Valrico mom pens inspiration - and horror
VALRICO - Home school mom Kathryn "Kat" Heckenbach carpools her kids, she participates in Brandon Home School Fellowship events, she attends church with her family - and she writes dark fiction. "Simone's nails dug deeper into the leathery skin of the demon's neck, and a thick, black liquid oozed over her fingertips ...," So begins "Willing Blood," editor's choice for "The Absent Willow Review" and one of several horror tales Heckenbach has penned since getting serious about her writing career. "It's allegorical horror," she said. "One of the characters is a young girl - I know this sounds weird - who gives blood willingly to a vampire character. Everything is symbolic. If you go to my Web site I explain all the symbolism. But much of the fantasy stuff is just for fun - it's more on the quirky-dark side." Heckenbach's literary interest runs the gamut, including two contributions to the newly released Health Communications anthology, "Ultimate Christian Living: Faith and Fellowship Celebrated Through Stories and Photos."The stories, "Growing a Mustard Seed, Shrinking a Mountain," and "Like Lazarus" emerged from Heckenbach's own struggle through cancer treatment five years ago. "I had a lot of hard times," she said. "It was a struggle with faith. Once you get past that you look back and it helped me to write it out. The stories come from looking back, realizing the things I'd learned and the benefits; the blessings I received from going through that; seeing God's hand in the whole situation. It was a huge ah-hah moment for me." Writing personal stories, she said, started out as a means to getting the ball rolling and making contacts in the industry. But then she realized how much sharing her own journey could help other people. "My goal is still to become a novelist but I'm having a lot of fun with the short stories. And I've met a community of Christian writers. It's been a lot of fun getting to know those people." An area resident since early childhood, Heckenbach grew up in Riverview, graduating East Bay high school in 1988 and continuing her education at the University of Tampa. "Math is my strong suit," she said, "and I was interested in science. I eventually finished my biology degree (at the University of Tampa) in 1997. I'm a total math geek and I'm fascinated with genetics." After graduation, Heckenbach taught math at the Brandon Sylvan Learning Center before taking a break to start a family. "I married Jeff in 1994," she said. "We had Nick in 2000 and Anna in 2002. But instead of going back to work I decided to home school the children. "It's really going well," she said. "We really believe in it, and we're in a great group, Brandon Home School Fellowship. We probably have around 80 families." Heckenbach said Brandon is the ideal community to raise kids in a home school environment. "We moved back here in 1997," she said. "It's my home, it's very much a family community, and we feel safe. There are so many things here we can do, with all the resources: the zoo, the aquarium, the libraries and the parks. "Home school is great because my kids can totally work at the pace that's theirs," she said. "We can zoom through or spend extra time - whatever is appropriate." The beginnings of Heckenbach's writing career have been encouraging, with more than stories placed in a variety of magazines, both religious and secular. "But I'm a newbie," she said. "I'm paddling upstream, and I'm much more articulate on paper than I am in person. Some people think this is an easy way to make money - but it's not!" Tracing her influences to writers like J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, sci-fi guru Bryan Davis, and Christian fiction phenomenon Donita K. Paul, Heckenbach is cautiously confident about her future. "There's a scripture verse that helps direct my writing," she said. "It's Psalm 118:17. 'I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.'"