All Trains Arrive: An Interview with Kate Heartfield


Getting published is something most authors strive for. Regardless of why we want it, however, it’s no easy feat. 

The ever-changing writing market, difficulty finding an agent, and the challenge of completing a writing project can all be barriers to our publishing goals. With all this in the way, what’s a writer to do? 

The answer is to persist, as author Kate Heartfield tells us. In this interview, she shares how she went from struggling to get published to a bestselling author. 

Listen to learn: 

  • About honing your craft
  • About the changing publishing market 
  • The truth of making money as an author 
  • Why we should keep writing while submitting

Kate doesn’t hold back on the nitty gritty of her journey. 

Here’s a sneak peek of this week’s episode… 

[10:23] And then it's one of those things where you can, you know—every stage of the process, you can make yourself nervous and anxious about the new thing. Right? 

[13:38] So I think it's really important to share our stories about how we, how we arrive in each little stage of our journey as we go…

[14:40] I had absorbed this idea that that writing was just the muse that arrived, or it didn't, and you didn't have to earn it.  

[15:26] And then in 2007, I said, “Okay, well, I'm gonna try something different, cause this, this isn't working.” 

[33:31] So even being a bestseller, it's, it's not—you have to be—there's Bestseller and then there's BESTSELLER.

[35:52] So it is very much kind of like just what is possible and…being kind to yourself, I think. 

Links from this episode:

Resilient Writers Radio Show: Interview with Kate Heartfield – Full Episode Transcript

Intro: Well, hey there, writer. Welcome to the Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas, and this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love. Because—let's face it—the writing life has its ups and downs, and we wanna not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt in chair getting those words on the page.

This podcast is for writers who love books, and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who wanna learn and grow in their craft, and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books, and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them, writers who wanna spend more time in that flow state, writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community in this crazy roller coaster ride we call “the writing life.” We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives, and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome, writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show. 

Rhonda Douglas: Okay, so we are here with Kate Heartfield. Kate writes historical fantasy novels, and that includes the Sunday Times Bestseller, The Embroidered Book, which I absolutely adored, and the forthcoming, mythological retelling The Valkyrie, which we'll talk about. Uh, I think that's her cat in the video there, Minerva. Is that Minerva? I think it is. Hi, Minerva <laugh>.

Kate also writes novels set in the Assassins Creeds—uh, Creed universe. Um, and her novels, novellas, short stories, and games have won or been shortlisted for, um, major awards, including three Nebula Award nominations. She's won the Aurora Award in Canada, and she lives near Ottawa, Canada. So you can find out more about Kate at, and follow her on all the socials, on Instagram, and, um—Kate, welcome and thanks for joining me. 

Kate Heartfield: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here. 

Rhonda Douglas: Um, so Kate, I-I know that you had some recent exciting publishing news, so tell us all the news. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, yeah. So, um, it's one of those things which happens in publishing where you sign the contract and then you have to keep it secret for a million years, and then <laugh>, you get to tell people about it. It was more like 10 or 11 months in this case, but it was… 

Rhonda Douglas: No way, that long? Wow, okay. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, yeah. It was a contract. We, we got the offer—when I say we, I mean my agent and me—um, we got the offer back in January for, uh, a three book deal with HarperVoyager UK, uh, which is the same publisher who did The Embroidered Book. And, um, yeah. So, and they did a wonderful job with that. And so they, they made this offer for three books, one of which is a reprint of my first novel Armed In Her Fashion, which came out from a small press in Canada in 2018. Um, but we've retitled it as The Shadow Lane. So that's coming out, and then two new books— 

Rhonda Douglas: And you added to it as well, right? You re-re-rewrote a, a bunch of it. Yeah. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. I revised it and I added a prologue that had been a short story that I published, um, in the same world, uh, in, in an anthology that I thought—my editors and I thought would fit, uh, as a prologue and... So it is a different edition, and it's got a new title and a new life, for that book, which is great cause it's been outta print for a little while. And, um, and two new books. One of them, as you mentioned, is The Valkyrie, which is done and is coming out next year or this year, in 2023. Uh, what is time? And—<laugh>

Rhonda Douglas: Wow. 

Kate Heartfield: And another one that I'm working on. So, uh…

Rhonda Douglas: That feels super quick. Like I just—you, you know, like Embroidered Book just came out this year. Boom. You're just like, popping 'em out, Kate.

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, it’s one of those things where they, where everything kind of—it's like trains and they all bunch up at once, you know? So, um, it—a lot of it is that The Embroidered Book took a long time to, to edit and, and come out. And so while that was happening, I was working on other stuff, and so this is the other stuff, um. So yeah, and it took, it's just, they were—the publisher was waiting for the covers to be ready, and for everything to be ready to go. Uh, sorry, my cat—for those watching in video—my cat likes to bump my camera, um…

Rhonda Douglas: <laugh>

Kate Heartfield: So, uh, they were just waiting for it to be ready to announce. So it was one of those things where I was like, “I wanna be able to talk about this,” but, uh, now I can. Yeah. I can actually talk about everything, which is great. 

Rhonda Douglas: And so all three of them are with HarperVoyager UK. They did such a gorgeous job with The Embroidered Book. I managed to get one of those additions—it's hard cover, and they've sprayed the, um, the sides. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Rhonda Douglas: The edges? Yeah. Oh, so gorgeous. So, um, did you get any say? And the other covers, like, I've just seen them now on your website and they're so gorgeous—did you get any say in the covers at all? 

Kate Heartfield: Um, yeah. They'll send them to me when they're just about done. So, sort of, uh, “here's a draft and let us know if you have any, uh, issues or concerns.” And, um, typically there might be one or two things where I spot a typo in the copy or I, um, you know—or I say, “I don't think that element is working,” or something like that. I'm, I'm pretty easy when it comes to covers, so, uh—and I'm very lucky is that they've all been gorgeous. So, um, 

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. They, they tend to send them to me sort of when they're, um, just about done, but there's still time to change something in case I have a concern. 

Rhonda Douglas: Okay. But it's not like you got to pick, it doesn't work that way with traditional publishing. 

Kate Heartfield: No, no. Not so far in my experience. Yeah. It's, uh, it's very much, “here's the cover. What do you think?” Uh, rather than, um, you know—I think they would be open if I—

Rhonda Douglas: Tell us you love it! 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, exactly. “Tell us you love it, please, because we have to go to production” and, you know. Um, so, but no, they've been, they've been very open and flexible and, um, you know, uh, when I did have a couple things that I, I just wanted to tweak, they were totally good to do that. And, um, yeah. And, and, you know, when you're—Andrew Davis is the name of the, the artist who did the covers for all my HarperVoyager books. And, and he's just brilliant. 

Rhonda Douglas: Oh, he does gorgeous work. 

Kate Heartfield: Absolutely gorgeous. And, uh,well, I have, I have never anything to complain about <laugh>.

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. Nice, nice. Um, now—okay, so I-I devoured The Embroidered Book. It's a, it's a nice, like, thick book, right? It's the kind of thing where you think, “ooh, this'll take me—like, this'll be like a week or 10 day,” and like, and then it isn't, you just eat it up and you're like, “there goes my book budget again.” <laugh> So, um, tell us a little bit about this story. Like, just, just kind of set the stage for the story of The Embroidered Book

Kate Heartfield: Sure. So, it's the story of Maria Antoinette, the Queen of France, and her sister, Charlotte, who was Queen of Naples, uh, formerly known as Maria Carolina. Um, uh, and they were best friends growing up. They were—there was, it was a house of many, many children, uh, in Austria. And, um, they were the closest in age to each other. And so they, they were very close. Um, but then they went off and married these two men that they'd never met and never saw each other again, um, but remained close by letter throughout their lives. Uh, and I was really taken with several aspects of their, their lives and relationships. And, uh, being someone who tends to write things with a speculative twist, I immediately thought of how magic could work into this as well. So it's the story of these two sister queens, um, following known history for the most part, but with this added dimension of secret magic. 

Rhonda Douglas: Right. You know, I-I don't think I ever thought that I would be reading this story of Marie Antoinette and like, crying <laugh>, you know, like, it's so good. It's so good. In fact, I wanted to show the cover on video and, and, um, and I—the book was on my bedside table in the like, “read pile” when I left for, for Mexico. And I got back and it was gone, and I'm like, “what is going on?” So my ex stole it, like he was here with the dog, and he's like, “that looks really good. I'm taking it.”

Kate Heartfield: Okay, excellent. 

Rhonda Douglas: So, um, such a good read. Um, so it was almost an, like an instant bestseller. Like it was barely out in bookstores and it was, uh, Sunday Times bestseller in, in the UK and it still has like, legs. Like, that thing's still going. Um, Chapters was, um, sending me a Facebook ad about it yesterday. So what was that experience like for you? Like, you'd been writing for a long time before that, and then suddenly you're a bestselling novelist. Like, what did—did anything change for you either in your head or your life? Like, what was that experience like? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, it was wild. Um, not something that I ever anticipated, right? You know, I mean I think when you're trying to get published and, and—you know, I'm, I'm one of those writers who, uh, spent 20 years basically just trying to get an agent and a publisher and just, you know, I have several novels in the trunk, so it was not something I took for granted at all. And I had, uh, worked on many novels that never made it that far. So, uh—and I had, as I said, a small press novel come out, and I had some novellas. Um, so this was different in my experience for sure. And, um, I—it was wonderful when, um, the book came out and it hit the Sunday Times list. And my editor called me on the phone, which, you know, who calls people on the phone anymore? So—

Rhonda Douglas: Right. 

Kate Heartfield: —You know, from England. So he had to wait for it to be the right time zone here in Canada, and he called me and, um, you know, and said, “you know, you're, congratulations, you're a bestseller.” Which was just amazing. Uh, and then—so the UK—so it's been out all over the world, but, uh, the UK and Canada are where it's really, um, had the best reception, I would say. So it, it, it hit the list for one week in the UK, um, and has continued to do well there and, and many bookstores have really supported it there. Um, Waterstones has been amazing, um, and—but in Canada, um, somewhat to my… I shouldn't say surprise, but somewhat to my amazement, I, it's done really well in Canada, too. So it was on the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star lists for like six weeks, um, in the—

Rhonda Douglas: Oh, amazing. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, yeah. And, and, uh, like Indigo has really supported it. I'd go into the Chapters stores around here and see these big, you know, up on the bestsellers wall. And so that was, it was very surreal. And, uh, and then it's one of those things where you can, you know—every stage of the process, you can make yourself nervous and anxious about the new thing, right? But then it's like, “well, how long will it be on the list? Oh, does it really matter that it's on the list? Is it on the list because it was in a special edition, and that boosted the members, and it doesn't really count, and,” you know—<laugh>

Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> I think it counts Kate. I think it counts. 

Kate Heartfield: So it's like, you'll find ways to turn it into a new thing to be anxious about, whatever it is. Uh, so I had to remind myself to just say, “okay, well, this is lovely. Enjoy it. It may never happen again. Maybe it will, but just, you know, get yourself a piece of chocolate and enjoy it and don't, you know, don't make it into a part—a thing that you then have to be nervous about.” 

Rhonda Douglas: Right, right. And did you do anything to celebrate, anything special? Like, I don't know, buy yourself a new pen or—you know? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Um, I-I don't remember if I actually bought anything for that. I do tend to buy myself little things like jewelry, um, you know, just inexpensive jewelry or something, if, if—for a milestone. Um, I remember I got these beautiful flowers, uh, from my editor, um, and chocolates from my agent. Uh, so I had these delicious, like, you know, fancy chocolates. The ones that are all like, you know, different colors and everything. Um, so I, yeah, I-I savored those and, and the flowers were beautiful. And, um, yeah, we—and I think I did buy us, a-a little cheesecake or something like that, so, yeah. It's usually, usually <laugh> consumables, <laugh> in this house. 

Rhonda Douglas: I love that. I love that. So, and can I just say, like, as a, as a reader, um, the, The Embroidered Book needs to be a Netflix series. Can we just put that out in the universe? 

Kate Heartfield: Yes, please! Yeah, yeah. I do have a-a film agent, agent who's, uh, who's, you know, talking about it with people. And, uh, it's one of those things too, where I'm just, you know, I know from talking to others—

Rhonda Douglas: Don't think about that. Don't think about it. 

Kate Heartfield: If it happens, it'll happen. But, you know, yeah. It's, it—that world is, is very opaque to me. And, uh, but it will be lovely. It would be lovely to have that happen. Yeah. 

Rhonda Douglas: Wouldn't it be great? Oh, gosh. I mean, not—I mean, it'd be great for you, but like, for me as someone who loves period, you know, urban fantasy, you know? It's like, need, I need to see that happen. That's so great. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, it would be. 

Rhonda Douglas: It would be fantastic. So, your background is as a journalist, and so, now you’re a professional bestselling author. Um, but, but you, you worked on that for a long time, Kate. Like a long time. So what was it like before you got here? Like, tell me the story of Kate the Emerging Writer. I-I hate that term, but like, in the absence of a better term, Kate, the Learning, Early Writer. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Yeah. And I love talking about that because, uh, it is—it can be such a discouraging time or, um, you know, a difficult time. Everyone has their own path and, um, you know, uh, so much of it is down to luck and circumstance and the market and everything else. Uh, so—uh, yeah. So I think it's really important to share our stories about how we, how we arrive <laugh> in each little stage of our journey as we go, our long apprenticeship. Um, so for me, yeah. Uh, I'm, I'm 45 now, and I, uh, I have been writing since I was a kid, and, uh, always wanted to be a novelist. That was always something that was my highest ambition. Um, and, uh, so I-I did—I wrote my first novel manuscript when I was 19, it was terrible, um, I think I sent it out to a few publishers and it didn't go very far. 

Kate Heartfield: Um, and then I wrote a couple of others, and was trying to basically just learn how to write a novel. Yeah. Uh, I, uh, I think the third novel in, when I was in my twenties—and I was already at that point, I was already—I think I had just finished grad school and I was starting to work as a journalist. And, uh, and, and so that was—um, actually, I'm just doing the math. So actually I was working as a journalist already in 2007, when I kind of hit a milestone in my craft when I kind of woke up one day and realized, “okay, well, maybe I need to be a little bit more deliberate about learning how to write.” Um, you know, I had, I had absorbed this idea that that writing was just the muse that arrived, or it didn't, and you didn't have to learn it. And it should either come to you immediately and be perfect on the page, or else you just don't have it. Like, I had absorbed these weird—

Rhonda Douglas: You don’t have it, you’re not talented. 

Kate Heartfield: Exactly, you're not talented. So if you have to learn, then clearly you're not, you know. So I don't know where I got this idea from, but, but it had arrived in my head and, and so I had—

Rhonda Douglas: So many romantic ideas about writing, right? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, yeah. Just, just sort of like, either you've got it or you don't get it, kind of thing. And, uh, so I had resisted anything that smacked of, of learning how to write, or craft, or anything like that, for very long. Um, and I was just sort of blundering on trying to see what would come out of my fingertips. And then in 2007, I said, “okay, well, I'm gonna try something different, cause this, this isn't working.” And, um, I-I signed up for the Creative Writing by Correspondence course through Humber College. 

Rhonda Douglas: Ooh, I did that one. That's a good one. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Yeah. It was a—it's a great program. So for those who don't know, it's, it's, um, you send a manuscript off to a mentor, um, by email, uh, at this point in time. And, uh, uh, every month you get advice back on how the manuscript is coming along. So my mentor was the amazing Paul Quarrington, a wonderful Canadian novelist, uh, who left us far too young, uh, in 2010. So he, he mentored me in 2007. That novel… also did not get published, but it was a big <laugh>, uh, it was a big learning experience for me, and, and it really helped me sort of level up. And, uh, so at that point then, um, I was still—I was working a very busy day job as the opinion editor for a newspaper, and I was writing at 11:30 at night, you know, just whatever I could. 

Kate Heartfield: And, uh, and then I had my kid in 2010, so I had a baby. And then at this point, I thought—I was still working on, on things, and I was, I was—really felt like I was improving. And, I switched to writing some short fiction to try to get a better sense of, um, sort of the shape of stories, like beginnings, middle, and ends, and plots, and how to put a story together. Uh, and that really helped me as well. Uh, and then I had another novel that I wrote. And so that one, I finally got an agent, uh, who is my wonderful agent, now, that is Jennie Goloboy. 

Rhonda Douglas: Okay. 

Kate Heartfield: And, uh, so that—she signed me in 2014. Uh, so yeah, so it was a long— 

Rhonda Douglas: Oh, wow. Okay. So that's a, that's a while back now. Wow, great. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Yeah. So, she signed me in 2014, and I, um, it took us a while to have my first, my first novel came out in 2018, just because, it took a while to submit it, you know, get it cleaned up, submitted, and then for it to come out, um, publishing can be long. So yeah. So that's, that's the story of, uh, of me <laugh> the, the nutshell version anyway. Yeah. 

Rhonda Douglas: Okay. Wow, that's amazing. Um, I think, yeah, I think there are these, these myths, these romantic myths. You know, it's—writing is something you do alone in a garret. You just sit down, you wait for the muse to appear, you know, either you're talented or you're not. But it, but it is a craft that can be learned. So, yeah. Really important. So, can I ask you about—I wanted to ask about your relationship with Jennie. So Jennie Goloboy, she's at the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and she has a PhD in history. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. 

Rhonda Douglas: So, that feels like a match made in heaven. 

Kate Heartfield: It is, it really is a match made in heaven. Yeah. Uh, she and I, uh, sort of clicked right away, and, um, the fact that she is a historian, uh, by training, and she, she's published both, um, uh, academic history, non-fiction, and she's also published novels. Uh, she's also a writer herself. And so that, I think, really helped our relationship because she geeks out about the same things that I do, and she really, uh, understands and loves history, which is—history is such a big part of, of my fiction generally. And, um, and she's also a really great editorial agent. So, you know, some agents—um, you know, I think especially in the past, I don't know so much anymore—but, but there are some agents and some writers who—the agent is just there to, as a business person and is not gonna give you any advice— 

Rhonda Douglas: Just sell it. 

Kate Heartfield: Exactly, right. “You write it, I'll sell it.” And Jennie, uh, is more of an editorial agent, so she will, um, give me feedback. And her feedback is always really useful because she gets what I'm trying to do, and she has the same taste, and she has the same—she understands my vision, and she's not gonna be like, “well, you know, I don't, I don't think this should be in this setting, you know, write me a space opera instead,” she's not gonna do that. She, you know—

Rhonda Douglas: Right <laugh>. 

Kate Heartfield: She wants to make the book the best that it can be. Um, and she's also really great about, you know, not… you know, not sort of pushing me in a particular direction to be more commercial, uh, which would be, I think, a big temptation, you know, for a lot of agents, because—and it'd be a temptation for a lot of writers too, because you get so frustrated trying to—you know, not only did it take me a while to get an agent, but then it took us a while to sell the first couple of books, um, to editors. And, and I've got a lot of rejections saying, “this is, this is great, but we don't know how to market it. It's not commercial enough.” And Jennie really sort of kept the faith, in those years. Like, I would say, well, “maybe I should just write something different.” And she's like, “you know, you write—you know, you can't chase the market, write what you wanna write, and let me figure out how to sell it.” <laugh> And—

Rhonda Douglas: And the market came to you, Kate.

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, exactly. 

Rhonda Douglas: Like, the market shifted, right? And it moved to you. Yeah. That's really interesting. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, for sure. So I think that's, uh, you know—and it, it's a—there's a tension there because you do want an agent who's gonna talk to you in a hard-headed way about the market, about what's, what's selling and everything. But you—I think for me, anyway, I didn't—it's really been helpful for me to have an agent who believed in what I was doing and, uh, you know, artistically was not there to just sort of shove me into a box, uh, which is really great. 

Rhonda Douglas: Right. Okay. I wanted to ask about this obsession that you have with history. So, like, a lot of what you write, is, is based in history. You've got a new one coming. That's Norse Myth-myth—Norse mythology. I wanna talk about that a little bit, but like, the—Armed In Her Fashion, which is now being reissued as The Shadow Lane, and then The Embroidered Book, you know, you, you go into history and you—and I think of it as like, take it and twist it, you know, and add that speculative thing. So, what is it that gets to you about these historical moments, that, like, captures your imagination?

Kate Heartfield: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yeah. It, it always has, uh, it's always been one of my biggest interests, just both, um, reading non-fiction and, and reading fiction as well. Um, uh, and I think, uh, it's a combination of things—oh, Minerva. Um, it's a combination of things. I think one of them is that, uh, uh, I find history itself sort of un-inherently speculative, inherently uncanny, in a way. So those two interests kind of fit together for me, is that, um, you know, it's—the past is familiar and strange at the same time. It's, it's unknowable in many ways. Um, but it's so crucial for everything. Um, how we live our lives. And, and it's so important not to forget it, uh, and to look at it in new ways all the time, because, um, I think when it gets kind of ossified and, um, misunderstood over time, then it's really dangerous. 

Kate Heartfield: And, so that sort of fits into my other interest in history, which is, you know—I have a political science degree, and as a former journalist, um, I'm just very interested in how humanity got to where we are, and, uh, you know, where we're going. And so, um, history's a big part of that for me. So, to talk about—you know, I think there are a number of ways to talk about our contemporary world in fiction. And, you know, science fiction writers are often saying, “okay, well, we're gonna talk about now, the present moment, by looking at where we might go.” And, uh, you know, contemporary writers are, uh, talking about the present moment in the present moment, uh, as much as that's possible, which is an interesting question. Uh, and then for me, I'm often talking about the present moment by asking how, how it came to be, and, um, pointing out that nothing is inevitable about how it—we, how we got here, um, that there are choices along the way. So I think that's, that's where it comes from for me. And it just always seems to, I, you know, I didn't sort of set up to say “I am going to be a historical fiction writer,” but, every time I get an idea in long form, it's always a historical setting, uh, short stories I play around with a little more.

Rhonda Douglas: And where did the idea for The Valkyrie come from? Because I—when I saw that announcement, I was like, “damn, Kate.” Like, that's ambitious, right? Because I-I think of, um, I, I just immediately saw Brunhilde with the horns in the, you know, Wagner's, you know, ring cycle. I was like, “wow, who takes that on?” So where did that come from? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. And Bugs Bunny for me <laugh>. 

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, <laugh> yeah, true.

Kate Heartfield: True for our generation. Yeah. Um, yeah, I, it came from, uh, uh, a number of places. The, the moment that it arrived was, I was reading Norse mythology to my kid. So my kid at the time when I started the book, he would've been about eight. And, um— 

Rhonda Douglas: Oh, was that the Neil Gaiman, um…? 

Kate Heartfield: Um, yes. Yeah, yeah. It was his, yes, his Norse Myths. And also there were a couple of other Norse mythology books that my kid has on his shelf. And so I was just reading, um, these, uh, these myths to my kid, and we were reading the story of Brunhilde and Sigurd, <cough> excuse me. Um, so for those not familiar with, with, uh, with that myth, the basic idea is, um, you've got these three or four central characters in this collection of stories that are—some of them are Norse and some of them are Germanic. Um, and they all sort of tell the same stories. Uh, they're Sigurd or Siegfried, the Dragon Slayer, and there's Brunhilde who is, uh, in some stories she's a Valkyrie who is cast down from Valhalla, in some stories she's a sorceress on a mountain top, or a queen. Um, and then there's, um, Gudrun or Kriemhild who is a princess in, in a city that is now the city of Vermes, Germany, which—it was, um, attacked by Atilla the Hun, uh, at the end of the Roman Empire. 

Kate Heartfield: And that all of the stories are set in that time. They're—they were told by the Vikings, but they're set several hundred years earlier at the time of Atilla the Hun. So, the—so there was a story that I was reading, I was reading him the part of the story where, um, uh, Brunhilde and Sigurd have this love affair, and, and due to sorcery it, it comes to evil ends. And, uh, it just <clears throat> excuse me, there are parts of it that just didn't add up to me, about her reaction, and, um, it just felt like there was a story behind the story that, you know, that this—there was something that didn't, that didn't make sense. So—

Rhonda Douglas: Something didn't make it down to the 2000s. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So there was—I thought, well, “well, I wonder what her version would be,” you know? So I started, oh, I started writing a little story, and it actually started as a flash story for a, a contest that I do with, uh, the Codex Writers Group online. Uh, we have a flash contest every year. And so I thought, “okay, here's 750 words.” And, um, of course, my, my friend said, “oh, this is lovely, but you know, it's not—you need to make it longer” <laugh>, so— 

Rhonda Douglas: “You need to do more with this.”

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, exactly. So, uh, yeah. So that ended up being <clears throat>, um, uh, a novel in 25,000 words that, uh—and I started, when I started reading the old texts, I was really struck by… a couple of mentions in the texts, um, about these two women, because they, in many of the stories, Brunhilde and and Gudrun are, are rivals, and they end up hating each other, and, um… I was struck in the story about the language that was used about how they, they couldn't keep their eyes off each other and, uh, their, their affectionate kisses. 

Rhonda Douglas: Ooh <laugh>. 

Kate Heartfield: So something else is going on here. So immediately it became this love story between these two women. So, uh…

Rhonda Douglas: Oh, wow. Yeah. I love it. 

Kate Heartfield: That's, that's where it came from. 

Rhonda Douglas: Wow. That's so great. And, um, what is your research process for historical fiction? Because obviously, you know, you don't have—because you're writing speculative, you're writing historical fantasy, you don't, you don't have to hew to the straight line, but you also have to do the world-building. So how do you approach all of that, and do the research? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Um, it's, it's one of my favorite parts of the, of the process definitely, because I love reading about history and, and, um, just, um, non-fiction in general. Uh, but obviously it is—I think for all of us—it can be, um, you know, a real time consuming process. And also it can be a reason to procrastinate, right? And it'll, it'll be a reason not to write the book. Um, yeah, we all get into those Wikipedia rabbit holes and, uh, before we know it the day is over. Um, so for me, I, I have kind of, uh, uh, an ongoing process throughout a project where, uh, at the beginning I'll do my big picture stuff. Uh, so for example, with The Embroidered Book, when I started out, I thought, “okay, well, I have this, I have this tiny idea,” um, that, uh—and it actually began, um, one of the starting points was I-I started reading Marie Antoinette's, uh, the biography by Antonio Frazier, and there was this line at the beginning about these two sisters getting in trouble all the time when they were kids. 

Kate Heartfield: And so that, that triggered something in, in my mind. And so, uh, I was reading—so I read that biography and, and that biography basically became my bible, it is a fantastic biography. Um, and, uh, and then I read some other basic, um, social histories of the time, basic history of the French Revolution, you know, just sort of big picture stuff to get a sense of “where does my story begin and end, uh, who are the main characters that I wanna deal with”, um, because there's so many to choose from, you know, “what are the main points in history that I want to hit, uh, that could fit into my story that I want to tell?” Uh, and then I would start writing. And obviously, you know, you could read forever. Uh, and many people have, uh, you know, done PhDs on Maria Antoinette and you'd never be done. Um, so it, it wasn't the sort of thing where I could say, “well, I'm going to read everything about Marie Antoinette, and then I'm going to write my book,” because I would still be here reading today if I had done that. 

Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> Yeah, exactly, exactly.  

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. So there's just so much out there. Uh, so I, I read the big picture stuff, and then I write, and as I write, um, if I encounter things that I need to know about clothing or food or, um, you know, politics of a particular moment or something like that, then I will, um, you know, I'll either read right then if I can, if I can do that without, uh, interrupting the flow too much. Um, or, I will just make a note to myself to say, “okay, well I know they're having dinner, but I don't know what that dinner would've looked like. I don't know what's on the plates, but I'll make a bracket and I'll come back and I'll fill that, uh, that detail in.” 

Rhonda Douglas: Love the brackets, love the brackets. That's my thing too. It's like, insert, you know, [insert dinner here], keep going. Yeah.

Kate Heartfield: Exactly. Yeah. 

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. Awesome. Okay. So Kate, um, you still keep a day job—and full disclosure, I know this cuz we work together at WIEGO. Um, so you—and you know, so you do like writing, editing, um, as a day job, and, I think there's like this glamorous—it's, it's one of the myths, right? Um, the traditional publishing world has changed so much over the last few decades, and so even bestselling authors still need a day job, to, like, keep the food on the table and the mortgage paid, right? So can you talk about how you, you know, why you still have a day job, why that's important to you, and how you balance everything—family, life day, job, writing, launching, promoting, I mean, it's a lot. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, it is for sure. And, um, yeah, and, and that's another one of my favorite things to talk about that I think we need to talk about as much as possible is, uh, the money part of it, and the industry part of it. Because, um, there are a lot of misconceptions, uh, and, uh, you know, capitalism <laugh>, so it—

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. Hashtag late-stage capitalism. 

Kate Heartfield: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, yeah. So, um, yeah, so where I am now with all of that is, um, so, in 2015 I left my job at the newspaper. So that was, um, it was a, a very consuming, you know, far too many hours per week job and, uh, just—was the right time to go for all kinds of reasons. Uh, and since then I've been, pretty much—uh, so, uh, freelance and contract, uh, with all of my work. So I, um—which keeps me pretty flexible, so, uh, yeah. So I have—I do some teaching, I teach one course every year at Carleton University, uh, in the journalism department. Um, and I do some creative writing teaching as well, just here and there, um, and, uh, and I have this wonderful contract with WIEGO, which is, uh, part-time work. So it's not, uh, it's not every day, all day. Um, but it's, uh, but it's fantastic and, um, yeah. And so, uh, so the great thing about that since 2015 for me, is that all of that work has been scalable. So that, uh, when I have a novel deadline, um—you know, one of the things I did, I've done over the last couple of years is, uh, all of my freelance editing clients that I had taken on when I left the newspaper and was panicking about how I was gonna make my money, I had to say goodbye to all of them and say, “you know, I-I, I'm now putting that aside because I'm making some money from books now,” so I'm gonna, you know, so I, I'm able to sort of, you know, cut off some parts of my income as I go, uh, which is the great thing about being self-employed in contract work. 

Kate Heartfield: Um, so, yeah. So, it's been a little bit more flexible than some people when all your choices are either, you know, 40, 50 hours a week or nothing. Um, so that's right. Uh, that's a good thing for where I am. Um, and my spouse who, who is a public servant, has been really supportive in that and, and, uh, you know, helped me to take that leap from being, you know, full-time with a pension to, “we'll see,” um… 

Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> Let's hope!

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So—

Rhonda Douglas: And the way, um, getting paid for novels works in the traditional publishing world now, is, um, you, you get, um, you, you get paid in advance, but the advance can be over like three or four payments now, right? 

Kate Heartfield: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And it's, um, it—I think it's quite surprising to people. Uh, I had somebody ask me the other day whether I was making as much from books now as I had when I was a journalist, or way more, or what it was. And I'm not making as much from books as I was when I was a journalist, and journalists are not very well paid <laugh>. So even being a bestseller, it's, it's not—you, you have to be—there's bestseller and then there's Bestseller. That—

Rhonda Douglas: Mega bestseller. 

Kate Heartfield: Mega bestseller. And, and, or you can be—get it to a point where you have enough books on your back list that it starts to add up. Just the, the long tail of income after a while, which is, you know, what I'm hoping will happen for me a few years down the road is that, um, you know, when you have enough books that are doing well, well enough, you don't have to be Stephen King to make a living. Um, but, but it takes a while to get there. And, uh, yeah. The way that books pay out, um, you know, is, uh, yeah, you'll get an advance. Uh, my advances are split. Um, my Assassin’s Creed advances are split in two payments, uh, but my HarperVoyager advances are split in four. Uh, so yeah. So I have—

Rhonda Douglas: That's, that’s more and more common now. 

Kate Heartfield: It's very common. Yeah. So I haven't even got, like, the, the final payment comes with my paperback publication, so the final 25% of my advance I haven't even seen yet. And the book's been out for a year. So, um, yeah. So, and, and of course 15% goes to your agent, and then there's taxes and, uh, and, uh, book advances are, are pretty, uh, low for most of us, you know, it's, it's not, um, huge amounts of money and even—

Rhonda Douglas: They've gotten lower, right? Like over the years they've gotten lower, they used to be better, but now they're, they're lower. So, it is what it is. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, definitely. So it is, uh, it is the kind of thing where most of us have to balance, uh, other work to some degree, uh, whether it's, you know, freelance and teaching work or, or a full day job. It's, um, it seems to be, uh, sort of the, the way of it for, for most of us, until you, you know—and, and you may never, we nev-may never get to a point where that's, that's not gonna happen because books are fickle. And, um, even if you get a year where you've got, “okay, well, I had enough income from books this year,” next year, is it gonna be the case? Uh, hard to know. Yeah. So for me, it's, it's very, um, it's a, sort of an ongoing, uh, balance, I think. And, um, you know, it's balancing it with, with family and, uh, and parenting and, and, um, uh, until recently caregiving, um, you know, so it, it is very much kind of like just what is possible and, uh, being kind to yourself <laugh>, I think. 

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, absolutely. Do you have a, a regular routine, like a time of day you prefer and all of that? What's, what's your routine? 

Kate Heartfield: Um, I'm not very regimented. Uh, I-I have discovered—you know, there were years in my life when I did have the very busy day job when I, um, I had it in my head—I apparently get things in my head—that real writers would wake up at 5:00 AM and, and write, you know? And so I think I had—

Rhonda Douglas: Oh, yeah, I-I went through a phase of that, too. 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think I had talked to the wonderful Alan Cumyn who, um, had written his first books when he was a civil servant, and he, he said, “oh, yeah, I woke up at 5:00 AM” and, you know. And, and people do, do—I have other friends who do that as well.

Rhonda Douglas: Hashtag 5:00 AM club.

Kate Heartfield: Exactly, exactly. And there are people who, who do that. And it's great. I discovered after trying and trying and trying to do this, that it doesn't matter if I'm awake at 5:00 AM, because I'm not going to be producing good work, and it's pointless. 

Rhonda Douglas: Good words—the words don't word for you at, at 5:00 AM. 

Kate Heartfield: The words do not word. I am not a morning person, <laugh> um, before nine, I am just not useful to the world. So, um, so when I was very busy, I would, I would write late at night instead. And, and that just happens to be when my circadian rhythm is better. Yeah. So I had, uh, I had, um, learned that I was a better writer late at night, uh, so I would grab moments here and there. And, uh, when my kid was very young too, I-I discovered that I could grab moments, you know, just when I was rocking him to sleep and I'd write on my phone or whatever. Um, and, yeah. So I, I, so I think of, because I had many years of just not being regimented or not being able to have a discipline, then that's kind of still how I am now. Um, but gradually as I get, um, more flexible with my time and my kid is older, um, and, and working for myself, uh, you know, in, in most parts of my life, I'm able to, to say, “okay, well, um, if I have a really difficult problem or something on a novel that I can take a Monday, and I can work on daylight hours, all day long, on that problem on my novel.” You know, it feels like a luxury <laugh>, you know.

Rhonda Douglas: That must feel so delicious. That must just, like, that day must feel like—

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Yeah, it's, it's great in-instead of the stolen moments, you know? Um, yeah. So it's nice to have that flexibility. 

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. Well, I'm, I'm selfishly grateful that you still keep a day job, because of course, I get to work with you at WIEGO, but also you came into the Writer's Flow Studio and did a whole workshop with us as a visiting writer on, um, you know, approaching historical fiction. So that was really great. So I'm, you know, I'm selfishly grateful that <laugh>, that you're still doing, um, doing that. So the other thing I've noticed about you, Kate, is that you seem to write at an incredible pace. Like, what? So I wanted to ask you about like, the pace at which you write, and are you a plotter, pantser, somewhere in between? Tell me, girl. Like how <laugh> do you write at the pace you write at? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah. Um, I think it's, it's a combination of things. Uh, yeah. So I think part of it is, again, there's that what looks to the outside world, like really fast, is often just that things bunch up. And so you could have been working on something for seven years and it's like, “oh, well, and now it's at the same time as my other book,” so, you know— 

Rhonda Douglas: Now there’s three!

Kate Heartfield: Now there’s three, exactly, yeah. Um, so it's partly, partly an illusion, but not entirely. Um, and, uh, I have had to learn to write very quickly for the Assassin’s Creed novels that I've been writing, because with tie-in work like that, the, uh, the deadlines are often very short, you know, so I've talked to other tie-in writers who write for Star Wars or Marvel or whatever, and, and often it's, you know, it's a few months, uh, basically. So with the Assassin’s Creed novels, I typically have four months, maybe five months, um, and they're, they're short novels. 

Kate Heartfield: They're about 80,000 words, but even so, uh, it's a lot to write a coherent novel, for me, in four months. Especially when I am doing other work, you know, it's not my full-time job. So, um, so I have had to learn—and, and my family can attest that with the most recent Assassin’s Creed novel in the month of November, I was not doing, I was not doing anything else. I was keeping up my other work obligations. And I was writing this novel, and I was not doing anything else <laugh>, so. And it's, and it's bad, it's bad for burnout and everything else, so it's not, uh, it's not something that always works the way that it should. Um, and often, you know, the creative brain is not a machine, so, you know, you can say, “well, if I write 800-800 words a day for four months, it's gonna be fine.”

Kate Heartfield: You can say that. But then the first month they're gonna be like, “this isn't working. The plot's not coming together.” And then you don't get your 800 words a day, and then you end up with—uh, trying to cram at the end. So, yeah. All of which, just to say I do, um, I do try to—whenever I have a project, um, whether it's self-imposed or otherwise, I do try to have a deadline and um, and I work towards that deadline, and I do sort of break out what I need to do to hit that in terms of productivity, whether it's by word count or page count or whatever it is. Um, or chapters revised or whatever stage that I'm at. Um, and, you know, just keeping that pace, um, keeps me on track, and then I know whether I have to change something or change the deadline or, or whatever it is. Um, and I think because having been a journalist that, that deadline orientation, um, helps me. And, uh, you know—I know word count is a fraught thing because every writer has a different relationship with, with word count and tracking it. Um, I do find it useful to track word count when I'm drafting. Um, but, uh, you know, it's always the aspiration rather than, you know, sometimes there are days when it's just not gonna happen, and that's how it is. 

Rhonda Douglas: Right. Yeah, exactly. Um, yeah. And then when you get into revision word count, you know, isn't, isn't as helpful as other things. Okay. Well, thanks for clearing that up. I have to say, I thought that you were just like, um, just the most amazing, like, <laugh> churning out word—you know, thousands of words a day kind of thing. So it's, it's nice to know you have clay feet like the rest of us. 

Kate Heartfield: <laugh> definitely. 

Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> Good stuff. So, um, the, the last question I had for you is just around balancing the commercial and the marketing and the publishing, with the creative aspects. I mean, you talked a little bit about your, you know, doing that and, and your relationship with, with your agent around that. But what's your advice for, for writers who are, you know, at that stage where they're querying and they're, they're trying to get an agent, or they're worrying about publication, um, or any number of the things we worry about and get anxious about, um, and, and still trying to stay true to who we are as artists, who we are as writers. What's your advice for, for writers kind of in that phase? 

Kate Heartfield: Yeah, it's difficult and, you know, I think it's, uh—there's a habit of mind, a psychological habit that I think serves us well at any stage of the writing life. And definitely at that stage when you're querying or submitting, which is, I think, to, uh, to separate out, uh, the, that side of things as much as possible from, from the art side of things in, in your head, and carry on with the one simultaneously to the other. So, um, keep writing, and, uh, as you're submitting or querying, um, that's a separate process. And, uh—you know, because I know a lot of writers who will write a book and then they'll try to get it published and, and then not be writing while they're trying to get it published. And, um, you know, and I think that, that—as my story shows, I think that's an error because, you know—if, if your goal is to write more than one book, it's an error because, um, it takes a while sometimes for the market to catch up. It takes a while to find the right agent. It's a very slow process. It's slow to get books published, and, uh, in the meantime you can be working on something else. And then you do have all those trains arriving at once, and people will say, “how do you write so much?” <laugh> Say, <laugh> “well, I just got rejected for years.”

Rhonda Douglas: “What?” <laugh>

Kate Heartfield: The trick—the trick is rejection, but yeah. It's— 

Rhonda Douglas: And then you just pull them out of the drawer. <laugh>

Kate Heartfield: You just pull them out of the drawer, exactly, that’s right. Ready to go. Um, so, yeah, so I think that, that's my advice is to keep, keep the process separate and also keep psychologically separate as much as possible. It's not easy, um, but, you know, whenever things are, are bad, uh, in—or anxiety producing in the industry side of things, um, I try to remind myself that the only thing I have under my control is my labor. Uh, it is the work itself. And everything else is dependent on all that late-stage capitalism stuff, all the forces that I cannot control. Um, I can put my best work out into the world, and, uh, and maybe the industry will accept it and run with it, and maybe it won't. Um, but to a certain point, it's letting go of, um, of that, as something that's under my control, which is easier said than done, of course. 

Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. Wise advice, you know, there's, there is only so much we can control. And so to beat your head against that, is, um, you know, unnecessary suffering. Thank you so much, Kate. Thanks for being here. Thanks for your wisdom. Uh, thanks for the books. I just, as I say, I just devour, um, your books. So if, um, anyone's—for, for those listening, if you, uh, wanna ahead to or on Instagram, she's also Kate Heartfield and you can find out more. Um, and definitely check out, um, The Embroidered Book and the Assassin’s Creed, I think it's called the, the—

Kate Heartfield: The Magus Conspiracy. 

Rhonda Douglas: The Magus Conspiracy, Yes. That's it. Fantastic. Um, so thanks for being with us, Kate. I really appreciate you being here, and, um, we'll talk soon. 

Kate Heartfield: Thank you so much. Yeah. I'm sorry my cat was a little bit, um, rambunctious during this <laugh> interview, but you know. 

Rhonda Douglas: She's so good looking, you know?  Minerva is so good looking, she just—

Kate Heartfield: She can get away with it. 

Rhonda Douglas: —gets to do whatever she wants. Yeah, totally. When you're that good looking, you get to do it <laugh>. Alright, take care, Kate. Bye. 

Kate Heartfield: Thank you. Bye-bye. 

Outro: Thanks so much for hanging out with me today and for listening all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed today's episode of the Resilient Writers Radio Show. While you're here, I would really appreciate it if you'd consider leaving a rating and review of the show. You can do that in whatever app you're using to listen to the show right now, and it just takes a few minutes. Your ratings and reviews tell the podcast algorithm gods that “yes, this is a great show. Definitely recommend it to other writers.” And that will help us reach new listeners who might need a boost in their writing lives today as well. So please take a moment and leave a review. I'd really appreciate it, and I promise to read every single one. Thank you so much.


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