The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Heather Gudenkauf

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Heather Gudenkauf


Summary: Bookbag found The Weight of Silence to be an impressive debut with plenty of suspense and unexpected twists. We were delighted by the opportunity to ask Heather Gudenkauf some questions about it.
Date: 9 July 2010
Interviewer: Katie Pullen
Reviewed by Katie Pullen

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Bookbag found The Weight of Silence to be an impressive debut with plenty of suspense and unexpected twists. We were delighted by the opportunity to ask Heather Gudenkauf some questions about it.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Heather Gudenkauf: I imagine that my readers are a lot like me: a busy woman who loves to escape into a good book as often as possible.

  • BB: When did you realise you wanted to become a writer and how did you turn that desire into a reality?

HG: I've enjoyed writing since I was a child. But as is typical with most writers, I was and am, first and foremost an avid reader. As a child, my favourite place in the world was our public library and I spent as much time as possible with my nose in a book. I admired the way writers could take me away to different places and times through the written word. I always knew I wanted to try my hand at writing but didn't sit down and seriously begin until after I was married and had my children.

  • BB: The Weight of Silence is a dark and intense story of two missing girls. What inspired you to write such a disturbing tale?

HG: The Weight of Silence does address many difficult subjects, and as the mother of three children it was important to me to write about these issues with sensitivity and honesty. The Weight of Silence, the story of the disappearance of two seven-year-old girls, came about, in part, because of my years as an elementary school teacher. I have spent day after day with young children who have readily shared with me their experiences, worries, and dreams. Despite their candid honesty, I have come to realize over time that no one can truly know what happens in the privacy of the home. While the story and characters are completely fictional, the domestic drama found in many wealthy, middle class, or poverty stricken homes, is not. My primary objective was to give a voice to the voiceless... children in difficult family circumstances. But I also wanted to highlight the life-affirming determination and resiliency of families. I've been inspired by so many children who weather tough times with bravery and ingenuity. Kids like Calli and her best friend Petra are my heroes!

  • BB: How did you set about your research for the novel?

HG: I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful Iowa author named Donald Harstad who was a former Deputy Sheriff. He was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions about police procedure that I needed for the character of Deputy Sheriff Louis.

  • BB: The book has an impressive multiple narrative, giving us many perspectives on the events that take place. How did you juggle this to ensure you didn't give it all away, especially with the narrative of Calli?

HG: I really tried to create characters that were very different from one another and tried to only write from one character's point of view each day. It was a lot of fun stepping into a different person's perspective each day. I always had to ask myself What would Martin do in this situation? What would Toni do? I really enjoyed writing from the various perspectives. I thought perhaps the male perspective would be a challenge but and I didn't find it particularly more difficult than writing from the female point of view. Each of the characters is so different from one another so I didn't find it overly hard to transition between them and I did my best to slowly reveal the story's secrets.

  • BB: Which character did you enjoy writing about the most?

HG: My favorite male character to voice was definitely Ben Clark, Calli's twelve year old brother. Ben is such a sweet and gentle presence in the book. He is at that difficult age where he isn't a little boy anymore but not quite a man and is trying to find his niche in life and within his own family. There's also an intense edge to Ben. When his sister needs him, he becomes fiercely protective.

  • BB: Why did you decide to set the book over a twenty-four hour period?

HG: By having the story take place during such a short timeframe, my hope was that the reader felt some of the urgency, second by second, minute by minute, that the families of Calli and Petra were enduring.

  • BB: How do you feel now The Weight of Silence has been such a success? Does it make you feel differently about your next book?

HG: Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that The Weight of Silence has done so well. I really enjoy getting letters and emails from readers with whom the book struck a chord and I'm proud that I accomplished something that I worked really hard for. However, the fact that I've written this book and continue to work on other projects hasn't changed who I am and what's important to me. I'm still the same girl whose favourite things to do are to spend time with her family and read.

  • BB: What do you enjoy most about writing and how do you cope with the times when it’s hard to write?

HG: I love the challenge of creating new characters, placing them in precarious situations and discovering where the journey takes them. When I struggle to find just the right words I go for a long walk or a run and then come back and try again. That usually does the trick.

  • BB: What are you enjoying reading at the moment?

HG: Right now I'm reading Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. I think Erdich is a brilliant writer who tells her often heartbreaking stories with beauty and honesty.

  • BB: What's next for Heather Gudenkauf?

HG: I just finished my second novel titled These Things Hidden. It is the story of four women's undeniable love for one little boy who was abandoned at a hospital. The individual manner and at times questionable means the women display this love will cause the reader to reflect upon their own loved ones and to lengths they would go to ensure their safety and happiness.

  • BB: We can't wait to read it! Thanks very much, and congratulations on The Weight of Silence being named a TV Book Club Summer Read!

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