Best-selling author visits Washington and encourages writers

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Best-selling author Heather Gudenkauf (third from left) visited the Washington Library last weekend for her Authorfest. (Photo submitted)

Heather Gudenkauf (left) meets an enthusiastic reader at Authorfest in Washington. (Photo submitted)

WASHINGTON — New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf visited the Washington Authors’ Festival on Saturday, where she read excerpts from her work and signed copies of her books.

The author – a South Dakota native living in Mason City – has written eight novels, each a fictional thriller loosely based on real events. For local readers, one quality of his writing stands out: each of his books is set in Iowa. Still, the stories managed to transcend the Hawkeye State, having achieved best-selling status multiple times.

“These are thrillers, of course there are some scary elements, but I’d like to think there are some that are universal regardless of what community you’re from,” she said. “I have these ordinary, ordinary people in my novels who are put in these extraordinary circumstances…but I also focus on the spirit of getting through tough times.”

Gudenkauf said his residence in an overflown country did not complicate his rise to prominence as a writer.

“I didn’t see that as a barrier for me,” she said. “For some reason, the books resonated with readers, and I’m so happy to highlight the state I love.”

The appeal to non-Iowans must, however, remain natural. Gudenkauf said consciously writing for other markets was too manufactured.

“I always wrote the books I wanted to write, the stories I wanted to write,” she said. “I find that if I worry too much about what individual groups of readers want, my passion or enthusiasm for the book doesn’t come through. So I write what I want to read.

That doesn’t stop pushing the envelope, though. Gudenkauf said she had to step out of her comfort zone every time she sat down in front of a keyboard.

“I write about dark things, crimes, murders and that kind of stuff,” she said. “Of course that’s not what I live day to day… I find that I have to push myself, you always have to push myself to be more creative, to think outside the box.”

For new writers, the author said she sees the growing chances of publishing in the digital age as a sign of encouragement.

“Publishing has changed so much, even in the last two years with the pandemic,” Gudenkauf said. “There are so many different ways to get published now, there’s traditional publishing, there’s independent publishers, there’s self-publishing, there’s blogs, essayists, whatever. It’s so open, so there are a lot of different opportunities for writers.

However, more accessibility does not mean it is an easier career. Despite his experience, Gudenkauf said each first draft took at least a few months, followed by additional months of revisions and editing. After that, it usually takes another year to go from a final draft to publication on store shelves.

Each time, Gudenkauf changes something at the last minute.

“I’ll send it to my editor, and in the middle of the night I’ll wake up and think, ‘I forgot to fix that,'” she said. “The nice thing is that in novel publishing, there’s a bit of time to catch it…even when you get to ‘there’s no more changes’, there’s always a thought I would have liked to do more, or just change it up a bit. But there comes a time when you just have to get it over with and get it over with, and that can be difficult.

For Midwestern writers who feel isolated, Gudenkauf said connection opportunities are plentiful if they get close enough, another aspect of the industry boosted by online connections.

“If you look, there are like-minded people writing,” she said. “I’ve found a great group of writers over the years who don’t live near me, but we connect, communicate and help each other… I know writers from all small towns, big cities . Don’t let the worry of geography stop you from pursuing the dream you want. It’s entirely possible.

The need for this kind of connection is part of his reason for visiting places like Washington. The trips support public libraries and provide a chance to network with like-minded people.

“I’m a reader, I love to read and the chance to talk with people who love books as much as I do is a highlight,” she said. “Anytime you can connect with other human beings and find something in common with them, it’s pretty special.”

Beyond that, Gudenkauf’s main advice to aspiring writers was to stay tenacious.

“There will be rejections, there always will be, but be persistent,” she said. “You want someone to love your job as much as you do, and that can take a while.”

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