“I never even took any classes until I was quite far along with writing – I wish I had!”
An Interview with Tammy Flanders Hetrick by B. Lynn Goodwin
Because You’re a Writer
Last summer, I met Tammy Hetrick in Texas at the Story Circle Network Conference. She was a finalist for the Sarton Award in Contemporary Fiction that SCN presents annually for outstanding writing. We sat together at dinner on Saturday night and shortly after that, I bought a copy of her award winning book, Stella Rose.
This is a heart-warming, tear-jerking story of love and friendship. It’s also about grief, loss, and gritty teen issues. I wanted to interview her for some time to learn how she crafted her book and to find out about her experiences with She Writes Press, http://shewritespress.com/. Life gets in the way sometime, but better late than never. In our Q & A she reveals her strategies and her passion for Stella Rose.
BLG: Tell us about your background. What convinced you that you were a writer and what did you publish before Stella Rose?
TFH: As a child, I was an avid reader and constantly found myself drifting off the page to think up my own plot twists and better endings. When I was in middle school, my best friend and I would have marathon tag-team storytelling sessions, walking for miles on the roads between our houses spinning tales of overwrought romance that nearly always involved The Hardy Boys. Then, at fifteen, my English teacher stopped me at my locker to tell me about a fairy tale writing contest at the school. “You should enter,” she said, pointing for emphasis, “because you’re a writer.” As she marched off, I thought, “How did she know?” Which is when I knew. I won the contest, by the way. Then it took only thirty-five years to publish this novel! In between I have lived a full life, written plenty for business, and finally in my thirties made writing a permanent fixture in my life. I’ve published short stories in Your Teen Magazine, Blue Ocean Institute’s Sea Stories, and Route 7 Literary Journal.
BLG: I love the structure, the repeating elements, and the growing depths of the relationship. What tips do you have for figuring out the best way to tell a story?
TFH: I suspect many talented writers go unpublished because they didn’t consider or couldn’t figure out structure. I share the details of stumbling across the structure for Stella Rose here, and share character development here, but in summary I suggest starting with a timeline, as in how long in actual time will the story likely take place. I found this useful as a container for the work. Then write a crap-fest of a first draft – get the story out there, use various points of view and various tenses in that same first draft. Then go back, read it through without stopping to edit. Take note of the most interesting point of view (not necessarily the strongest, or the first, or the most obvious – think The Great Gatsby), and then define the story arc – high school English-style – across the timeline and pace your scenes accordingly. At the third or fourth revision, I put each story line in a different font, then printed the draft. This way I could visually see each story line on its own to see where it was lagging – or left behind. I could also see the story lines progressing side-by-side, page by page, which was very helpful . Each story line featured a different character, so this doubled as an exercise to ensure each character was developing at the right cadence to be where they needed to be at the end.
BLG: Which character is your favorite? Why? Was there an incident you saw or lived through that encouraged you to tell this story?
TFH: Only because you’re making me choose,( ha!), I choose Stella. I love all my characters, but Stella’s struggles mirror many of my own. As for inspiration, a dear friend was battling leukemia and I thought to myself, “what if?” My son was already out of the house, but my daughter, Ariel, was entering her last year of high school. If something happened to me, her dad could take care of her, but I really wanted my best friend to be involved. She and Ariel always had a special bond. We often joked that between the two of us, we made the perfect mom for Ariel. It was a premise that wouldn’t let go.
BLG: I love it! What do you hope readers will realize about themselves as they read the story?
TFH: I want readers to know that even – perhaps especially – if they make mistakes as a parent, a child, a lover, or a best friend, as long as they did their best, all is forgiven, and they are loved.
BLG: What is the most useful tip or question you ever got from an editor?
TFH: “What are you trying to avoid saying here?” That told me I was not being clear, on purpose, and she knew it – and my readers would know it. So I stopped being oblique and said what I meant, even when it was uncomfortable.
BLG: That is a great question! How did you select She Writes Press and how have they helped you get your book out into the world?
TFH: I had been a member of the She Writes online community for years, but it wasn’t until a writing friend of mine, Anjali Mitter Duva (author of A Faint Promise of Rain) signed with She Writes Press that I realized their little start-up indie press was a thing. I was querying agents, but when I read more about She Writes Press, a hybrid press run by women for women, I was hooked. I queried them and Brooke Warner, the owner, responded right away expressing delight with my submission and a willingness to take on the project. My experience with She Writes Press has been overwhelmingly positive. They walked me through the labyrinth to publication, sold my book into venues I never would have accessed by publishing on my own, and have provided a supportive, nurturing community. In an industry where often writers are not encouraged to fraternize, we’ve created a sisterhood. We exchange valuable marketing ideas and sales strategies, and cheer each other on. We are relentless in our mutual support.
BLG: What prizes has the book won and how has that helped book sales?
TFH: STELLA ROSE won a bronze IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards) for Adult Fiction, and was a finalist for The Sarton Women’s Book Award for Contemporary Fiction. I loved putting the gold seals on the book! They definitely catch the buyer’s eye. In addition, I hit social media hard with the news, which generated sales. It helps legitimize debut novels – and their novelists.
BLG: What is the most helpful piece of marketing advice you were ever given?
TFH: No one would be better at selling my book than me. That’s NOT what I wanted to hear! But it is true. No one is as passionate about this book as I am, and I hand-sell books at every single event, even book clubs where everyone had already read the book!
BLG: What are you working on now and where can people learn more about you?
TFH: I’m working on a novel, The Batten Kill (working title) about a mother and son on the run. People can follow me here:
I love to interact with readers, visit book clubs in person or virtually, and engage on social media!
BLG: Thanks for sharing your story with us, Tammy. As I was putting this together I realized I was a Sarton Finalist too, though my book, TALENT, is for young adult readers, young adult fans, and everyone who has ever wanted a role. I could go on, but this is your interview, and you did an excellent job of answering questions.
Stella Rose is a strong story for any woman, any parent, or anyone recovering from loss. You can get it in all the usual places. Read it. It will open your heart.