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Interview with Heidi Chiavaroli

Heidi Chiavaroli has become adept at writing in the time-slip genre, penning tales that uncover the interwoven connection between history and present-day struggles. With the release of her latest novel, The Hidden Side, she shares a peek behind the scenes at the highs and lows of her publishing journey and the life that inspires the depth in her stories.

Welcome, Heidi! It's an honor to have you join us. I'm always inspired by hearing how other authors approach the monumental act of writing a novel. What is your writing process? How does research play into it?
My ideas always begin with research, where I seek out a precious tidbit from history that I can expand upon through the exploration of story. After I have a general idea what I want to write, I spend about 3 months researching. A lot of my ideas come during this phase, and by the end of this time, I’m usually pretty prepared to write! My first drafts usually take 3-4 months. I like to give myself a good month or two to edit and run the manuscript by my amazing critique partner before hitting that SEND button.

Do you have any funny stories from researching? Or maybe unusual findings you’ve uncovered?
I’ve found so many interesting pieces of history, but I think the most shocking was the discovery that there was an actual leprosy colony on an island off the coast of Massachusetts in the early 20th century. I built an entire story around this, and though it won the 2014 Genesis contest in the historical category, the story is not yet published. It’s still one of my favorites though, and I’m trusting it will see the light of day sometime soon!

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Oh my, there were so many steps in this journey that I consider important! If I had to pick one though, I think it would be the decision not to give up. After receiving not-so-stellar scores from the first contest I entered back in 2006 (the Genesis contest!), I did consider calling it quits, and even put my writing aside for months. But God kept pulling me back. The simple fact was, I couldn’t imagine not writing. From there, I decided I was going to stick with this thing and see it through.

I found a critique group, continued to learn the craft, suffered all manner of rejections, and four years later, in 2010, I won a scholarship to attend ACFW’s national conference, where I met some amazing women also pursuing publication. Four years after that, in 2014, I actually won the historical category of the Genesis contest (the same contest that had depressed me for so many months eight years before). This contest helped me land a top-notch agent.

If I had given up after that first defeat (and many subsequent ones!), I never would have made it to publication.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Right now, I’m blessed to have quiet writing time during the day while my children are at school. Yet that wasn’t always the case. When my boys were small, and when I homeschooled, I would get up at 4:30AM to make time for writing. That was certainly a challenge!

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
My faith has everything to do with my storytelling. Even if a particular story I write doesn’t have a seemingly overt faith message, there is always a theme or a gentle weaving of faith into the story. Often, my characters end up working out a spiritual struggle that I am going through myself. There’s something powerful about wrestling through my own problems and struggles through the creation of a story.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
Another hard one! There are so many greats, but I think the absolute most surreal moment was when I learned that I’d been offered a contract with my dream publishing house, Tyndale House Publishers.

I’d been working part-time in the garden center of my local Walmart at the time. I will never forget the night (exactly two years ago this month!) when my husband and two boys surprised me by coming into the garden center. I put down my leaky hose, wiped my hands on my super-attractive blue smock, and hugged them. When my husband told me my agent had left a message on the home phone with news of a contract offer, I almost fainted into the petunias. Really.

Who or what spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I’m truly convinced that God put a passion within me to create through story. I can’t imagine not writing—it seems I’m always half in the real world/half in story world!

My ideas often come from history, but many times they will come from real life. Often it’s in a story I heard, either in person or on the news. Usually a nagging question of What if? plays out in my head regarding that story and refuses to leave me alone until I’ve explored it through my own characters.

What is your writing routine? Any quirky habits or must-have snacks?
After my kids head out to school, I often go for a walk or a run. After a shower, some breakfast, and catching up with emails and social media, I sit down to write. The only quirky habit I can think of is comfy pants—a must have for sitting long hours at a computer!

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
I wasn’t published yet, but in 2014, I flew to St. Louis for the ACFW Awards Ceremony. I was a finalist in the Genesis contest and I had a couple of appointments with prospective agents and editors, but I only flew in for the night.

Upon landing in Missouri, I discovered that the airline had lost my suitcase. That’s right, I was to attend the Gala that night (maybe even accept an award!) and I was in jeans and a t-shirt, harried from travel. No makeup, no dress, no hair products, certainly no spanx. Long story short, after borrowing my friend, Melissa Jagears’ khakis and Birkenstocks (3 sizes too big), I met a prospective editor, who graciously ignored my unkempt appearance. After a frantic but unsuccessful dress search, I resigned myself to attending the Gala in the khakis and Birkenstocks.

TEN minutes before the Gala was to start, I made one more desperate inquiry at the lobby to see if my luggage had arrived. In a small miracle I still can’t fathom, I was told that it had! Desperate, I asked the clerk to break the lock on my suitcase because there was no time for me to fight the crowds on the elevator back to my room. He did, and I found a bathroom and donned my dress.

Okay, I couldn’t laugh about any of that then, but now I can. I will never forget accepting the Genesis award that night, so grateful that my suitcase had arrived in time and I didn’t have to trudge up to the platform in too-big Birkenstocks!

I remember that conference and watching you accept the award! I would never have imagined the backstory. :-)
What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

I’d like to think there are a few things—the time-slip genre is certainly one of them. The fact that I LOVE writing in first-person is another. Also, that I am often drawn to some of the heavier stories and like to build my fiction around historical fact is another, I would think.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
The first four manuscripts I wrote were straight historical stories. I’ve always loved history, and growing up in Massachusetts, a place ripe with American history, inspiration was in every corner, aiding my ideas!

When I stumbled upon Susan Meissner’s stories, I felt completely inspired. I loved the time-slip aspect and the literary bent of her stories. I wondered if I could try my hand at something like that. I had just completed my first time-slip story when I won the Genesis contest for a previous manuscript. While that win helped me obtain the attention of my dream agent, it was that first time-slip manuscript that helped me land a contract with her.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I love hiking and running, baking, dates with my hubby, and home-improvement projects. And even though it’s technically related to writing, I love visiting places that whisper of historical secrets with my family. So fun!

Finish this statement: If I were not an author, I would be _____.
An editor, maybe? I really can’t imagine not working with story in some way!


Misty M. Beller writes romantic mountain stories, set on the 1800s frontier and woven with the truth of God’s love. She was raised on a farm in South Carolina, so her Southern roots run deep. Growing up, her family was close, and they continue to keep that priority today. Her husband and daughters now add another dimension to her life, keeping her both grounded and crazy.

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