From Essayist to Published Author: Meet RTC’s Heidi Jon Schmidt
on April 22nd, 2019
Ships of gold are sailing across my soul, Heidi thought while swinging her legs back and forth. It summed up her feelings at that very moment. She was fifteen, perched on a low branch of the willow tree beside the brook that ran behind her family home, tucked deep in the woods of Northwest Connecticut. A romantic, dramatic teenager, she let her thoughts run wild like the water beside her. She would spend her days picking up interesting bits and pieces of life and then work them over in her mind to make them into great stories. Then, she’d commit those thoughts to paper and share them with her mother.
Even though Heidi had been writing since she was a little girl, it was a story she wrote when she was twenty-four years old that became most near and dear to her heart. It was a story about a car—lovingly called “In the Zoot Car”—and her writing teacher at University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop suggested that the narrative should be about a car chase. Heidi enthusiastically wrote down her words, weaving intricate sentences, while her classmates treated the work as a sad case of deformity and puzzled over how to fix it. Finished draft in hand, she submitted it to the New Yorker. The New Yorker was and still is, the gold standard. They buy more fiction than any other magazine in the country. Young Heidi submitted her piece during a great time for New Yorker fiction. She read Philip Roth’s and John Cheever’s stories printed across the beautiful pages. These published authors saw the world with such fierce love, and Heidi wanted to walk in their footsteps. It was the first piece of writing that felt effortless and authentic for Heidi. Sadly, the New Yorker penned a lovely rejection letter. And in true Heidi form, she thought, “How exciting! A rejection letter from the New Yorker!”
Elated by the rejection, Heidi decided to submit her beloved car story to the Atlantic. She thought nothing of it until one day she arrived home to find a big check sitting in her mailbox. Heidi Jon Schmidt was now a published author.
Heidi gathered her dear friends, and they went to a local bar to celebrate. She perched upon the jukebox so she could keep playing Rickie Lee Jones songs as the night went on. She earned that piece of musical real estate that night. Shortly after her piece was published, inquiries started coming in, requesting she write a book. At that time, it felt like too much, too quickly. Heidi couldn’t wrap her head around writing a book more than she could begin to build a spaceship in her backyard.
Instead, Heidi continued working through pieces at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. After graduation, she was offered a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Little did she know that opportunity would lead her straight to the place she would ultimately call home.
Provincetown is a little community located on the very tip of Cape Cod. It is a place where you’ll find residents and tourists leisurely biking on small streets, past white picket fences and large, beautiful homes. As home to America’s oldest art colony, writers, artists, and creatives (as well as their works) can be found sprinkled through the waterfront landscape.
Heidi fell in love with the little town. Her fellowship grew into a permanent residence. She first kissed her husband, Roger, at the end of the wharf. She cherishes the memories spent pushing her daughter Marisa’s baby carriage up and down the street.After many years living on the Outer Cape, Heidi has developed a deep sense of place and finds inspiration in everything she encounters. She now holds space for generations’ worth of stories from the people who live there. She says, “A small town works like a novel—you know everyone and hear stories from every side. As life develops and changes, you learn people’s graces and weaknesses, and just when someone has thoroughly exasperated you, he turns around and does something so surprising and admirable that . . . you just can’t help writing a book.”
Write a book she did. In fact, Heidi went on to write and publish five books and numerous essays. She will tell you that writing is an absolute fingerprint, a unique experience for each writer. Part of that uniqueness comes from the relationships and interactions throughout an author’s life. Though she doesn’t point to any specific “trade secrets” of writing, Heidi is fond of teaching the craft and sharing her experience with others.
Heidi has taught Fiction Writing and English at Colby College, Queens University, the Fine Arts Work Center Summer Program, and online. About three and a half years ago, Heidi stumbled upon Round Table Companies. Seeing they were hiring, Heidi applied on a lark. She did not know what to expect. But Heidi found the work so interesting, and her role continues to be a great source of learning and enjoyment. Today, Heidi serves as a staff editor and assists her colleagues and clients with story idea formation, writing, editing, and more.
When she’s not working for RTC, teaching, or writing, you can find Heidi gardening, swimming, absorbing masses of useless information, and being a Democrat. She reads everything she can get her hands on to understand the current political climate and works tirelessly to call her senators and congressman to make her voice heard. Her favorite movie character is Scarlett O’Hara because she is a woman who dares all, makes big mistakes, and never runs out of ideas.
For an author who absorbs influence from everywhere, Heidi believes every life is a heroic journey and loves hearing and witnessing glimpses into any and every life. She takes these elements and processes them, moving around the beautiful details while weaving intricate stories. Turns out, Heidi was always meant to be a writer.
She laughs now at her fevered teenage poetry, then admits that, yes, those gold ships are still sailing across her soul.