Heidi McCrary: What Doesn't Kill Us Makes for Great Literature - Writer's Digest

Heidi McCrary: What Doesn't Kill Us Makes for Great Literature

Author Heidi McCrary shares how she used personal experience to craft a coming-of-age novel, how she handles political correctness, and the struggle to find a publisher.
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Heidi McCrary is the youngest of five children and lives with her husband, Jon in Kalamazoo, Michigan, just a short drive from Alamo where she grew up. She now owns the family woods that are depicted in the book, where her children have been known to use as a place to get away from their own mother and father. Her two sons, Tyler and Phillip, are doing great despite being raised by a mother with no formal training. Embracing all that West Michigan has to offer, Heidi can often be found hanging with her family in Kalamazoo and the many unique towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline or on the local golf course, working on her goal of becoming a mediocre golfer. Heidi has worked in the media world all her adult life—many years with the West Michigan CBS television affiliate, and currently in the advertising industry. She is also a contributing writer for a regional women’s magazine.

Chasing North Star is Heidi’s first novel.

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In this post, McCrary shares how she used personal experience to craft a coming-of-age novel, how she handles political correctness, the struggle of finding a publisher, and more! 

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Name: Heidi McCrary
Title: Chasing North Star
Publisher: She Writes Press
Release date: September 29, 2020
Genre: Coming of age

Elevator pitch for the book: Inspired by a true story, Chasing North Star is a bittersweet tale looking back at a time when four free-range siblings roamed the streets ’til sunrise and hid from a gun-toting, mentally ill mother who couldn’t help herself. Runaway horses and monsters in the cemetery—just another day in Alamo, until the youngest sibling stumbles upon her mother’s story.

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What prompted you to write this book?

I have the beginnings of several stories, but I kept coming back to Chasing North Star. With the popularity of books such as The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, I realized that few topics are more entertaining than the simple story about the dysfunctional family. While the book I wrote is officially a novel, it is inspired by my own dysfunctional childhood.

That theory was solidified when my sister and I joined a book group several years ago, and my sister and I spent a bit too much time entertaining the group with tales of our own colorful childhood. After a while, it became clear that I was on to something…

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

On a blank sheet, the first thing I typed was the date… 8/25/2013.

Chasing North Star began its life as a memoir, reflecting my childhood which was dark and also damn entertaining. My best decision during the writing process was to shift the book from a memoir to a novel, allowing me to create a stronger arc of a storyline with a beginning and a satisfying end.

After spending a considerable amount of time trying to land with a traditional publishing house, I came across a gem of an independent publishing company that partners with female writers—She Writes Press. So, seven years after writing those first words, I have the pleasure of sharing this bittersweet coming-of-age story. Dark, entertaining, and yes, occasionally pretty funny. After all, it was the '70s.

(Writing About Your Life Without Ruining Your Relationships)

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Rightly so, these are challenging times for any writer straddling the thin line between honest storytelling and being sensitive to the public at large. 1970 was a time when the narrative was without thought to gender, race, and mental and physical differences. While I was careful to remove offensive and insensitive narrative, I also had to weigh the consequences of leaving questionable dialogue intact. One word I kept in the dialogue was “crazy.” While it’s a word that is offensive today, it also depicted the accuracy of how people spoke in 1970. I addressed this at the beginning of the book so people will understand why I left it in.

McCrary

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I realized how f*cking hard it is to write a novel. And then I realized that writing it was nothing compared to finding a publisher.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Nothing is more entertaining than a dysfunctional family, and I believe we all experienced some level of dysfunction in our childhood. With that in mind, I hope readers finish the last page, having enjoyed the ride—a sweet story about a band of children who survived living with a mother who suffered from a cocktail of illnesses. I begin the story with a quote: “That which does not kill us, makes for a great story.” Right?

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Contrary to what you believe, everyone will not love your book. During the beginning of the process, I boasted that I was writing the next best-seller. I realize now that my story is simply one of the millions out there—and that’s OK. Be true to yourself and enjoy the adventure.