By Fiona Morgan, the Advocate-Messenger, March 1, 2022
Local author Heather Henson is releasing a young adult novel called “Wrecked” with Simon and Schuster publishing company on March 22.
Henson, who is managing director at Pioneer Playhouse, has written mainly children’s books for 20 years. “Wrecked” is only her second young adult novel, the first being in the beginning of her career.
“Wrecked” is a more mature story than others she’s written. It’s a romantic thriller about three teens in rural Kentucky who deal with difficult times, first love and drug use.
The book alternates between three main characters’ first person narration. Teenager Miri, who grew up in the knobs of Kentucky, struggles with her father, who cooks crystal methamphetamine. Her childhood friend Clay has been on his own since his mother went to prison for cooking meth.
Miri starts a relationship with newcomer Fen, who moved to Kentucky from Detroit. Fen likes to record ambient sound and create soundscapes as an art form. Henson said “Wrecked” is a gritty, real story about family secrets and mystery, troubled relationships, and meth addiction.
“What I love about ‘Wrecked’ is that it has a strong female character; she rides a motorcycle, she knows how to fix a motorcycle, and is really good with her hands,” she said.
Henson said the story is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.” In the play, a father and his daughter became shipwrecked on an island and stayed there for 12 years. The father, who was betrayed by his brother, eventually uses dangerous magical powers to get revenge on the people who sent them to the island.
“Wrecked” parallels the relationship between the father who has dangerous magic and the daughter who struggles with what to do in her situation. The themes are loss, revenge, and love.
“The storm that wrecks them is a huge theme of the book, so that’s why this is called ‘Wrecked,’” Henson explained. “It’s kind of a riff on ‘The Tempest’ and the wreck that happens in the first part of the play.”
“The Tempest” has always been one of Henson’s favorite Shakespeare plays, and she had been wanting to retell the story’s basic essence for a long time.
One of her children’s books, “That Book Woman,” tells about pack horse librarians in Kentucky who would go into mountains and bring books to kids. She wanted to focus on Kentucky’s unique rural locations.
“I became very interested in finding little bits of Kentucky history that hadn’t really been talked about in children’s books,” Henson said.
Another book, “Here’s How I See It, Here’s How It Is,” was inspired by Henson’s own life growing up in Pioneer Playhouse. The story is about a girl growing up in a summer stock theater who wants to be an actress. In the book, that theater is putting on “The Tempest,” and the story focuses on that play.
Still wanting to do more with “The Tempest,” Henson toyed with the idea of setting her novel in a post-apocalyptic world. But instead of being stranded somewhere with no actual escape, Henson set her story in an isolated part of Kentucky with a feeling of no escape.
Henson has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in creative writing. She worked at Harper and Row publishing company, now called HarperCollins, as an editor of children’s books.
She never had a desire to write children’s books until working with children’s authors. After realizing she couldn’t work full time and devote herself to writing at the same time, Henson quit to become a freelance writer.
Her recent books include “The Whole Sky,” “Dream of Night,” “Lift Your Light a Little Higher,” “Grumpy Grandpa,” among others.
“Wrecked” will be sold everywhere books are sold, both in bookstores and online at sites like Amazon. Henson said she wants to especially support independent bookstores.
She will have a launch party at Plaid Elephant, an independent children’s bookstore in Danville, on March 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. People can pre-order the book on Plaid Elephant’s website at plaidelephantbooks.com/heather-henson.
Henson, who just left the board of the Boyle County Library after 10 years, is also planning events for the library surrounding the book. She is working to coordinate a workshop where people can learn how to create soundscapes, which the character Fen does in her book.
Henson said that Director of Arts Education at the Danville Schools Jane Dewey is teaching a class at Centre College where they are using her book. Students in the class are learning to teach literature to high school students. Those students will be teaching about “Wrecked” to students at Danville High School.
Those events will take place in mid-April.
Bobbie Curd of the Danville Advocate-Messenger, Heather Henson’s hometown newspaper, has written a terrific in-depth profile and discussion of The Whole Sky.
Heather Henson can cite various inspirations for her new book for middle school readers, “The Whole Sky.” Her second book involving horses, it’s not a true story — but was inspired by true events.
Back in 2001, more than 500 thoroughbred foals died on farms in Kentucky from Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS), with the cause of it a mystery for a long time.
“As far as I know, there was no one person (like Sky Doran, the main character in the book) who ultimately helped connect the dots and solve the MRLS mystery; there was no one girl who talked to horses,” Henson says. “But I’m a writer, so I like to imagine that there was — or is.”
One of the reasons Henson began writing about horses — her first book about them was published in 2010, “Dream of Night,” also for middle school readers — is actually because her editor suggested it.
“I’d just moved home to Kentucky after living in New York City and Brooklyn for 17 years, and I was talking to my editor at Atheneum/Simon and Schuster about book ideas and also describing living on a farm and seeing horses every day —so different from my city life. She suggested that I think about writing a novel that was literary but would also appeal to young horse lovers. She felt that since I had moved back to the middle of horse country I would be able to tap into that world, and she was right.”
Read the entire article on the AmNews website….
Heather talks about her new book, LIFT YOUR LIGHT A LITTLE HIGHER, coming in September, 2016!
Q: What’s LIFT YOUR LIGHT A LITTLE HIGHERabout?
A: It tells the story of a man named Stephen Bishop who was a slave in Kentucky. He was born around 1821 and brought as a teenager by his master to Mammoth Cave, which was already a big tourist destination in the early 1800s, if you can believe it! People all over the world became fascinated with this enormous cave in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky – as they should have been! We now know that it’s the longest cave system in the world.
Q: Why this story?
A: When I moved back to Kentucky, I took my kids to Mammoth Cave, a place I had visited with my parents as a child. I loved going down into the earth, loved the weirdness and vastness of this underground world. I felt immediately that there were stories down there. I learned about the slaves who were guides and I learned about a group of people who had been brought to live in the cave because their doctor thought the constant cool temperature would cure their tuberculosis – which it didn’t! Most of them died. I knew I had to write about the cave.
Q: How did you focus on Stephen Bishop?
A: A friend and fellow Kentucky writer named Elizabeth Orndorff had written a play called DEATH BY DARKNESS, which was produced at my family’s summer stock theater (that’s another story!) One of the main characters in the play was Stephen Bishop, and I became fascinated by him. I started doing research, although there wasn’t a huge amount since Stephen was a slave and often records were not kept. And since it was against the law for slaves to read or write, sadly we do not have an account of Stephen’s story in his own words.
Q: Why did you choose to tell the story from Stephen’s point of view?
A: All my stories are character driven. When I sit down to write, I may know what I want to write about, but I’m not sure exactly how I’ll tell the story until a character starts speaking to me. I actually first wrote a draft of the book from the perspective of the cave! But I didn’t feel like it worked for kids – I wanted them to feel as engaged about the history and place as I was. When I went back to start a second draft, Stephen Bishop’s voice came to me loud and clear. Right away I knew I was on the right path.
Q: What made Stephen so important to the cave?
A: There were several slave guides, but Stephen became the best known from around 1838 to 1857. Writers of the day who visited the cave mention Stephen’s eloquence and intelligence, his deep knowledge of the cave, his important discoveries.
Stephen was the first to draw a map of the cave and the first to cross the “Bottomless Pit” – a huge chasm that had stopped other explorers. He was the first to discover a new species of eyeless fish and albino crawdads found only in the underground rivers of Mammoth Cave.
Stephen Bishop was an amazing explorer, and yet he never got the credit he deserved because he was a slave.
Q: What happened to Stephen?
A: He married, he had a child. He was promised freedom by his master, but it came only the year before he died. What I find so strange is that we don’t know anything about his death. He was only 37, which is young even for back then. He’d been free for a year. He was loved, he was respected, he was such an important part of Mammoth Cave — they buried him near the original entrance. And yet, we don’t know how he died.
Q: What do you want kids to learn from this book?
A: In most of my picture books, I write about pieces of history that have been forgotten or lost. I want kids to understand that there are other stories out there, amazing stories, beyond what’s taught in history books. History is made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Q: Stephen talks about learning to read and write in the cave. Is this part true?
A: According to my research, it is. As I said, it was against the law for slaves to read or write. But white visitors to the cave liked to have their names written on the cave walls and ceilings –historical graffiti! They don’t allow it today! They used a long taper with a candle attached and the flame would burn a line so they could write. Many of the slaves, including Stephen learned to read and write this way, from watching and helping.
Q: The importance of reading was a big part of your last picture book, THAT BOOK WOMAN. Are these books connected?
A: Yes! Reading is hugely important to me. It’s what I love doing the most (if I’m not writing.) In THAT BOOK WOMAN, a young boy surprises himself and his family by learning to love books and reading through the perserverence of one brave book woman. In LIFT YOUR LIGHT, Stephen longs to read and write, but it’s denied to him, so he learns the only way he can.
Q: Any last words about LIFT YOUR LIGHT?
A: I believe there are so many stories out there – stories of people who have been marginalized thorughout history, stories that are so important for us to know, stories that make us who and what we are today. In this book I try to imagine a life from a few written descriptions, from a few facts. In this book, I try to imagine what Stephen Bishop, Cave Explorer and Guide, would have to say to us if history – if slavery — had not silenced him.
I almost forgot to post this! It’s a video of me, talking about my books and my writing career, and it’s up on the Simon & Schuster Web site as part of their Authors Point of View series. Hope you like it!