Ann Heyse of Baileys Harbor belongs to two book clubs and three poetry-critique groups, and she’s on the board of Write On, Door County, where she occasionally teaches classes. Heyse is a poet and children’s book author. Her new historical fiction novel, The Light is Ours, is set in Door County in 1871-72 and follows the lives of disparate characters whose lives intertwine at a lighthouse. Obtain her books from local retailers or at sandbeachpress.com.
In what way does your connection with Door County influence your writing?
It’s easy in this beautiful place to think about setting, and it’s also easy to think about history. There are signs everywhere of the people who lived on this land before us: stone walls, old log cabins, dilapidated barns and no-longer-in-service lighthouses. As I thought about writing The Light is Ours, setting came first, then characters, then the stories they needed to tell.
What is your writing process?
My novel took years to write. I’d write, write, write, then become stymied for months at a time. Even last year, when the story was “finished,” I took another year to revise it. I found that critique from others was very valuable, too. I gave the manuscript to several readers who gave me great feedback.
What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
As a poet, I am used to distilling meaning into a few sparse words on a page. Writing a novel is nearly the opposite: We need plenty of words that give detail and specifics of a place or a person. Word choice is still vitally important, but a novelist needs to make sure that a reader can picture the setting and the characters.
Do you have any advice about the publishing process?
It’s a daunting task. It’s hard to get noticed by a big publisher if you’re not already connected. Authors often need to find an agent first who will (hopefully) then find a publisher, but that can be a two-year process!
Although there are a lot of steps in self-publishing, it’s not all that difficult. It can be a good option for people who are happy with selling fewer than 500 copies.
The Door County Published Authors Collective is a group that brings together and champions local writers.
The following is an excerpt from Heyse’s novel, The Light is Ours.
On a cool night in June 1871, Captain Arden Anderson fought himself out of a nightmare. Heart racing, he listened to the sounds of the ship as he calmed himself from the dream. The whir of the hull against the water. The jib and mainsail humming, but a topsail that thwapped erratically in the wind. His two-masted schooner, the Jenny Marie, was heading north along the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan at full sail.
He roused himself, lit a lamp and tried reading but lasted for only a chapter. After several minutes, he set down his book and dressed hastily. He blew out his lamp and walked out of his cabin into a night full of stars.
Arden, young for a captain at age 31, stood for a few minutes looking out at the passing water below and the night sky above. He knew constellations, the movements of planets, the great crevasse of the Milky Way. He walked across the deck of the Jenny Marie to his first mate, who stood at the ship’s wheel, holding their course against the night winds.
Solomon acknowledged him. “Captain,” he said, and Arden nodded back. Solomon looked at the captain’s sock feet and smiled. It was rare to see the younger man not formally dressed. Only on the hottest days of summer would Arden leave his jacket hanging in his cabin. He laundered his own shirts and bought new ones before the old ones could fray. Always immaculate. He was clean-shaven, too, unlike most seamen. There had been years of long hair, brown with blonde sun streaks, but never a beard. In calm or rough waters, he was practiced at keeping his hand steady as he pulled a sharp blade down his face.
Solomon surmised the likely reason the captain was awake and out of his cabin. There had been many times over the years he had seen Arden wake himself out of horrible dreams. He had known Arden before the War Between the States and then during it. They spent off-seasons on a farm with apple trees and laughing children; even there the captain’s sleep was plagued by dark memories. This was their third season sailing Lake Michigan, but Solomon was the only one on this ship who knew Arden’s nightmares stemmed back to his days on another ship, the Flying Falcon, a clipper that had sailed the Atlantic years before.