Notes from a first-time novelist


Heather signs copies of Maranatha Road at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Heather Bell Adams is from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and now lives in Raleigh with her husband and son. She is the winner of the 2016 James Still Fiction Prize and her short fiction appears in the Thomas Wolfe Review, Clapboard House, Pembroke Magazine, Broad River Review, and elsewhere. Maranatha Road is her first novel and is the winner of the Knoxville Writers’ Guild Contest  Find Heather on Twitter: @heatherbelladam.

On the heels of the publication of my first novel, Maranatha Road, I’m grateful to share an inside look at how we got here.

The manuscript took about a year to write and, along the way, I received helpful feedback from novelist Amy Greene, whom I greatly admire. She was leading a workshop through the Appalachian Writing Project and, when my work obligations got cancelled at the last minute, I could take time off to attend. Amy’s encouragement fueled a mad dash to “the end” and then, of course, the real work of revising began.

Heather reads with Jeremy Jones, coeditor of WVU Press’s In Place series, at Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina.

I was fortunate to snag an agent early on. But when we didn’t receive any offers from “big New York,” she let me go. Cue a week (or two) of venting to my husband and friends.

Not wanting to wallow for long, I prepared submission packets for the regional and university presses I was most interested in. Since Vandalia was at the top of that list, I was thrilled when Abby Freeland expressed interest. She liked what she read—thank goodness—and the manuscript embarked on the “reader review” process. I dug back into revisions to incorporate each reader’s feedback. Six or seven months later, the readers voted “yes” and the manuscript was scheduled to be presented to the board for a final vote.

Still hopeful and trying to be patient, I was watching my son compete in a golf tournament when I received confirmation from Abby that the board would meet in September. Cue a nervous countdown…

The day of the vote I went to work as usual. Right before I left the office, I got the emailI’d been waiting for—the press was offering a publication contract. My fingers shook as I typed a hasty response to Abby and called my husband. adams_des_cov_lg_cmyk

Thankfully, since I’d already been through the reader review process, no additional substantive revisions were needed. Over the next year, the press worked to ready the book for publication.

Let’s talk covers. I’d heard authors don’t have much input so I was pleasantly surprised when I got to fill out a “cover questionnaire,” asking about the book’s theme and mood and any meaningful images or colors. I could attach copies of my favorite book covers.

My first draft attached almost twenty—what can I say? Isn’t keeping track of pretty book covers what Pinterest is for? In the end, I couldn’t have been happier with Than Saffel’s concept and design.

Heather signs the author wall at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

After final copy edits—and the typical debut novelist’s “just one more” approach to the acknowledgements page—Maranatha Road released on September 1, 2017. The press has been incredibly supportive in terms of marketing, publicity, and award nominations and the reception from booksellers, media outlets, and readers continues to amaze me. I doubt seeing my novel in stores and in the hands of readers will ever get old. Thanks to Vandalia for making it happen!

Heather reads with Kim Church at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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