Posted on March 7, 2019 at 11:50 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Those who work with children probably hear, or observe themselves, something along the lines of how the youngsters end up teaching the adults, instead of vice versa.
In a way, that was true for author Heather Gudenkauf.
Like the vast majority of writers, Gudenkauf is a lifelong bookworm, perhaps even more so than the typical author — her total hearing loss in one ear made daily life tiring, so she sought refuge and relaxation, at the end of the day, by reading.
But she didn’t seriously pursue publication until well into her career as an educator.
Gudenkauf had finished the first draft of her debut novel, The Weight of Silence, over summer break, and faced the question of “so what now?” during winter break.
Ultimately she decided that she owed it to her students — that if she were encouraging them to pursue their dreams, she had to set the example and do the same.
It turned out that by practicing what she preached, she would become a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author.
Gudenkauf was kind enough to share more details about this journey with us recently.
SADYE: Do you think your hearing loss has affected your writing, beyond Not A Sound (in which the main character becomes deaf)?
HEATHER: As someone with a significant hearing loss, growing up, I found it very difficult to hear in noisy classrooms. I missed a lot!
Even today, I struggle with busy spots like restaurants and crowded spaces and as a result, often find myself on the perimeter, quietly observing what’s going on around me rather than actively participating in conversations.
I think this tendency to be watchful has helped me hone my observation skills.
I try to infuse my writing with details that bring the reader into the story and the characters’ world.
SADYE: How long had you been interested in writing or very casually writing before beginning The Weight of Silence?
HEATHER: I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a child. But as is typical with most writers, I was and am, first and foremost, an avid reader.
As a child, my favorite place in the world was our public library, and I spent as much time as possible with my nose in a book.
I loved mysteries and plowed my way through all the Encyclopedia Brown, Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew mysteries.
As I got older, I continued to read mysteries, but my interests expanded to a variety of genres.
I’ve always admired the way writers could take me away to different places and times through the written word.
In high school, I wrote for our school newspaper, and in college I took as many writing electives that my schedule allowed.
I always knew I wanted to try my hand at writing but didn’t sit down and seriously begin until after I was married and my children were school-aged.
SADYE: You were at the University of Iowa, studying to become a teacher, when a former student came back and shot several people, including himself. Did that put any fear into your heart about the safety of teaching?
HEATHER: The shooting at the University of Iowa in 1991, to me, seemed like a very isolated event at the time.
It wasn’t until Columbine that I truly felt some fear in entering the classroom.
Post-Columbine, I have often thought of that terrible day and wondered what I would have done and how I would have reacted if I had been in that school.
Sadly, we’ve seen a spate of school shootings since. That said, I do believe that our schools, in general, are very safe places for children.
Firsthand, I have seen the great detail and care that school districts take in regard to our students.
Procedures have been put in place, doors are locked, and visitors have to be buzzed into the school building. Teachers are vigilant; if anything or anyone is out of place it is reported.
Most importantly, schools work so hard to help students feel welcome in their schools and their communities – giving them a sense of connection and safety.
Thankfully, in my years as a teacher, while I’ve been involved in several lockdown situations, none imposed a direct threat to the students or staff and all were resolved quickly.
When an event like this happens so close to home, it can change how one sees the world and has the potential of shattering all sense of security.
And while I will continue to carry with me the shock and sadness of November 1, 1991, I will also remember the good that inevitably comes with the bad: a deeper sense of empathy, appreciation for the little things in life, the importance of not taking loved ones for granted.
SADYE: What has been the proudest moment or most rewarding theme of your writing career so far?
HEATHER: By far my favorite part of my writing journey so far has been the people I’ve met along the way.
From readers, to my publishing team, to fellow writers and to book sellers. I love connecting with people who love books as much as I do.
Whether it be in person or virtually, there’s nothing better than hearing from a reader that one of my novels has had an impact on them.
Hands down, talking reading and writing with fellow book lovers from all walks of life is the best!
SADYE: What do your students think of your writing career?
HEATHER: My current role as an educator is primarily as a resource for teachers and administrators, but I when I hear from former students, they invariably bring up my writing.
In the early days of my writing career, this made me a bit nervous — “You’re too young to read my books,” I would exclaim.
Now that my students are all grown up, I’m thrilled when they pick up one of my novels.
But what I love even more is when a student recalls a fond memory from their time in my classroom. That’s the best.
SADYE: If there was a message or overarching theme you’d like readers to take from your works, what would it be?
HEATHER: Though my novels are often described as domestic and thrillers and they deal with intense and dark plotlines, they are populated with ordinary people who find themselves in these extraordinary or frightening situations.
Somehow, the characters still manage to find hope and good in the world in even the most challenging of circumstances.
A quote from one of my novels, These Things Hidden, reflects this perfectly: “Meet the world with hope in your heart…Meet the world with hope and it will reward you. I promise.”
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Categories: Author Interview