July's Local Author Profile - Andrea Hulshult
As a child who loved the written word, Liberty Township author Andrea Hulshult composed poetry and fiction to satisfy her passion for storytelling.
She couldn’t have foreseen the day when her lifelong love of writing would become a source of solace in the face of personal tragedy, let alone materialize in the form of her first novel.
Yet years later “Fighting the Fog,” Hulshult’s 2014 novel about the grieving widow of a slain Green Beret, became the therapy she needed to endure a tragic period in her own life.
“I was motivated by personal grief to write it,” recalls Hulshult, Assistant Professor in the Computer and Information Technology Department at Miami University. “In an 18-month time frame, I lost my grandmother, stepfather, and a friend. Writing has always been my therapy, so I decided to write a novel where the main character is grieving the loss of her husband. I worked through my own grieving process as I developed my main character, Mel.”
Hulshult had another motive for writing the novel : “to help others grieve and to provide hope.”
The result was the story of 30-year-old Melanie “Mel” Alexander, whose life is “immediately engulfed in a black fog” when her Green Beret husband is killed in action. She “quits her promising career as a special agent tracking missing people and retreats to her Washington, D.C. brownstone to mourn.” A new job as a private investigator with her best friend, Kai, and a work trip to Costa Rica may be just what Mel needs to “live and love again.” *
It seems only natural that Hulshult would write a novel with a military/government theme and Washington, D.C. as the backdrop. The former Baltimore, Maryland, resident says she “fell in love” with the nation’s capital because it “fills me with inspiration and hope, which is why I set my novel there...If you look closely at my book cover, the skyline of D.C. wraps around the bottom of it.”
Hulshult has always been fascinated by early American history. She says she’s “mesmerized by the story of our Founding Fathers and the birth of America.” The granddaughter of two World War II veterans, Hulshult has “always felt great respect for the men and women who serve” this country.
Regarding the Green Berets and special agents who populate her novel, Hulshult admits she’s “not entirely sure of my motivation for bringing them in to my story. I think I secretly wanted to be one,” she muses. “That is what I love about writing -- you can live any life you wish.”
Before she started writing “Fighting the Fog” Hulshult spent six months researching special agents, special forces, and the locales in which her characters would travel. “I read books, blog sites, websites, and looked at pictures,” Hulshult says. “I am a writer whose craft is inspired by art, photography, and the world around me, so I learned quite a bit from just looking at pictures and imagining myself there.”
Hulshult is also influenced by her favorite authors, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, David McCullough, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and Margaret Atwood. “I love how they tell a story and develop their characters. I love how they make me feel as I read their stories. I want my readers to feel the same way about my books,” she says.
Writing was a labor of love for this proud “first-generation student” with a bachelor of arts degree in English from the College of Mount St. Joseph, a master of arts in English from the University of Dayton, and a Doctorate of Education in Career and Technical Education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“For me, the hardest part is starting a story,” the author admits. For “Fighting the Fog” Hulshult forced herself to write every day “no matter how I felt...By forcing myself to type without stopping for an hour, I would end up with content I could use. Sometimes an hour turned into two or four or six. It took me eighteen months to type the first draft of the manuscript after my six months of research.”
Hulshult was “quite obsessed about writing,” she recalls. “I would carry my laptop wherever I went and I would type anywhere I was -- in a long line at a store, at a practice for one of my children, in the carpool lane. My advice is just to put your fingers on the keys.”
Distractions are not welcome while writing, the author declares. Although she may occasionally listen to music or look at art “to be inspired...I try not to,” Hulshult says. She does not watch TV or movies or read books that aren’t related to her research. “I don’t want anything to influence my writing.”
Hulshult says she never writes a story from beginning to end. “I start by telling the parts of the story I imagine in my mind, then I piece it all together. It is a difficult process but it works for me.”
Hulshult reads her first draft “word for word to see how the story makes me feel.” Then she checks for “glaring errors” like mistakes in plot and character development, reviews the flow of the story and makes sure she didn’t “give something away too early.” Eventually an editor reads her manuscript and makes suggestions.
Interestingly, deadlines don’t motivate Hulshult. “They provide pressure that may negatively influence my writing,” she explains.
For Hulshult, publishing is the “least favorite part of the writing process. I prefer just to write. With the two new novels I am currently working on, I plan on going the self-publishing route with at least one of them…”
Publishing, she says, “has drastically changed over the last five or so years. Today authors have many more options now instead of just sending out inquiry letters and hoping to get a publishing contract.” They “have to be very knowledgeable about all the options for publishing, including traditional, small press, self-publishing, indie, etc...Besides publishing, authors also have to know how to market their books through traditional channels and social media platforms.”
After taking a four-year hiatus from composing fiction to work on her doctorate and dissertation, “I am just getting back into the rhythm of writing for myself,” Hulshult says.
She’s currently working on two novels that she hopes to publish “in the next few years.”
One is a sequel to “Fighting the Fog” that follows the story of Mel and Kai. The other is inspired by the real-life story of a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) officer wrongly accused of a crime and sent to prison. Hulshult has met that officer. Her novel “is not his story or his experience, but the main character goes through something similar. I am about one-third of the way done with this manuscript,” she says.
“When my brain and heart have a story to tell, I have learned to write it or it never goes away.”
* Adapted from the cover of Fighting the Fog, published in 2014 by Tate Publishing & Enterprises, Mustang, Oklahoma.
Andrea Hulshult’s advice for aspiring authors :
“If you have a story to tell, write it. Just sit down and start typing.”
“Do not worry about how [your story] sounds or reads at first. Just type the story.”
“Write as a form of therapy for stress, anxiety, grief, etc. Just write!”
Find a writing group like the one that meets at MidPointe Library West Chester. “Writers need other writers. It helps to make connections, get feedback, and be with people who understand the craft of writing.”
Repeat all of the above.
MidPointe Library welcomes local authors who need a place to write, do research, and-or meet as a group in any of its locations : Middletown, West Chester, Trenton and Monroe. A new branch will open this fall at Liberty Center in Liberty Township. Contact MidPointe Library for information.