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Author Interview: Publishing Fiction at Midlife
We speak to novelist Heather Dixon about becoming a successful fiction writer.
I’m not sure when I “met” Heather Dixon in the online writing world. I’ve followed her and interacted with her for years and have always been impressed by her dedication to her craft and by her ability to build a writing community.
Now I’m more than just impressed. I’m *thrilled* that Heather is seeing lots of success. Heather shows us that persistence and a commitment to slow and steady writerly growth — rather than hopes for easy, overnight triumphs — can pay off.
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Heather was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and writing life.
Tell us a little bit about your books.
Heather: I have two books I'd love to tell you about. The first one, Burlington, is a women's fiction/neighborhood drama/domestic suspense novel. It's about a woman named Mae who moves to an affluent suburb with her family for the life she's always wanted, but soon finds herself slipping into a world of odd dinner parties, secrets, lies, and rumours of suicide among the beautiful and rich women at her daughters' school.
I wrote this one because I wanted to tell the story of women at a certain stage in their lives - after your kids go to school and you're no longer right in the thick of taking care of babies and toddlers. I think around this time you can find yourself looking for belonging and friendship and are trying to determine who you are becoming as you exit the fog of early motherhood.
The other book I wrote is called Last Summer at the Lake House and it's a work of women's fiction about three sisters who are called back to the family lake house in the fictional town of Summerville after the death of their father, only to learn that he was hiding a devastating secret. As they each deal in their own way with the fallout from their father’s secret history, the three women’s lives begin to change in ways they could never have predicted. I wrote this one because I wanted to explore themes of grief, love, loss, motherhood, family and belonging again.
What did you learn about yourself from writing and publishing these novels?
I learned that it's not easy to face hundreds of rejections, and it's hard to stick to something for years and years before you see anything start happening for yourself. But I also learned that I can set a goal for myself and achieve it, if it's something I really, really want. I've always wanted to be a published author, ever since I was a little kid. And I'm thrilled that I can now say that I am one.
What advice would you give to women who start writing at midlife?
This is a fantastic time to start writing! It's a great time to explore who you are, what you're looking for from life, as well as what stories you'd like to tell and what matters to you. Also, if you'd like to be a published author, the best advice I could give is to stay persistent and keep going. Refusing to give up is key, but another thing that's also important is to keep working at your craft. Keep learning about story structure and character development, keep writing, reading, improving your work and getting better. And always keep trying.
Which books inspired you when you were a child or young woman?
Are You There God? It's Me Margaret is the first book that changed my life. I had never read anything like it and I think I read it about a million times growing up. Then, when I discovered Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, I was stunned at the beauty and the truth of her writing. She captured female relationships in childhood in a way I had never seen before. Finally, I would say that when I read Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon, and discovered that it was Arthurian legend (something I always really enjoyed learning about in history classes in university) but told from the female perspective, I was hooked. I wanted to find and read other well-known stories, but flipped and told from the perspective of the woman in the story.
What’s the hardest and best parts of getting older for you?
The hardest part is the way my body is changing. I have to adapt the way I eat or the way I work out constantly because I learn that I just can't do things the same way I've always done them. And actually, the hard part is just figuring that out! I knew nothing about perimenopause until I started getting all these strange symptoms and it took me a long time to put two and two together and realize it could be due to perimenopause. The best part is also learning more about my body and my health, and realizing I'm very lucky to be healthy.
What are you working on right now?
I have a third book coming out in January of 2024 called The Summerville Sisters. It's set in the same place as Last Summer at the Lake House, but it features different characters. It's a story about a mother and her 12-year-old daughter and it's a story about sisters as well.
Heather Dixon is the author of women’s fiction, family drama and domestic suspense, including Burlington and Last Summer at the Lake House. In addition to writing fiction, Heather is a managing editor of a non-profit website for parents. She started her career in the marketing and advertising industry as a copywriter, and then began a freelance career writing for businesses, as well as writing content for top parenting sites such as Red Tricycle and Pregnant Chicken. Her writing has appeared in a number of established sites, including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Motherly, and others. She has appeared on CBC radio and in print in the Globe and Mail. Follow her on Instagram here. You can find and buy her books on Amazon and Bookshop.org.