(BA ’92) is a New York Times
bestselling author. It’s been a few years since her first book came out and rose up the charts, but those words still have a nice ring to them.
Her debut novel, The Weight of Silence
(2009), is now being read in 20 countries and almost as many languages. It earned her an Edgar Award
nomination for a best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was chosen as a Book Club Choice on an Oprah-style television program in London.
The book received enthusiastic reviews.
Tess Gerritsen, a bestselling author of The Keepsake
, wrote, “Deeply moving and exquisitely lyrical, this is a powerhouse of a debut novel. Heather Gudenkauf is one of those rare writers who can tell a tale with the skill of a poet while simultaneously cranking up the suspense until it’s unbearable.”
Following the success of her first novel, Gudenkauf published These Things Hidden
(2011), which also earned her a spot on the New York Times Best Seller list and is available in 15 countries. Her third novel, One Breath Away
, will come out this summer.
Gudenkauf, who serves as the Title I reading coordinator for the Dubuque Community School District
in her day job, said her love of writing stems from a love of reading. As a child, she could be found tucked inside a toy box with a blanket, pillow, book, and flashlight.
“Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve loved to read and loved to read far and wide over all different kinds of genres,” she said. “I began as a reader and that eventually led to my interest in writing.”
Gudenkauf’s had a diverse career in education. She’s been an elementary and special-needs teacher, instructional coach, and literacy coach for the Dubuque Community School District, where she worked closely with teachers on curriculum and professional development.
Susan Meehan, principal of Dubuque’s Jones Hand-in-Hand School told the East Dubuque Register
that Gudenkauf’s work with teachers and schools as she supports them in the improvement process is superb.
“Heather is an insightful and intuitive educator,” Meehan said. “She is a quiet leader and as she guides teachers,
their respect for her is so apparent. She is extremely talented, yet humble enough to never make others feel inferior. You would be in awe of Heather in an elementary classroom, but she is equally as welcoming and warm in her work with adult learners too.”
Gudenkauf credits the variety of educational experiences as the biggest influence for the topics of her books.
“As an educator I have a great interest in children and their unique perspectives, so I knew I wanted to write a story that highlighted families and children’s issues and social issues. That really developed into my first novel.” These Things Hidden
deals with child abuse. Her second novel focuses on the safe-haven law, which provides safe places for young women to drop off their babies without fear of prosecution. One Breath Away
is about family dynamics.”
To learn more about Gudenkauf and her writing, visit www.heathergudenkauf.com
(BS ’89) often starts her writing process on a long walk with her dog, Coach. Then she’ll spend time journaling about her ideas.
“It’s almost like I’m talking to myself,” she said. “I write and develop my characters, try to figure out the conflict. That can take a lot of time. It can take years.”
Once she can see her story running in her mind like a movie, she sits down at the computer to type. After that comes the revising and rewriting.
“I write my stories many times, many versions,” she said.
But Moser, a children’s author, has found ways to make her work more collaborative and to engage with friends who have more to say than faithful Coach.
Moser is a writing mentor and is part of two writing groups. She said the opportunity to share her work and critique other’s work is wonderful.
“It’s such an integral part of the journey and a joyful one, too,” she said.
This year she is serving as the picturebook mentor for the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI
“Picturebook writers who had not had a book published yet submitted manuscripts for consideration, then a panel and I selected the winner,” she said. “I’ve been working and helping the winner, and it’s been a wonderful time of teaching, critiquing, encouraging, and connecting. I love giving back to others in the same kind, generous way that I received from the writing community.”
Moser, who taught fifth grade at Colonial Hills Elementary
in Worthington, Ohio, took her first step toward becoming a published children’s author when she moved to Wisconsin with her family and took a course led by author–illustrator Gretchen Mayo.
Mayo was so impressed with Moser that she invited her former student to join a writing group with her.
“It was purely for selfish reasons,” Mayo said. “In class, Lisa had always shown terrific instincts for critiquing in most positive and helpful ways. I hoped for access to her insights regarding my writing for children.”
Mayo said working together can help writers face the daunting task of finding a publisher for their work.
“Their growing experience will allow each to look at a story with a more objective eye, since the story’s
originator has probably revised to the point of blindness,” she said. “It’s energizing to link arms around each other as each of us treks hopefully down the path to an editor’s overloaded desk.”
Moser has seen several of her books make a successful trek down that path. Her first books, Watermelon Wishes
and The Monster in the Backpack
, came out in 2006. She’s also published Squirrel’s World
, Kisses on the Wind
, and Perfect Soup
. She has three more slated for publication soon. Railroad Hank
will come out in September. Squirrel’s Fun Day
and Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope
will be on shelves in 2013.
Moser said she likes to capture the little moments in life and use them to share a message.
“The hope and dream is that every book that goes out into the world does goodness and brings goodness to children,” she said.
After finding success as an author, Moser formed another writing group with a handful of women she knew from her daughter’s preschool.
“I felt like I’d been given so much that I should give back,” she said. “This was a wonderful group of moms who wanted to write. They’re really coming into their own now where they’re seeing their first books coming out.”
Moser also shares her knowledge during author visits to classrooms and as a speaker at conferences for children’s authors.
Sara Akin, a member of Moser’s second writing group, said working with Moser is inspiring.
“She’s such a natural teacher, she is able to share honest, constructive thoughts in a most gracious manner,” Akin said. “In our group or in her presentations, she’s teaching her fellow authors. We are always learning from her.”
To learn more about Moser and her books, visit http://lisamoserbooks.com
Connie Corcoran Wilson
(BA ’67) said
her goal has been to “write one of everything.”
“So far, I’m on target to write humor, horror, children’s books, a screenplay, flash fiction, a scholarly work, nonfiction, interviews, film, book and play reviews, Op/Ed pieces, political reporting, straight news, and whatever else readers want to read,” she said. “I should wear a sandwich board that reads, ‘Will write for food.’”
Wilson got her first taste of writing for pay when she won a $50 poetry contest at age 10 and that’s all it took.
“I was simply hooked,” she said.
Her next writing job came when she was a sixth grader and the publisher of the local paper in Independence, Iowa, asked if she would do some interviews.
“I think he thought it would be ‘cute’ to have a child conducting interviews,” she said.
Her interviews started out simple, but her responsibilities grew over the years. At age 19, she interviewed author Kurt Vonnegut.
“What a great experience that silly ‘job’ turned out to be,” she said.
Wilson started out as a journalism major at the UI, but switched to English and earned her teaching credentials. She taught seventh- and eighth-grade language arts at Silvis (Ill.) Junior High School for 16 years.
Wilson left public-school teaching to work for Performance Learning Systems, Inc
. as an educational writer, writing the book, Training the Teacher as a Champion. In 1986, she founded Iowa’s second Sylvan Learning Center in Bettendorf. In 1995, she established the Prometric Testing Center, also in Bettendorf. Wilson served as CEO of both businesses until 2003, when she decided to return to writing fulltime.
“Writing is Chapter 3 of my life,” she said. “It’s something I always planned to return to.”
Wilson has written for print publications, blogs, and has 10 book titles available on Amazon. They span from a children’s book, The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats
, to a collection of her 1970s film reviews, It Came from the ‘70s: From the Godfather to Apocalypse Now
, to a horror book, Ghostly Tales of Route 66
Wilson said writing is “like breathing” to her, and her way of leaving her mark.
“After I’m gone, my grandkids can get a feeling for my sense of humor, my views on the films, my thoughts and tips on teaching, on politics, and on cats,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll decide that I was more interesting and involved with the world around me and more creative than the average grandma.”
To learn more about Wilson and her writing, visit www.conniecwilson.com. Dianne Moritz
(BA ’68) remembers adlibbing after reading a riddle book to her first-grade students in an inner-city, Los Angeles elementary school.
“One child shouted out, ‘I think Ms. Moritz’s riddles are funnier than the ones in the book!’” she said. “I thought, hmmm, maybe I have what it takes to write for kids.”
So, Moritz would often tell stories, write poems to use in conjunction with the curriculum, and encourage her students to write. She did a unit where her students made their own books.
“As a teacher, I was writing for kids on the job,” she said. “My students loved the things I wrote and appreciated my sense of humor and silliness.”
After 15 years in the classroom, Moritz decided to pursue a career as a writer fulltime. Starting in 1984, she took courses on writing, studied the picturebook market, and spent years writing, editing, and submitting picturebook manuscripts to publishers.
Success didn’t come overnight. Although she often published articles, stories, and poems along the way, she wasn’t having as much luck with her books. One manuscript was rejected 24 times.
But in 2011, she got what she was after and published her first picturebook: Hush, Little Beachcomber
, a play on the lullaby “Hush Little Baby.”
“After nearly 30 years, count them, 3-0, my book is in bookstores, libraries, and children’s hands around the country,” she said. “Practice, patience, and persistence have paid off.”
Moritz’s second book, 1,2,3 By the Sea
, will be out in 2013. Jacob Cummer
(BA ‘01/teaching certification’03) said his students inspired him to reconnect with his inner storyteller.
“Kids are storytellers,” he said. “Somewhere along the lines I think we lose it, but I have never met a kid who can’t spin one dandy of a yarn. All I’ve done is listen the last several years.”
Cummer was an elementary teacher in Iowa City until retiring from the profession last year to focus on his writing.
He has published two novels for young adults. Catching Crazy
(2009) is a story about a boy whose parents have recently divorced. The Crepuscular Crusaders
(2010) is a spooky story about a deadly creature called Ahuizotl.
Jean Tennant, of Shapato Publishing
, said Cummer’s writing is fun to read because he can get into the minds of his pre-teen characters.
“Of course I realize he was once a 12-year-old boy, but many writers lose the ability to effectively project themselves into their young characters—a problem Jacob hasn’t had,” she said.
Cummer earned his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Iowa and worked as a freelance writer before returning to earn his teaching certificate. He said he’s always loved books, but his time as a College of Education student allowed him to revisit children’s literature and discover his true passion.
“I couldn’t believe how I had let myself forget the magic of children’s literature over the years,” he said. “The passion was palpable and I guess I was an easy mark for getting totally swept up in it.”
Now that he’s creating children’s literature of his own, Cummer said his goal is to evoke emotion.
“Laughter, sadness, even fear—they’re all healthy and safe within the confines of those two covers,” he said. “I think we all turn to books to feel something. I just try to give kids a space to roam with their emotions, with characters they hopefully want to spend some time among.”
To learn more about Cummer and his books, visit www.jacobcummer.com.