Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to connect with former journalist and best-selling author, Heather Blanton. I was immediately impressed by her work. At that time, I knew Heather was talking to Hollywood, and I wasn’t certain she’d have time for an interview, but there was no hesitation in her reply. Heather graciously and promptly accepted the invitation. With that, it is my joy and privilege to introduce to you, Heather Blanton.
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Lydia: Hi Heather, so glad to have you with us! What is the name of your book and what is it about?
Heather: The book that started it all for me is A Lady in Defiance. It’s the story of three Christian sisters who struggle to maintain their faith in a lawless, godless mining town.
Lydia: Tell us a little about the setting.
Heather: Defiance is a fictional mining town set in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado at the height of the silver boom. Back when men were men, women were women and, well, that was it. Nice and simple.
Lydia: What was your hardest scene to write?
Heather: Besides all of them? Oh, yeah, the turn my heroine makes from judging the hero as a godless, unrepentant sinner to realizing she’s fallen in love with him. And, boy, does she run from this attraction!
Lydia: Does this novel carry a message?
Heather: Absolutely. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. It was fun tying all the fates together to bring people to the town of Defiance.
Lydia: How much of yourself have you put into this series?
Heather: Frankly, in the first chapter or two Naomi, my heroine, was me. But, to my amazement, the sassy, strong-willed girl began to take on a life of her own. I was really taken aback by her rebellion. On a serious note, it’s pretty obvious that the Holy Spirit was directing my writing.
Lydia: Where did you get the inspiration to write this book?
Heather: One of the sisters—Hannah—is based on my own sister who passed away in 1999 from breast cancer. Suzy started her “adult” life as an unwed, pregnant, 15-year-old, high school drop out, but finished her race as a mighty woman of God. I wanted to tell a romanticized version of her story. Originally, this was my way of dealing with the loss.
Lydia: Did you incorporate anything that happened to you in real life into this novel?
Heather: You betcha. One summer my husband and I went exploring ghost towns in Colorado. This is how I discovered the beautiful San Juan Mountains. Practically all of what I describe, I saw. It’s interesting, too, that readers seem to pick up on this. Out of over 500 reviews, MANY readers mention how real the town feels to them!
Also, besides being based on Suzy, this story is strewn with what’s called “Easter eggs.” My parents’ names, an old boyfriend’s name, a neighbor who played the banjo, actual conversations I’ve had—even down to a high school bully who put gum in my hair. Yeah, I got to eviscerate her in fiction. It felt goooood.
Lydia: What is something you edited out of this book?
Heather: Originally, about 25,000 words of backstory! But the rule is, start your story as close to the action as possible. So, I re-did the opening. While that turned out to be good advice and helped make A Lady in Defiance a bestselling novel, I did share the backstory with my newsletter subscribers. They loved it.
Lydia: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Heather: The Page family mentioned in the book are the actual founders of the little town of Cary, NC. I have been in the museum that was once their home and hotel.
Lydia: Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, what did you do to overcome it?
Heather: Yes, and I’ll let you know when I figure it out. I’ve never had much trouble until the novel I’m working on RIGHT NOW. A Destiny in Defiance, book 4 in the Romance in the Rockies series. I’m struggling because my attention is divided by two melodramatic teenagers. EVERYTHING is a crisis nowadays.
Lydia: Do you feel God’s presence when you write?
Heather: For sure, but some days (or scenes) more than others. For example, there is a scene in A Lady in Defiance in which a prostitute picks up the Bible and reads the story of the woman about to be stoned for adultery (John Chapter 8). I cried writing that scene.
Lydia: Have you seen any miracles that you would care to share in the making of this book?
Heather: The ENTIRE story of A Lady in Defiance is a miracle. I’ll just share one. I happened to be on Facebook one day chatting with my assistant. In the background, I saw that an actor had posted his joy over getting a new part and being considered for another. I didn’t even know how I met the guy, but I popped over real quick and congratulated him. He responded by saying he wanted to play a part in one of my book adaptations. I said it just so happened I had a script, but I wasn’t doing anything with it. He said he had someone he wanted me to meet. A few days later the president of a movie production company contacted me. I told him about the book and the script. He then told me he actually remembered picking up and considering A Lady in Defiance at a Books-a-Million in Texas! We both took that as a sign!
Lydia: What was the most surprising lesson you learned in creating this book?
Heather: Once I had finished writing A Lady in Defiance, I realized I had unintentionally written the Hero’s Journey. But it fit almost perfectly with every beat suggested! So I study plot structures a lot.
Lydia: Where do you get your ideas?
Heather: God. And Starbucks.
Oh, and I research. I just LOVE history and there is a ton of non-fiction mixed in with ALL my novels.
Lydia: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Heather: For my Westerns, I typically have an idea and then might have to research something specific while I’m writing (like mining techniques or how to hang a person). For my time travel novel For the Love of Liberty, however, I actually had to do some pretty extensive research on life in Colonial America, the Revolutionary War, and genetic memory experimentation before getting started. This is one of my highest rated books so I must have done a pretty good job.
Lydia: How many hours a day do you write?
Heather: Well, after the gym, the grocery story, picking up a teenager from school, my husband barging in for lunch, etc., it feeeeels like five minutes. Truthfully, it’s more like four or five hours. Just think what I’d get done without the interruptions.
Lydia: How long on an average does it take you to write a book?
Heather: If I’m pushed, I can get a 50,000-word first draft out in a month. Usually, it’s about 60 days, though.
Lydia: What inspires you to write?
Heather: A good scene that MUST be written. That pulls me back to the keyboard all the time. If the dialogue or action is popping, I rush to my computer.
Lydia: Do you have a set schedule for writing?
Heather: Seems like it’s always about noon or one when I sit down to write. This is not ideal, but right now, it is what it is.
Lydia: How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?
Heather: Not hard at all. Most of my stories call to me and I must answer. I’m on an ethereal speed dial.
Lydia: Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
Heather: My goal is 1000 words. If I can do that, I won’t whip myself with chains. I often casually shoot for more, though.
Lydia: Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
Heather: Usually a vague outline exists in my head. Then the story sort of tells me if we’re going to stick to this road map or careen wildly off the pavement.
Lydia: What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
Heather: Sitting. Literally. The older I get, the stiffer my hips and my hiney are getting. I recommend joining a gym. I love mine. Oh, and I now use a vertical mouse. Wow, that’s a Godsend, for sure!
Lydia: What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?
Heather: These two elements are so important to a book’s success, we need to come up with a new word for success. I have two books that I love but they have struggled to get traction and I believe it’s because I just can’t get the dang covers right. Not the designer’s fault necessarily. They’re slightly unusual stories.
Lydia: Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
Heather: You know, I think I’ve finally figured out what I like about my voice and I arrived at this understanding by trying to figure out why I like some authors and not others. Maturity. I don’t like characters that sound thin, shallow, cheesy, or naïve. For example, a 20-something author is going to have a hard time, in my humble opinion, sounding like a wise, 40-something husband dealing with a cheating wife. Doable, of course, but a rare talent.
Life experiences help create your voice. I didn’t start writing fiction “for real” until I was in my 40’s. A lot had changed in my life and it was reflected in my voice.
Lydia: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Heather: I suppose the big news is that all three of my Defiance novels have been optioned for a limited television series. Praise God! I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think this is really going to happen. We’ve had some encouraging comments from some channels. Once the money is finalized, production will start. I’d sure appreciate the prayers for this!
Lydia: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Heather: I tend to see scenes in my head at a bit of a close-up angle, if you will. I need to pull the camera back a little and do more with body language.
Lydia: How did it feel when your first book got published?
Heather: So, in my situation, things are a little different. In February of 2012, I asked my agent if I could self-publish A Lady in Defiance, as I wanted to sell 200 copies for my Relay for Life team. In the meantime, A Lady was winding its way through the hallowed halls of a MAJOR Christian publisher, to the point that it made it to the fabled Contract Meeting. Only, by this time (May), my book had already sold 3,000 copies so they turned me down. A Lady in Defiance went on to sell 8,000 copies that year and to date has sold well over 50,000 copies and generated three sequels. That is all God and I am grateful to Him!
Lydia: What is your motivation for writing more?
Heather: I feel undone, lost, drifting, incomplete if I’m not writing. It rescues me from a house of moody, fussy boys, ages 15, 18, and 57.
Lydia: Do you know the end of your book before you start writing?
Heather: Not always, but I do always know a pivotal scene and write backward or forward from that one. Although, I will say, in A Promise in Defiance I saw the death of a MAJOR character toward the end and I had to write nearly the whole novel prepping to kill said major character.
Lydia: Do you keep a folder for your ideas?
Heather: Yes. A file on my computer entitled Ideas. Creative, I know.
Lydia: Do you have to write a thought down when it comes to you?
Heather: No. I have a dictation app on my phone and it’s full of weird, little blurbs. Hmmmm. It just occurred to me, there are some blurbs on there that, out of context, could get me arrested.
Lydia: What books do you like to read in your free time?
Heather: Time travel, gothic horror (I am a huge Poe fan), and hard-hitting but clean westerns and western romance.
Lydia: How did you get your start in writing?
Heather: Which time? I suppose it all really goes back to when I was 5 and my mom typed up a story for me that I dictated to her. I’m still irked about some of her editorial changes. A Lady in Defiance, however, came around as I was working for a publisher and I saw all these authors handing in books and suddenly, BAM, I had to write the story. Seriously. Just like that.
Lydia: Do you listen to music or any sort of background noise when you write?
Heather: SILENCE! I must have SILENCE to write. The whole process is very immersive for me. I even gesture with my hands, make facial expressions, etc. working through scenes. My family is used to it. The people at the coffee shop…
Lydia: Have you written a full scene or idea and then tossed it?
Heather: Unfortunately, yes, and I’ve often wanted them back. Scrivener allows screen shots now, though, and I think that is a gift from heaven!
Lydia: What advice would you give writers who are struggling with their first novel?
Heather: First, read, read, read craft books! My favorite is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Simply because it is so simple and it will light your creative fires. You’ll get up and take notes as you’re reading it! Promise. Second, reverse engineer your favorite books. Take them apart. Look for the beats, character arcs, character nuances, plot twists, etc. I did a lot of this early on. Especially with books by Tamera Alexander. Third, get thee to a writer’s conference. The knowledge and the connections will prove invaluable!
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Thank you so much for checking out our interview with Heather Blanton! If you’d like to enter for a chance to win a free copy of A Lady In Defiance, sign up for our mailing list below! You can visit Heather’s website by clicking here, and find all of her works for sale on Amazon here. Also be sure to follow her on Facebook. If you have a question or comment for us, we’d love love to hear from you! Be sure to share this post, and comment below.