I arrived at Brian Heinz's house to find him boxing books for a book event, boxes piled everywhere.
"Sorry," he said. "I have to work every minute possible, but ask away. I can answer and do this, too." He pointed at the books and boxes. He removed a stack of books from am arm chair. "Have a seat."
"All right." After I sat, I brought out my well-used list of questions and turned on my recorder. "First, how did/does your history and home background affect your writing?"
Brian's voice, a bit muffled, came from inside a cabinet as he grabbed more books. "As a boy, my friends and I often rode bikes to lakes and ponds on eastern Long Island. We found pleasure in risk-taking and formed lifelong bonds of friendship, similar to the characters in Peabody Pond." He plunked books on a table beside an empty box.
As he placed books in the box, he continued, "From childhood to adulthood, I harbored a
fascination with the natural world and the uncanny behaviors and adaptations of
animal life. Growing up in a moderately rural area on an island where saltwater
environs were also nearby. My mother, born in Ireland, taught me to read before
I entered Kindergarten and by third grade I was engrossed in treading outdoor
adventure novels like White Fang and Call of the Wild by the great American
writer Jack London. These books shaped my love of the genre."
Referring to my list, I responded, "Thanks. Tell us something about your educational background that made you a better, or more caring, writer."
"After high school I attended Stony Brook University and received my undergraduate and graduate degrees in education with an emphasis on Science and Language Arts. When I entered the teaching profession, I ran staff development programs in outdoor education and integrated teaching strategies." He stacked the filled box on top of another on the floor. "My young classroom students enjoyed five all-day canoe trips on the navigable rivers of Long Island, which instilled in them a deep appreciation of all things wild and developed them a sense of good stewardship for the ecological health of our planet."
He grabbed another empty box and plopped it on the table. "I spent 28 years as a classroom teacher. As a published author of award-winning books, I was an adjunct professor at Hofstra University teaching the Summer Writers Program."
I watched him pack more books before asking the next question. "Please share your hobbies, interests, or activities with us, you know the ones for during your leisure time (I laughed)m if you have any."
He grinned and sat in his office chair before answering. "I have traveled extensively to natural parks, hiking and photographing, throughout the United States. Much of my travel provided research for my true-to-life picture books on the natural world. This includes two weeks in the Cheyenne River Canyon to study a herd of wild mustangs for one of my books, and an overland dogsled trip at -20 degrees for research on my polar bear adventure. I have camped across Canada and visited several European countries, including Ireland, to visit my mothers birthplace and home.
"I’m a naval history buff and have built many museum-quality plank-on-frame ship models of famous sailing vessels throughout history.
"I also enjoy woodworking and have built
furniture pieces from native wood in my workshop at our vacation home in New
York’s Adirondack Mountains."
Surprised he found time for anything other than writing or attending book events, I paused a moment before introducing the next topic.
"Authors are often asked when they started writing or what triggered their interest in writing. I’d like to know that, too, but I would especially like to know what keeps you writing."
Brian tilted his head to one side to look out the window. "My interest in writing began in elementary school and was a direct result of my mother creating in me a lifelong love of language and literature. I recall composing stories in fourth grade and was in honors English classes through high school. Writing can be a lonely effort, but when a piece is complete and well-accepted by my writers’ group, the satisfaction is intense. But, most importantly, the piece must move me emotionally, or I cast it aside. If I have lost interest, so will my reader.
"I visit many dozens of schools each year presenting programs, and the joy I see in the eyes of young children who have purchased and read my books makes the effort worthwhile. I receive many letters from teachers and their students attesting to their love of my books and use of language. All of this fuels my fire to write, tied to my own curiosity about the world and life in general. In my travels to bookstores, schools, and libraries far from my home, I am always gratified to see my books on display."
I nodded. "I understand that thrill seeing one's book in stores, but how do you manage to write and care for your family,too?"
"My wife, Judy, is a
valued partner. She travels with me on research trips, and I trust her as my
first reader. She is intelligent, deeply read, and widely read. And, she is
honest in her comments and appraisals. When I am deeply involved in creating a
new work, she respects my space and the time I require. What writer could ask for
more?" Brian stood and walked to another cabinet. "When a bookstore has me sign books, they order them, but other times, I take copies, and I need to finish. Now, next question?"
"All right, I will ask and you answer. What inspired you to write your most recent book?"
"Incidents and relationships from my own childhood for sure, and my inherent interest in the natural world. These attributes joined forces with my love of classic sci-fi and monster movies and the slow percolating began. During my school visits while teaching writing workshops, I often created a verbal scenario to demonstrate how quickly an author can create character, setting, and tension while incorporating vivid sensory details to allow the reader the vicarious sense of being ‘in the moment.’ I set the character, Connor, out on a pond in an old boat when something strikes the floor of the boat from beneath the water. At the second strike, the bottom splits and water rushes in. Then I tell them that the character can’t swim and the boat is going down with no idea as to what lies beneath.
Brian paused a moment. "I would leave it there for students to ponder, but every student
begged to know what was in the water. I realized if young readers could be so
deeply taken in from just a couple of paragraphs, the idea deserved to be fully
realized. Peabody Pond was born as a result of writing workshops in elementary
and middle schools."
"Next question: How did you decide the title for your book? Would you share something about your book?"
"Since the novel is a blend of sci-fi, mystery, suspense, and horror,(with
considerable humorous elements to balance the more intense emotional scenes), I
wanted a simple title of a seeming bucolic and serene place that belied the
frightening world about to be unleashed. My great joy was in creating the
eclectic cast of antagonistic characters and creating situations that brought
them together as allies with a common goal. Their internal growth had to be
addressed as well. What do they learn from each other and about each other that changes
their view of people and the world. It couldn’t simply be a ‘thriller’ novel."
"Interesting. Do you have a particular writing process or technique, and if so, what?"
Brian set another box of books on the top of a pile. "I have no set
schedule. I react when an idea pokes at me and won’t quit. It demands to be
heard. It could be something interesting I saw or heard or read that had me
cogitating. Once I have the germ of an idea, I have to find a physical structure
upon which to hang my words, then a contextual framework for the language. My
books employ a variety of structures."
"How do you feel when you complete a book?"
"Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones often sang, 'I
can’t get no satisfaction.' Not so for me. The satisfaction is deep and is tied to excitement in sharing the work
with my writing colleagues before sending the piece out for publication."
"Brian, what are your writing achievement and goals?"
"Simply, to grow. I’ve written and published picture books in fiction and nonfiction, in verse and in prose, from the humorous to the serious. I’ve been published in multiple genres: historical, fantasy, coming-of-age, how-to, professional classroom texts,humor, adventure, and nature. I have published with nine publishing houses, and my books have garnered many starred reviews and awards. I always try to spread my wings and try something new. I make it a point to write close to my subject and with a sense of immediacy to the reader."
"Well, thanks for submitting Peabody Pond to 4RV Publishing. Now, how do any
writing groups benefit you and your writing? If you’re not in a writing group,
Brian sat in his chair. "I am a founding member of a writing group on Long Island, The Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustratorsor (LICWI). We began more than twenty-five years ago with twelve members and now boast a roster of 105, made up of both published and unpublished writers. We meet monthly for several hours and read and critique members’ works in progress. The feedback is frank and honest, but never abrasive or condescending. Every one of my published works has been read to the group.
"Writing groups are important in keeping you in the
fold and sharing ideas with like-minded people who love literature and the
writing process. I am also a member of the national organization SCBWI (Society
of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I also belong to the Author’s
Guild. It is always gratifying when a new and previously unpublished member
signs their first book contract to the applause of the group."
"Does writing help better you as a person? How?"
"It seems the more I write, the more I learn
about myself. I sometimes find in creating a character and placing them in an
emotional incident, I see myself and recall past misdoings of my own which
reshapes my thoughts on my behavior for the future. It’s a bit of a catharsis
and can be a healing moment, too."
"What advice do you have for a new writer, Brian?"
"Read, read, read, but with the eye and ear of a writer. Be analytical. How did this author open the story and why this way? How quickly were the character, setting, and tension revealed? Is there evidence of emotional tone? Sensory detail? You want to enjoy the story, but pay attention to the elements of the crtaft and how they are employed by the author.
"Attend writers’ conferences and listen to the speakers. The experience and knowledge provided by senior editors and writers at the workshop offerings can’t be measured.
"Subscribe to well-respected writing magazines like The Writer and digest the information. Put it to work.
"Be persistent, patient, and professional.
Every fine writer collected a sackful of rejections. They didn’t quit. If you
were meant to write, you will write. Read Stephen King’s memoir On Writing for
some startling revelations about learning the craft and dealing with rejection.
I nodded. "What is your favorite genre to read? Your favorite author or authors?"
"Favorite genre is still outdoor adventure / survival stories, but I read historical books, biographies, thrillers, and others.
"My favorite authors include Jack London,
Stephen King, and Bill Bryson."
"Thank you, Brian. Do you have any other comment?"
"This is a field of struggle and reward. You may spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to create a literary piece with no idea as to whether it will see the light of day in a magazine or as a book, but the rewards offered by publication is like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The satisfaction is and sense of accomplishment can often overshadow the remunerative rewards … which can also be considerable."
Peabody Pond can be purchased online through the author's 4RV Publishing page or from other online stores.