Thursday, December 6, 2012

Author Q&A: Heather Huffman author of Devil in Disguise

Heather Huffman, author of the book Devil in Disguise, stopped by for a Q&A courtesy of her publisher.



Did you always want to become a writer?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t get serious about trying to become a published author until my thirties. I drifted through my 20s with no real clue who I wanted to be when I grew up. I worked in human resources and corporate communication - it paid the bills, but my stress level was through the roof.

By the time I was 31, I took a look around my life and realized it wasn’t at all what I dreamed it would be, and I wasn’t fulfilled in my job. I wanted to write fiction. I hadn’t written a novel in years, and it was as if a piece of my soul was missing. But I’m a firm believer that it’s never too late to make a change in your life.

I started giving away my books to raise awareness of human trafficking. A little over a year ago, my current publisher, Booktrope, approached me. It wasn’t an easy journey, but today I have over half a million books in circulation, I love what I do, and I’m grateful to be able to use my words to try to make an impact in the lives of others. 


Was the publishing process difficult?

It was a grueling process! When I first got serious about being a published writer, I memorized the Writers Market. Then I put together a spreadsheet with every agent and small publisher I was interested in. Each round of submissions took hours and hours, then came the agony of waiting for replies, documenting answers, and selecting the agents for the next round.

When I first started submitting novels, I got the form letter back and I knew my work wasn’t ready. I learned from the rejections and got better. When I was having drawn out conversations with agents, I knew the problem was no longer my skill level, it was finding a niche for my work. When an agent told me point-blank that she loved the writing in Jailbird, but a story like that would never be published mainstream, I knew I was faced with a decision.

Ultimately I decided I’d rather be true to the stories in my head than write to please a publisher. So I decided to go indie with the four novels I’d already written. Sharing my books with others on that level was an amazing experience. I’m forever grateful to the readers who reached out to me in that first year.


What made you go with a newer publisher, one that has some controversial aspects about them?

When Booktrope contacted me, I was initially hesitant to sign with a publisher. I’d been rather spoiled by the level of control I had with being indie. Around the same time, I’d also been contacted by someone who felt I should be seeking mainstream representation again. I found myself with three choices laid out before me: stay indie, go with a new, alternative publisher, or get back in the New York game.

Before I’d even heard of Booktrope, I firmly believed the publishing industry would have to adapt if it wanted to survive. Then I found out about Booktrope, and I was impressed by how well they grasped the current climate and what to do about it. The founders of Booktrope are smart, and I think they have the ability to thrive in the current market. I can’t say enough how proud I am to be one of their authors.


What role does your family play in your writing?

That’s a dangerous question; you could get me into a lot of trouble answering this. When I write, I hold very little back. If something has happened to me, if I’ve experienced a particular feeling or life event, it will eventually show up in my novel, woven through the fiction. Because I put so much of myself out there when I write, my family can’t help but impact that. Our antics, our ups and downs are chronicled in my novels, with names and details changed enough to keep them from coming after me with torches and pitchforks. I do have to giggle a little when they start trying to guess who’s who – the frequency of wrong guesses says a lot about how much our perception differs.

I have a big family with lots of children in it. Family gatherings are a noisy affair and it’s not uncommon to laugh so hard you have to worry about something coming out of your nose. We never do anything halfway – when we love, we love with all we have. When we fight, we drive each other absolutely insane. Diving into the many facets of my relationships with them could fill a thousand novels.

Sometimes, we really have fun with it. In the novel I’m currently working on, the heroine has three sons – my entire family was all too happy to pitch in and help me remember some of the crazier things my boys have done over the years.


Have they been supportive of your new career?

The short answer: Yes and no. My husband and children have been amazingly supportive. I have aunts and cousins who’ve never missed a book signing – even if they have to travel hours to be there. I’m not sure some of my family members took my writing seriously at first because I was so shy about telling them I wanted to be a writer. My friends knew that’s what I always wanted to be, but I don’t know if my parents or sisters knew it was more than a passing hobby until I published my first novel. Now they’re proud of what I’ve accomplished.


What about where you live now inspires you?

My family recently relocated to the rugged Ozarks to try to live off the land. It’s been a lot of work but definitely provides a source of inspiration every day. We now have horses, chickens, ducks, two livestock guardian dogs and a couple of barn cats – with our first milk cow joining us this fall, and as I write, I look out over our 10 acres of land. Most days, my mare Dixie also wanders up to the back patio door to say hello!

We are eating homegrown, healthier food, we’ve reduced our consumerism, and we are able to spend time together, outside, with the animals we love. It really is a dream come true.


Devil in Disguise seeks to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking. How did you get involved in this particular cause? Are all your books about human trafficking?

I first learned about modern-day slavery when I was conducting Internet research for my novel Throwaway, and I soon realized there was a vast and pervasive evil thriving right under our noses, and most people weren’t even aware of it. It snowballed from there.

As I’ve become more involved in the fight, I’ve learned so much more. When you speak to those directly impacted – investigators, victims, families of victims – it puts a face to the numbers, and that changes everything.

Human trafficking matters at every level, but there’s something especially urgent about our need to protect our children. One statistic I came across said in the United States, the largest newly-trafficked demographic is American-born girls between the ages of 12 and 14. As a mother, aunt and human being, I find this beyond horrifying. I’m desperate to change those numbers.


How close to reality are the stories you write?

Many things about my books are fiction. That said, the premise of Devil in Disguise novel is eerily similar to the first case worked on by Project Liberty, a task force dedicated to ending human trafficking. When I talk about abductions, the stories are based on real ones, with names changed to protect the innocent.


Some of your novels are described as a paradox of light and dark. How do you manage to address difficult issues and yet provide entertaining fiction?

The evil of human trafficking is merely a common element to many of my novels, but it’s not a primary theme. The theme that truly permeates my writing is hope, the same theme that permeates my life – if there’s a breath left in our body, things can always get better. But if we’re to find that better world, we must fight for it, and we must hope.

My passion is and always will be writing fiction with strong female characters who are flawed, relatable and very human. The stories and settings are varied but always intertwine, reminding us of the important truth that our lives are all connected in some fashion. We are more alike than we realize.

One of my first books, Jailbird, tackles some dark subjects but the heroine, Neena Allen, never lost her sense of humor. The human trafficking premise of Devil in Disguise is fraught with danger and darkness. Still, that’s not how I’d characterize it. I’d say Rachel and Conrad’s story is one of determination, hope, love and joy. It’s about new beginnings, and it has its share of laughter.


Your heroines are strong women who refuse to lose hope, no matter how difficult the situation they’re in. Are any of them modeled after you?

Neena is a little me, a little of who I hope to be, and a lot of the women I see all around me everyday. She has a lot of traits I love: wit, perseverance and resourcefulness to name a few. Her resourcefulness is something I aspire to in my own life, although my attempts seldom work out as well as hers. My chicken coop is a working example of how reality differs from fantasy – it’s made from recycled parts and, while functional, it looks more like modern art than a working coop.

Neena’s plight seems so horrible, yet just the other day I heard that 1 out of 3 girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18, so it’s not an uncommon one. The details of her story are exceptional, but the heart of her tale is something many of us can identify with. Neena’s strength is a combination of the beautiful strength and power of the women in my world.



About the book:

Tenacious reporter Rachel Cooper devotes her life to exposing corruption by shining a light on the darker corners of the world - a career that doesn't leave much room for relationships. Even so, she finds it impossible to stop thinking about her unexpected run-in with Conrad Langston, an old flame that never quite burnt out.

When her mother calls in the middle of the night because her sister is missing and the police are offering little help, Rachel immediately turns to the only person she knows she can always count on - Conrad.

Determined to protect her family, Rachel finds herself embroiled in the frightening and tragic underworld of human trafficking. As her pursuit of justice pulls her deep into the darkness, she recognizes an opportunity to re-evaluate her choices in life and take a new path - even if it means walking through the fires of hell to protect the ones she loves.

Passionate, engaging and poignant, Devil in Disguise entertains while raising awareness of modern day social issues.




About the author:

Heather was born and spent her early childhood in Florida before moving to the beautiful state of Missouri.  Her greatest joy, aside from writing, is working their land in the Ozarks and tending to her horses, chickens and ducks with her three boys.

With over half a million books in circulation, Heather writes contemporary romance with strong female leads who refuse to lose hope. She is the author of Throwaway, Ties That Bind, Jailbird, Suddenly a Spy, Ring of Fire, Tumbleweed and Devil in Disguise.

You can find out more about her homesteading, writing and charitable work on www.heatherhuffman.net.




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