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Interview with Heidi Chiavaroli

Heidi fell in love with writing at an early age, but she talked herself out of a writing career. When she finally decided to give it another chance, she almost allowed a disappointing contest result to destroy her dream permanently. With a love of writing that would not die, she overcame her discouragement and picked up her pen again. Today, she shares about her newest book, The Orchard House, her writing process, and the connection between her publishing journey and petunias.

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Congratulations on the publication of your book! When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I was a fairly quiet and shy child, always with a book in hand. I wrote my first book titled I’d Cross The Desert For Milk, in third grade. By the time I’d gotten to high school, I had talked myself out of writing as a practical career and had turned to the sciences. I attended the University of Rhode Island (with an impressive scholarship) for a little more than a year before I realized that marine biology was not what I wanted to do with my life. I actually dropped out of college weeks after 9/11 and was married not too long after. I didn’t revisit my childhood dream of writing until I was a stay-at-home mom with two babies. I wrote during their naptimes—at first, very secretly, not even telling my husband. I was so scared this was just a foolish dream, but God had other plans!

How do you come up with your story ideas?
My story ideas always stem from my research or from a place I’ve visited in the past. The Orchard House was actually born out of a day in middle school when my grandmother brought me, my mother, and my sister to visit Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. I remember standing in Louisa’s bedroom, staring at the very desk where she wrote Little Women, and thinking, “Wow, it all happened right here—and in this moment I’m the closest person in the world to where Louisa created her beautiful story.”

I still get goose bumps thinking about it! That moment cemented some of the magic of history for me, as well as the power an author has to create story.

How long do you research before beginning to write a book?
It varies, but I like to give myself 2-3 months. I can usually sense when it’s time to put the research aside (no matter how fun it might be!) and get into the story.

The Orchard House slips between three different times. What is the most difficult part of writing a time slip novel?
Definitely the transitioning, the overall weaving of the stories, and the crafting of a satisfying ending that melds the timelines. So, I suppose in short, everything! All kidding aside, I really enjoy writing time slip. There’s a unique satisfaction that comes from writing and reading a book that spans characters and time to deliver a meaningful, timeless message.

I loved how you almost fainted into petunias when you heard about your first book being published. Would you share a little of your publishing journey?
I started writing seriously about fourteen years ago. Jesus had just grabbed a hold of my heart, and I couldn’t ignore the itch to write stories that would display his amazing grace.

But my confidence was severely hampered. With a newborn and an active toddler on my hands, I snatched what precious minutes of writing I could during naptimes. I didn’t even tell my husband! This was just a crazy fantasy, after all. I didn’t want to look foolish.

Eventually I joined American Christian Fiction Writers in order to enter their Genesis contest for unpublished writers. This was at the end of 2006. I casually mentioned the small expense to my husband.

Well, those first contest scores came back—along with a no-response to my first agent-targeted query—and I went into a writing depression. I think it was four months before I looked at my story again. But God kept pulling me back. The simple fact of the matter was, I couldn’t imagine not writing. 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.

Honestly, at this point, I assumed I was on my way. But as my agent submitted my most recent novel at the beginning of 2015, rejections started rolling in. With doubts nipping at those typing fingers, I started Manuscript #6. I assumed by now that I had probably put as many hours into my writing career as a person pursuing their Master’s Degree put into their total college education. I refused to see those hours go to waste. Something must simply come from them.

When my agent read Manuscript #6, she was enthusiastic about the story. But there was a lot that needed to be fixed. After a month of waking up at 4AM to write, I submitted the story, once again gave its fate over to God, and waited. Meanwhile, I got a part-time night job at the garden center of Walmart.

I will never forget the night my husband and two boys surprised me by coming into the garden center where I worked. 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 and fell into the petunias. Really.

A few weeks later, I signed a two-book contract with Tyndale Publishers, my all-time dream publishing house.

What is your favorite Louisa May Alcott book?
Little Women, of course! Although I was also quite fascinated by her account Hospital Sketches which depicted her time as a nurse during the Civil War. She writes with such amazing heart and humor—so much insight into life and humanity. Love it all!

Were you able to visit the locations used in your novel?
Yes! In fact, I didn’t start writing until I visited Concord. It’s part of my process. When I was at Louisa’s Orchard House, Walden Pond, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, that’s where my characters began to come alive for me.

What message do you hope readers take away from The Orchard House?
When I started this novel, I knew I wanted to bring Louisa and Orchard House to life for those who already loved Little Women. I also wanted to give a deeper appreciation for the woman behind the inspiration of Jo March.

As the book unfolded, I felt a strong desire to speak into the lives of women tied to unhealthy relationships. This was a cause dear to Louisa’s own heart, and yet it didn’t stop there because this novel is not just for women who are in such predicaments, it’s for women everywhere—women who need help, and women who are the ones helping. There’s a bond there I wanted to explore. Whether it be one of friendship or one of sisterhood, I wanted this book to feature women helping women. And so, in that regard, I hope women everywhere will be able to appreciate this story.


Jody Stinson believes every story deserves a happy ending—even if she has to write one herself. After an international upbringing, she continues to travel whenever she can. Her goal is to take her readers somewhere new, make them smile, and give them hope through Christ. She currently writes freelance including articles, devotionals, commercials, and even a client's wedding toast.

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