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Interview with Heidi Gray McGill

Heidi loves Jesus, her husband, her two adult daughters, her “son-in-love,” and her two adorable grandsons. She considers writing to be her ministry and seeks to find unintrusive ways to weave God throughout her stories and into the lives of her characters. She wants her characters to become so real, readers will think of them long after turning the book’s final page.

Heidi shares honestly as she answers the questions I posed to her for this interview. Her responses challenge and comfort me in my own writing journey.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, for sharing your recently released-Matters of the Heart, and for sharing your journey with us. Let’s get started…

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Having nothing to lose was a gift when I self-published my first book. I knew my purpose was to glorify God. Whether five or five-thousand people read what I published didn’t matter.

Because I had no monetary aspirations and no grand ideas of being the next Francine Rivers, I could enjoy the ride. Being able to hold my head high by accomplishing what God would have me do, helped when I read reviews that stung and negatives that threatened to overwhelm me.

Surrounding myself with individuals who know my heart has kept me going. I may not have the cleanest manuscripts—too many POVs and more tell than show—but the message of Jesus Christ is evident. Those who understand my purpose of sharing the Gospel have come alongside me and helped me fix my newbie issues because they believe in me and champion the cause of sharing Christ through the characters’ lives.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
My biggest challenge is staying on task. I have difficulty shutting off my mind when I need to focus on something or someone. I’m easily distracted by things—even good things—like the laughter of my grandsons, the smell of dinner cooking, or the ping of my phone when I get a text. I’ve learned to put my phone aside, but I have to schedule a time to write when there will be minimal distractions to keep me in line.

Learning to say no to others when I’ve scheduled a specific time to write is another issue with which I struggle. Reminding myself this author gig isn’t a cute hobby, but a ministry, means saying no when the need to complete a deadline is essential.

I’m an introverted extrovert. I need social interaction in small batches, and I cannot lock myself in a room for days to accomplish a task. Taking walks, stopping for healthy meals, talking to a friend, and planning activities with family help me stay true to myself. Keeping a color-coordinated calendar helps me see at a glance the balance between work, family, friends, church, and downtime.

Where do your story and character ideas come from?
Before I was an author, I was the founder and director of an English as a Second Language ministry. The program touched the lives of students from 35 different countries. Regardless of culture, religion, language, or age, I found a substantial similarity in these students—they all wanted to improve their lot in life and that of their children.

Immigrants in the late 1800s were not much different from individuals I’ve had the privilege to know. I wanted to write a book about these people’s struggles, and I used my students and the stories they told me as inspiration. Each came to find a better life in the greatest country in the world. Hans, Katie, and even Aideen are all compilations of my ESL students.

What is your writing routine? Any quirky habits or must-have snacks?
My brain doesn’t kick in for a few hours after waking, so unlike many authors, I’m not creative in the morning. My day starts with devotions. Spending time with God first reminds me this is His business, and I am His steward and need to treat my writing as such. I then take care of myriad administrative tasks—emails, social media, and marketing use up most of my time.

I take a walk when the day’s details are out of the way. This clears my mind and prepares me for getting words on the page. I do my best thinking when walking and use voice-to-text to capture the moment. That doesn’t always work. I should probably keep a list of the hysterical translations when I get home, ready to write. I often listen to audiobooks, scripture, or sing as I walk. My neighbors think I’m a little off-key and in my mind. My husband works from home, so while he is on conference calls, I often do edits, re-read, or research.

The evening is my best time of day to write. After washing the supper dishes, I listen to instrumental piano or guitar and get creative. I average 1,200 words a day during the week and rarely write on weekends so I can make my family a priority.

What literary character is most like you?
The classic children’s literature story Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter is so me. One difference is I had an ideal childhood. But like Pollyanna, I have learned to look for the silver lining in everything. I purpose to have a positive outlook on life and share this joy and love with those around me.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
That is a tough question. No single author has influenced my writing more than another. Sitting in a room with women just like me—those struggling with balance, naysayers, and life in general—these are the authors I want to learn from. It isn’t a specific question I would ask, but a connection I would seek. Relationships are crucial to surviving in this industry.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
I am an avid reader of Christian historical fiction. I like imagining what life was like long ago, and I enjoy watching movies and reading books about life on the frontier. That’s what led me to choose this genre.

This year I challenged myself and wrote a contemporary romantic comedy in a multi-author project. This genre chose me, and I am enjoying it immensely.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

Borders of the Heart by Chris Fabry has me mesmerized. I’m listening to it and struggle to hit pause. I just finished Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson on my phone’s Kindle App and hated for it to end. The Buy-In by Emma St. Clair is on my Kindle Paperwhite. This snarky story has me in stitches. I keep all three devices going at once. I’m never without a book to read.

Tell us something about yourself that is not in your bio.
I am legally blind and have only 5% of my vision remaining. My diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2001 was devastating. There is no cure, and there is no surgery. But that does not mean there is no hope. I still have value.

Those who do not know me well often don’t realize I have low vision or zero vision in a dark room. We humans are amazingly adaptable, and I do a pretty good job covering up my disability. My friends have learned to watch out for me and alert me to potential pitfalls, some better than others, which is always good for a laugh. I use a cane when I’m navigating alone.

I use Word for my writing, but I have a ¼” mouse with a ½” tail, making it easier for me to find the pointer on my screen. I work in short spurts so my eyes don’t get overly tired. I read best on my phone since it requires little left-to-right eye movement. I prefer a black screen and white text when reading but love the option of audiobooks. I rarely read a paperback, even large print.

What question would you most like to answer that I didn’t ask?
Are you a pet lover? I’ve always had a pet and treated them like they were human. It was easy to transition to humanizing the animals I created for my books. You will find a strong connection between characters and their animals in my stories. In Matters of the Heart, the horses have personalities and create comic relief in tense situations. I am an animal lover and find our four-legged friends have a place in stories to help a reader feel and understand unspoken words by an animal’s actions.

Finish this sentence: "Every author should (or should know) ______________."
Every author should know their purpose for writing before they begin. For me, it sounds like this: Writing is my ministry, and it’s how I share Christ with those who may never pick up a Bible or step foot inside a church. I also write to encourage those in the Faith to live abundant lives—full of all God desires for us. Writing is also how I work through my heart’s questions and embrace God’s best for me.

Charles H. Spurgeon, in All of Grace, says it best. “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.”

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
If we are confident of God’s love, provision, and direction in our lives, even when we cannot see Him at work, it is easier to trust Him. No matter the challenge of the situation, we can be confident God is always in control of our present and future circumstances.

Matters of the Heart is the third book in my Discerning God’s Best series.
Terri Thompson is an author, foodie, nature lover and philanthropist. She loves walks along the beach at sunset, dancing in the living room with her grandchildren, the beauty of flavors expertly combined, and the joy of words creatively knit together to bring truth to life. She blogs about writing, life and inspiration at To learn about the non-profits supported by the H. G. Clay Foundation go to

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