We had the pleasure of speaking with debut author Heather Clark about her upcoming middle grade novel Lemon Drop Falls, along with writing, book recommendations, and more!
Hi, Heather! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Absolutely! Thank you so much for having me today! I love what you do to help connect authors and readers! I’m a Canadian girl from the Alberta Rocky Mountains who followed that mountain range south to Utah where I now live with my husband and three children. I’m a former high school French teacher, a professional wedding and family photographer, and LEMON DROP FALLS is my debut novel.
What are you looking forward to in 2022 and have you set any goals or resolutions for the year?
I am ecstatic for the launch of my debut novel, LEMON DROP FALLS, and about the two other middle grade contemporary novels I’m currently writing. I plan to finish FIND ME HERE ON EARTH in January. (Short pitch: While Mom does chemo, eleven-year-old Winston is sent to Aunt Ruth’s farm—a trigger for almost every part of his OCD—where he must overcome his fear of germs, new people, the dark, and even outer space to attempt contact with aliens and hopefully find a cure for his mom’s leukemia.) I will also be completing one other novel—still in planning stages—this year as well.
As far as resolutions, When I woke up on New Year’s Day, overwhelmed with all there is to do to prepare for launch, including planning school visits, marketing, preorder campaigns and author events, I had the title phrase from Ann Lamott’s classic book on writing come peacefully to mind—Bird by Bird. I’m going to make it through the joy and chaos of 2022 one step at a time. I can always take one more step as long as I only look that far ahead. And a little deep breathing along the way can’t hurt.
When did you first discover your love for writing?
In sixth grade, I had a remarkable teacher who encouraged my writing, giving me opportunities in the creative fiction domain, and also helping me get published in a historical journal for nonfiction. I have known ever since that I wanted to be an author and a teacher. My love for Anne of Green Gables also filled me with desire to write like she did since I was the young, proud owner of every book L.M. Montgomery ever wrote. I spent my youth living in my own story-world, taking everyone I could along with me. I mean, why clean your bedroom, when you could instead be an enslaved princess locked in a tower by an evil witch who is forced to clean her bedroom while planning her glorious future destiny? (My poor mother—not an evil witch, by the way.)
Quick lightning round! Tell us the first book you ever remember reading, one that made you want to become an author, and one that you can’t stop thinking about!
The first book I ever remember reading is Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (My mother must have read it to me a million times. Coming back to that bedroom with the still-hot soup and crackers was so soothing, after the wild rumpus.
The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall is the book series that made me want to write middle grade contemporary fiction. Her family relationships, tender childhood hopes and dreams, and casual hilarity move me deeply.
The book I currently can’t stop thinking about is Starfish by Lisa Fipps. I can’t tell you what her words meant to me. She has created a gift to anyone who struggles with self-acceptance, and I’m near tears any time I think of what this book will mean to everyone who has a chance to read it—both in terms of how they feel about their own worth, and how they will learn to treat others with greater dignity, love, and respect.
Your debut novel, Lemon Drop Falls, is out February 15th 2022! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Fierce, Harrowing, Adventurous, Healing, Hopeful
What can readers expect?
Readers of Lemon Drop Falls will take a journey of healing as they join Morgan. The main character has lost her mother, and is taking the weight of her family’s happiness on her own twelve-year-old shoulders. She believes that without Mom, a full return to a joyful life is lost to her, and she’s desperate to control the life left to her. Morgan’s desperation to prove herself, and her unwillingness to talk about her needs and feelings lead her to make the dangerous decision to hike a flooding canyon alone. Readers can expect an emotional read with close family relationships and a dangerous adventure, as Morgan struggles to find her own voice, value her own needs, and hope for good things to come.
Where did the inspiration for Lemon Drop Falls come from?
I nearly died of a pulmonary embolism in 2014. At the time, the anxiety related to this near-disaster was incredibly difficult for my fifth-grade daughter. This book started with my desire to examine how my family would have carried on and healed if the worst had happened.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced while writing this particular novel and how you were able to overcome them?
This book was really hard to write, because at times, I was processing my own fear and grief from my near-death, and trying to write a way through that pain for my own children. It was important for me to allow the characters to grow into their own unique people—no longer based so strongly on my own family, and this took time, and several drafts. I also had to find a new agent with this book, a journey that took some time and effort. Probably the best thing to happen to this book was when Nicole Panteleakos, author of Planet Earth Is Blue took me on as a mentee in the 2019 Pitch Wars competition. My book, like hers, carries a lot of heavy emotion, and she was SO helpful in guiding my rewrites to incorporate a dual timeline with lighter, more middle-school-focused elements. I knew she would be the perfect mentor, and I really believe her input to this book is the reason it’s getting published today. My Pitch Wars experience also helped me connect with my amazing agent, Sarah Davies, who has since retired, but thankfully not before helping me start my career in this lovely way.
Were there any favourite moments or characters you really enjoyed writing or exploring?
Oh, yes. I loved writing Morgan’s anxiety, responsibility, and goal-directed persistence—even when it took her down the wrong path. I, myself, deal with anxiety and OCD, and Morgan’s experience is close to my heart. I love watching her transition as a character as she learns to value her own needs, ask for help from trusted adults, and give herself a little more grace. I am passionate about representing neurodiverse children in fiction as the spectacular, unique individuals they are. I also love the colorful humor of Morgan’s younger siblings—Budge in particular. Portraying the relationship between Morgan and her loving, yet imperfect father was also deeply meaningful for me. Look for two pivotal conversations between Morgan and her dad in the beautiful Capitol Reef setting if you want to see some of the most powerful moments for me.
What was the road to becoming a published author like for you?
As the Beatles would describe it—long and winding! I started pursuing publication seriously in 2010 shortly after the birth of my second daughter, and got my first agent in 2013. Lemon Drop Falls is my fourth book to go on submission, and my first book to sell. Over the years, I’ve been close to book deals, repeatedly. Waiting and working for something where the outcome is eventually out of your control has taught me a lot about patience. Ultimately, I realized I had to keep writing for me, and have poured my waiting time and energy into learning to tell the best stories I can. All the while, I’ve been delighted to connect with the amazingly supportive author community all around me.
What’s next for you?
Books, Books, and More Books!
I’m working right now on two middle grade contemporary novels: Find Me Here On Earth, which I mentioned above, to be followed shortly by Knitwits, a mg realistic fiction about a group of behaviorally challenged boys who form a middle school knitting circle.
Lastly, do you have any 2022 book recommendations for our readers?
Oh my goodness, yes! So many wonderful books coming your way in 2022. I’d be especially on the lookout for Book 8 of the Hilo series by Judd Winnick—my nine-year-old son’s biggest thrill. (If you missed the first seven graphic novels, you’ve got a delightful adventure ahead of you.) Amari and the Great Game, by B.B. Alston, Just Right Jillian, by Nicole D. Collier, A Comb of Wishes, by Lisa Stringfellow, Lines of Courage, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation, by Sylvia Liu, The Way I Say It, by Nancy Tandon, and many more.
Through February If you preorder LEMON DROP FALLS through Heather’s local indie bookstore, The King’s English, you’ll get all the swag pictured below, shipped with your book, while supplies last. If you order from anywhere else, there’s a smaller swag assortment, available by filling out a google form with proof of purchase. Find preorder details here: https://linktr.ee/HeatherClarkBooks
You can connect with Heather Clark online here:
Podcast at MGBookParty.com