as told to Vip Magazine | photography by Collin M. Smith
This month, Vip visited Gina Heron, mom of two, Francis Marion graduate, and author of What’s Left Between Us, A Pearl Girls Novel. Her character’s story of heartbreak, sacrifice, and forgiveness leaves readers grasping for more while her ability to describe the Southern roots surrounding her, allows us to live vicariously through her words. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to tell a good story, follow Gina’s steps below.
Gina, tell us a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a native of the Hannah/Friendfield community in Florence County and moved back home around five years ago. After graduating from Francis Marion University with a degree in English Literature, even though I always wanted to pursue writing, I ended up settling into a career in tech. I started out as a technical writer for a software company, and now I work as an Agile Facilitator, which is a fancy way to say I help manage work streams for development teams.
“At home, I’m a single mama to two awesome young people. Between parenting, being a full-time employee, and writing on the side, I stay pretty busy, but I’m fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family who pitch in to help in more ways than I can count. It truly takes the whole village to keep me going, and I couldn’t be in a better one than I have here at home!”
What inspired you to write?
“I’ve always been a bit quiet and shy, so coming from a huge Brady-bunch style family (I was the youngest of seven), books were an early escape from the noise of the world for me. One of my best memories from my childhood is visiting the Bookmobile during the summer months, when it would stop at Carraway’s on Highway 378, right down from our house. I still remember the way it smelled in there. Anyway, I’d load up on books and find a spot to tuck away and fall into a good story.”
In What’s Left Between Us, you write about Bay, a girl in love that turned into a woman in love. While this novel is fiction, did you find yourself relating to Bay?
“It’s funny, I can’t say that there are a lot of parallels between Bay and me and our histories with love, and I didn’t internalize her experiences with Scott (Bay’s lifelong love) so much as I observed how their story unfolded. My initial idea was to examine how we outgrow the relationships of our youth, but these two had other ideas! I intended for Scott and Bay to go separate ways, but as I got to know them, it became clear to me that they’d roll up their sleeves and fight for each other – no surrender! So, in the end, their storyline became one about two people who could have chosen to part ways but decided instead to reinforce the foundation of their relationship and build something solid together. That’s something I learned from Scott and Bay: whether you give up on a relationship or rebuild it when it’s been damaged, you always have a choice.”
Tell us about your career in writing.
“What’s Left Between Us is the second novel I’ve written, and I worked on it on and off for about five years before ultimately publishing it. Part of that time was spent doing a series of revisions based on feedback from my critique partners and literary agent, and about a year of it was spent submitting to publishers and making more adjustments. In the midst of that process, I had an idea for the Pearl Girls series. Each book in the series features a different main character, all connected to the same family. Making this story a part of a series required some extra work, so that added a little time on. The good news is I’m getting more efficient with each book, so hopefully, the rest won’t take so long!”
Your character Scott was a war hero. When writing his war scenes, how were you able to so vividly describe his experience?
“The war research is probably what I worked on the longest for this book. It was important to me that I be as true to that experience as I could be. Over the course of several years, I read books and watched movies based on true stories of soldiers in captivity, hostage rescue missions, and soldiers suffering from PTSD. I also conducted interviews with and had early feedback from members of Special Forces and an Army nurse. Finding Scott’s voice and hitting the right tone took some stretching for me, but it was worth it. I think.”
Tell us about the feeling of accomplishment when you could finally say the book was completed.
“This is an interesting question! I don’t think I felt that the book was completed until people started reading it, and reviewing it, and actually loving it! There were many points along the way where I felt a sense of pride about the work: finishing the first draft, landing an agent, having it well-received by editors at publishing houses, and eventually holding the finished book in my hands. But nothing else comes close to having readers connect with the characters and story. That’s the ultimate satisfaction, to have connected.”
What has been your favorite experience during this journey?
“My favorite part of writing this book–my favorite part of writing fiction, really–is when the characters surprise me. It’s a surreal experience when a scene takes off in your head, and the action is dragging you along so that you’re typing as fast as you can, trying to keep up with what’s unfolding in your mind. A couple of the scenes that played out that way in What’s Left Between Us had me in either tears or breathless anticipation for what the characters would do next. That’s when you know you’re getting the good stuff.
“One of my other favorite things I can’t fail to mention about the book is the beautiful cover art. When I decided to publish it on my own, one of the big upsides was having the creative freedom to choose whatever I wanted for the cover. Rather than rely on stock cover images, I turned to my favorite partner in all things creative, Michael Krajewski. Michael is a Columbia-based contemporary artist (if you don’t know about him, please find him at www.krajewskiart.com), and while he’d never done a book cover before, I couldn’t imagine anyone else putting art on this for me. And isn’t it lovely? If you look hard, you’ll see some little details in there, like a bee in Bay’s hair and the palmetto tree in the background. Aside from the story itself, the cover is the most important part of putting together a book, and I couldn’t be happier with this one. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for the next one!”
Any future projects we should be on the lookout for?
“Even when I say I’m taking a break, I’m always working on something new! Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on the second novel in the Pearl Girls Series, BURIED BENEATH THE LIES, which I’ll release in October 2019. I’ve also been working on a poetry series and am playing with an idea for a retelling of Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy, which is one of my favorite classics.”
To purchase What’s Left Between Us, click on this link.