Mountain Bathing by Kristen Heitzmann

20150724_160714The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir

Shinrin-yoku is Japanese for forest bathing or, in other words, getting into the trees and drinking in the fragrance, the sounds, and sights. This is suggested to promote health and serenity. Our local newspaper ran a feature on this concept, affirming what I experience once or even twice a day, hiking up the slopes and breathing mountain air. It’s about seeing three blue speckled beetles on decomposing roots, an abundance of blooming wild onions and violet hare bells. Water running over craggy stones. A hawk’s gyre overhead, sun through its wings. Stopping to see new bark on a charred trunk of a tree that survived fire.

It’s why I’ll push upward when my calves are burning and breath is hard and loud. To feel the mountain, to bathe in God’s creation. What are your “bathing” places?

INDIE TIME by Kristen Heitzmann

I’m excited to say I’ll be independently publishing my upcoming novel, TOLD YOU SO. I’m blessed to work the past seventeen years with top-notch publishers, but this seems the right avenue for this time and this series–yes, I’m now writing TOLD YOU TWICE. Being able to do these stories this way is exhilarating. But I’d like your input.

Here’s a peek at the first of the TOLD YOU Series:

Grace Evangeline knows her newest romance novel should be playing live on Broadway and will stop at nothing to convince playwright-producer Devin Bressard. Yes, it might involve a little stalking and infiltrating the people in his life to prove her plots are not contrived, her characters not cartoons. People all over the world love her novels–and her. So why should this man matter?

Devin Bressard likes his full and meaningful life. As “a voice for the times,” his productions strike nerves and win awards. Grace Evangeline’s request is laughable—until he starts glimpsing her in his East Village neighborhood. Forced to work together, he learns she’s trouble in more ways than one—a calamity vortex. Who could know the spokesperson for strength and virtue would ignite his carefully contained heart in a conflagration that touches more lives than their own?

That’s the bare bones gist of it. Now it’s time for book covers. For this romantic comedy series set in NYC, what might appeal to you?

A. artistic, i.e. watercolor wash, zany illustration, or other cool treatments

B. sharply photographic

C. feature faces

D. closeups of clothing, hands, etc. without faces

E. incorporate setting in a composite

F. Simple / plain with text

Feel free to vote or offer any thoughts you have about covers. I value your feedback!

A Vacancy for Joy by Kristen Heitzmann

Recently a friend sent me this quote that has resonated on different levels.

“I want my life to be an inviting guest room, where joy can walk in and stay awhile.” Ashley Wiersma

She sent it because my house has been a fairly continuous place of care and solace. As in Simon and Garfunkle’s Sparrow song, people can grow weary. We need somewhere to rest, to gather strength, to find a new direction, or renewed hope–or even cross from this life to the next. From the start, I sensed our home would be a haven. Only after we moved in did I notice the plaque from the previous owners who had named it Windhaven.

Let me tell you, we get some mighty winds rushing through this mountain valley, buffeting the walls and moaning in the chimneys. I’m fairly certain those winds inspired the name, but it means more than that to me. We all get tossed on the winds of life. My family has been buffeted in more ways than I can say. This physical shelter reminds me God is my stronghold in the day of trouble. (Nahum 1:7) He calls us to be little strongholds for each other, not necessarily our homes but certainly our hearts.

To open our lives to others as a guest room is an incredible gift. How blessed it is to share a time / place / moment of rest and renewal, of beauty and grace in the midst of storms.

And the greatest part is, that when our lives are opened up, joy does enter in. I pray we can all have a vacancy for joy to enter and abide.

Coming Across as Christ by Kristen Heitzmann

crucifixTwo incidents in close proximity have given me the chance to examine how I come across–from both sides. First, after the Weekend With the Writers, I received an encouragement that moved me like a brush of the Holy Spirit. One of the attendees mentioned some things she had observed that touched her. The incidents she described were ways I had interacted with specific individuals, little things–it seemed to me–but I realize now they were not little to others. Reading her note, I was flooded by knowledge that it was Christ in me that became visible through my actions, his abiding tenderness that reached out and was present and gracious. What a privilege to be a vessel of kindness and encouragement in ways I was not even particularly aware of.

The other happened this week. After an altercation with someone in my household, I was in a grievous mood. My normal mode is to withdraw. That can have a negative connotation, but it keeps me from from saying things I will regret, things that injure and can’t be taken back–even though my husband claims to find them more amusing than injurious. I also attempt to get my thoughts back in order. It is not creative time. It is time lost, if I can’t break through it.

On this occasion, I put in my noise-cancelling earbuds, cranked up the playlist on my phone and went about doing other things. This would have been fine, except another person in the household spoke to me from above and behind. It was a perfect storm of oblivion and offense because–neither seeing nor hearing–I walked away without response, clueless to the impression being made. It escalated into a day of misery for the ignored party–of which I was still completely unaware. Had I not closed in to my own affront and frustration, the Spirit could have worked through all of it.

I’m often overcome during Holy Week by sheer sadness at the thought of Christ’s suffering and amazement that people could be in his presence and not see. Then something like the incident I described makes it clear how easy it is to close not only my ears but my heart as well. On this Good Friday, as we meditate on the sacrifice Jesus made for our salvation, may our ears and eyes and hearts be open to the sorrow, to the cruelty, to the loneliness and infirmity, to the whip-strokes, agony, and death that our own selfish actions brought upon our Lord. Vow, with me, to let that reminder soften any blows that come our way, so that in all things we can respond in ways that others watching will see Christ and not our all too human shells.

WOULD YOU READ ON? by Kristen Heitzmann

My topic for the mini-conference is writing compelling stories. Thought I’d take this chance to see if I practice what I plan to preach. So be honest now…would you read on?

WRITERS’ QUARREL © Kristen Heitzmann

Devin Bressard scarcely blinked when Grace tossed her sweet tea in his face.

His eyes went flat as hammered steel, his tone even flatter. “Feel better?”

“Waste of a good sweet tea.”

“Sorry for your loss.” He took a napkin from the arm of a server instantly beside him.

He wasn’t sorry for anything. She snatched her purse and stood. “It’s a perfect end to this fiasco.”

“I hope you don’t expect me to stand.” His eyes flicked to the ice cubes nestled in his lap like dice.

“I wouldn’t expect it of you anyway.” She stalked past the gaping Manhattan diners. Throwing a drink at Devin Bressard had not been on her things-to-do-before-thirty list, but she inserted it and dragged a bold, red line through.

His failure to appreciate her prose or connect with her characters was one thing. But to scorn the tragic twist in the plot? To say it gave him the best laugh of his week, the bellyache kind he hadn’t experienced since childhood? What ever happened to professional courtesy?

She swallowed the lump that had no business in her throat. Readers anticipated the twists that plunged her characters into predicaments he found amusing. She nodded to the maître ‘d, accepted her coat from the attendant, and slid a tip into his palm.

He caught her hand. “Can I buy you a drink, Ms. Evangeline?”

“Thank you no. I just disposed of my last one.”

Her novels were humorous—in the repartee—poignant and triumphant. Emails, tweets, and blogs proved the stories touched people. Her interviews and appearances were overwhelmingly positive. Why should she care what one man thought?

WHAT’S IN A NAME? by Kristen Heitzmann

One thing I love about storytelling is the malleability. Rewriting my historical series has become an exercise in this. My intention was to spruce it up, minimize things like punctuated dialect, and bring it sophistication that comes from growing in the writing craft and simply living. It’s been a journey of discovery, envisioning and re-envisioning this project. While retaining the general structure of the story arc, I began to polish, develop, and deepen what was there.

Then I made a decision that required more change–to leave the make-believe town setting and use actual places like Colorado City, Colorado Springs, and Charleston and to incorporate the historical narratives of those places. Lots of research but worth it, I believe, for the richness it brings. I’ve had to adjust the plot for accuracy, and it’s yielded new directions as well. Still I felt bound up in what was on the pages before me–events from the original stories that I want to keep, and of course the people.

Everything I do in storytelling revolves around the characters. Even though this was my first venture in published fiction, I like these people. I want to do them justice. The first rewrite developed relationships between the leads and side characters that I’m very excited about. New conversations revealed aspects of these people who were there but not to this degree. And still I felt this friction between the old and the emerging.

So I took a bold step. I’m renaming the characters. My intention was to set this version apart from the former. But something else occurred. The new names unlocked the scenes in a fresh retelling. Yes, some of the dialogue and events remain–coexisting within the new. And I like that. Maybe I’m crazy and all of this is much ado about nothing.

You may be scratching your heads and saying why are you rewriting something old if you’re changing it so much? I’ll add the question: How much can something change and still remain? Clearly my answer is endlessly, though I do hope for a satisfying culmination.

The stories are different enough now that I want to avoid confusion with print copies of the original series that some of you have on your shelves and that are still circulating secondhand. Some have expressed disappointment and loss at the thought of these changes. But think of movie remakes. Each is its own thing, the same and different. One doesn’t wipe out the other. How many ways has Beauty and the Beast been told? So here I am telling my own tales differently. I hope this adaptation will not only find new readers but be a welcome variation on a theme for you precious diehards. Trust me?

Crazy Little Thing by Kristen Heitzmann

This morning the craziest thing happened. I wrote the final words to a novel. Crazy? Why is it crazy for a storyteller with 20 published novels to be sitting in amazement at that fact? Well, for starters, I haven’t finished one in quite some time. I know…you’re all bobbing your heads up and down in agreement. Stop before you put your necks out.

Next, it wasn’t one I’ve been working on. For those of you waiting for Indomitable, I apologize. Nor is it the revised historical series I’ve told you about. Both of those are still coming. Someday. But this…here’s how it happened. A very dear friend of mine has come to live with us through a difficult time in her life. You may not know what that means to an author, so I’ll tell you in two words: Captive Audience.

Shortly before the holidays, we got talking about my writing and the novel Halos that I originally wrote for her as a Christmas gift. That made me say, “Oh, I should read you this romantic comedy I’ve been playing with.” To which she said something like, “Twist my arm.”

So I started reading her what I had and it caught fire. I don’t know how else to explain it. I’d start writing at, oh, 7:30 a.m. and write until 5:30 a.m. catch two hours of reluctant sleep or just not bother because it was such a waste when I could be writing. In between I did eat some, walk some, help plan a kitchen remodel, read to her, and do Christmas, New Year, throw an Epiphany party…and write. It’s been the most fun I’ve ever had in my craft–at least in recent memory.

The crazy thing is it’s unlike anything I’ve written before. It’s funny.

I have had so many years of grief and loss and struggle and striving and growing and pushing for excellence–all of it essential according to God’s perfect will–that this crazy little thing has me astonished. When I typed the last two words, I literally cried, “Hah!” and laughed out loud. Total, total gift. Total, total joy. Wow. Thanks for letting me share.

Joyeux Noel

WP_20141218_003Last Christmas was the first my mother spent in heaven. There was a brutal kind of loss that overshadowed so much for me. Between then and now, we sorted through and sold her house. While an arduous and tearful a process, it was also like a treasure chest. There were so many things they had collected in all their travels and intended to give as gifts–some even labeled with our names. Mom was a great one for tucking things away, never to surface until now. Also there were things from all those years of life, among them Christmas boxes. One of these I found this summer but determined to leave unopened until Christmastime. I hadn’t envisioned that I would be alone when I opened it to decorate the tree, but that’s how it turned out. A tearful process again.

And yet I felt her with me. The delight she took in handmade, artistic, and just lovely things. This little Anri deer had been collected in Italy and hangs near the chair where I write beside the tree at night. Little things, but they bring joy and remind me the body of Christ is a cloud of witnesses here and before the throne. A chorus of carols proclaim the incarnation, love becoming flesh. In spite of turmoil and distress, our God is awesome and supreme. We are his beloved and He is everything. Wishing you a blessed celebration of his birth and the triumph of his love. Glory and praise!

New Dynamics by Kristen Heitzmann

Raisin 2


I would like to introduce the new member of our household. Raisin Cane came to us from a foster home after her person died. She is living up to her name. My husband is the dog person, our other dog, Sugar, his general at arms. This has worked well for the last eight years. The two of them rise early and do their morning routine. I may or may not be up then, (4 am) may or may not have my head in the real world as opposed to some fictional realm.

I am a morning person. I rise according to a body clock rhythm that says sleep accomplished, let’s go write.

Now, however, Raisin has decided she’s my Raison D’être, reason for existence. No, she will not rise with the husband and dog–from the same bed no less. Hers is not to reason why. Hers is not to let me lie.

Paws on chest, trample, trample, tongue on chin and nose and eyes. Time to trot the property, woof and woof . Stag herd? Be gone, busters. Magpie, blue jay, take a flight. Nothing at all to bark at? Who cares? I’ll get the other dogs going no matter how far they may be. Her little Donald Duck bark isn’t much, truth be told, but she wields it mightily, throwing her head up like a wolf, paws lifting from the ground. And then to make her point, she leaps atop a boulder to woof like Rin Tin Tin in miniature.

To say the dynamic of our house has shifted is to put it lightly. If she could be in my arms 24/7, it would be only her due. Can’t think when I’ve laughed so much or melted so completely. Ah, well…

Last night it occurred to me that this is the impact the best characters have on a story. They arrive, worm themselves in, and take over. They disrupt, entertain, take hold of hearts and don’t let go. Here’s to Raisin Cane!


How much is too much?

My work-in-progress, Indomitable, has a lot of–well, everything.

Action: wildfire

Reaction: how it impacts the threatened town of Redford, Colorado (from Indivisible and Indelible) and involves the firefighters, police, politicians, and townspeople.

New leads: Incident Commander Nash Crawford, Hotshot Eva Cruz and all their firefighting supporting cast.

Returning characters: Police Chief Jonah Westfall, his wife Tia, the baker Piper, her OCD beau Miles, search-and-rescue Trevor, Jonah’s sidekick Jay and his various officers–all these and more playing roles in the story.

Main plot, subplots, threads from the previous novels, threads that might spur a new novel or novella.

All of this forms a tapestry in which the four main characters interact with the people and events in their lives. It is, I suppose, an ensemble cast with a lot of little side stories that are in one way or another sparked by the threat and then reality of the fire–a little like the TV series LOST where each person brings his story and they interweave with the others.

So that brings me to my question. How much is too much?
Many fine novels have one main character, a single point of view, a love interest or villain and a friend or two. The Reacher novels by Lee Child. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Compelling, uncomplicated. Very straight-forward.

Mine, too, has a beginning, middle, and end, yet it’s a spiderweb of interconnected filaments. What I really want to know is whether that appeals or overwhelms. What characters would you want included? Do you like the back and side stories? Would you rather it were streamlined. What makes for a rich, pleasurable experience? Here is your chance to help me shape this at long last. Any and all thoughts welcome.

It’s a Smoothie Life

So I made this smoothie: Two little lemons–whole (peel, pith, seeds, you get it)–two palm sized broccoli florets, one whole zucchini, handful of baby carrots, kale and spinach…no, wait, here comes the sweet part: frozen mango, two bananas, and some thick berry juice. Blend it, blend it, blend it and voila! So refreshing. And I got to wondering, why does this work? Sour, bitter, pungent–shouldn’t that ruin the rest? Like a parking ticket ruins your day, or gossip ruins a friendship, or grief makes life hard to bear.

But what if it were only mango, banana, and berry juice? Where’s the tang, the nutrients, the fortification? The first taste of sweetness is a delight, but after a while it either loses its impact or cloys. There’s nothing for the other taste buds that just lie there unstimulated. That seems like a life with no risk, no sacrifice, no effort or even failure. But aren’t these what make us better–or at least try harder?

I read a booklet years ago called Conformity with God’s will. The premise was that we should delight equally in trials and triumphs because the whole of it is God’s purpose for us. The blending of the sorrows and the joys, the bitter and the sweet, the pungent and the pleasant prepares our souls for Christ.

I wonder what would happen if I embraced irritations, popped them in the blender with amusements. Heartache, in you go with ecstasy, because who can sustain either? But isn’t one better because of the other?

In Paul’s words to the Philippians: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Now, as I work my straw over the bottom of the glass, I’m fairly confident I’ll be healthier for it–and thankful that life has the richness and texture of whatever experience the Father knows we need.

To Read or Not To Read by Kristen Heitzmann

The other night between 12:30 and 4:00 when sleep eluded me, I began a quest to winnow the titles on my Kindle. As Camy Tang said in a previous post, collecting a long list of books to read is easier than getting through them. As with music playlists, I want every song that plays to be one I enjoy, so why have books around that I won’t like when I open them to read? In my music collection are a vast spectrum of styles from baroque to praise to Danish death metal–something for every mood. LOL.

I also read in a variety of genres with one criterion–it grabs me, woos me, impresses, amuses, or enlightens me. I love a story that makes me yearn. I love language so well-crafted it makes me sigh. I love characters I want to know. That’s what I want waiting for me when I open a new book. So in my quest for order among the chaos, I went title by title. I looked it up, read the synopsis and went to the reviews. What an enlightening experience.

It was like a huge critique group. Some thought the story the best they’d ever read. Others cringed at having to give one star. Some said the books were too complicated; others liked the complexity. But what really intrigued me was what the readers said they wanted in a story, what appealed or irritated them about the characters. Was the book true to the genre? Was it original or in any way set apart? Poor or no editing was an automatic dis-qualifier for me, though apparently that isn’t universally recognized.

The thing that came clear was that readers want to like a book. So many said, “I really, really wanted to like this, but for these reasons I couldn’t.” And of course there were the glowing reviews that expressed the things that left them wanting more. So, my question is what makes a book a keeper–or not–for you?

Words, Words, Words

Have you ever wondered what there is left to say? The words I write every day are the outgrowth of a yearning to express something lasting, something meaningful, entertaining, special. As God spoke creation into being, his breath stirred creative wonder within us. He gave us the ability to imagine and the desire to share our imaginings.

Rene Descartes said, “Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am. There’s no denying God has imbued every individual with a unique perspective and experience, and myriads choose to express it through written words. I love to teach aspiring writers, to see the energy and hope, the joy in the journey. I love to impart skills and encourage tenacity. I urge all of us to strive for excellence in expressing the stories we’re given to write.

Stories have power and purpose. They have the power to change lives–for good or ill.

But now it seems the literary world is inundated with words–EVERYONE with something to say and the avenue to say it, with or without the basic tenets of our language, the resonance of words used well–or correctly. And even with things written well, there’s the repetition, the repetition, the repetition. How many times can the tropes be rehashed in mind-numbing redundancy? In the immortal words of the Grinch, when is it all just noise, noise, noise?

Sometimes I think quiet might be very, very nice.

But then, there’s that flicker inside, that spark that ignites imagination, that unfurling of dialogue wanting a page. There are the characters finding substance in a scene and, always, the agony of the untold story.

Keeping it Fresh

For me writing is vocation, avocation, vacation, and variation. I’ve never gone with a publisher who is sold on the concept of branding because I know I have to go where the spirit leads. This is so intrinsic to my nature it comes out in many ways.

Before writing for publication, I expressed my creativity through fine arts of various forms. I had great success with clay sculptures that sold through a wonderful shop in historic Old Colorado City. I had an amazing following of collectors, some of whom would buy things sight-unseen that the proprietor would ship around the country. I loved creating these pieces and seeing what whimsy would come out when I sat down and took up the clay. What was the kiss of death? Orders. Prepaid orders. My husband would say, “It’s money in your hand. You don’t have to wait and see if something will sell. They already want it.” He did not understand that having an expectation hanging over me somehow killed the process. I would grit my teeth and make the thing, which was not at all the same as watching with delight what my fingertips wrought.

I don’t believe I could do a book for hire, or take on a preset project. I could not write, as some authors happily do, the same style story over and over again no matter how popular that formula was. Writing, like sculpture, is something I open up to, something that overtakes and carries me along. And it has to be fresh and variable. That’s why I love weather so much–it changes!

I’ve been working on a historical series, delving into settings and devouring actual news of the time etc. and I am excited about the stories that are coming out of that. I love how deep the characters are becoming and the different ways the stories are going. But…

I happened to open the contemporary wildfire novel I have in process the other day, and, wow, am I loving sinking my teeth back into that. So it seems with several stories in process, I am creatively energized by change and variation. It brings a freshness and joy to the process and keeps me at it and excitedly working scene after scene. Some might call this scatterbrained, but I guess I’d say why not? We use so little of our brains, why not fire up those resting neurons with a change of pace now and then?

Anyone else get this way? How do you keep it fresh?

On Writing

There are few joys like that of writing, to use what we take in, what we experience, what we long for, what we rage against to make something lasting and worthwhile. To draw from our imaginations the filaments that spin a web and snare winged glimpses of something more.

This is beauty. This is joy. An irresistible spring of a creative elixir we cannot help but drink. We are drunk with it, this act of writing that demands our participation. We are immersed and at its mercy.

But this beautiful world is fraught and perilous and not for the weak of spirit or faint of heart. According to Virginia Woolf:

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”

And still we write. We write because there’s a purpose and pleasure in telling tales, true or imaginary—and permit me to say the imaginary are also true, as true or more so than real life. Stories have souls made of words that transform and inform—perhaps the writer most of all.

It’s a journey of discovery, a peeling by Aslan’s claw of all our defenses until we step out and stand before him naked.

Flannery O’Connor says, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

The act of writing reveals the writer as creation reveals the Creator. We become known even to ourselves through the words on our pages. And if we’re willing, if we have no fight left in us, we become known to the One who put that spark inside us.

We must be willing to enflesh the seed and let it grow until with great pains it comes forth. And when we look into the face of our beloved, we must be strong enough to accept it might be ugly, weak, barely formed and in drastic need of surgery.

Only then can we claim to be writers.


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