A chat with historical fiction author Karen Heenan

And a give away you don't want to miss!

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1) Tell me a bit about you

I’m a lifelong maker of many things. I write, I sew, I garden, I cook. I’ve had flings with every form of craft imaginable. (It’s a good thing my personal history isn’t that varied; I’d be too exhausted to write). 

I live just outside Philadelphia with my very patient husband and an ever-changing number of cats. Right now we’re down to one - Harriet’s 19 and has waited a long time to be an only child, so I’m not rocking that boat. 

In addition to writing, I’ve got a handmade business using recycled fabrics, and do a lot of craft shows in the spring and fall, and leading up to the holidays. After thirty years in a cubicle as a legal secretary, I’m doing everything I can to come up with a sufficient salary to keep me away from the lawyers. 

2) Summarise your writing career

I’ve always written - always - but for a really long time it was just for me. And then it was for me, and I would have liked to try to publish, but … fear. Then, in 2015 (I told you I was at this for a long time), I started querying. After 76 rejections, I got an agent. She suggested some fairly substantial changes to Songbird, which I did, though not with the best grace. Despite how long I worked on that book, I was still too close to it.

The agent tried, but after a year with no results, we parted ways. It hurt, and I didn’t write for a while. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just didn’t write, and it became a habit. Then, in 2018, my husband and I moved to the burbs, and I suddenly had so much quiet that I could hear the voices in my head again. I completely rewrote that first book - having had time to distance myself from it - and was going to try querying again, when I ran across a Twitter pitch contest and decided to try.

That led to a contract with a small publisher. They published Songbird and A Wider World, and I was under contract for Lady, in Waiting when I decided to ask for my rights back. There was nothing specifically wrong with my publishing experience, but by that point I’d learned enough that I wanted to do it myself. They returned my books, and I republished them in December 2021 and then published Lady in February, 2022. In July 2022, I put together an omnibus edition of those three Tudor Court books and released that.

3) Why did you take up writing?

I didn’t take up writing, at least not consciously. I’ve told myself stories all my life, and eventually in second or third grade, it came to me that someone had to write all those library books I lugged home every week. It became a private ambition, one that, while I never stopped writing, got derailed for decades as I took a job that paid my bills. 

4) What inspires your story ideas?

Some little piece of history will get me going. For Songbird, I read in a biography of Henry VIII that he was such a passionate music lover, he bought children for the royal choir. That got stuck and I kept wondering what it would have been like, to be one of those children. Answering that question took an entire book.

5) What do you enjoy most about being an author/ writing?

I will never get over the fact that I can create something as substantial as a book - something that until I thought of it and wrote down and edited and had a cover designed and published, did not exist in this world. I brought that book into existence. It’s astounding what our minds are capable of.

6) What do you find most challenging about being an author/ writing?

Marketing. If there’s a tried-and-true way to get your books in front of an audience, I haven’t found it yet. I’m a fan of the “throw spaghetti at the wall” approach. Something will stick, and over time, more will stick and people will notice. 

I’ve also been learning a lot about Amazon ads, and they’re starting to show results. 

7) Tell me about your latest novel – what is it about/ what inspired it?

Coming Apart is a very personal novel for me. I’ve always wanted to write something set during the Great Depression. I grew up listening to family stories and to me, it seemed like a time in history where getting by really landed on women. It’s an era that’s underserved in historical fiction - I’ve seen a few books in the last couple of years, but we’re drowning in WWII and the Tudors (and I say that as an author who’s written three Tudor books with more to come).

The book is about two sisters, Ava and Claire, who grew up in a dirt poor mining town in upstate Pennsylvania. They were very close until Claire got a job away from home, and followed that up by marrying a man with money and moving to Philadelphia. Ava, on the other hand, has duplicated her mother’s life by marrying her childhood sweetheart, a coal miner, having kids, and even living with her family in the same house where she grew up. She doesn’t think life can get harder, and then the Depression hits, her mother dies, and her husband loses his job and she has a baby (both on Christmas)

Then Claire sends her a letter, asking for the impossible: her son. But is it impossible? Can she give up one child to save the rest of her family, and what will it cost her, and everyone involved?

8) What are you most proud of in your writing career so far?

A year ago, I would have said that I was proud of getting out of my own way and being published, but my answer is different now. I’m proud of myself for getting my books back and learning the process of self-publishing, so that if something needs doing, I don’t have to wonder who’s doing it or how. It’s me. It’s always me, unless I hire someone to do something, and then it’s still my responsibility.

9) Are you an indie author or traditionally published? How have you found the experience?

Indie all the way (now). The small/traditional route was okay, but I’m too involved in the process to really be happy that way. I like all the moving parts to self-publishing, figuring out new and different ways to do things, checking the Amazon dashboard a little too often. I really enjoy it, and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to take the time to learn the process - it’s not difficult, just time-consuming.

10) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

To realize that fantastic book you’re comparing your WIP to isn’t the book the author wrote. It’s been edited (by the author, possibly their agent, an editor, etc.) Give yourself some grace and have patience. The best way to learn to write is to write, and to never stop reading. 


Give Away!

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Karen's upcoming novel Coming Apart is availble for Pre-order now.

To celebrate it's release, Karen is giving away a free eCopy of her prequel novella to all who sign up for her newsletter!

So sign up today, and get reading.

Karen's Tudor Court Series

Buy the trilogy as individual novels, or all together in a box set.