Monday, May 29, 2017

Author Q&A: Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is quickly becoming a favorite author for me  - I've read some of her more recent books and really enjoyed them.  Her latest book, Not A Sound, will be published this week. Earlier today I shared my review of the book - you can read that here. Today I have a conversation that Heather has prepared that I found to be quite interesting.  Do let me know if you'll be picking up this book - I'd love to discuss it with you.

A Conversation with Heather Gudenkauf

What is your new novel, Not a Sound, about?
Not A Sound is the story of Amelia Winn, a woman who is trying to put the pieces of her life back together after an accident leaves her profoundly deaf. After two years of isolation and mind-numbing alcohol consumption, Amelia is ready to take the steps to reclaim her family and career as a nurse. Her plan is derailed when while paddle boarding with her service dog, Stitch, she discovers the body of her friend and fellow nurse Gwen Locke. Suddenly, Amelia finds herself in the middle of a deadly mystery that hits way too close to home.

How did you go about researching what it is like to be dead?
While I have a significant hearing loss, I do not know what it is like to be completely deaf like the character of Amelia, and it was important for me to portray her in a realistic, accurate and respectful manner. To do so I connected with early readers with profound deafness who were willing to give me invaluable insights. I also consulted with a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, the mother of a profoundly deaf child, a doctor of audiology (who happens to be my brother) and a speech pathologist. The expertise they provided was crucial to the novel.

Amelia was not born deaf; her hearing loss is caused by an accident. How does it change the way she relates to the world?
Like many who have gone through a traumatic life event, Amelia defines time as before and after. Before the accident that caused her deafness, Amelia was a happily married mother and well-respected nurse. After the accident, she copes with the loss of her hearing by isolating herself from those she loves and cares about and ultimately goes into a downward spiral fueled by alcohol. However, after hitting rock bottom, Amelia comes to the realization that she's the only one who can turn her life around and makes a concerted effort to do just this. She begins to lay the groundwork for regaining her family, her career and her friendships.

Certainly one of the most endearing characters in the book is Amelia's service dog, Stitch. What kind of dog is he?
I love Stitch! I envisioned him as a Slovak Rough-haired Pointer. They have silver-colored, wiry coats and what is called facial furnishings ~ which is just a fancy way of saying mustaches. Pointers are beautiful dogs with lots of personality.

Why are his commands in Czech?
In the novel, a Czech police dog trainer rescues Stitch and trains him to be a hearing service dog. He uses Czech commands with his dogs because it is his native language. Interestingly, in doing my research I learned about half the police dogs in the United States have some connection to the Czech Republic.

Did you do a lot of research into different kinds of service dogs? Are particular breeds more suited to helping the deaf?
It is amazing the kind of services dogs offer - everything from hearing, therapy, seizure response and guide service. I have a friend whose daughter is diabetic and her service dog is able to detect by scent, when her blood sugar is at dangerous levels - incredible! As I began my research, I learned very quickly that while Labradors and German Shepherds have been the traditional service dog picks, there are many other options. I also learned that many hearing dog programs actually rescue their dogs from shelters and as long as the dog is friendly and people-oriented, has the skills, energy and readiness to work the instant a sound occurs they can be an effective hearing dog.

Although they are written within the conventions of psychological suspense, your novels also always offer strong character studies. How do you achieve the latter without bogging down the thriller aspects of narrative?
Creating strong characters while plotting a compelling, suspenseful fast-moving story can be tricky. For me, the mystery and the premise of the novel are what draws readers in but it's the characters that entice readers to stay to find out what happens next. The characters I create need to be relatable enough for readers to see glimpses of themselves in the motivations and actions of the characters. The trick is being able to layer delicately just enough of the history and experience of the characters to keep the reader invested in the story.

Why did you choose to make Amelia a nurse?
As the writing process tends to go sometimes, the characters have a way of taking over and making the decisions. As I wrote Not A Sound, it became clear very quickly that Amelia's vocation would be nursing. I'm a big fan of nurses for dozens of reasons, the main one being that my mom was a nurse. I've always admired the caring, nurturing nature of nurses paired with their organization and efficiency. Nurses get things done!

Critics are singling Amelia out as a particularly intriguing and memorable character - despite of, or perhaps because of, her flaws. How do you create a well-rounded, multi-dimensional character?
Humans are complicated. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, we have our finer moments and those moments we wish we could take back. I attempted to create a character that readers could recognize as someone they might know - that friend or family member who struggles but wants desperately to get their life back on track. Amelia is determined to regain the life she lost due in part to her accident and then to her own poor choices. In messy fits and starts she begins the journey back to herself and because of this I fell in love with Amelia's flaws just as much as her strengths. I hope readers feel the same way.

The novel is set in Iowa, which is a place that many who don't know it picture as nothing more than miles of farmland. Yet the landscape you depict is actually quite varied and dramatic. What role does the landscape play in this story?
I've encountered many people who haven't had the opportunity to visit my home state and do have that traditional image of a flat landscape filled with miles and miles of cornfields. Iowa does have its share of cornfields, which are lovely, but it also has rocky bluffs, tall grass prairies, limestone caves and sharp ravines. Iowa also boasts over 27,000 miles of rivers and streams and about 44,000 acres of forest. The bluffs, rivers and ravines play a huge part in Not A Sound. Not only do Amelia and Stitch have to battle a villain of the homo sapiens sort, they have to navigate the elements and some brutal, but beautiful terrain, in order to survive. 

Are you working on another novel? If so, can you give us a sneak peak into what it is about?
My current work-in-progress follows the story of three families brought together when a bizarre meshing of local lore, online phenomenon and urban legend becomes a reality when an unthinkable crime shakes a small Midwestern railroad town to its core.

***  Thank you Park Row Books for sharing this conversation with Heather; and Heather, thank you for taking time to answer all these questions - they were so insightful!!! I really enjoyed your book and can't wait til the next one comes out!

Not A Sound  by Heather Gudenkauf
Park Row Books
May 30, 2017
Paperback ISBN: 978-0778319955 

E-book ISBN: B01M8M9IW1



  1. An author I've still got to track down.
    Thanks for the interview.

  2. I am looking forward to this book.


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