why or why not?
Simone is someone who has always felt like an outsider. When she finds out the truth about herself, it helps her to understand why she’s always felt that way, but it doesn’t give her the tools to deal with it. She has a hard time seeing the good in herself, and it amazes her when someone else sees her as more than physically beautiful.
As for her being my favorite character…I have to admit she’s not. Wraith, her best friend and worst enemy, the demon who tells her the truth about herself, is my favorite. He’s gorgeous for one, when he’s in his human form. But what I love about him is how self-contradictory he is. He’s a demon, so he’s of course bad, but there’s this part of him that won’t let him cross a certain line with Simone. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I won’t go any further there. I will say that I’ve gotten enough feedback from readers to know I’m not alone in my love for Wraith.
Ooh, that’s a teaser of an answer! We’ve learned a lot about you and Relent. But if you’re comfortable doing so, can you give us one fun or interesting fact about yourself others might not know?
This is a fact that only those who have read the acknowledgements in my second Toch Island Chronicles book, Seeking Unseen, would know. One of the two main characters in Seeking Unseen, Melinda, writes a poem, which I include in the book. The poem is completely plagiarized, in a sense. When I was around nineteen or twenty, I was out dancing at a club. At one point, the friend I was there with handed me a napkin with a poem written on it. She said some guy told her to give it to me. I never saw him, have no idea who he was. But I saved that poem, and decided to use it in my book. I’d love to give him credit, of course, but I have no way of doing so. Unless he someday reads my book and recognizes his own words!
Wow! Very cool. Thanks, Kat, for stopping by.
Don’t forget to check Kat out on social media and comment below. She’s giving away a copy of Relent to once lucky commenter!
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 from 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 series Toch Island Chronicles is available in print and ebook. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.
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