One of the most compelling and yet spiritual authors in the LDS market today is Heather Moore. Last year she was awarded the Whitney for Historical Fiction as well as “Best In State” for fiction in 2008. In the next few days, her sixth historical novel adapted from the Book of Mormon, ALMA, will be published. You can visit her blog at http://mywriterslair.blogspot.com to see a short video clip about the book. I will be doing a review as soon as I have finished reading it, but I can tell you that it’s got me staying up at night. It is full of suspense and brings a definite sense of reality to the story of Alma the Elder that we all love so much. Curious about how she went about such a seemingly difficult task with such skill and grace, I asked Heather for an interview which she graciously granted.
GG: You have such an amazing gift for the art the novel, Heather. That is not something that comes easily to most of us, and you are still so young! How did you learn your craft?
Heather: Thanks, GG. That’s a high compliment coming from someone who is a great writer herself. I was always an avid reader, and I really think I was subconsciously learning novel-writing concepts as I read book after book. But when I decided to write a novel, I had to go back to square one, which took a lot of writers’ conferences, workshops, and grueling editing with my critique group.
GG: How much did growing up in your home influence your LDS writing direction?
Heather: I don’t know if it influenced me writing for the LDS market per se, but it definitely influenced me to write clean fiction. After all, my grandma, my parents, my in-laws, my children would all be reading what I’d written. Plus, there are so many talented authors out there who write in many different genres, there’s no reason for me to regurgitate what’s already been done over and over. I needed to find my niche, and so far it’s been in the LDS market, and I’ve been happy with reader reactions to my work. As far as the specific genre I’m currently published in (Book of Mormon fiction), my upbringing certainly had an impact. My father is a retired religion professor from BYU. I’ve met the likes of Hugh Nibley, etc., and have been around great scholars all of my life. Even my mother has been published on a Book of Mormon topic!
GG: You are a very dedicated mother. I think you go to every single solitary game or performance of your children, which always something (I remember those days). How do you prioritize your days?
Heather: I absolutely love to watch my children in their different activities, especially when they are enjoying the experience. When my first book came out, I had a newborn, and that was very tricky. I had a deadline to turn in book #2. So, I’d literally get up at 4:00 a.m. and write from 4-7:00 a.m. each day. The next year, with nap time and the older children in preschool/school, I was able to get in snatches, an hour here, an hour there. Or some days it was 10 minutes. The toughest thing is to stay motivated. When I do have some “quiet” time, I also have a dozen other things I could or should be doing. I’ve had to set up a writing schedule, so that I can meet deadlines, yet learn how to start early enough and stay consistent so that I can get enough sleep!
GG: How do you go about crafting your books?
Heather: I write in layers. When I first draft a chapter, I’m writing mostly action and dialog. The second time through, I’m adding in description and characterization. The third time through, I’m fine tuning and correcting. I usually have an idea of where the story will go (especially if I’m following a Book of Mormon story), but surprises always occur. When I wrote Abinadi, I knew that Helam had to be an important character in the book. After all, he was one of the first baptized at the Waters of Mormon and later on, a city was named after him. So who was he? I had no idea. I was about 200 pages into the book when I decided to make Helam Abinadi’s brother. I had to go back through the whole book and add in his character.
GG: I know you have said you are “as neurotic as the average person,” but compared to me, you are a rock of normalcy. I have drawn my talent from the things I have learned from the adversary. Is it the same for you? Or do you have the gift of empathy that enables you to feel “real” emotions with your characters? They are so real. How did they get that way?
Heather: I think most writers have to have some sort of neurotic tendencies, why else would we put ourselves through this torture? It’s like holding up your child and letting a thousand people criticize his/her personality. And then you can’t take it personally. Many people say to me: Oh, I could write a short story, but not a novel. I’m the opposite. I couldn’t write a short story, but writing a full-length book is not intimidating. Non-fiction writers are putting their personal experience directly onto paper, whereas fiction writers will use their personal experience as springboards into character and plot. For instance, in my newest book, Alma, one of the women, Maia, goes through many trials. Yet she manages to keep her faith intact. I put a little of my own convictions into her motivations. What trials have I faced that have shaken me up and made me question? Of course I haven’t been imprisoned like Maia was, but have I been wrongly accused or wrongly judged by those who don’t know my true self? And did I feel trapped and helpless? I’m not being chased by Lamanites like Maia was, but have I ever feared for my life, my safety, or for those around me? Any parent would know the feeling of that fear. I’m not a slave in a foreign land, but have I gone through the drudgery of working when I’ve not wanted to? . . . So I use my same emotional journey, and in a sense “liken” the character to myself or to those around me who are going through challenges. The challenges might not be the same in description, but they are the same in the heart. None of us are exempt from severe trials, some are physical in which others can see, others are internal and stay quiet for the most part. I believe that human nature and human emotion has not changed over the centuries. A mother who loses a son to the adversary in 128 B.C. will grieve just as much as a mother in 2009.
GG: What are your plans after you finish the current trilogy (Abinadi, Alma, Alma the Younger)? I know you have written a spectacular book on Women of the Book of Mormon. Do you plan on doing more non-fiction?
Heather: I might turn the trilogy into four volumes. I love Ammon’s story as well, and he is becoming a strong character in my current work in progress (Alma the Younger). The non-fiction book, Women of the Book of Mormon, will be out in 2010. It’s hard to look too far into the future, or I probably would be too overwhelmed and give up writing. I’ll finish Alma the Younger this winter, and then time will tell if I decide to write a book on Ammon, or something else jumps out.
GG: How long have you known you were a writer? At what age were you first published?
Heather: When I was 29, I wrote my grandmother’s biography. She was nearing 90 years old and finally decided she’d let someone work on it for her. I had just moved back to Utah from California and I’d spend time with her each week working on her life stories. She’d always complimented me in my writing (in letters, etc.). She always told me that I should write a children’s book. During the time I was writing about her life, I had an idea for a story of a young woman who lived in the 1930’s. I thought it might be neat to write the story and be able to make the things happen that I wanted to, not some other author. After all, there were thousands and thousands of books out there, why couldn’t I write one of them?
The next year I took a creative writing & publishing workshop at a college extension class. One of the first things the instructors said was that he was tired of stay-at-home moms thinking they could make money by writing novels. Well, that was me. And the rest is history. It seems when someone puts me down, it challenges me, and I rise to that challenge. I wrote two manuscripts, received plenty of rejections, then wrote a third, which took 10 months to finally get accepted by Covenant Communications. The process from start to completion was 27 months, and I was 33 years old when my first book hit the shelves.
GG: How does your testimony of the gospel impact your writing? How does it impact what you choose to write?
Heather: My testimony of the gospel has a definite influence on my Book of Mormon series. I couldn’t write it, or write it convincingly, if I didn’t know that those prophets were true prophets of God. It also comes with a bit of a weight and responsibility of living my life in a such a way that I can be open to what I need to be writing. Writing about the Book of Mormon kills two birds with one stone. I get my scripture study done, and my writing for the day. It’s great.
GG: How does your critique group work? In what ways is it helpful to you? (I hate critique groups—you must be very brave)
Heather: The members of my critique group are not dabblers in writing. They look at writing as more than a hobby, as their serious careers. Yes, we all have other obligations and some of us full-time jobs elsewhere, but we are planners. Strategizers. We are much more than correcting a comma, or making dialog consistent with characterization, but good friends and each others’ champions. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be in the critique group with such great writers. We grow and change, we challenge each other, we look out for each other and pool our resources. We meet on a weekly basis, and my journey to publishing has been much shorter because of their valuable and steady feedback.
GG: What is your very favorite part of the Book of Mormon? Why?
Heather: Great question! I really enjoy Nephi’s story. I think it’s probably my favorite. Although Alma is a close second. I admire their strength, their convictions, and their fortitude in the face of life-threatening challenges. It’s amazing to me that Nephi knew that what he was teaching his brothers would never be accepted. Yet he continued because it was the right thing to do. He had seen the future in a vision and knew that the Lamanites and Nephites would ultimately destroy each other. He moved forward in righteousness, patience, and learning. He wrote on the plates because he knew that thousands of years later, his testimony would change our hearts. You can’t ever discredit a man like that.
GG: I perceive that in your writing, you have obviously followed your passion as far as subject matter goes. What other passions do you have that may lead to future books?
Heather: I’m very interested in human nature—why people do the things they do. What are their motivations? History and religion play a major role in the grand cycle of wars, conflicts, life, and love. So by bringing my two interests together—history and religion—and combining it with one of my greatest loves—reading—I’ve found my passion in life.
GG: The inevitable question: What is the most important piece of advice you have for a beginning or struggling writer?
Heather: The longer I write and publish, the more valuable networking becomes. A new writer, or any writer for that matter, can’t hole up in an office to only write, then expect to be published successfully. Networking with other writers, publishers, agents, and editors at writers conferences, book signings, and other events will plant seeds that can move you into a successful career. It can take years to get a manuscript polished, and then more time to find a publisher. But the journey has only begun. The editing process is very time-consuming, and then comes the marketing. An author has to become educated on all aspects of the publishing business. Because it is, after all, a business, and not just a creative muse that we tap into when we are in the mood. Or when we have the time. Writing can be therapeutic on many levels, but if you want to be a successfully published author, you need to think of it as an education first, and then put together your strategy to get there.