H.M. Bouwman is the author of The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap, a middle-grade children’s novel (Marshall Cavendish, 2008) and A Crack in the Sea, (Putnam/Penguin Random House, 2017). An associate professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, she lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her two sons.
Q & A with H. M. Bouwman
1. Is your name really “H.M.”?
Yes. Well, sort of. Those are my initials. They stand for: Herbert Machiavelli. No, they don’t. They stand for Henrietta Muchness. No, they stand for Her Majesty. No, my name is Heather Marie. …or is it??
2. Are you a full time writer?
I’m a full time college professor and a full time mom of two kids, whom I homeschool. I write part time—but it’s a BIG part time! I love writing and it’s very important to me.
3. What do you do in your spare time?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Did you see the answer to question #2?
Seriously, though: I practice a traditional Korean martial art called Kuk Sool Won. I’ve been practicing it for 20 years now, and I’m currently testing for my fifth degree black belt (master level). I also love to read books (big surprise, yes?), bake fancy cakes and cookies, grow unusual tomatoes, help with coffee hour at my church (which allows me to bake cakes and cookies…), travel to see family and to explore cool places, and daydream. I daydream a LOT.
4. Martial arts, huh? Could you kick me in the head?
That really, really depends on how tall you are.
5. Okay, then. You sound busy. How do you get things done?
Have you read Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time? Or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? There are ways to get things done in limited amounts of time. You can learn a lot from reading children’s books.
Okay, seriously. I keep a VERY SIMPLE bullet journal and online calendar to help with scheduling and time management, I listen to a lot of audio books as I drive and cook, I rarely watch TV or go to movies, I sometimes don’t get enough sleep, and I have a house that might, on some days, qualify for FEMA relief funds. (In other words, I don’t clean much.) Also, my kids pitch in a LOT. The younger one does a lot of cooking, the older one does a lot of yard work, and they both do almost all of our laundry. And they are very self-directed on their homeschooling.
Also, I keep reminding myself of this truth: there is no such thing as the woman (or man) who can do everything. You have to pick and choose, sometimes on a daily basis.
7. When do you get your writing done?
It depends what I’m working on. When I’m drafting, I try to write at least a little bit every day, even it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes on a very busy day, to keep momentum going. (Other days I might write for 2 or 3 hours.) When I’m revising, I usually write for longer chunks at a time—I find it very hard to revise in super-short time periods. But I make do with the times I have. I do a lot of writing, for example, while my kids are taking classes.
8. Pencil, pen, magical wand, or . . . ?
Not a wand. As a muggle, I have to stick to my current system: laptop for most drafting; pen and journal for most planning and free writing; printout and pen for most revising. Then back to the computer again.
Before you ask the next question: I often write at home, usually with a cat or two on my lap or curled up next to me—or sitting on my hands as I try to type. I have a tiny laptop, so I curl up on the sofa or in the big green rocking chair, or I half-recline on several pillows in my bed if I’m feeling really wide-awake. (If I’m feeling sleepy, I don’t do that, as I might fall asleep instead of writing.) Other times I work in a coffee shop with writer friends or by myself with the quiet noise of the coffee shop keeping me company. Many days I write in odd locations (church basements, guitar shops, waiting rooms, my car) while my kids are at classes or appointments. If you’re going to be a writer, it’s a good idea to get used to writing in a lot of different places—that way, you have more opportunities to finish your book!
9. I was JUST ABOUT to ask “Where do you write?”
10. That reminds me of another question: do you have a music playlist you listen to as you write?
Nope. When I write, I like silence, the purring of cats, or the background ambiance of coffee shops and other impersonal places with lots of white noise.
11. You mention cats a lot.
Yes. Your point?
12. No point. Just noticing. Exactly how many do you own?
Currently: two. Total, over the years: five. But I don’t own them. They own me.
13. What advice would you give to a kid who wants to become a writer?
Read a lot of books, both books of the type you’d like to write and books that are really, really different from what you think you’d like to write. Easy comforting books and hard, challenging books. Books you agree with and books you disagree with. Characters you like and characters who annoy you. Books that you “get” the first time through and books that you have to read twice or more to really understand.
And write a lot! Start writing stories now. Write lots of stories (or poems, or essays, or whatever it is that you like to write). Finish some of the things you start—you’ll learn more from writing a whole novel than you will from writing ten first chapters.
Share some of your writing with your friends and with people you trust to give you good feedback. Revise some of your writing to make it better. You’ll love what you end up with: a better story or poem or essay.
Don’t think too much about publication. Writers who stick with it are, for the most part, writers who have learned to love the actual writing process, not writers who are constantly thinking about how and when they will get published. I do my best writing (and I am happiest) when I am thinking about telling a story, not when I am thinking about publishing.
Think of it this way: if you only loved winning marathons but hated actually running, would you be likely to win any marathons—or even make it to the finish line? And if you did manage to finish the race, wouldn’t you have spent a lot of training time being miserable, doing something you don’t love just for that brief moment of glory? If you’re going to be successful at running marathons you should learn to love the daily act of running. And if you’re going to write novels you should learn to love the daily act of writing.
14. Is there anything else I should ask you?
You should ask how much I love chocolate.
15. How much do you love chocolate?
It’s a food group.