The opioid epidemic: author Heather Day Gilbert brings hope through story

One of the best parts about being an author is meeting other authors who have a passion for bringing hope to a hurting world. Heather Day Gilbert is one of those authors. Her newest release, Guilt by Association, is a mystery set in the middle of the hurting heart of America plagued by the opioid epidemic.

Here’s a synopsis:

Tess Spencer hadn’t planned on returning to her hometown, but when her ex-prisoner mom puts in a special request, Tess overcomes her hesitance to help her turn over a new leaf. Pearletta Vee’s drug-dealing past is resurrected when the body of an overdosed teen shows up—right next to her trailer. Tess decides to stick around and investigate, yet the evidence is stacked against Pearletta. Tess suspects a setup—but why?

Never one to back down from a challenge, Tess takes on a wayward teen, an abusive grandma, and more than one drug dealer in her quest for the truth. But it’s going to take a miracle to keep her from becoming a casualty in her own personal war on drugs. Plunging into the shadowy reality of the drug epidemic in West Virginia, Guilt by Association is the third book in the award-winning Murder in the Mountains mystery series.

Recently, I had a chance to interview Heather about her book and her life as an author, including the work she does for local charities helping fight addiction in her West Virginia town:

  1) Guilt by Association is the third book in the award-winning Murder in the Mountains mystery series. What can fans of the first two expect from this one?

Readers will see more of Tess’ back story as a child in this one, since it’s set in Boone County, where she grew up. They’ll also see how her relationship with her loving lawyer husband, Thomas, continues to grow. In Guilt by Association, we don’t have as many scenes with Tess’ supportive mother-in-law, Nikki Jo, because this book focuses on Tess’ conflicted relationship with her mother, Pearletta Vee, who has recently been released from prison on drug-dealing charges.

Also, Tess’ close friend, Charlotte, is overseas during this book, but readers will get to know her spitfire friend, Rosemary, much better. This series draws some parallels from Nancy Drew books, with Tess being like Nancy, Charlotte being like George, and Rosemary being like Bess.

2) Your blog describes you as someone who, “…writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory.” How do you see Guilt by Association fulfilling that?

More than any books in the Murder in the Mountains series thus far, I think Guilt by Associationreally showcases the darkness and the light we wrestle with in life. We see the messy fallout from drug addiction in the rural area where Tess grew up, but at the same time, we see the hope God can bring to these seemingly impossible family situations. In my home state of West Virginia, it’s a near-daily occurrence to read how opioids are ripping families apart, but I’ve watched people step in to these seemingly impossible situations and make a lasting difference. God is greater.

3) Will Tess Spencer be back for a fourth?

Definitely! My readers have lots of questions about one recurring character in this series—Axel Becker, the florist, who always happens to show up at just the right time to help Tess. Axel’s story has been a mystery within each of these mysteries, and at the end of the series, we’ll find out how his story ties in with Tess’.

4) Which famous actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

I actually did think about this when things seemed to be moving toward a movie version (not in the works now, sadly). Tess Spencer has short, straight dark hair, blue eyes, a heart-shaped face, and fair skin. She’s about 5’7 and in her twenties. She knows how to handle a gun, which has made me look at women shooters of Instagram, like @theamyrobbins. Sherilyn Fenn back in her Twin Peaks days would’ve been a great fit, but she’s over thirty now for sure! 😉 I also just found an actress named Grace Phipps who looks similar to Tess’ coloring/face shape.

5) What inspired you to donate the first month’s profits of Guilt by Association to Sparrow’s Nest?

A couple of women from my church have worked at Sparrow’s Nest, which is a Christian women’s shelter not far from me, and I feel like I know a bit of how this shelter is going about rehabilitating the women who check in there. The male counterpart of Sparrow’s Nest, Brian’s Safehouse, has been around longer, and has made a difference in many lives, as well. Drug rehab facilities are generally booked solid in my area and I feel they need all the support we can offer!

6) How have you seen the opioid epidemic impacting your part of West Virginia? How are some ways readers can help?

Drugs are everywhere in my rural area. There are repeated news stories of children who are basically abandoned in their own homes because both parents are using drugs and have neglected them horribly. Health care workers who work with neonatal units could share countless sad stories of babies born addicted in this state. And the foster care system here is overwhelmed. Our family has personally become involved in the foster care arena, and that is where we see so many Christians stepping up to the plate and making a difference for these children who have basically been orphaned because of drugs.

7) What’s your favorite book from childhood? Was it a mystery?

That is a tough question! I did read Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew when I was young, then I moved on to Phyllis Whitney, Daphne du Maurier, and Agatha Christie in my teen years. I also enjoyed Madeline L’engle and was obsessed with A Ring of Endless Light for a while, which made me want to become a marine biologist and work with dolphins. 🙂 I also loved Little Men by Louisa May Alcott and I enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series. So I don’t think I can pinpoint one book!

8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love working in my perennial flowerbeds or walking in the woods, though I never have time for much of either, it seems. I love going on dates with my husband and sometimes we go to the outdoor shooting range, which is a blast (no pun intended!). I also play video games to blow off steam and just clear my head.

9) What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I’m not sure, but it would probably have something to do with the utter messiness of my notes. Sometimes I jot things down in all directions, so it’s hard to go back and put it all together! I am a loose plotter, so I know highlights of the story, but it basically fills in for me as I write. Another thing my mystery readers might be interested to know is that I might go into a mystery thinking I know who the murderer is, but I often surprise myself mid-way through and realize it’s another murderer. You know what they say: “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader,” or some quote like that!

10) What writing project(s) are you working on next?

I’m working on a three-book cozy mystery series for Kensington Books this year. I think it’ll begin releasing in 2019. I’m not sure what other projects I’ll be tackling, but I like to always have things in the queue!

Thank you, Heather, for taking the time to visit with us, and for shedding light onto the opioid crisis, and your work as a writer.

Click on the links in this post to pick up a copy of Guilt by Association and her other novels today.

AUTHOR BIO:

HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, generational story-telling runs in her blood. Heather writes Viking historicals and contemporary mystery/suspense. Publisher’s Weekly gave Heather’s Viking historical Forest Child a starred review, saying it is “an engaging story depicting timeless human struggles with faith, love, loyalty, and leadership.” Find out more on heatherdaygilbert.com.

My top favorite books (and then some) of 2017!

It’s that time of year again.

The time when I look back on all the books I read (and didn’t), and wish I’d been able to read more.

So many books, so little time, right?

One fun part about my year in books is I figured out if I keep a book going on Audible at all times, I can read at least 1-2 more books a month than if I’d stuck to text alone. I also discovered if the audio narrator reads too slowly, I can speed it up! At first, all I can think of is Alvin and the Chipmunks. But eventually I’m so absorbed in the story I don’t mind one bit. (Do you like audio books?)

If you’d like to see my 2016 list of favorites, click here. 

If you’d like to see the really cool summary of all my 2017 reads on Goodreads, click here.

Overall, I came in nine books shy of my goal of 60 books. (Not counting my own novel that Goodreads counted in the mix.) But considering I spent the first half of the year rewriting and editing said novel of my own (Before I Saw You, coming June, 2018 from Tyndale House Publishers), I’m pretty proud of the 51 books and 16,121 pages I was able to read.

I had hoped to share my top five favorite books with you, but I was only able to whittle my list down to seven! I seriously loved every single one of these. If you’ve read any of my writing and you’ve read any of these, I think you’ll see why they’re my favorites.

Below them, I’ve posted several other fiction and nonfiction books I really enjoyed this past year. Many of them I struggled to cut from my top seven. I would definitely recommend all of them. (For my complete 2017 book journey, including ones that didn’t make this post, visit my Goodreads page.)

Without further ado, here’s my favorite books of 2017!

Stick around at the end and post your favorites, too, and any thoughts you have about these. Books are best when shared with others, after all!

*****

TOP SEVEN FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2017

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

A kind editor once told me that my novel, Lead Me Home, reminded her of Of Mice and Men. So re-ignited my interest in Steinbeck, which led me to read The Grapes of Wrath this year. I can’t describe it better than the synopsis on Goodreads, “A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.” Therein is the reason I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end.

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin

The turn of the 20th century. Two runaway girls. An old, broken man cultivating his vast expanse of orchards. And prose that makes me want to slow down and savor every phrase. “Writing with breathtaking precision and empathy, Amanda Coplin has crafted an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.” (Goodreads synopsis.) All this and so much more. That’s why I love this story.

This Day: New and Collected Sabbath Poems, by Wendell Berry

“For nearly thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been at work on a series of poems occasioned by his solitary Sunday walks around his farm in Kentucky. From riverfront and meadows, to grass fields and woodlots, every inch of this hillside farm lives in these poems, as do the poet’s constant companions in memory and occasion, family and animals, who have with Berry created his Home Place with love and gratitude.” (Goodreads synopsis). The result is this book. No wonder I adore it, and in fact, am never really finished reading it. I keep it on my nightstand so I can read a morsel of it any time.

Upstream: Collected Essays, by Mary Oliver

As Goodreads describes, “Comprising a selection of essays, Upstream finds beloved poet Mary Oliver reflecting on her astonishment and admiration for the natural world and the craft of writing.” I can’t say much more than that about why I adore this book. Every word and phrase is like a hug to my nature-loving, writer heart. (I keep this one on my nightstand, too.)

Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

One of the hardest parts about being a writer is that so much of the work occurs alone. The fact that I was smitten with The Grapes of Wrath aside, I was smitten all over again with Steinbeck because of all the ways I could relate to the dysfunction and frustration and epiphany and joy he expressed as he wrote his novel. In short, this book made me realize I am not alone as a writer, and I read this during a time in my writing career where I very much felt alone.

The Invention of Wings,by Sue Monk Kidd

I absolutely loved this story, inspired by the historical figure and early abolitionist Sarah Grimke. Told by dual narrators, Sarah Grimke and her handmaid, Handful, I was riveted to this book from beginning to end, and inspired to learn more about much of the historical events and traditions Kidd utilizes throughout the novel. A beautiful story of captivity and freedom, and often in the unlikeliest of ways.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,by Sam Quinones

As a practicing registered nurse, I witness first hand the horrific impact of the opioid epidemic on infants, young adults, and beyond. It breaks my heart so much that my upcoming novel is set right in the middle of a small, fictional town in Indiana ravaged by opioids. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic sheds a lot of needed and balanced light on the origins of the battle we now all face in our backyards. Few, if any, are untouched by the opioid epidemic, and as people of faith we would all be wise to understand it better.

OTHER GREAT FICTION I READ (in ABC order by author):

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell

Freedom’s Ring, by Heidi Chiavaroli

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskins

The Sound and the Fury,by William Faulkner

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg

Nashville by Heart,by Tina Ann Forkner

Turtles All the Way Down,by John Green

Camino Island, by John Grisham

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman

The Alliance, by Jolina Petersheim

Anything is Possible,by Elizabeth Strout

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901,by Nancy E. Turner

The Color Purple,by Alice Walker

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

OTHER GREAT NON-FICTION I READ (in ABC order by author):

Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime Is Eating At the Heart of Rural America,by Scott Thomas Anderson

Ruined,by Ruth Everhart

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival,by Bernd Heinrich

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg

Mammals of Indiana, Revised and Enlarged Edition,by Russell E. Mumford

Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon,by Susan P. Schoelwer

The Raptor Almanac: A Comprehensive Guide to Eagles, Hawks, Falcons, and Vultures,by Scott Weidensaul

Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book,by Don E. Wilson

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, by Julie Zickefoose

*****

What about you?

Have you read any of these?

What were your favorite books of 2017 and why?

Third time’s a charm. Encouragement for writers and anyone with an impossible dream.

I’ve seen them plenty of times, red tail hawks floating in circles above the Indiana tree lines. But I’ve never seen one as close up as this:

*


*

It’s as if he was sitting there, waiting just for me.

And I think maybe he was.

I was at the darkest point in my writing career. My editors had broken the news to me that the novel I’ve been working on for close to two years had to be rewritten…for the third time.

They weren’t being mean when they told me this. They were being honest. The first two drafts–as sometimes drafts can be for many authors–were truly horrid, despite the exhausting effort I had put into them.

I was devastated.

I didn’t have the energy, the heart, or the wisdom to know how in the world I could write yet another version of the story. More than that, I began to feel that my other three novels were just a fluke, that I was a fake of a writer, that whatever luck I’d had before was plum wrung out.

Lord help me, I prayed.

My dear husband encouraged me not to give up.

I forced myself to make new plot cards and storyboards, to comb through the previous two drafts for any paragraph, sentence or word that could be salvageable, and to pray (even more) that the Lord would allow me the ability to write just once more something that would be pleasing to Him.

Slowly but surely, I began to notice things.

Things like this red tail hawk who remained still even as I moved within steps of him (there is a thread that involves a red tail in the story)…

…things like a song on the radio, a point in a sermon, a chance finding of a book or movie that helped me work through a new or difficult plot thread just when I needed help the most…

…things that other people might think I’ve lost my ever-loving-mind to find significance in, but that I knew–or at least suspected–was the Lord whispering to me.

“Keep going.”

“You’re on the right track.”

“I’m with you.”

Stating openly that I “hear” God like this does seem nuts, especially when it involves writing a novel. I mean, there are so many more important things going on in the world…people fighting so many bigger battles. But at the same time, a big theme of my story is about how the Lord sees and cares for even the tiny, insignificant little sparrow. But as the scriptures show us time and time again…

…He is big enough to be in the big battles, and still have more than enough left over to be in our little battles, too.

I got the call last Friday that this third re-write has been accepted. Pending the standard editing process, the story I finally finished and submitted a few weeks ago will become my next new novel, slated for publication in 2018.

If you’d seen the other drafts (and thank goodness you won’t), you’d know without a doubt that this story was only possible because of the grace of God.

But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Our faith, our offerings, are but tiny seeds in the hand of a mighty, mighty God.

He’s the one who grows them and forms them into something bigger and better than we could ever have imagined.

Whatever you’re facing friends, don’t ever think it’s too small or too impossible to take to the Lord in prayer. Don’t ever think He doesn’t see the sparrow of your dream or your worry, or that your toil is in vain. Every delay, every rehash and rewrite and do-over of this manuscript, and every manuscript I’ve ever written has been for a reason, whether to hone me, or to hone my work.

In the meantime, stay tuned to this website and my social media sites for updates about this next novel. I can’t wait to share the hope and these new characters with you!