If you haven’t had a chance to read my review of “Planning to Live”, you can find it here. It’s a book about real people, real problems, and contains a message that I think we all need to hear. I was fortunate to have a chance to chat with Heather Wardell, the author of “Planning to Live”. There is a little someting for everyone to be found in our talk – from serious to sublime to silly. We discussed her experience with self-publishing, the importance of “lovely little things” in your life, polar bears, squirrels, and – of course – zombie preparedness. Enjoy!
The Word Zombie: How has the self-publishing business been for you so far? Any tips for aspiring and potentially self-published new authors?
Heather Wardell: So far so good! I really wanted to have my books read, and self-publishing has made that happen. Every time my sales number goes up by one I get a little flicker of “someone else wants my writing!” and I love that.
My biggest tip would be: make your book absolutely the best you can. Self-publishing has something of a reputation for poor quality, although happily that is changing, so if you’re self-publishing make sure your book doesn’t drag the rest of us down. If you’re going the agent route, you still need your book to shine like a lake in full sun. Don’t assume anyone will overlook those “little” typos and grammar errors, and also make sure every plot element is as strongly written as you can manage. Readers deserve that, whether they’re buyers or literary agents.
The Word Zombie: In the book, Rhiannon’s fiancé Bill meets his end alone in the snow, leaving notes for those that he loved. Rhiannon finds herself in much the same situation. Can you talk a little about the symmetry in those events?
Heather Wardell: When I write, I like to plan large parts of the book but leave some key details to be found in the moment. How Bill died was one of those details. I knew he did die but I hadn’t decided how. When I’d finished writing that part, I sat back, feeling sad and a little sick, and recognized the symmetry you mention. I wish I could tell you it was all planned out and part of a careful design, but in reality it was one of those “where the heck did I get that from?” flashes that make writing so much fun.
The Word Zombie: Some would consider it a blessing, some a curse – to know that you were approaching the end of your life, and had the opportunity to say a few last words to those that you love. Put in that situation, who would you absolutely have to send a message to, and what would it be?
Heather Wardell: It would so have to be my husband. He’s supported me through two career changes (from software developer to elementary school teacher and then to full-time writer without full-time income) with unfailing encouragement and confidence, and I have no idea where I’d be without him.
As for the message, I’d tell him I love him, and give him a last warning to watch out for the squirrels. (It’s a bit of a running joke… whenever anything strange happens he claims the squirrels did it as part of their plans for world domination.)
The Word Zombie: Until the very end of the book, I wasn’t sure exactly where you were going to take the conclusion. When you started writing, did you know where Rhiannon would ultimately end up, or did you discover it along the way?
Heather Wardell: Obviously, Rhiannon either gets out of the car or she doesn’t. Either ending was possible, but I felt from the start that the book had to go a certain way, and that way continued to make sense throughout the planning and writing process so I stayed with it. I’ve had a reviewer state that the ending was both expected and unexpected, which I liked.
The Word Zombie: As part of the book’s release, you started the “Lovely Little Things” blog and twitter feed. Can you share a little about what “Lovely Little Things” are?
Heather Wardell: Most definitely. They’re things like a perfect cup of coffee, smoothing a cat’s soft fur, or as Rhiannon says in the book, “the quiet satisfaction of finishing a workout that I know was really the best I could give right then”. We all have these lovely little things every day, tiny moments that make our lives wonderful, but we often don’t notice them.
The blog and Twitter feed are about noticing those things. They’re in whatever state would come before “fledgling” at the moment, but I know how I want them to work. I’m hoping to have people tell me their lovely little things which I will then pass along so others can enjoy and be enlightened by them. I’ve been doing it daily now since early October and it’s making a dramatic difference in my own attitude and mood. I hope it’s working for my followers too. It’s at http://lovelylittlethings.heatherwardell.com.
I also made two desktop graphics that use a quote from the book to emphasize the concept. They’re available for free download from my web site at http://www.heatherwardell.com/free.shtml
The Word Zombie: I found an interesting Internet project a while back – 101 things you should do in the next 1,001 days. What are 3 things you would like to do in the next 1,001 days?
Heather Wardell: So interesting you should mention this. I have a 101 list! It’s woefully out of date but I am working on it now and will be reposting it before the end of October, although likely not as a full 101 things since I refuse to repeat my previous error of padding it with things I don’t truly want to do just to have sufficient things.
Three things I WILL do in the next 1,001 days: get my 5K race time down to below thirty minutes (I’m currently just under thirty-five), run in Central Park (I’ve been to New York once but didn’t have time to run), and go to the zoo on a particularly cold day to spend the day watching the polar bears. (I have an obsession with them, as my first book’s title “Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo” might suggest.)
The Word Zombie: How much of Heather Wardell is there in Rhiannon?
Heather Wardell: Some days, far too much. Rhiannon is a spectacular planner, and we have that in common, along with good work ethic and a determination to do our best. Unfortunately, we also share the “no matter what I do, it’s not good enough” issue. I’m working on it, and am truthfully finding the “Lovely Little Things” site helpful in this regard because I can see the good things happening around me.
Rhiannon has far nicer hair, though.
The Word Zombie: All great writers start out, in my humble opinion, as great readers. What are the next three books on your “to read” pile?
Heather Wardell: Since I do most of my reading electronically, my “pile” lives in my iPhone and at goodreads.com. I tend to pick my next book based on my mood in the moment, but up very soon will be:
“Tribes” by Seth Godin
“The Opposite of Love” by Julie Buxbaum
“The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau, one of my favorite bloggers
The Word Zombie: What’s the one question that I should have asked you but didn’t?
Heather Wardell: Why I’m selling my books for $0.99 when most self-publishers are choosing the $2.99 price point. I have heard the arguments about devaluing the work by selling it so cheaply, and I do understand them, but my goal at the moment is to get my books in as many hands as I can and I’m hopeful that the lower price helps with that.
The Word Zombie: Once the zombie apocalypse occurs (and I think we can all agree it’s a matter of when, not if), will you be going it alone, or looking to join up with a ragtag group of survivors? Also, do you prefer long-range weapons (guns, flamethrowers) or melee weapons (classic baseball bat) when dealing with a zombie uprising?
Heather Wardell: As a major fan of the “Shaun of the Dead” movie, I have strong opinions here. The ragtag group of survivors has appeal if I get to choose my group members. If I don’t and the only available group is wildly annoying, then I will go it alone, and perhaps pick off the most aggravating group members from a distance with my long-range weapons. When I play video games I’m always the sniper off in the distance since I tend to brain my companions if I use melee weapons in their immediate vicinity.
Come to think of it, the ragtag group is probably better off without me!
I want to thank Heather for taking the time to chat with me and wish her the best with the release of “Planning to Live”. If you want to learn more about her, the Lovely Little Things blog, or read the first chapter “Planning to Live” – visit her at www.heatherwardell.com.
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