I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.
At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.
Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.
While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:
- most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
- how to counter a ruthless dictator,
- the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
- how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
- how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.
In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.
Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World. Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?
What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.
Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.
Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.
Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.
How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.
How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.
Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.
Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.
Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.
A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.
My website can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com
My blog can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com/blog
My email address is: BDHWrites@gmail.com
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?
Joni Keim writes technical (alternative health and wellness), spiritual (her father’s influence), and memoirs (matters of the heart)—for 40 years and counting.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write technical, spiritual, and memoirs.
I first started writing technical in 1979 for natural health magazines. At the time, I worked at the Wholistic Health and Nutrition Institute in Mill Valley, CA, and learned a lot about alternative health. I was a licensed aesthetician, so I began writing articles and teaching classes on a healthy approach to skin care and using non-toxic skin care products. Some years later, I became the technical director for a natural product company that had a skin care line and an essential oil line. I wrote about both for websites, labels, newsletters, and training manuals. I continued to write for magazines. This was my career for over 30 years.
In addition to what I wrote professionally, I also had personal projects. From 2000 to 2008, a colleague, Ruah, and I wrote three books together. The books were based on using essential oils (aromatic plant extracts) in a spiritual context. We both had studied subtle energy healing, and she was a Spiritual Director. Aromatherapy & Subtle Energy Techniques, Aromatherapy Anointing Oils, and Daily Aromatherapy were published by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley. Foreign rights were purchased by Brazil. Many years later, the rights to these books were returned to us, and since that time, 2nd editions have been written and published for all of them. In addition to the books that Ruah and I wrote, I penned two books about angels.
Now in my seventy-plus years, I have written memoirs. The memoir books are a part of what I call my Tribute series—honoring that which has been so dear to me. There are now five books in that series. A book was written for each of two special men in my life that unexpectantly passed away. The books were composed in a simple, child-like style and illustrated with cartoons. However, they were for grown-ups (and the child in all adults). Writing these books was profoundly helpful for me to deal with the grief of losing those dear friends.
What brought you to writing? I did not major in English or literature in school. Still, I enjoyed the writing assignments and found researching and organizing information rewarding. I was also an avid letter writer—back in the days before email and texting.
When I began writing for natural health magazines, my children were young. The writing process provided intellectual stimulation amidst the diapers and carpooling.
In retrospect, I realize the foundation for the desire and pleasure of writing was probably set when I was a child. I was basically an introvert, and I was the youngest. The rest of the family was gregarious and extroverted, so I never really felt like I fit in. (But I knew I was loved.) My mother used to joke about how sending me to my room was not a punishment, and she would eventually have to get me to re-join the family.
So, in this setting—being an introvert and the youngest—I didn’t have the inclination or the opportunity to talk about things I wanted to, and I didn’t feel I would be heard. Writing allowed me to say what I wanted to say. Maybe more to the point was that I HAD something to say.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part of my writing process is accessing the “zone” when it eludes me. The “zone” is when I am so fully present, relaxed, and patient that the writing flows and my thinking is energetic, clear, and accurate. When the “zone” is not available, it reminds me of what it is like when you enter a room that smells good. As you stay in that room, you no longer smell the aroma because the olfactory sense goes numb for that scent. Interestingly, when you leave the room for a bit and come back, you can smell it again. So, when I can’t get in the zone, I leave the writing and come back another time.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my office at a stand-up desk on an iMac. I look out the wide window to the neighborhood. My dog, Paris, is at my side. I write throughout the day, every day, for a couple of hours total, on various projects.
I have a strong ability to focus and block out distractions. However, if the distraction is overpowering, I simply stop. I know from experience that trying to write when I am not fully present is not worth the time spent.
How long did it take you to write your first book? How long to get it published? My first book, Natural Skin Care: Alternative & Traditional Techniques, was published in 1996 by North Atlantic Books under my name at that time: Joni Loughran. It took me a year and a half to write it. When it was finished, I submitted it, and it was published. The same was true for the three books that Ruah and I wrote.
I feel fortunate about having had such an easy time getting published. It came about because I had met the owner of North Atlantic Books in a doctor’s office waiting room. We were chatting. I told him that I wrote for natural health magazines. He said he was a publisher and told me I should write a book. So, I did, and he published it. Now, I am self-publishing.
Tell us about your writing process. This George Orwell quote makes me laugh: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
I have experienced that sentiment. After each one of the first few books I wrote, I told myself that I wouldn’t do it again. Yet, fifteen books later, I know now that writing is a part of my lifestyle and one that I will likely continue. I haven’t run out of ideas yet.
The first tenets that I embraced when I started writing were 1) write about what I know and 2) include facts, quotes, and anecdotes. When I begin a project, I first lay out the table of contents, knowing that it may change. Then I start one chapter at a time. I also keep a document of random notes. When I am writing a book, it is ever on my mind, and ideas pop up when I least expect them. I will jot them down anywhere I can and then transfer them all into my “Notes” document. Periodically, I go through those notes to ensure I include everything I thought would have value in the book. I have found that this makes the finished book much richer than it would have been.
How can our readers contact You?
Fiction writer Deven Greene lives in the San Francisco Bay area. Ever since childhood, Deven has been interested in science. After working as a biochemist, she went back to school and became a pathologist. When writing fiction, she usually incorporates elements of medicine or science. Deven has penned several short stories. Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1 is the first novel the author has published. Her recently completed novel, Unwitting, is the second novel in the trilogy.
After a suicide bomber explodes at a baseball game, Erica takes in a young autistic man who has been trained to be a suicide bomber, hoping to find the perpetrator behind the operation and prevent further bombings.
Any comments about any other of your books: Unwitting is the second novel in the Erica Rosen MD Trilogy. It can be read as a stand-alone, although I think the reader might enjoy knowing the protagonist’s background and others in her sphere, which would be learned in the first book of the trilogy, Unnatural.
Tell us about your writing process. My writing is generally plot-driven. I start with a concept or idea I find interesting, often something in popular culture or the news. After I research the topic, I come up with a suspenseful plot centered around that idea. Then it’s time to conjure up characters who can pull it off. Lastly, after spending a fair amount of time thinking about it, I come face to face with my computer screen and type.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I find that every time I re-read something I’ve written, I notice things to change. I suspect I often toggle the wording back and forth in some passages each time I see them. It is also difficult for me to decide when I’m done. Maybe I could improve the wording here or there, but at some point, I need to move on.
What are you currently working on? I am, of course, working on the last and final installment of my Erica Rosen MD Trilogy. The working title is Unforeseen. Again, Erica and those close to her will be involved.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I absolutely do base my characters on real people. This is most true in Unwitting, where Erica becomes the caretaker for a young man inspired by one of my children. Other characters often have smaller similarities to people I have known. Some people may see themselves in particular individuals living in my books, but that is purely coincidental. Or is it?
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I learned early on that if I have a detailed blueprint, it’s bound to run into insurmountable obstacles as I write. I definitely have a plan, who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, some things that happen along the way, and how it will end. But as I am writing, ideas, details, and even inconsistencies pop up unexpectedly, so I need to be flexible and allow myself to make changes as I go along.
What kind of research do you do? I do enough research to feel comfortable with what I’m writing about if I don’t already know the subject sufficiently. I read books, do internet searches, and talk to experts that I know. I’m not writing fantasy, so I try to be accurate.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? For the most part, I use real locations. In the trilogy I’m writing, my protagonist, Erica Rosen, lives in San Francisco. I describe real places, such as Oracle Park baseball stadium. However, I often fabricate places such as homes, small stores, and towns.
Advice for new writers. Edit like crazy, and seek the opinion of others. It may be painful to hear criticism of your work, but it will help you in the end. There’s nothing worse than a rejection of your work without an explanation. Learn to appreciate whatever input others are willing to give you. You may not agree with it, and you don’t have to act on it, but you should at least listen with an open mind. One person may think your writing sucks, but if five out of five think it sucks, it probably does. Never fear, though. You can improve. It takes time to hone your writing skills.