Hilary Hauck of From Ashes to Song: “Find your writing tribe”

Find your writing tribe. Find other writers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and want you to succeed. For me, this was Pennwriters. Writing is not competitive like some industries. Readers read many books, so if you and I write in the same genres, our readers will likely read both of our books, they won’t just pick one. […]

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Find your writing tribe. Find other writers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and want you to succeed. For me, this was Pennwriters. Writing is not competitive like some industries. Readers read many books, so if you and I write in the same genres, our readers will likely read both of our books, they won’t just pick one.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hilary Hauck. Hilary is the author of From Ashes to Song, her debut novel. A writer and translator, her work has appeared in the Mindful Writers Retreat Series anthologies, the Ekphrastic Review, Balloons Lit. Journal, and the Telepoem Booth. She moved to Italy from her native UK as a young adult, where she mastered the language, learned how to cook food she can no longer eat, and won a karate championship. After meeting her husband, Hilary came to the US and drew inspiration from Pennsylvania coal history, which soon became the setting for her debut novel. Hilary is Chair of the Festival of Books in the Alleghenies, past president of Pennwriters, and a graduate of RULE. She lives on a small patch of woods in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, one of their three adult children, a cat with a passion for laundry, and an oversized German Shepherd called Hobbes — of the Calvin variety.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I feel I was always meant to write. Growing up, I’d make up stories constantly, narrating them or acting them out. My favorite memory is from family summers spent island hopping in Greece. Whenever we’d be on a boat, I’d hang over the side telling stories about the sea fairies who lived in a sparkling, sapphire water kingdom. It was quite the epic fantasy series. As a teenager, I had an idea for a novel. I remember how exhilarating it felt to write chapter one, but then I hit a roadblock, namely chapter two. I didn’t have a lack of ideas, but I just didn’t know enough about the world in order to write it. Instead of researching, I threw in the towel and pledged to pick back up the reins when I was ‘old and wise’, say forty years old. True to my pledge, in my late thirties — though I didn’t feel old at all — I began my second attempt at becoming a novelist.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

To research for the novel, I went on an epic trip to Italy with the daughter and granddaughter of the people who inspired my characters. Irene, the daughter, was already in her eighties. We spent time with relatives of Pietro, Assunta, and Nandy in their hometowns of San Damiano d’Asti and Bussolengo, once a village but now a suburb of Verona — a glorious time of great company, good food, and heaps of family stories. A highlight of the trip was hearing Irene speaking in the dialect that her parents would have spoken back in the day.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge was myself. I suffered from what I now know to be imposter syndrome, a deep conviction that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t have what it takes to succeed. I remember meeting an author and trying to tell her I was a writer. It was cringe-worthy. I just couldn’t get the words out. It was a simple statement, yet one of the hardest things I’ve ever said.

I still get imposter syndrome, but now I control it, it doesn’t control me. I can push it out of the way and get on with what matters, namely writing.

If there is a magic formula I can share with others, I would say it is in community. I could not have done it alone. I found my writing community in Pennwriters, an organization that values support, mutual growth, and success just as much as knowledge sharing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Probably the funniest thing was being corrected for using ‘Britishisms’ in pages I’d submitted for feedback ahead of a workshop. The instructor didn’t know I was British, but either way, he was right. If I’m writing for the US market, clearly I need to be consistent.

Another mistake was starting at the very beginning of the story, with my characters as children. I’ve since put a lot of time into learning story structure, and observing where other books start, and I’m happy to say that my current novel has had the same beginning for most of its existence. As for the Britishisms, I still need a US editor for those.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m currently working on the final revisions to my next novel, called The Things We’ll Never Have. It takes place in 1964 in the UK and Italy and is full of twists, as three women whose lives have been impacted by the loss of a man they love cross paths. From Ashes to Song was inspired by a true story, this is entirely fiction, I came up with the storyline on a motorbike trip to the Adirondacks.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

One of the stories readers seem to be enjoying is about chickens. They get into some pickles that had been thrown out and gone bad. The pickle juice had actually turned to alcohol, so the chickens are passed out drunk. Given up for dead, they’re plucked, only to wake up from their drunken stupor featherless. This really did happen.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

“You can.”

Pietro is truly gifted, but his music falters just out of reach. He traps himself by thinking that he’s ‘just’ a coal miner, what right does he have to think he can be a composer, too?

At first glance, it might seem like the harsh environment of a coal mining town limits him, but it becomes clear that he is limited by his own fear and insecurity, the negative narrative in his head.

It is only when he begins to believe in his gift and take charge of his life that he’s able to write the song he was always meant to write, and life begins to flourish. Like any of us, he doesn’t need to be famous to be extraordinary.

An author has no control over what people take away from the story, but I fervently wish that someone, somewhere, will be inspired to overcome their own fear and insecurity, and realize that they can — whatever their dream might be.

Based on your experience, what are the 5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author? Please share a story or example for each.

Study the craft of writing. Just as you would study brush strokes before you become a painter, you need to know how the tools of fiction work in order to write stories people will clammer to read.

Find your writing tribe. Find other writers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and want you to succeed. For me, this was Pennwriters. Writing is not competitive like some industries. Readers read many books, so if you and I write in the same genres, our readers will likely read both of our books, they won’t just pick one.

Write like it doesn’t matter. Don’t be afraid of a messy first draft, we all do it, we rewrite and revise. A messy first draft can be edited, a blank page cannot. Write even as you begin to learn the craft.

Write regularly. Aim to write every day, even if it’s just a paragraph.

Show up. If there’s a local writers’ group, if there are events in the community, if other authors are doing events, show up. You never know what connections you’ll make, what knowledge you’ll learn. You’ll see what others are doing and create an idea of how you personally will run the business side of things before your books are in print. After all, you wouldn’t show up for a race without training. As you build your business toolset, you’ll also find friends, and have a lot of fun.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

The habit that has contributed the most to me getting this far is daily habit. A dear friend, the late Ramona Long, taught me the practice of writing for an hour every day. She called it the daily sprint, and recommended doing it first thing in the morning, so no matter what you do for the rest of the day, you’ve already spent an hour doing what you love most.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I read across genres and try to learn from every story, every author. I’d say the individual authors that have influenced me the most have been John Steinbeck and Neil Gaiman. They both understand the human condition so well and are so creative as they reveal the deeper, darker sides of human nature that we don’t always want to talk about. That’s what I think is so important about books, they are the nearest thing we have to a manual on how to be human.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

How about we all be mandated to live with a family from a different socio-economic and ethnic background, and a month with a family in a different country. Like spending time alongside a character in a book, it would give us insight into other people’s struggles, challenges, and successes, generating (one would hope) understanding and empathy. I’d like to think we’d discover how much more we have in common than what divides us.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I love to connect with readers! I’m active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I also invite people to join me on my quest to uncover stories by subscribing to #storyeverywhere on my website at hilaryhauck.com.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hilaryhauckwrites/

Blog: http://www.hilaryhauck.com/storyeverywhere/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hilary_hauck/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HilaryHauck

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