Interview with Heatherly Bell, author of “Unforgettable You”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

Totally untrue! Authors run the gamut like most people do, from jovial and outgoing to introverts who don’t do well in a crowd. I’m among that second group and while I’d like to say that most writers are a bit introverted, I no longer think that’s the case.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

I don’t think so. That’s why God invented editors. I know of quite a few wonderful authors who suffer from dyslexia and can tell a wonderful story. I think it’s important that authors understand language but that goes far beyond grammar in my opinion.

What inspires you to write?

Going deep into a character’s psyche and wound and resulting belief. But I don’t wait to be inspired to write. I have to sit down and pound it out or I’d write one book a year.

How often do you write?

I generally write every day. There might be a time when I take one or two days off but no more than that generally speaking.

Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

There are times when I do have a word count to meet, but at other times I just make sure that whatever word count I get on that day whether it’s 500 words or 5000 that I stay in the story. If I walk away from the story for too long, I can lose the forward momentum.

Do you think writers have a normal life like others?

From what I’ve seen, yes! Most of my author friends are mothers who write when they can around their kids’ schedules. Many have day jobs as well. You can’t pick them out of a crowd. They look, and often act, quite normal (they’re not).

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I’ve done both but it works far better and results in less revisions and taking apart my first draft if I have a roadmap before I begin. That’s not to say I lay everything in stone and it can change as I go along but I do have to have an inciting event that sets my hero and heroine off on their “journey” and I know in advance, because I write romance, that the ending will always be a happily ever after and I have some idea of what that will “look like.”

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

I read all the time and always have. I don’t quite understand people who say they’d like to be an author but don’t have time to read. Naturally you have less time to read when you’re a working author, but if working authors find time to read that should explain how important it is to the aspiring author. I have too many favorite authors to list but among them are Jill Shalvis, Barbara Freethy and Brenda Novak (all California authors too, by the way, but I swear I love authors from other states too).

Does a bad review affect your writing?

No, it doesn’t. It might, however, affect the way the rest of my day goes (if I let it.) I try not to, and I do attempt to find if there might be something I can take away from it, if the review is specific and doesn’t just say “I hate this author/book.” I remind myself that no author can be every reader’s favorite, and I move on. But this is why it’s so wonderful when I receive an email from a reader who was compelled to write because they loved the story that much. Bad reviews fade into black.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

That’s probably difficult for me to say, but I feel like I’ve come to grasp the importance of a deep point of view in telling the story. It’s a level of craft that I have long admired in my favorite authors and attempt to emulate.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?

Absolutely. I’d been writing on and off since approximately 2004 and did not complete a single novel until 2012. My mistake was in constantly changing my mind about who should be telling the story – first person POV or third? Starting up dozens of novels and never getting past the first fourth of the story. I gave up on a story when I lost interest in it. But when I finally challenged myself to just finish something, even if it was crap, everything changed. I revised the heck out of that first book but eventually it sold.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

In my opinion, the most important thing about a book is to fully engage the reader as you tell them a story. Now that could mean different things to different readers. But let’s just suppose that someone who loves romance with a slight humorous bent picks up a romance book with a humorous thread. In that case, the book should engage the reader at page one. How? By making them care about the protagonist. How do you make them care? Make the protagonist either funny, or the victim of some undeserved misfortune (empathy). And if you can do both, even better!

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Read, read, read! Read what you enjoy and you’ll find what you want to write. They are usually one and the same. Next, sit butt in chair hands on keyboard every single day. Don’t worry about word count or quality. Just finish! The rest will take care of itself.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I always hire an editor. There’s no possible way one person can catch every mistake no matter how hard they try or how good they are.

Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?

As a reader, I believe so. When I see a cheap cover, I wonder about the writing style. I also wonder if the author didn’t think their book was worth spending a few dollars on a great cover.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

Well, of course I wanted to be a movie star or a singer! I actually spent most of my youth in rock and roll bands attempting to make it into the music business. I still have a huge love for music and my entire family is musical.

Do your novels carry a message?

Yes, they all do. That message is only clear when I’m done with the first draft of the book and I discover what my protagonist has learned on their journey. Common themes are forgiveness and redemption.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The hardest thing for me is showing the points along the way in which my protagonist is achieving growth. At the end of a book, my hero and heroine should have a substantial growth arc.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

No! Absolutely not. I have not, for instance, sat in a coffeehouse and alphabetized adverbs when I couldn’t think of what to write next (ahem).

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I hope so. My next series is about ex-Air Force military men who are adjusting to civilian life in a small town, and the women they meet who change their lives. After that, I will be working on a series with a now defunct country music all girl band.

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