Today I welcome author David L. Heaney to my blog. His debut novel, A Yorkie’s Tale: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived, came out in October 2017.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have had, what I think, is a really interesting life. I hope it will continue to be as interesting as it has been so far. I grew up for the most part outside New York City during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. I look back on my life during that time and like so many others wonder how I survived. It was wonderful but crazy.
I had no idea what I wanted when I went to college so initially majored in English then discovered philosophy and loved speculative metaphysics even as the area was gradually falling out of favor with contemporary philosophers. I went to Yale Divinity School mostly to study philosophy with no intention of pursuing the ministry. I was diverted toward the ministry after working with chronically and terminally ill persons at a large New Haven Hospital. There was a clarity (and an intensity) it engendered that I loved. The literary critic, Anatole Broyard wrote about this when he was dying of prostate cancer. He said for the first time in his life he had a real deadline and it brought everything into a laser-like focus.
I spent 20 years as a parish priest (Episcopal), probably unfairly dragging my wife and four kids along.
During this time I also pursued another degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and after leaving parish work practiced and taught for a couple of years. I landed next with a large publicly traded company working on outsourced government public assistance programs and climbed up the corporate ladder. I ended up doing international business development for the company working with governments all over the world. I lived in Israel and later London as part of this job. I had a great time.
More recently, I have quieted down and have created with a London-based business partner a boutique-consulting firm that offers advisory services to government services firms seeking to enter the international market. This occupies relatively little of my time so I have time now to write. I just finished A Yorkie’s Tale a few months back and am now working on several new writing projects.
Where were you born and where do you call home?
I spent most of my adult life in Southern California but moved to Durham, North Carolina four years ago. I’m very happy in Durham. My wife works with Duke Medicine. The Chapel Hill/Durham area of course has a number of great universities and that enriches the quality of life.
How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
My writing is in many ways autobiographical even though the characters in my first book are animals. The thoughts that trouble them, what makes them laugh, and so forth are really different parts of who I am, I suppose. A Yorkie’s Tale deals with big issues of meaning and mortality, and what is really most important in life. Every character is generally a mosaic that includes parts of me as well as those who I have encountered over a lifetime.
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?
I have started two books. The first I am well into but am struggling with whether it is heading in the right direction. The story involves an adolescent boy whose imaginary friend from childhood seeks him out for a special task. The story explores belief and unbelief. We cannot see what we refuse to believe is possible. When we believe, really believe anything is possible a whole alternate world is opened to us.
The illustrator who did the illustrations for my first book spoke to me about loving to draw foxes, so I have also started a story about foxes. It is a love story with some mystical elements.
Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I try to write a little bit every day but when it’s not coming easily, I’m prone to distractions. I still do a little bit of consulting, and its hard for me to lock myself away and just write and write. Annie Dillard, whose writing I have always loved, wrote about trying to just get a page written each day. You can see in her writing how she labors over every word being just right. That’s why her work is so rich.
So I write every morning until maybe noon. I may come back to it later in the afternoon. In between I try to make a little money.
What fuels you as an author to continue to write?
I think it’s just the act of creating that drives me to write. What keeps me writing is the relationship I form with the work I am creating. This includes developing the characters, the place where the story takes place. You get to know all these things and as the story evolves, I go back to them adding detail. I heard a writer on NPR say that you create intimacy by adding detail and that continues to inform my own writing.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
It’s not necessary to save everything you write because when you are older you are going to read some of it and think, “What the hell?!” I wouldn’t really say that. Writers need to be nurtured and how one offers counsel in such a way that it can be heard and assimilated is important. I’d tell my younger self the more you write the more you will want to write and the more you write, the better you will get.
Please tell us about your current release.
A YORKIE’S TALE; LESSONS FROM A LIFE WELL-LIVED tells the story of a nine year old Yorkie named Niles with dim vision and a chronic cough who lives comfortably with his owners, Mama and MAN. During the summer Niles would sneak into the backyard after dinner to see if any avocadoes had fallen from the neighbor’s tree. One evening he encounters Nathaniel, a fruit rat who walks along the telephone wires strung along the alley. Nathaniel wonders how Niles can be content living in his little world the size of his backyard. Nathaniel sees things and is worldly. But Nathaniel did not understand what he saw when he witnessed a family burying their cat. Indeed he was alarmed and tells Niles about this. The two of them later encounter the possum, Leach who tells them the cat was dead and then demonstrates by playing possum. The two are shaken by the news that they don’t go on forever and wonder what they should be doing with their lives. This sets in motion Niles escape to join Nathaniel on a journey to answer the question, If we all die, how should we then live? They meet a number of other creatures each with a unique set of important truths. Niles receives guidance in his dreams when visited by the cat, Deheune who speaks cryptically yet guides him to the truths he seeks. Without being preachy, the book focuses on the importance of friendship, compassion, self-awareness, and imagination.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was living in London away from home on a long-term business assignment when I started it. We had a Yorkie named Niles who, in fact, did sneak avocados. We had no idea why he was getting so fat. And of course there were fruit rat and possums that visited, as well as a flock of beautiful Conures (parrots) that would visit and chatter. All of these made it into the book. The setting is San Diego and many people will recognize this from the descriptions.
Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?
My favorite character is the possum, Leach. He is eccentric and a little bit magical, and always disarming. My least favorite character is a little boy named Miles who snatches Niles when he is sick and has been hidden by his friends. The boy is very needy and tries to compel the Yorkie to love him, which of course, is unsuccessful.
Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?
It is when Niles falls ill. He has a series of dreams or visions but this one is especially frightening. It’s kind of the dark night of the soul moment where he, in fact, discovers his soul. And this was difficult to write because I felt like I wanted to write for all ages and the dark night is a complicated matter. How do you talk about an existential crisis to an adolescent? So, I’m not entirely sure I was successful.
Many of the issues the book attempts to explore are complex so my hope is the reader will be able to take away something useful to them based on their unique experience and developmental stage.
Do you have an all time favorite book?
I have always loved JD Salinger’s FRANNY AND ZOOEY. I taught a class on Psychotherapy and Spirituality some years back for a graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy and used it as one of the principal course books. Part of the reason I think I like it so much is that it explores longing and the flailing about we go through as we attempt to figure out just exactly why we are so restless.
Niles, an aging Yorkie, has led a pampered life with his two loving owners and knows nothing of death. When his new friend Nathaniel, an inquisitive fruit rat, shares the puzzling tale of a family burying a sleeping cat, Niles’s life begins to really change. Another neighborhood critter, an eccentric possum called Leach, explains to the two befuddled creatures that the cat wasn’t simply sleeping it was dead.
Shaken by this revelation, Niles and Nathaniel decide they need to do something meaningful with their lives but what? They resolve to venture outside Niles s backyard, and with the help of Poppy, a friendly parrot, and guided by cryptic messages from a cat Niles encounters in his dreams, they begin to seek out answers.
Their travels take them from their own neighborhood through a canyon right to the edge of the ocean. Along the way, they encounter and benefit from the wisdom shared by others the seagulls, dolphins, and a visionary gorilla about the mysteries of life, and the grace that comes from living well unafraid of their own mortality.
About the Author
David L. Heaney has spent his career helping individuals and organizations discover and pursue their own special transformational paths. He received a bachelor s degree from State University of New York at Purchase, a master s degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of San Diego, and a master s degree from the Divinity School at Yale University.
Heaney has served as a parish minister, psychotherapist, and instructor with the University of San Diego s Marital and Family Therapy program. His work over the course of nearly twenty years as an Episcopal pastor and family systems therapist has given him great insight into the psychological, spiritual, and social factors that drive individuals, families, and communities. He is cofounder of the Social Assistance Partnership, an entity that assists health and human-service organizations.
Heaney lives with his wife, Lynda, and their three dogs in Durham, North Carolina.
You can purchase A Yorkie’s Tale: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived on Amazon.