I’m a native Californian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My life path has included Catholic ministry, marriage, children, and a grandchild. The writing bug bit me somewhere along that path, and I’ve published 16 books ranging from spirituality to romantic drama to a trilogy based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Please tell us about your book and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:
Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell (Book 3 of the Wisdom of Les Misérables Trilogy)
Inspector Javert’s central theme: “What happens in the next instant after the heart beats for the last time.” Javert gazes into the River Seine. What future has he after freeing his enemy Jean Valjean? Rather than face his options, he leaps into the river.
- Book 1… Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean (nonfiction)
- Book 2… Bishop Myriel: In His Own Words
Do you write in more than one genre? I write both fiction and nonfiction. Topics range from romance/action to the arts and spiritual themes.
What brought you to writing? After a 20-year career in Catholic ministry, the writing bug bit.
Tell us about your writing process: I am gifted with (a) a love for the craft and (b) the ability to focus on the task at hand and stay with it for long stretches of the day. I don’t set goals about page count; I just stay with the process.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Most challenging is never allowing myself to fall in love with the draft I’m working on. Writing Inspector Javert brought that lesson home. At draft 10, I said, “Done!” The final book took 20+ drafts.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Without a doubt, my most important association throughout my career has been with the California Writers Club (Mount Diablo Branch). I tell people, “As a writer, it’s the only place I can go where people know what I’m talking about.”
Who’s your favorite author? If I have to pick one, it is Victor Hugo. He was such a complex human being in his personal life. That very complexity fed his mammoth ability to create the most varied and unforgettable characters.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My first three books came out as a series under the name Adult-to-Adult (Christ in Our Lives, Christians and Prayer, and Christians Reconciling, Winston Press). I drew upon material I developed during my ministry years.
How do you come up with character names? When writing fiction, names just seem to come to me. This may sound sappy, but the characters tell me their names.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters run the show, whether they behave themselves or misbehave. To me, a novel is boring if everyone “does the right thing” all the time. Characters must behave like real people. They can sin and repent—or not. There must always be a measure of growth as the story arcs to the end.
What’s the most challenging thing when writing characters of the opposite sex? As a male writer, it’s always a challenge to climb inside the mind and body of a woman character. In my trilogy (A Love Forbidden, Finding Isabella, and I’ll Paint a Sun), all the main characters are women. As is the protagonist in The Saint of Florenville. I’ve never heard a complaint from female readers that I “didn’t get it right.”
Do you ever kill a popular character? A protagonist, no. Supporting characters might need to die. Hugo modeled this in Les Misérables. At the barricade, the boy Gavroche dies first. Then his sister, Eponine, dies in Marius’s arms. Enjolras, the rebel leader, dies. Everyone dies except Jean Valjean and Marius.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell offers a good example. Javert’s ordered life turns upside down when he allows doubt to creep into his soul. Could a lifelong criminal be capable of goodness? That crack in Javert’s armor demands recognition. He might have gotten it wrong all his life. In an instant, the entire structure of his life falls apart.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? A hybrid “pantser.” I begin a novel with an idea arc. I don’t create an outline. I count on the characters to surprise me by doing something I didn’t see coming. In my Les Mis trilogy, I had to follow the plotline set by Hugo. E.g., Javert can’t be a warm-hearted, fun-loving cop. Nor could Jean Valjean act out of character. I worked within the parameters of Hugo’s storyline. After Javert’s death, I had complete freedom to do anything I wanted.
What kind of research do you do? Primarily, I focus on getting the historical time, place, weather, etc., as accurate as possible. It helps if I’ve actually visited the places where I set my story. For example, I’ve been to Paris four times over the years and have a feel for the local environment as I experienced it.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? It depends on the story. Inspector Javert bound me to get the time and place right. In another novel, I built my own world. Whether setting a story in San Francisco (I’ll Paint a Sun) or Peru (Circles of Stone and Down a Narrow Alley), I needed to get it as right as possible, though I’ve never been to Peru.
What is the best book you have ever read? Les Misérables. All 1,200 pages of it.
Do you have any advice for new writers? First, stop talking about writing and just do it. Don’t let your first draft be your last draft. Have faith in yourself and do the work.
Second, find a compatible writing community for moral support and learning the craft of writing. Third, have fun. Writing doesn’t have to be torture—if it is, don’t do it
If none of this appeals to you, find something else you like to do.
How do our readers contact you?
Confessions of a Middle-Aged Runaway is an RV travel adventure about how Heidi sold her house, quit her job, bought a motorhome, and hit the road with her dog for five years. It was a journey that transformed her life.
Heidi Eliason is a freelance writer and an editor for Runaway Publishing. Her past work includes writing for an RV adventure company, producing more than fifty RV travel articles for an online news source, and developing training courses and manuals. Confessions of a Middle-Aged Runaway is her first book. It has been translated into Korean and is selling in six countries. Heidi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find out more about Heidi’s travel and writing adventures at www.HeidiEliason.com.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write in multiple genres. Confessions is a memoir, and I’m currently working on a novel, a thriller. Although many readers have asked for a sequel to my memoir, the thriller is clamoring to be written now. I also have some ideas for a cozy mystery series, so that could be next.
What brought you to writing? I was a robust reader from an early age, but when I took a creative writing class in high school, I discovered I loved to write. I just didn’t think I could make a living at it, so I never seriously pursued it. I always figured I’d write on the side for pleasure. Oddly enough, I did end up making a good living as a writer, but I wrote training courses and manuals, not books.
During my motorhome adventure, I kept a blog to keep my family and friends informed about my journey. I also wrote RV travel articles and web content for an RV touring company. After my motorhome adventure ended, I wrote short pieces about my experience in a writing critique group, some of which were based on my blog posts. The members of that group encouraged me to turn the stories into a book. I never wanted to write a memoir, but it was such an incredible and life-changing experience, I just had to write about it.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took six years of on and off writing to complete my memoir because there were months at a time when I didn’t work on it at all. I tried writing it as a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but it was awful!
The memoir started in disconnected five-page increments in my writing group, and I organized it into a book at some point along the way. Four years ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and submitted a chapter to their writing contest. It won runner-up for nonfiction (under my previous name, Heidi Young). That gave me the nudge I needed to complete the book, and it was published in 2019.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Finishing something is the most challenging part for me. I get so many ideas for things I want to write that I’m great at starting things, but I struggle to finish the current project I’m working on. I get distracted or want to give up when the writing gets tough and instead work on the shiny new idea that just occurred to me. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so I don’t always know how I’m going to get to the end of the story or how I’ll keep the reader’s interest along the way. That can cause my writing to stall out sometimes. Most people call that writer’s block, but to me, it feels like a loss of interest. That tells me something needs fixing.
I decided to try writing an outline with my current book to see if that makes the writing faster and easier. I created a rough outline of about eight chapters, and then I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to start writing. The pantser in me took over. I wanted to see what my characters would do and how they would shape the story. I believe what some authors say about how their characters sometimes lead them in unexpected directions because I’ve experienced that feeling when characters take over. It’s a wonderful thing.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch has been incredibly helpful to me and my writing. I’ve learned so much from the speakers and writers there, found writing critique partners, and made friendships. I also found out about the San Francisco Writers Conference during one of the meetings, and attending that was incredibly educational and inspiring.
I’m also a member of the Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), which provides a ton of helpful resources, some of which also apply to fiction writing. The founder of NFAA, Stephanie Chandler, has written some exceptional books about self-publishing and marketing that guided me through the publication of my book.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I retired from my full-time technical writing job this year, but I’ll continue to do book editing through my company, Runaway Publishing. I hope to finish my current novel in 2022, now that I have more time for writing. After that, I’ll get going on one of the many other book ideas I have waiting in the wings. Since I was born with wanderlust and my husband retired at the beginning of this year, we want to do a lot of traveling. Hopefully, the Covid-19 situation will allow us to do international travel again.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Persistence is one of the most important qualities a writer can have. You need to keep going when the rejection letters come, self-doubt settles in, you wonder what the point of it all is, or you just don’t feel like writing. Keep writing, learning your craft, and reading. If you do those things, your work will improve, and you’ll get something published. Make writing one of your first priorities, and avoid the temptation to let other tasks and responsibilities have more importance than your writing. In other words, don’t do what I did! You’ll get something published much faster.
How do our readers find you and your books?
Virgil Alexander was born in his parent’s home in rural Gila County between Globe and Miami, Arizona. His uncles and cousins worked in law enforcement for various agencies. His dad was a volunteer reserve deputy, so he grew up with a lot of cop-talk. His father raised subsistence livestock and kept horses, so as a youth, he spent a lot of time taking care of these. His recreation was camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and riding. His hot summer afternoons were spent reading at the Miami and Globe public libraries. He enjoyed history, mysteries, westerns, and Arizona geography and nature.
He worked for 42 years in mining jobs, from laborer to corporate management. After retirement, he began consulting with museums on mining and Arizona history, researching and writing papers for the Historical Society, and articles for newspapers, magazines, and webpages. He is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, Public Safety Writer’s Association (PSWA), Western Writers of America, Southwest Writers, and Storymakers. He has won awards from the PSWA in categories: Best Published Fiction Book and Best Non-fiction Published Article.
Alexander’s contemporary rural police series, the Deputy Allred & Apache Officer Victor Series, consists of five mysteries published by Aakenbaaken & Kent. Broken Earth is the 5th book. Alexander’s books are infused with real settings in which the natural and human history of the place is part of the setting. The western lifestyle of ranching, farming, timber, and mining feed into the stories, as does the contemporary Hispanic, Mormon, and Native American cultures.
Broken Earth: Released by Aakenbaaken & Kent on October 6, 2021.
Sergeant Al Victor must walk a thin line between legal ethics and sacred Apache secrets when a fellow medicine man goes bad and flees into the sacred Broken Earth.
My Writing In my pre-retirement career I wrote technical manuals, standard operating procedures, research papers, and training manuals. I also wrote public communications articles and project newsletters. This turned out to be a handicap when I started writing fiction. I sent my first draft of Wham Curse to an editor, and she called me and asked, “Are you an engineer?”
“I’m a technical superintendent.”
“I thought so. You write like an engineer; STOP IT!” She then spent several weeks teaching me not to write like an engineer.
When I’m actually writing my story, I have the general idea in mind. From this, I create a simple outline to refer back to when I start wondering where is this going? But I don’t write to the outline; I let the story flow as it goes. This impromptu style often takes turns I didn’t plan on and often requires adapting earlier parts of the story to make more sense.
I write in vignettes representing one viewpoint, either of a character or the all-knowing narrator. In order to keep track of characters, I maintain a spreadsheet of all my regular and minor characters. So a jeweler, or medical examiner, or rancher from an earlier book might reappear in the book I’m working on when I need one of those people. Likewise, I track all the vignettes and storylines on a spreadsheet. These allow me to control my clues and events in a logical sequence.
Because my books involve two neighboring agencies, I always have multiple storylines. Some of them involve both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tribal Police, and others only involve one of the agencies. So I may have from three to six major storylines, plus quite a few minor ones.
I write several strong women characters in my books, principally Deputy Pat Haley, but also FBI agents, a State Department attorney, ranch women, and Deputy Sanchez’s petit wife, Jennie, who in one of the books shoots a bad guy to save her husband. How do I write my women characters? I think of a man then take away reason and accountability… Wait. No, that was Jack Nicholson. I base my women on women I know or have known. I was fortunate in my career to work with many outstanding and competent women, many in nontraditional roles. The women closest to me, my wife and daughters, are highly accomplished and leaders in their chosen fields.
I generally do a lot of research as I write. Since I really have no idea where my story may take me, about the only preparatory research I do is on the places I plan to use and if I have a particular source of murder I want to pursue. So when I wrote scenes in Chaco Canyon, I researched the place, as well as the organizational structure of the park, the routes that can be used, hotels and restaurants my people would use, etc. Then as I develop the story, I research new items as they pop up.
I use real places for my settings, including towns, streets, specific stores, cafes, wilderness trails, mountains, rivers, hospitals, etc. The only time I use a fictional place is if the place is really bad so that I won’t put a bad light on a real place. If somebody gets food poisoning at a restaurant, it will be a nonexistent place.
Many of my characters are based on real people I have known. I don’t say who I translate as a character because some would be honored, and some would sue. Most are a conglomerate of several people from whom I’ve borrowed their looks, integrity, dark side, or manner of speech.
Looking forward, I will likely write more books in this series. I would also like to get my book on the history of ranching in Gila County finished up. I have been dabbling in writing an epic historical novel using all real people and history to track the western movement of the American frontier, factual but written in novel style.
George, I appreciate the opportunity to appear on your blog. If anyone wants to know more about me, they can go to my webpage to see an expanded bio, all my books, my blog, coming events, photos, and more at: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/