We’ve learned from the book of Esther that God’s timing is perfect – and that He allows character and a wealth of experiences to grow in us for an ordained season. In the case of Heather Burch, the journey toward becoming an author started the day she was born into a family of publishers. But it hasn’t been until recently that God has chosen to open the doors for her. And isn’t it interesting that just as society’s fascination with the supernatural is peaking, we get Halflings? It’s clear to us that Heather has been called to write “…for such a time as this.”
Family Christian: Where do you currently live?
Heather Burch: We live in Southern Florida, maybe going on six years now. Branson, Missouri is where I grew up and we lived in Branson and Springfield. That’s where all of our family is. We felt like we wanted to move down here and like that was what God had for us. When we came down my husband said, “You really need to just stay home and write. Write full-time and really put everything into it because forever you’ve sort of put that on hold to do other things.” We’ve been in full-time ministry in different times of our lives, and we love that. He said, “This is really your dream and we should just do it.” So, I wrote four books before I started Halflings. It was sort of a learning process really. Halflings was, of course, the book that sold to Zondervan and that I got an agent with. My agent offered it as a three-book deal, which was little bit scary because at that time publishing companies were buying more single books. I think they didn’t necessarily know the climate and what was around the corner, so for her to offer it that way was kind of scary. But it was a leap of faith. And, of course, Zondervan grabbed it up. I have such a fabulous team there. Of course Jonathan (who works in some areas) and my editor are just amazing. She really has a big vision for Zondervan and where it’s headed in the next few years. I just feel very blessed to be part of the team there.
FC: Now the four books you had written previously, did you publish those?
Heather: No, they are still hidden on hard drives here and there on different computers. There are a couple of them that I might go back and revisit and clean up. But at this point, my writing has changed and grown so much that any of the four would mean major rewrites. Right now I’m so busy writing Halfling books, I’m not really even thinking too much about them, but, you know, maybe one day.
FC: You grew up in an environment where writing was certainly talked about and discussed. Do you want to talk a little about that?
Heather: When I started dating my husband, his mom and his sister wrote romances for Harlequin and Silhouette. At that time Harlequin or Silhouette didn’t have a specific line for inspirational books. But [his mom and sister] were Christians, and so they wrote what they called the sweeter romances, which are ones that are a lot cleaner. That was the first time I noticed that real, normal people write books. I’d always done a lot of writing. I grew up in a house [where] we were in publishing. We did school yearbooks as my family’s business. So I’d always been around publishing. Print shops are kind of hard to find anymore, but I love that smell because it reminds me of home. So I was kind of all over that already, then married into a family of authors. When they found [that] out it was like, “Write a book! Write a book! You need to write a book!” So I dabbled with that off and on for years. Five years ago [is] when I really got serious about my writing and was able to set aside time to invest in learning how to construct a great story—there are so many nuances of fiction...
FC: So Halflings is your first published book with Zondervan, and you have two more coming out. What is the series actually called?
Heather: It’s called the Halflings Trilogy. On each book it will say “A Halflings Novel,” and they’re each numbered. I actually do have more storylines beyond the three, so there’s a lot that can be played out. But the three are definitely a complete story arc for Nikki Youngblood, who’s the main character.
FC: In the process of writing this, how much of your friends and family or personal experiences were part of the story?
Heather: The two halfling boys, Raven and Mace – the two main male characters – are carbon copies of my boys. One of them is a very much a by-the-book person, a strong leader [like Mace]. The other one is my musician. He’s very much a free spirit, more like Raven. So anytime I have trouble with Mace or Raven, thinking “what would this character do at this point?” I would think “okay, what would my son do?” So there is a lot of it. And I’ve probably borrowed a lot more from my teenage sons’ friends, as far as teen lingo and language, and just how they communicate with each other. It really honors me when people say, especially teenagers, “Wow, you definitely know teenagers. You know how we talk and how we interact.” That’s one of the biggest compliments I can get.
FC: It doesn’t appear that this book is specifically for teens, although the main characters certainly are within that age-group. Since it’s not confined to just that group, what is your goal with the book?
Heather: Really the deepest internal goal that I would have is for us to realize that we’re sort of all halflings. Halflings are creatures that are caught between heaven and earth. When you get saved that’s sort of what you are: kind of caught between heaven and earth. You have the same address, but a new place in the world. I wanted people to really stop and think about the fact that there is a supernatural realm. Of course all that happens [in the book] is fictional, completely fictional. Not to be confused with anything biblical or theological, but there are nuances to it that I think can really ring true for people. And really understanding that there is a much bigger picture for each one of us. And understanding that we can walk out what we have on this earth, but making sure that we’re doing it to glorify God. One of the things about the Halflings is that they are serving God and they don’t know what their fate is, but God is so good they are still going to serve Him because they have a revelation of Who He is. If you have that revelation you’re going to serve Him. If you don’t have that revelation, you may or may not. Another thing that was close to my heart was that salvation is such a gift. My thought was that if you have beings that aren’t offered salvation, they’re very aware of what they don’t have a privilege to experience. I thought that was a neat way to show that. Beings, all people, should be thinking about the next step. I did say I had a purpose, and my purpose in writing Halflings was to tell a great story that teenagers and anyone couldn’t put down. I wanted to tell a story that they couldn’t walk away from. I’m a teacher by nature (my husband and I are youth pastors), and actually as I was writing it I would get in a groove and say “Oh this is good stuff!” And it felt like God was saying, “Wait a minute. Back up here. You’re getting into preach mode.” And that’s not what I think He intended to do in this book and series. I think it’s a great thing to lay questions out there and let people start to question and find out for themselves.
FC: Do you think that the series would be good to give to an unbeliever?
Heather: Very much so. I get a lot of feedback. One sad thing that has happened is if people think that a book has been put in their hand to preach or to teach them something, they’ll set it aside, even if they like it. I have at least as many reviews from people who are not in the Christian community as I do from people who are. It is a book that is crossing barriers—that is a crossover. I think that’s a delicate thing to be able to do. I think that if you can, it’s phenomenal because you’re reaching out to a wider market, you’re reaching more people and more young people. By the grace of God we’re doing that with this book. This book was actually birthed about fifteen years ago when we were youth pastors at a church that experienced a really fabulous revival up in Missouri. The young people in the youth group were really burdened that there weren’t that many books out there for teenagers that really pointed to God, and started praying. Some of them fasted. We had some of our teenagers do extended fasts with pastor approval and parents in mind, everything. They were concerned about this. They said, “We need more books for Christians.” Not just clean books that are in the regular market, but books that have a Christian world view. So there’s a big stroke of the brush with those. You’ve got books with a very clear message, and that’s awesome. And then you’ve got books that are a little more subtle. Those tend to be a little bit easier to crossover in some markets, which is exciting because you’re reaching more people with the message than you have.
FC: Heather, as parents, we can certainly relate to both your concern for your own kids and those within your church community. If a teenager or college student has a stack of books on their nightstand or in their family room, Halflings would be a good book to see. What other titles?
Heather: Zondervan has some fabulous books for the young adult market, for kids that are not Christians especially. Those kids are readers. They want that voice of the regular young adult market. We haven’t always necessarily nailed that in the Christian market. It kind of had its own tone and its own voice, which is fabulous, but now it’s branching out more. People can pick up Halflings and it reads very much like secular books other than the fact that it has a Christian worldview. Obviously there are no cuss words, no drinking, no smoking. The characters have a much higher moral standard. Also in the Christian market, Jill Williamson has a book called Replication, which is a wonderful book. She was on book tour with me. She, Bill Myers and I were together on book tour throughout the month of April. Bill Myers has a fabulous series right now that deals with the occult that is great for young people if they are teetering in that area at all. Melanie Dickerson has a few. She does fairytale retellings. They are like a nice, hot cup of tea, curled up in a blanket, sitting by the fire. They’re just really beautiful reads. Of course, I’ve got Halflings. We’ve got book two coming out, which is already in, and that will release in October. I know that Jill’s working on another storyline too. I’m not sure when it releases. I’m very excited about what Zondervan is doing right now.
FC: You touched in this a little bit earlier when you said that the book itself and everything you’ve written in the book is not based on actual events – it’s a fictional tale. Have you ever had anyone approach you and use Halflings as some sort of doctrinal treatise for their Christian faith?
Heather: No. I was all geared up with such a great answer for that! (laughs) I was ready to explain the differences in fiction and how we can use biblical truths to tell a fictional story. I kind of expected to get more angel stories too. I [also] expected to hear from some people, “Well that’s not biblical. That’s not in the Bible. It didn’t happen.” I haven’t, I’ve been really surprised – maybe because I was ready for it.
FC: How would you answer that type of question? If someone came up to you and said “I’ve been using your book as a guide for my own personal and spiritual walk.”
Heather: I would say that there’s only one Word of God. Find out what His Word says, because anytime you add to it or take away you’ve lost everything that it is about. It’s easy for people to want a new set of rules. The Gospel is a simple message, but it’s relational. You cannot have a relationship with Jesus any other way than learning through the Bible. There’s no other book that will lead you to what you’re looking for.
FC: Heather, what do you do to relax? When you’re not writing, what are you doing?
Heather: We just went to see Brave, so that was great fun. I loved it! It was great and had a great message. We live in Florida, so we’re in a really beautiful area. We drive around a lot; we look at the area, and go to different beaches. I’m a big theme park junky, so I was actually up at Disney last week which is very close. We also go to Sea World and Busch Gardens once in a while. They have great deals for Florida residents. Of course we’re youth pastors too, so that keeps me busy. We pretty much love the water.
FC: Heather thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. We appreciate everything that you’re doing and looking forward to book 2.
Heather: Thank you so much. I can’t wait for it. I’m sure this is the thing you should never say, but I actually think it’s a better book than Halflings. Now that the characters are established, we [can] get into the meat of the story a little bit more. We have book two, Guardian, coming out in October and book three, Avenger, in April, next spring.