Friday, November 6, 2009

Interview with Heather Justesen author of "The Balls in Her Court"

Heather Justesen is an LDS author, business owner, volunteer-EMT, puppy mama, (not to mention the cats, fish, chickens and other assorted poultry), whose much-neglected hobbies number almost as many as her pets. Her love of books started long before she could read. Once she started writing, she found she could no longer let the stories stay in her head--she had to get them on paper. Her second book is slated for publication summer of 2010.

Her first book, “The Ball’s in Her Court” is a romance about a woman’s search for answers to her life before foster care and her subsequent adoption.

She's got a great job, a loving group of family and friends and basketball skills like you wouldn't believe, but Denise DeWalt's life is far from perfect, and she's about to come face-to-face with a past she hoped to leave behind forever.

Twenty-six-year-old Denise thinks she's come to terms with her childhood in the foster care system, but when her old nightmares return, Denise realizes that she must deal with her past once and for all if she ever wants to move on to a brighter future with Rich, the only man who can see past her former life. As Denise's search leads her closer and closer to the one person she hoped she'd never have to face again, she begins to realize that her future depends on just one person--herself.

This emotional and inspirational love story proves that life is full of unexpected twists and turns--especially when it comes to facing your demons, fighting for love, and finding happiness for the future.

I was drawn into this story on the very first page. Immediately I connected with Denise on a very emotional level. I was caught up in the gripping plot and captivated by the very real portrayal of someone growing up in the foster care system. Heather experienced this personally and her first-hand account gives the book incredible impact. This is an important story and Heather's passion and knowledge really shines in it!

I was excited to learn that Heather has more books planned that revolve around these characters.

Here is my interview with Heather . . .

M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Heather: Strangely enough, though I worked on a story when I was a senior in high school, I didn’t really think about it again until about six years later when I started writing again. My older sister claims I was the only person in the family who didn’t know all along that I would eventually write books. It’s been about ten years since that and I haven’t looked back.

M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Heather: I’ve written on and off like I said, for about ten years, mostly on. I submitted a book to Covenant almost six year ago, which they requested that I rework and resubmit. I rewrote it according to some suggestions they made, then had a published writer (Josi Kilpack) edit it, which was a huge help! I rewrote it again, and resubmitted, but they still didn’t want it. When I sent “The Ball’s in Her Court” to Josi to edit a year later, my writing had gotten much better. Partly because I had been writing like crazy—I have definitely got my million practice words out—and partly because having her feedback showed me where I needed to work on my writing to make it better. I finally started submitting again last year and Cedar Fort like my book, and it was released last month.

M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Heather: I was discouraged after the first book was rejected the second time—I actually haven’t even looked at it since—but I know now why it had to be rejected. It still wasn’t good enough. It may undergo edits again some day, but not any time soon. I actually didn’t submit again for several years, but after much more practice, some very valuable feedback from other authors, and just forcing myself to finish the edits so the book could be submitted, I made it.

I think meeting other writers who weren’t published yet, seeing them succeed and realizing I could do it to—as well as not wanting to be left in their dust as they worked on their next projects—really motivated me to get moving again.

M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?

Heather: My life is really irregular. I work a couple of days a week for my parents in their store, help my husband with our computer business—which takes me to the Provo area once nearly every week—and running on the ambulance as an EMT can make things unpredictable. Some days I struggle to clean the semi-important stuff from my email and get through the basic household tasks after work. Other days I have six or seven hours at a stretch to write and have to remind myself to stay on task—and hope the pager doesn’t go off if I’m on call, which I often am.

M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is
good enough to write a book about it?

Heather: My ideas come from everywhere. The idea for the book I’m submitting next came from a news story. Others have come from books I’ve read that I wondered what would have happened if they had gone in another directions. Sometimes ideas are spawned from other books I’m working on, or from a comment I overhear in the store. I have no lack of ideas.

As far as whether the idea is good enough to write about: I’m not afraid to start writing something and see where it goes. Usually if it’s not good enough, I know in the first twenty pages. By then I know if I’m really invested in the story line, or if it was just a fun thought. Some people may consider this wasted time because I have dozens of stories that are 20 to 50 pages long and may never be revisited, but as with any craft, writing has to be practiced over and over to improve. No time spent writing is ever truly wasted.

M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to
have their manuscripts become books in print?

Heather: Write, read, write, read, and write. Then make friends with other writers and get feedback from knowledgeable people who know what they are doing. My mom and sisters sometimes point out things that don’t read right or that I messed up on, but they don’t catch half the issues other writers notice.

M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit
down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline

Heather: I used to be a complete discovery writer—which is why I have nearly a dozen stories that are a hundred or more pages done. A few years back I learned that having an idea of where I’m going with benchmarks or light posts I have to hit along the way makes the writing process so much easier. I usually start the first few scenes of a story to see how interested I really am, and get a feel for the characters, then do a simple outline of what kinds of conflicts I want to raise, and the character’s reactions to them. If there isn’t enough to fill the book, I call a friend and brainstorm with her—she’s great at coming up with ideas on how to add extra conflict and move the story along.

Honestly, I don’t believe in being a slave to my outline. It’s there to give me direction, and I often don’t look at it again until I start to feel like I’m losing steam or I want to make sure I haven’t gotten totally off track. It’s there as a guide in case I get lost, and to point me back in the way I was going. If I take a detour and it works, I don’t worry about it. Sometimes the characters have different plans than we do and their plans are better than ours were. And the act of writing it down helps cement my plans in my mind enough that I don’t get as easily distracted as I otherwise might.

M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Heather: Usually when I get writer’s block it’s because I haven’t outlined enough to know what happens next, or I haven’t fully taken advantage of the conflicts that I’ve already built into my story. I actually start to feel sort of blocked about 70% of the way through my books almost every time just because of one of the above problems. Since I’m in a weekly critique group now I HAVE to come up with a new chapter each week, so that forces me to face the scenes that still have to be written and the best way to combat writer’s block is simply to sit down and write the scene—even if it stinks. Rewriting it to be less stinky is part of the process, and sometimes you have to write trash to realize where the scene needs to go and get it right.

M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when
you are writing?

Heather: I often listen to music playing really, really soft. Sometimes I feel I’m distracted easily so I listen to instrumental things like classical, just for background noise. I don’t always have music in the background, but sometimes I need to sensory input to focus. I know that probably makes no sense, but there you go.

M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Heather: There are so many people who have inspired and helped me from critiquers to conference speakers and other writers. But if I have to pick just one, I have to say Josi Kilpack. When I first sent my manuscript to her I wasn’t very sure of myself or my writing. I had been writing for several years and improved immensely, but still didn’t know where I needed to improve or what I was doing wrong, and her feedback both on my manuscripts, and the things I’ve learned from studying her writing, and attending her writing classes have helped me so much. Her feedback has always been spot on, no matter how much I hated to hear it at the time. Without her redirection I probably still wouldn’t be published, because I wouldn’t know what I was doing wrong. This is one of the reasons why I’m such a proponent of getting feedback from other good writers as we progress.

M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

Heather: I really try to stay ahead of what I’m taking to critique. Sometimes this works, and sometimes not so much. I have asked my group a couple of times for ideas or feedback when I wasn’t sure if a storyline was working right or if I had other problems I was struggling with in development, but generally speaking they are really excellent at telling me when there’s a problem with the story without trying to send me out on tangents that aren’t relevant.

M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?

Heather: I generally love whatever I’m working on best. But I have a couple books that I’ve gotten nearly done and need to rework and finish that I go back to over and over because I love the romance part or the banter or something else about the book. Unfortunately, they aren’t on the line-up to work on seriously any time soon, so I go back to read for a day, make more notes, and then set them aside and focus back on what I’m working on now.

M.B: What other projects are you working on?

Heather: I actually have a second book, a spin-off from the first one, coming out sometime next summer and a third book, which is unrelated I’m getting ready to submit.

M.B.: Any final words you would like to share

Heather: No matter how frustrated you get, don’t let yourself be discouraged by what you perceive to be failures. If your goal is to be published, keep writing, keep studying the craft, and eventually you’ll reach your goal. Also, don’t chase the market—write what you’re passionate about because your writing will reflect how much you loved the story.

M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Heather: They’re available on They’re in some Barnes & Noble stores and should be on their website soon, you can buy them through my publisher, Cedar Fort, my website, and hopefully very soon through Deseret Book and other LDS bookstores.

Please go to Heather's web-site where you can view her book trailer and read the first chapter. Also, make sure you visit her blog at where she’ll be doing some fun giveaways this month.


Aubrey said...

Great interview! I actually just finished "The Ball's in Her Court" and it was a really great story that kept me interested until the last page. I'm glad to know that there will be a sequel!

Heather Justesen said...

Thanks for the review/interview, Michelle. I appreciate it!

Terresa said...

Congrats, Heather!

This is a book that hits home with many friends in my ward who have adopted children and/or fostered children. The common demoninator between them is that their lives have been immeasureably blessed as a result. So glad for this book!

Danyelle said...

This is such an excellent book! I totally loved it!!! Way to go, Heather!