Hi WFW Friends!
Let me introduce Jennifer Haupt, a debut novelist and a prolific essayist with an esteemed blog on Psychology Today (link below).
Here’s a bit about Jen’s new novel:
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills deftly weaves together the journeys of three women from vastly diverse backgrounds who are searching for family and personal peace in post-genocide Rwanda. At the heart of this novel that bestselling author Wally Lamb calls “an evocative page turner” and bestselling author Caroline Leavitt calls “blazingly original” is the discovery of grace when there can be no forgiveness.
Because I’m fascinated with writers (I love our tribe) I went off script with Jen and wanted to pry into her process. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Please follow Jen on social media and support her any way you can!
In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Amy: Jen, you, like many many writers, want to transform their personal experiences into fiction. What was your biggest challenge in separating yourself from your characters?
Jen: What a great question! It’s funny, the character I had the hardest time connecting with was Rachel, who I originally imagined to be the most like me. It was only when I truly separated from her and listened to who she wanted to be that I “got” her — and was able to fully write her story.
I have a process journal where I write pages and pages of details about each character — from their favorite color and beverage, to the ghost that haunts them, to what they desire and what they learn that they truly need. So even Rachel, who started out as me, evolved into her own person rather quickly.
I started out thinking I was most like Rachel because she has unresolved grief that leads her to believe she doesn’t know how to love fully, like a mother should. She believes that when her father abandoned her family when she was a child, he took with him a piece of her heart. My unresolved grief was about my big sister’s death when I was two and she was three. This novel was Rachel’s journey to Rwanda to find her father and take back that piece of her heart. My journey, throughout the eleven years I wrote this novel, was also to discover more of my heart; love more. But in the end, I wound up thinking I was more like Henry, Rachel’s father, than Rachel. That was a huge surprise!
Amy: Do you have any tips for writers struggling to do this in their own work?
Jen: Yes. Listen to your characters. I know, that sounds weird but the more you know about them, the more you write down in a notebook all of the details of their life, their likes and dislikes, the clearer you will see who they really are. They’ll probably surprise you, and definitely teach you some things about yourself!
The process journal is my bible. It’s where I go when I’m lost and need to get grounded in my characters and their stories. Look at your family of characters, how they are related to each other, how what they want and what they (eventually) discover they need relates to the plot and the overarching themes of the book. The more time you invest in your process journal, the bigger the payoff will be on the pages of your novel.
Amy: A worry for many writers is how people who know them will react to their writing that was in some way derived from their own lives. Did you worry about this? If so, how did you overcome it to write the book?
Jen: Well, that’s why I wrote fiction instead of memoir! The beauty of fiction is that even if you begin basing your characters on real people, they grow into quite different people.
When I began writing this book I did worry that my mom would see herself in Rachel’s mercurial mother. But when my mom read the book, she related to Rachel who had a miscarriage that colored the way she loved her husband. I didn’t realize that through the process of writing this book, I was working on finding empathy and compassion for my mom.
Jennifer Haupt went to Rwanda as a journalist in 2006, twelve years after the genocide that wiped out over one million people, to explore the connections between forgiveness and grief. She spent a month interviewing survivors and humanitarian aid workers, and returned to Seattle with something unexpected: the bones of a novel. Haupt’s essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Rumpus, Spirituality & Health, Psychology Today, Travel & Leisure, The Sun and many other publications. In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills is her first novel.
Psychology Today blog, “One True Thing”: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing