It's the Little things

BY CONOR MCBRIEN | JULY 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf (The Weight of Silence, One Breath Away) will read from her new book, Little Mercies, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque.

Little Mercies follows two characters, social-worker Ellen Moore and 10-year-old Jenny Briard.

Moore, also a mother, has her world shaken up when she finds herself at the mercy of the system in which she has worked for years, but she has never seen the other side of it. Meanwhile, Jenny drifts motherless through the Midwest alone, having only a few dollars and her wits about her. The worlds of these two characters collide, and it may be the best thing that’s happened to either of them, even if they don’t know it.

This isn’t the first time Gudenkauf has worked with Prairie Lights. It sponsored her for the Iowa City Book Festival and worked with her during an event at North Liberty Public Library.

“We contacted her to ask if she could come to Prairie Lights this summer to read from her new book after she visited us for an in-house Midwest Independent Booksellers Association meeting last March,” said Prairie Lights events coordinator Kathleen Johnson. “She talked about Little Mercies and didn’t just read — she spoke passionately about her characters, what it meant to be the mother to a child. She was a really good speaker.”

As a mother of three, Gudenkauf is able to bring a caring and parental tone to her work.

“You read in the paper about people who leave their children locked in a hot car, and you never get the story of what was really going on with them,” Johnson said. “Heather Gudenkauf writes novels about issues like this.”

Although her books primarily focus on subjects such as parenthood, she defines the content of work as “regular people in extraordinary circumstances,” Gudenkauf said. Despite extraordinary circumstances, she said she “hopes through my writing that readers identify with my characters.”

Gudenkauf, a UI College of Education graduate living in Dubuque, first got into serious writing in the summer of 2006. She was a third-grade teacher, very interested in writing and wanted to pursue a career in it.

“As an educator, [teachers such as myself] are continually encouraging our students to follow their dreams,” she said. “I decided to follow my own advice.”

Her first novel, The Weight of Silence, was published in 2009. This attracted the attention of current editor Erika Imranyi, the executive editor at Harlequin MIRA, an imprint of Harlequin.

Little Mercies is the first book Imranyi has edited for Gudenkauf.

“What strikes me the most about Heather is her authenticity, both as a writer and a person,” Imranyi said. “Her characters are real and relatable, and they resonate deeply with readers — that’s not an easy thing to achieve as a writer.”

Imranyi and Gudenkauf will work together again as Gudenkauf begins her next book, scheduled for publication in 2016. Meanwhile, she will continue her book tour this summer.

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