After a 20-year career as a journalist, Heather Vogel Frederick decided it was high time to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing fiction for young readers. Today, she’s the author of two picture books and a dozen novels, including hot-off-the-press HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, the latest installment in her popular mother-daughter book club series.
Heather’s work spans many genres, from historical fiction to fantasy and contemporary realism, and has been honored both nationally and internationally and translated into numerous languages. A former staff reporter and children’s book review editor for The Christian Science Monitor, Heather has also written for the New York Times, Child, Family Life, and Publishers Weekly, where she was a contributing editor for many years. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I’m putting the finishing touches on ONCE UPON A TOAD, a book I have coming out next spring that’s a fun departure for me. It’s a fractured fairy tale inspired by the old French story “Diamonds and Toads.” In my version, though, the good girl gets smacked with the toads while her obnoxious step-sister scores the diamonds.
My main character has an occupationally-challenged fairy godmother who lives in an RV, and there’s a mix up of sorts and suddenly this poor girl starts spouting toads every time she opens her mouth to speak. Definitely not a cool thing to happen to a sixth grader!
Much hilarity ensues, along with a kidnapping, a road trip, a brush with a government scientist bent on whisking the girls to Area 51—there’s even an Elvis impersonator. Oh, and toads, of course. Lots of toads.
What is your favorite quote?
“It’s the set of the sail, and not the gale, that determines the way we go.” This was on an antique sampler at the home of an elderly friend when I was growing up, and I’ve always loved it. It says so much about persistence (a key quality for writers), and about grace and unflappability in the face of challenges, which we all face in so many arenas in life. It also reminds me of another favorite quote, this one from Louisa May Alcott: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” I guess I have a nautical theme going here, but perhaps that’s to be expected from the author of THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED…
Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?
My Cousin Dorothy (actually my grandmother’s cousin), who just turned 100. She still lives on her own, and is sharp as a tack and hilarious. I love her to pieces. She’s had an amazing life – she grew up on Nantucket and had grandparents who were born in the 1840s. She talks of them like they just stepped out of the room. I find it fascinating – it’s like a bridge to another century.
I could listen to her stories all day. She walked across the Golden Gate Bridge the day it opened, was shipwrecked in China during World War II, homesteaded on the Olympic Peninsula, was married to her first husband for 30 years and her second for 40, worked a postmistress for a small town and was the first woman transportation director at Yellowstone National Park. I can only hope to have her zest for life!
What advice would you give to new writers?
Relax. Take your time. Learn your craft. Read like crazy.
What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?
Besides my husband? OK, so I don’t own him, but you get the idea. I have a lovely framed original drawing that Barbara Cooney did for me when I was a little girl. It was on the wall above my bed when I was growing up, and now it’s on the wall above my desk. I never get tired of looking at it.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Turn the ringer on the phone off.
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
Yellowstone National Park. Cousin Dorothy can’t believe I’ve never been there!
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
I think the first one is the hardest, because you truly have no idea what you’re doing. I still don’t, but I’ve learned to trust the process.
As for the easiest, ONCE UPON A TOAD, the book I’m finishing up now, was a complete gift. Seriously, I woke up in the middle of the night with the entire thing in my head, including the title. It was just there. Not that it didn’t take work to get it down on paper, but the way it just flowed—I’m still astonished.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
I’m a lone wolf when it comes to writing. I’m not in a critique group (although I enjoy getting together with writer friends now and then to talk shop), nor do I feel the urge to share my work with anyone besides my editor. Once in a while I’ll tell someone about a work-in-progress, or read the odd bit to my husband. But for the most part, I’m quiet about it. It’s not that I’m secretive or superstitious—this is just my process.
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
Almost always a seat-of-the-pantser – I love the giddy rush that comes with sitting down each day and telling myself a story.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer, an Egyptologist, or a spy. One out of three isn’t bad.