On storystorming, telepathy, and mothers as beta readers–an interview with Kourtney Heintz

And now for something completely different… a conversation! I’m excited to interview Kourtney Heintz, author of the recently published novel “The Six Train to Wisconsin.”

I’ve been following Kourtney’s blog for more than a year. I was honored that she chose to interview me about CreateSpace when she was deciding what publishing route to take. 

But that’s old news. Today’s story is the intriguing world Kourtney has created in her book, so let’s dive in.

SixTrain CoverAK: Welcome, Kourtney!

KH: Audrey, thanks for having me on your blog. I’ve been a fan for a while so it’s great to be here with you. And thanks for not only finding the time to interview me, but reading and reviewing my book too!

AK: You’re welcome. I try to review everything I read although it’s sometimes hard. But since I read the beginning of Six Train when it was a semi-finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, I was anxiously awaiting its publication to find out what happened.

Once I read the whole book, I realized that it’s somewhat of a genre-bender. I am not one to get hung up on genres, but I noticed yours seems to draw on several—paranormal romance, thriller, family drama—without being bogged down by the conventions of any of them. What books or types of books have inspired your writing?

KH: I love books that defy genre. I’ve read a great deal of Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton. I liked that they had a paranormal element but also an underlying mystery and sometimes thriller elements. I’m a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd and Alice Sebold. You see elements of mystery, love story, and family saga playing out within their literary writing style.

AK: I like Alice Sebold, too, though I know many readers who consider her too “dark.” Your book definitely has some dark psychological elements, as well as a couple of main characters—husband and wife Oliver and Kai—who are both ordinary and extraordinary. I’m curious about how you developed them. Can you describe some of the things you did while you were writing to get—quite literally—inside their heads?

KH: I spent a lot of time storystorming. That’s where I play with the story and the characters in my mind. Daydreaming their lives. Sometimes talking to them. Knowing Oliver’s eye color is a good starting point, but I’m more concerned with what causes him to shut down emotionally. I want to understand the series of events that made him the way he is now.

AK: “Storystorming” is an interesting idea. I do the same thing but I never thought to put a name to it. What comes after the storystorming and first draft?

KH: Revision is where I deepen the characters and the conflicts. I want everyone to be gray. Just different degrees of gray.

AK: Let’s hope you’re not talking about “Fifty Shades of…”

KH: No, definitely not! I like to analyze people. It’s always been important for me to understand why they act the way they do. To understand when a turn of phrase is an intentional dig vs. an accidental slip. I used to be able to predict what my boyfriend would do before he did it. That kind of deep knowledge of another person and understanding of their motives helped me to craft real, conflicted characters.

AK: That skill must be a little unsettling for family and close friends, but very useful for an author.

You credit the Deer Haven Lodge in your acknowledgements, so I’m assuming you did some on-site research.

Interior of the Deer Haven Lodge -- just as I pictured it! (photo credit: Kourtney Heintz)
Interior of the Deer Haven Lodge — just as I pictured it! (photo credit: Kourtney Heintz)

KH: I did. I went out to Butternut, Wisconsin in 2010 to get a better feel for the setting of my story.

AK: How did you pick Butternut?

KH: I was very focused on creating conflict at every layer of the book. I wanted the setting to provide conflict. So I thought, where can you take two New Yorkers and drop them to create conflict? Answer: The Midwest.

AK: It’s great when the conflict arises naturally out of the setting.

KH: Wisconsin just felt right. I pored over maps and Butternut popped out at me. I also looked into the Apostle Islands. I thought an island would be isolated, then I read about how a hundred thousand tourists descend on the area. That was a bad fit for my story world. I needed somewhere off the beaten path. Small village. My eyes kept going back to Butternut and I researched it. It fit perfectly within my story world parameters.

And this is why it's called "Deer Haven"
And this is why it’s called “Deer Haven”

AK: The black and white photographs that face the pages at many of the chapter beginnings function as a kind of scene-setting shorthand. What made you decide to use photographs?

KH: I like books with images and photos. I think it helps break up the text. I loved how the Harry Potter books had an illustration at the beginning. When CreateSpace told me I could have up to 10 images inside the book, I knew it would create a more personal experience for the reader.

With the e-book, I wanted to give my readers an inexpensive option to read a debut novel. With my paperback, I wanted to give them a personalized experience that made the extra cost worth it.  In the paperback, I also included a book club Q&A and the original short story that became the novel. I thought people might enjoy seeing how much the story and my writing evolved over time.

AK: The paperback is a nice presentation. I didn’t get a chance to read the Kindle version because, as you know, my Kindle died right after I downloaded your book! So where did you find the photos?

KH: The photos are all shot by me, mostly at the actual locations that are talked about in that chapter. Chapter 1’s image was taken from atop the Empire State Building. The image for Chapter 6 is Dante’s View in Death Valley, CA—the exact spot where I pictured Oliver and Kai saying their vows.

The exceptions are Chapter 30 and Chapter 73. I didn’t have a good picture of a Wisconsin cemetery so I took one of my local cemetery. Those snowy trees are in my parents’ backyard.

AK: I’m curious about your intention in having Kai and Oliver not use each other’s first names until almost a quarter of the way through the book. I understand if you’d rather not answer since you pose this as a reader’s group question!

KH: Truth? The characters refused to tell me their names for the longest time. I agonized over what they were. But I kept writing.

Along the way, I realized I needed to know them in their relationship to each other before I could learn who they were individually. It went on for a long time.

Then one day, their names came to me. I wasn’t sure when to introduce their names into an actual scene. I’d gone a long time not using them there. The call to her parents was the first time not using their names felt clunky. I knew that was where the names needed to be introduced in the text.

AK: I remember following some of your editing agonies on your blog along the way. If it’s not too painful to revisit, can you talk about the editing process? Did you use beta readers?

KH: Early on, I had three betas, two close friends read the entire manuscript and gave me their feedback. One hates to read and the other is a big fantasy buff. My mom was the third. She wants me to be the best writer I can be, so she doesn’t hold back when something isn’t working.

AK: Wow, the fact that your mother could be a beta reader is a testament to your relationship with her. Did you also work with a paid editor?

KH: I worked with Katrina Bender as a critique partner on my YA novel. I completely trusted her instincts. She’s a brilliant writer and a meticulous reader. 98% of the time her feedback was spot on. Even if it took me a while to realize it. I asked her to be my editor on this manuscript. It was a massive undertaking. She provided me with over 1200 comments. I am so grateful she said yes.

AK: What is your process for receiving feedback and revising?

KH: I generally ask for feedback in the manuscript file via track changes comments. It’s easier for me to process if I have time to sit with feedback and digest it. My personal revision process involves reviewing the chapter over and over again. What I let slide on the first read will annoy the bejesus out of me by the fifth read.

My mom and I both copyedited the book as did my e-book formatter Rik Hall.

AK: Any chance that Oliver and Kai will go on to have future adventures in another book?

KH: I have yet to write a standalone novel. Every manuscript I’ve written has series potential. With Kai and Oliver I saw a couple more books. Definitely a sequel. I’m hoping to start drafting that this winter. But it will be a couple years before that book will be polished and ready for publication.

AK: That’s great to hear—I’ll look forward to it. Is there anything else you’d like to let people know about the book?

KH: I will be going on tour with Six Train this summer and fall, if people want to get an autographed copy, check out my upcoming events.

I also have Goodreads giveaways going on until July 1, people can enter to win an autographed copy of my novel.

AH: Thanks again, Kourtney, and I hope I’ll be in a position before too long to talk with fellow bloggers about my next novel.

The Six Train to Wisconsin Back Cover

Sometimes saving the person you love can cost you everything.

There is one person that ties Oliver Richter to this world: his wife Kai. For Kai, Oliver is the keeper of her secrets.

When her telepathy spirals out of control and inundates her mind with the thoughts and emotions of everyone within a half-mile radius, the life they built together in Manhattan is threatened.

To save her, Oliver brings her to the hometown he abandoned—Butternut, Wisconsin—where the secrets of his past remain buried. But the past has a way of refusing to stay dead. Can Kai save Oliver before his secrets claim their future?

An emotionally powerful debut, The Six Train to Wisconsin pushes the bounds of love as it explores devotion, forgiveness and acceptance.

Kourtney HeintzAbout the Author

Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination.

She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.

Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.

Connect with the Author Online

Buy a Copy of the Book

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Ebook available from:

7 thoughts on “On storystorming, telepathy, and mothers as beta readers–an interview with Kourtney Heintz

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      1. I’m so glad you enjoy these behind the scenes things JM! I wish I could be working on it too. 🙂 But I wanted to devote 2-3 months to promoting just so I know I’ve done everything I can to make this book a success.

        But I promise there are notes and ideas swirling for book 2. 🙂 And I will be all jazzed to jump into it when I do.


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