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An Author in a Time of Pandemic

By Gretchen Thomas

Heather Bell Adams

After a terribly hectic year, the North Carolina Writers’ Network has decided to conduct interviews with various members from different aspects of the literary world to understand how the pandemic has affected our community. In today’s interview, we talk with Raleigh author Heather Bell Adams, whose most recent novel, The Good Luck Stone, was published in June, 2020 during the pandemic. Gretchen Thomas (GT) caught up with Heather (HBA) recently over email.

GT: How long have you been writing?
HBA: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, beginning with my childhood in Western North Carolina. Later on, when I was starting out as a lawyer and my son was young, I put writing aside for a bit. Once my son got older and my legal career was more established, I picked it back up again.

GT: Did you go to school specifically for writing? How did your writing career take shape?
HBA: I haven’t (yet) gone to school specifically for writing. In undergrad at Duke, I majored in English and loved that my homework consisted of reading books and writing about them. Although I didn’t get into the creative writing class for which I applied, I was a guest columnist for The Chronicle and occasionally wrote short stories. Shortly after graduating from Duke Law, Our State magazine (at the time, The State) published one of my essays—my first non-school publication.

GT: Were you working on new projects/multiple projects when the pandemic became known?
HBA: When the pandemic began, Haywire Books was gearing up for the July publication of my second novel, The Good Luck Stone, and I was experimenting with different stories, trying to decide what form my third novel would take.

GT: Did COVID-19 push back any of your projects?
HBA: Thanks to the dedication of my publisher, Haywire Books, the publication date of The Good Luck Stone didn’t change.

I took a little while to settle upon the idea for my third novel, in part due to anxiety about COVID-19 and the many questions swirling during this challenging time.

GT: Your most recent novel, The Good Luck Stone, was published in July of 2020, early in the pandemic. What was the biggest struggle you faced, publishing a new book at that time?
HBA: Well, we definitely (and with good reason) didn’t have any in-person events. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, though, at how much fun online events can be. Page 158 Books was kind enough to host a virtual launch party for The Good Luck Stone. Since it was online, some of the attendees included one of my childhood teachers, who lives in Massachusetts, and my college roommate, who lives in California. Although I’ve missed getting to visit bookstores and book clubs in person, it turns out that online events can feel remarkably intimate.

GT: Were there any positives that came from publishing your novel when you did?
HBA: I like how so many of us have broadened our perspectives with regard to online events. Even as a non-expert when it comes to technology, I’m now entirely comfortable—even eager—to attend them, both as an author and reader.

GT: Have you been able to participate in a book tour or other events?
HBA: In addition to the virtual launch, I’ve had the privilege of participating in online events with the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, North Carolina Writers’ Network, Quail Ridge Books, Page 158 Books, Bookmarks, the James River Writers’ Conference, and various book clubs. I’ve been really impressed with how organizations have pivoted to hosting online events.

GT: As restrictions continue to relax, do you plan on participating in more book events?
HBA: Yes, if people want to invite me, I’ll happily join them!

GT: Were you forced to change your writing schedule during the pandemic?
HBA: Although the pandemic changed my legal work from in-office to remote, it didn’t change my writing schedule all that much, except for canceling a writing retreat I’d been looking forward to. As critique partners, Pam Van Dyk [NCWN member and managing editor of Regal House Publishing – ed.] and I continued to exchange pages while we were stuck at home, which was immensely valuable.

GT: If your writing style has changed during the pandemic, how would you describe the difference?
HBA: The pandemic has made me more grateful for creative souls everywhere and for the outlet that writing offers. While this doesn’t necessarily signal a shift in my writing style, what it’s done is made me more intentional about supporting writers. In addition to continuing to purchase from independent bookstores, I’ve been seeking out more chapbooks and small press books that don’t get quite as much attention.

GT: Have you gained any new skills or tried new things during the pandemic in relation to your writing career? Ex: enhanced work ethic, dabbling in new genres, etc.
HBA: Unrelated to the pandemic, during 2020 I lost my aunt, grandmother, and, most unexpectedly, my father. To process my grief, I turned briefly to writing personal essays instead of fiction. Imagine my surprise when one of those essays, “Show Me,” won the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. Another, “Here, Settle Down Here,” is forthcoming from Still: The Journal. On a personal note, writing these essays helped me sort through my feelings when I wasn’t sure how to do that. Otherwise I’ve mostly charted the same course as before, focusing on book club and literary fiction. When it comes to short stories and novels, I’m most interested in exploring how characters’ lives might change, even in infinitesimal ways.

GT: What advice would you give yourself looking at the challenges you faces, publishing and continuing to write during the pandemic?
HBA: With this, as in life in general, it’s perhaps best if we give ourselves the grace to acknowledge when we’ve tried our best, no matter the ultimate outcome.

GT: Do you ever see yourself writing about your experience of the pandemic?
HBA: Honestly, writing about the pandemic doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. I guess never say never though.

GT: What advice do you have for those publishing now, still immersed in a pandemic, albeit one that seems to be improving?
HBA: First, I would say congratulations for your dedication, hard work, and resilience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The writing community is immensely supportive, and I feel confident that I speak for writers, booksellers, writers’ organizations, and readers in saying we are here for you.

 

Heather Bell Adams is the author of two novels, Maranatha Road (West Virginia University Press, 2017) and The Good Luck Stone (Haywire Books 2020). Maranatha Road won the gold medal for the Southeast region in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and was selected for Deep South Magazine’s Fall/Winter Reading List. The Good Luck Stone appeared on Summer Reading Lists for Deep South Magazine, Writer’s Bone, The Big Other and Buzz Feed and won Best Historical Novel post-1900 in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Heather has won the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Award, James Still Fiction Prize, and Carrie McCray Literary Award. Her short stories appear in The Thomas Wolfe ReviewAtticus ReviewPembroke MagazineBroad River ReviewThe Petigru ReviewPisgah Review, and elsewhere.

Originally from Hendersonville, NC, Heather lives in Raleigh with her husband and son. She works as a lawyer, focusing on financial services litigation.

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