Would you read on?

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 Evangeline Pratt stood and emptied her icy sweet tea over 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.

“But a fitting end to this fiasco.” She snatched the calfskin clutch that matched her ecru sheath.

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t stand,” in his dampened condition.

“That’s the only thing I’ll excuse.” She raised her chin and stalked past the gapers and cell phone cameras. Oh, get over it.

Throwing a drink in Devin Bressard’s face had not been on her things-to-do-before-thirty list, but she inserted it and dragged a line through. She did not expect him to appreciate her prose, or connect with her flawed yet valiant characters. But to scorn the tragic twist in the plot? To say it gave him the best laugh of his week, the bellyache kind of laugh he hadn’t experienced since elementary school?

Her fans lined up for new releases, anticipating plot twists that plunged her characters into the predicaments he’d found amusing. She gave the maître ‘d a nod, accepted her faux fur shawl from the coat room attendant and slid a twenty 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.” The cubes had nestled in Devin’s lap like a toss of the dice.

Best laugh of his week? Her tales had a comedic snap—in the repartee. Her readers laughed out loud and cried in sympathy, triumph, and satisfaction. She knew from the email, blog posts, and tweets how her stories touched people. Why should she care what one snob thought?

What’s in a Name?

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.

An Oyster’s Tale

When it comes to writing, I guess I’m an irritated oyster. I’ll be going along and realize there’s something inside that’s a little rough, a little edgy. It doesn’t sit right. It feels wrong. I take a look. Sure enough, there’s an issue or something that simply could be better. (See previous blog on good enough) Having located the irritant, I get to work and something new begins to take form, a pearlescent layer that improves some aspect but leads to another. With a little work another layer forms, then another and another, each one bringing a fuller, richer gleam.

Here’s an example from my work in (endless) progress. Years ago when I wrote my first series, I had a Native American character that I made Comanche. At the time, research materials were sparse. I knew the Comanche were a particularly feared tribe and thought that added contrast for this character who plays a noble role. In rewriting the series, I now have access to the truly horrific practices of this tribe, so for story reasons, I no longer felt it the best choice.


After researching the natives who had at least some presence in the Colorado territory, I settled on Jicarilla Apache—also scary and skilled in warfare but not as given to torture, especially of a sexual nature, as the Comanche. Having made the decision, I then sought out everything I could find. Many sites read like a tourist trading post, but some yielded documents with substance. For days I delved, getting a feel for the Jicarilla as a people. One book written by someone who spent time among them in 1845 yielded anecdotes, customs, and conversations from his personal interactions. I’ll draw from these to enrich later books as well. For now, I needed to establish my character.

As I had called him Grey Wolf, which was also the name of a Comanche chief of some renown, this too had to change. So I began a name search. Slogging through Native American baby names, I found Cherokee, Cheyenne, Lakota etc., but not a single name of Apache derivation. In tribal sites I found vocabulary I could combine like colors and animals but that still didn’t feel right. Digging deeper I found an account that explained that Apache boys/men were mainly unnamed until an attribute or a particular feat set them apart. (The women were rarely named at all)

In spite of this seeming impediment, I got excited. The wheels started turning. What might my character have done to be named? What would the name be and what did that say about him? This minor character wanted flesh, a story within a story.

Then I found a Jicarilla Apache text on Internet Archive openlibrary.org that gave the actual Jicarilla language with an English translation beneath the words. Since I’m in love with languages, there will now be a smattering of Jicarilla in the story. And the English was as useful in its oddity. For instance: “There girl pretty. Then these men to her many gathered.” LOL. I am loving this.

Today I had the joy of incorporating my discoveries into the story. It was a few pages of prose and dialogue that brought Many Elk (Ts’ĩ Nes Kĩ Na Da Dzes meaning He Lay Down With Many Elk) and my heroine to life in a scene that was okay but now has a luminescence I wanted to give it.

So, there in excruciating detail is one tiny part of my process. Hopefully when this oyster opens, there will be a pearl some will appreciate for its depth, hues, tones, and the struggle that produced it.

What Drives Us by Kristen Heitzmann

I’ve come to believe there are two basic kinds of people–those who are content with good enough and those who feel a kick inside to always do better. There are benefits to both ways of thinking. The first yields peace of mind, low stress, and satisfaction–or I think it must, though I’ve never experienced it personally.

My husband and I use a brain training program with daily exercises. He will go through his training and grumble things like, “That’s my worst score ever,” then go on to the next challenge. I tell him he can play again and do better, but he says, “No, that’s how I did, now I’m moving on.” It might bother him, but not enough to change the outcome.

Now, I’m not saying I manically repeat every exercise every time, but, if I don’t get in my top five scores that thing kicks in and says, “Are you satisfied with that when you know you can do better?” It’s not a mean thing, more a checking in like, “How are you feeling about that score? Want another go?” It’s tenacity, I guess, or the understanding that there is always something to reach for.

That striving runs through everything I do. If I’m on the mountain trail all alone, puffing up a steep incline, chest aching, I tell myself, “You don’t have to do this. You can stop and no one cares or even knows.” And myself tells me, “Just push for that next ridge.”

It’s strongest of all when I’m creating, especially in writing. Lately, I’ve battled discouragement because it seems mediocrity is perfectly acceptable. I’m pretty sure it’s not even recognized as such. “Good enough” rules.

So it seems I’m constantly before the Lord. Is this pride, God, to want excellence to matter? Is it judgmental to cringe at errors I read and realize nine out of ten won’t know or care? Am I wrong to mourn such apathy? Maybe there’s a peace in accepting acceptable, but I’m not likely to experience it, because when I throw up my hands to the Lord, he says, “Just push for that next ridge.” And so I push.

Twelve Days of Christmas by Kristen Heitzmann

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Legend has it, that the familiar carol has a symbolic spiritual meaning.  There are different stories told about the reason for this coded symbolism and even differences in the possible meanings. Still, I like attributing something special to what could otherwise be a frivolous tune. In this version, the “true love” is God. It is God who gives each day’s gift. We know that all we have is from the Lord and that he delights in giving to us, his bride. In that spirit, delve with me into His delight.

The first day God gives the partridge in a pear tree, representing Christ himself and the cross by which he saved and redeemed us.

Two turtle doves are the human and Divine nature of Jesus (or the old and new testaments). Three French hens are faith, hope, and love. These are the virtues that enable us to live in a Christlike manner. The four calling birds the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Five gold rings are the old testament books of the Torah.

Six geese a-laying are the days of creation in which God spoke into being all living things, the earth and universe to sustain us, all the beauty of nature to enchant us.

Seven swans a-swimming are the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-2) The maids a-milking are the Eight beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing: fruits of the Holy Spirit–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness (Kindness), Generosity, Mildness, Faithfulness, Modesty (Chastity). (Galatians 5:22-23)

Ten leaping Lords are the Ten Commandments. Eleven pipers the faithful Apostles. Twelve drummers drumming are the points of faith in the Apostles creed. All of these are gifts from God that help us love and serve him. But what are the days themselves?

The twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas day and end on January 6th, the feast of Epiphany. This is a day that commemorates the three foreign wise men who went searching for the Christ Child. So great was their desire to see the newborn king that they traveled long and far, following a sign God put in the sky. They were not Jews, not God’s “chosen” people. Yet in seeking the Christ, they found him. They knocked and the door was opened to them. They came bearing gifts to honor the king, yet they would receive the greatest gift of all–salvation.

Through these wise men, God made clear that Jesus came for all, long before he was able to proclaim it himself. And so I invite you to join me in celebrating these twelve days, reflecting on the richness of faith given by God for our redemption, and in the welcome Jesus has for each seeking heart.

Mary, did you know? by Kristen Heitzmann


Advent is a beautiful season of hope and expectation, a time to ponder a young woman who bore within her the Christ, the Savior, yet also an infant who kicked, cried, and suckled like any other. There is a spiritual anticipation juxtaposed with human pain and extreme joy.

I often ponder how it must have been for the mother of our Lord. Like every mother, she surely anticipated her baby’s arrival with hope and trepidation. Sure, God had done a marvelous thing, brought into being the child in her womb. But what did that mean?

The song, “Mary, did you know?” explores what Mary experienced as she carried God’s own son, himself God, in her mortal womb.

Did she grasp the reality? Could you or I? Accepting the call of God through the Angel Gabriel, could she anticipate that those tiny perfect hands and feet would have nails driven through them? Did she imagine that the flesh that formed inside her, that perfect infant’s body would one day be scourged and crucified? I tremble at the thought. Surely God spared her mother’s heart the unfolding of his plan. Yet she had to birth her baby in a stable, to flee Herod’s wrath and live among strangers. In order to fulfill the creative work God began in her, she surrendered, and she suffered–as Simeon said she would–the piercing of her own heart.

While nothing I do compares to the incarnation, we all carry a divine spark that we must nurture. We don’t know what God intends for any creative work we surrender to his will, but we can believe–as Mary did–in a purpose larger than our understanding. In this season of hope and anticipation, even if it involves grief, as each season does for someone, we await with joy the revelation of God’s plan in our lives, in this world, and the next, everlasting. I trust He will accomplish what He began, because He is the great I Am.


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