Heidi Chiavaroli wrote her first story, I’d Cross the Desert for Milk, in third grade. It wasn’t until many years later that she decided to try her hand at writing again. She used her two small boys’ nap times to pursue what she then thought was a foolish dream.
Her women’s fiction stories combine her love of history and literature and are told in split-time. Her first published novel, Freedom’s Ring, received an ACFW Carol Award and was a Christy Award finalist as well as a Romantic Times Top Pick and a Booklist Top Ten Romance Debut.
Heidi loves exploring places that whisper of historical secrets, especially with her family. She makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.
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If you were asked to describe yourself with one word, what word would that be. And why?
These days, I think that word would have to be “contemplative.” There’s simply so much going on in the world and in my own life that is causing (what I trust is) growth within me. I’m excited about the future, both in my writing and in my faith.
You’re so right about the need for trust, Heidi! Our Heavenly Father often writes in a twist that ultimately blesses us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?
Oh, most definitely! All of my growing up years, I was the student that excelled and studied hard and knew she was going somewhere. Though I loved writing, I chose what I thought of as a more practical ambition in the sciences. What a surprise when I got to college and hated the classes I needed for my dream career (marine biology) and missed my boyfriend (now my husband) so much that I actually dropped out of school.
That was the last thing I would have expected of myself, but that decision led to me marrying young and having two babies. While I stayed at home with my boys, I found a renewed passion for writing. And here we are!
Let’s talk about your new book, The Orchard House (Tyndale House, 2021). Please tell us about it!
Like so many girls and women around the world, I’ve always been captivated by the story of Little Women—a seemingly simple domestic tale that, with its timelessness, explores the complexities of family, friendship, and love. But there was something else that made this tale come alive for me—a childhood visit to the very place where Louisa wrote her beloved story. Orchard House brought Louisa and her novel alive in a new way. I remember being completely captivated by this place where these fictional (and real life) heroines lived, of beholding the very desk where Louisa wrote her masterpiece. For a child who loved this story, and books in general, this made a real impression on me.
Setting out to write a story involving Louisa and Orchard House, I dug through her biographies, journals, and letters for some interesting, lesser-known morsel about this famed author. When I learned about her time as a nurse in the Civil War, her experiences nursing a certain young blacksmith for whom she held strong feelings but who would end up dying, and her subsequent near-death experience with typhoid shortly after, I knew I’d stumbled upon something. I thought it might be interesting to have my historical heroine, Johanna, be the sister of Louisa’s “prince of patients.” What if these two women struck up a friendship? What if Louisa offered her a way to Massachusetts? What if Louisa became a mentor to Johanna, who found herself in a difficult marriage?
From this storyline came the idea of women helping women, both in a contemporary story and a historical story. Themes of sisterhood, friendship, forgiveness, and helping the downtrodden—all themes in Little Women—were brought to the forefront of the book to further tie in and give honor to this much-loved story and author.
So Louisa May Alcott plays a big part in the book? Were there special challenges in writing a “slip time” story?
Louisa is one of the main secondary characters in my historical timeline, but her words and legacy also play a big part in the lives of my contemporary heroines. Writing split time is always a sort of special challenge, but one I love.
There are actually three time periods in The Orchard House, which was something I’d never done—one that includes my present-day heroine, Taylor, when she is a child, and one where she is in her late thirties. This was fun because we get to see her at a pivotal point in her life—when she is dealing with the feelings of being adopted by her best friend’s family. We also get to see how Orchard House has become a type of bond between her and her sister and friend, Victoria.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
I have some autoimmune issues and so I am on a pretty limited diet. I was so excited to find a phenomenal recipe for chocolate chip cookies that are gluten, dairy, and egg-free. They are actually super yummy—even my kids beg me to make them. That’s the sort of comfort food I’m going for these days.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Oh wow, what a great question. I’d like to think I’m the strong, female lead but I probably come off more as the girl next door!
The beginning of a new year is a time when we often set new goals. If you knew you couldn’t fail, what new goal or dream would you pursue this year?
That’s a great question, though the prospect of failure doesn’t usually deter me—I think I’ve gotten used to it over the years! Although, if I could get rid of fear, I’d want to go skydiving. I researched it a bit for a book project this past winter and it made me want to try it—if it wasn’t for the possibility of a parachute malfunction (does that maybe count as a failure?), I just might!
How is Howie doing?
Oh, Kathy you are so sweet to ask. Unfortunately we lost Howie a little more than two years ago. I think I told you he had Addison’s disease. We miss him! Actually, we are finally ready for a new puppy that we’ll be welcoming into our home at the beginning of March! We’re very excited!
Thanks, Heidi! It’s nice to have you back at Divine Detour.
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