top of page

Featuring You - Meet Heidi Beierle

In the summer of 2010, Heidi Beierle had just finished her first year of graduate studies in community and regional planning and decided to pedal her bicycle solo from her home on the west coast across rural America to the Preserving the Historic Road conference in Washington, D.C. What started as a research trip turned into an intimately physical and psychological encounter with self and nationhood. A memoir of homecoming – Heidi Across America is a gritty story of how opening our hearts to others enables us to open our hearts to ourselves and love what we find there.

Heidi was also a guest on The Best Ever You Show. Listen to that full interview here:

Heidi Across America is your first book. What was your publication journey like? (How long have you been writing? When did you start writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?)

I’ve been wanting to write and publish a book for about as long as I can remember, and I made different attempts during my education and then after. I worked on a memoir in earnest in the early 2000s and realized there was much I didn’t know. How could I ever finish a memoir if my life didn’t stop? I took a class at the community college, wanting to know how to revise the draft I had. I attended a couple writing retreats. I even wrote and published a few personal essays.

During my ride across the country in 2010, I had hopes that a book might come of it. I blogged diligently. After writing the research results from my journey, which didn’t touch on the personal experience I had pedaling the country, I tabled the idea while I looked for work. Two years later, I was stable in a relationship and part-time employment and returned to this idea of a book. I joined a weekly critique group and attended a ten-week workshop on the short, personal essay. At that point, a book was too intimidating, but writing short essays felt manageable.

Months after the workshop was over, a friend had suggested reaching out to a writer one step beyond where I was and ask how they got published. That person, Brian Benson, told me his publication journey, and I followed his footsteps and established a relationship with a writing mentor, Karen Karbo. I worked with Karen until I finished the first complete draft of my memoir, cut it to a marketable length and started sharing it with agents.

After the first agent rejection and just before sending materials to the second agent, I started working on my book proposal. The book proposal took me about six months to write, and I sought input from other published writers on the document. I was rejected by the second agent while I was working on the proposal, but once it was done, I started sending it out to a new list of agents. After a round of rejections, I realized I should work on my platform some and start doing the things I said I would do in my marketing plan. Once I felt I had more substance to support my proposal, I sent the proposal directly to a publisher. I received a rejection from them but learned that there were other publishers that would accept unagented memoirs, and I reached out to a few. Meanwhile, a friend sent me a lead from Manuscript Wishlist, an editor, and I sent my materials to them.

After some more rejections and non-responses, I was considering other options, including giving up. At that low point, I received an offer from the editor my friend had sent to me! After realizing it wasn’t a rejection (seriously, I thought it was at first), I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I’d been so focused on the pitching process, I hadn’t allowed myself to consider what would happen if someone said yes. My freak out led to my second big realization that day: agents are the intermediary because they know what to do with an offer!

I emailed Karen, and she responded with congratulations and reassurance, and I also contacted another author who I’d taken some classes from. They both pointed me to resources to help me understand offers and contracting (join the Authors Guild). I signed the contract and away we went!

What’s the significance of the title?

I wanted to reference the story of young Heidi in the Alps and imagine her grown up having an adventure in America. During my journey across the U.S., I was studying bicycle tourism and rural economic development, and I wanted the title to capture the rural focus. While I was in the heartland, something I didn’t expect happened - I finally understood what it meant to love myself and America. The title is both literal and symbolic.

Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover.

I am an artist who works mostly in collage, and I have a weekly crafty date with other artists/creatives. I was pitching my manuscript and had a distinct idea about the cover looking like Heidi. I got the idea to do a cover design because I was exploring ways to be more visible with my art. When an opportunity to contribute to an anthology cover was delayed, I thought I’d give my own book a try.

I’d been putting red hearts on everything and had even made a graphic representing a book with a big red heart on it, so I thought I should pay attention to that. When I rode across the country, my helmet was lavender, and my jersey (U.S. Bicycle Route System) was sunrise/sunset colors with a lot of lavender. I thought the jersey colors would be appropriate to represent America. The bike was easy.

My crafty group liked the overall concept but thought I needed to be in the composition, so I converted the middle “I” in HEIDI into a representation of what I looked like during my journey. I made the cover art actual size and later learned that book cover artwork is typically made at larger scale and then reduced. I had a good laugh about it because the detail work on the tiny Heidi for the “I” was practically microscopic. I referred to my material as “paper atoms” when I was making it.

Six months to a year later, I received the offer on my manuscript, and this mocked up cover collage was one of the first things I shared with the publisher. They thought the collage was workable for developing the cover. I also sent several covers of Heidi for reference and other designs I was drawn to.

The first set of cover designs from the publisher were close to my original collage. We eventually decided that the representation of the Heidi figure in the “I” was distracting and eliminated it. I liked the surprises of the design symbolism - using a yellow gradient background that speaks to one of the big challenges in the story, heat, and rendering America in purple.

When you’re writing an emotionally fraught (or sexy or sad) scene, how do you get in the mood?

Hah! I love writing sex scenes.

Writing doesn’t get done if you need to be in the mood to do it. One strategy I use to get through the difficulty is to start with sensory experiences to create mood and environment. How does the moment feel, smell, sound, taste, look? What’s the weather like? What are the main character’s sensations in their body? I like to save the visual elements for last since the other senses are more evocative. My body has most of the information I need for this kind of writing, and I’ll build scenes around these sensory experiences.

For me, having a therapist was and is a necessity. As I was working on my manuscript, I would often read other memoirs and wonder how the authors had the clarity they did in moments they shared. I eventually learned that those authors probably didn’t know what was happening in the moment, but clarity likely came later as their story took form. Many times, I would bring part of my story to my therapist, and after talking through it, I would understand what was happening in a particular scene or with a memory.

Therapy has been useful for me beyond understanding my story and supported me with needed perspective in many ways that relate to my writing. A big one pertains to visibility and the jitter I’ve had at different points about revealing something “secret” about myself – aka being vulnerable/sharing my truth. Especially now with publication and readers, I feel exposed, and therapy has helped me prepare to be seen. As I think back on all the ways therapy has helped me with my process, I doubt I would have published yet without it.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

My blog is about creativity, climate-friendly and slow travel, equitable access to outdoor recreation, and nature’s awesomeness. I love the hybrid/multi-media form and the satisfaction of publishing something immediately. Parts of the blog will probably grow into something else. One of the opportunities of undertaking my slow travel bike-book tour this year is interviewing people about access to recreation. I have hopes of compiling those interviews into a distinct body of work.

I have another memoir that I’ve made good progress on. It’s kind of the sequel to Heidi Across America but quite different in style, a hybrid work. It’s an ecospirituality story that asks, ‘What am I here to do?’ I imagine parts of my blog and my adventure this year will find their way into this sequel memoir.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

The most important thing is to write. Some ways to develop a practice and rhythm with writing are:

  • Attend writing workshops, especially ones that meet weekly. They help develop craft, offer accountability, develop your skills as a reader, and provide an opportunity to build community with other writers.

  • Challenge yourself to write the worst thing you can on your topic or prompt. For five minutes, write as fast as you can and as terribly as you can. It’s like breaking the seal on a jar of jam. You have to unblank the page to get at the good stuff.

  • Participate in a critique group. Giving and receiving feedback is great practice, accountability, and readies you for publication.

  • Find a community of writers who can offer accountability, celebration, input, and friendship. Writing is a solitary activity, but humans are social. Having a community of writer friends is good self-care.

  • Cultivate a writing community by reading newsletters and blog posts, attending workshops and/or retreats, and engaging with other writers online.

  • Manage your expectations. Writing is challenging, and it’s easy to get discouraged early in the process (at any point in the process, really). Know you’re not alone. We all go through times thinking we should give up.

About Heidi Beierle

Heidi Beierle is an artist, writer, and adventurer who grew up in the wind and high plains of Wyoming. Her writing about her cross-country bicycle ride has been published in National Geographic Traveler, High Desert Journal, VoiceCatcher Journal, Journal of America's Byways, and on the Adventure Cycling Association blog. She lives in Bellingham, Washington. Visit


bottom of page