Last August I met with Charlene Hirschi at the Salt Lake Library. It was a beautiful place to meet. Charlene is the Director of the Writing Center at Utah State University. So needless to say, I was a little intimidated by her. But she'd given favorable reviews of my first three books, so I hoped she would enjoy Land of Inheritance also.
She asked the questions, I gave the answers, and she took down some notes.
And the interview appeared last week in the Cache Valley Magazine section of the HJ News. You can read it at this link.
(Sorry, the other link didn't work)
I've quoted the interview below in italics:
Some entertaining historical LDS fiction
By Charlene Hirschi
I’VE REVIEWED H.B. Moore’s “Out of Jerusalem” series in this column before and have given them consistently high marks. So when I received word that another book of the series was due for release, I contacted her about doing a profile.
I knew Moore through our association in the League of Utah Writers, so from the get-go I knew H. stands for Heather. Just as I was beginning to believe that such things as writing under a male pseudonym or using initials to disguise gender were gone with the wind — sorry, I couldn’t resist — along comes Covenant and bursts my bubble.
Not for the first time, I asked Moore, “Why didn’t you use your first name on the book?” And here it is: “The publisher actually decided on the name, and yes, it does have to do with gender. If the book does not identify the writer as a woman, men will pick it up too because it isn’t viewed as gender-specific (i.e. ‘romance’). Also, if a woman writer wants to publish in other genres, the full name can be used to separate or distinguish among various genres.”
Hmmm — I buy the first explanation over the second, and it seems we haven’t progressed far from the days when in 1855 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women.” Perhaps LDS fiction hasn’t quite caught up to the idea that this is the 21st century and there are some mighty popular female writers out there that men read all the time.
As I’ve also opined in this column, I’m not overly fond of historical fiction based on scripture; Moore’s books are the exception. I express my general disdain for this genre and ask Moore what sets her apart. She knows the answer and comes right out with it: “I try to stay true to the Book of Mormon. I get the plot — the bones of what actually happened from the scriptures. Then I try to answer my own questions. I read and write the same way, by skimming. I write what comes into my head and then go back to flesh out, rethink and add detail.”
She points out one of the things that makes her novels easier to read than some in this genre: “I don’t overload with detail to impress the reader that I have done my research.” She also sticks with a very small portion of the story. This series concentrates on Nephi’s life, which gave her enough material for four books.
She does a lot of research, but she has learned that too much taken directly from the scriptures slows down the reading. Her goal isn’t to replace the scriptures, but to tell an interesting story built around a particular set of events, answering the “what-ifs” and making the reading not only factual but also interesting and entertaining.
Her research consists of reading the original text repeatedly and taking notes, then thinking about the plausibility of a certain scenario and how it came about. “Then I call my dad, a Book of Mormon scholar, and ask him, ‘Do you think this could have happened?’ My dad is a great help and support through the research and writing.”
She also does a great deal of research to re-create scenes that fit the area and times. Food, clothing, religious history — and although she does “a ton of research, that isn’t the story. The details support the story.”
Moore and her family lived in Jerusalem during her growing-up years, while her father was instructor and director of the Jerusalem Center. She knew she wanted to write and finally decided that books like the “Out of Jerusalem” series would be a perfect fit.
“I had the right background and wanted to be published in the LDS market. I was trying to find a niche — something I would enjoy but hadn’t been done before. My dad’s expertise was also a motivating factor.”
So once the writing starts, how long does it take to write the book?
“I spend a lot more time researching than I do writing. It takes five to six months. I concentrate on one book at a time. After 50 pages or so, I take it to Dad for suggestions and to make sure I’m on the right path.” In the early stages, she often returns to asking more questions then goes looking for the answers.
“Land of Inheritance” is the fourth and final book of this series. Thinking ahead to her next LDS project, she has a new three- or four-book series that will focus on Abenidi and Alma. She has also finished a book for the national market, which she characterizes as a “thriller-adventure” book about the Queen of Sheba. “I find the Middle East interesting and like to share my knowledge with those who have never been there,” she said.
She is currently rewriting on the advice of an agent — which is actually good news. As all writers know, to get any response from an agent in the development stages of a career is positive — agents and publishers are famous for sending form letters or not responding at all.
Before we end the interview, Moore mentions other projects she is involved with, namely StoryMakers, a support group for published writers. She says it’s a great organization and she is sometimes overwhelmed with the generosity of her fellow writers. “We develop deep friendships, and even though we are technically competing with each other, we all help each other out,” she said.
She and Annette Lyons are currently co-chairing a writer’s conference to be held March 21 and 22 at the Cottontree Inn in Sandy. For more information, readers can go to LDSstorymakers.com. This is their fourth annual conference, which will feature both Utah and national writers.
Moore shared a lot of insights with me that may help others. Perhaps the biggest thing is that “a deal isn’t a deal until it takes a step backwards.” Moore actually thought she had a deal with Covenant, but then they hit her with their concern that her series would “clash” with another author’s work they had already published. Moore felt like a bomb had hit her, but her salesman husband gave her the advice and courage she needed to go in and re-sell the series. She felt she had to defend her work, but didn’t hold much hope of prevailing — she was a newby after all.
“I learned right away that getting published takes more than writing,” she said. “I’m not a naturally assertive person and this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. When I finally convinced them that my series was completely different from anything currently out there, I was in denial for a while. Nine months before publication I was still telling myself, ‘it isn’t real.’ The first signing and a two-month deadline for the next book, that’s when it became a real job.”
Since that first book, she has published every September for the past four years.
We end the interview with the importance of critique groups. We both agree that critique groups are very important, whether participants are published or not. The great fallacy is that once published, a writer can do it on their own. Not so, says Moore.
“Writers get set in their ways,” she says. “It is very hard to honestly critique our own work. Even after a piece has been through several critique sessions and rewrites, there are still things to be improved.” She does admit that a writer can stay in the same group too long — writers need “fresh readers.”
Book critic Charlene Hirschi holds her master’s in English from Utah State University where she is the director of the writing center.