Lots of people swing by their childhood homes for a nostalgic peak at their past.
But when Heather Slawecki of North Wilmington swung by the farmhouse she grew up in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, she said to her mom, “Wouldn’t it be an interesting story … to stay in your old house, and the possibilities that could happen?”
She started typing that night.
“I just couldn’t stop,” Slawecki says. ”I never intended to write a book, let alone a trilogy. I wrote the first book and thought, ‘This is pretty good,’ and I thought I had more story to tell.”
The self-published books, Element of Secrecy, Element of Danger, and Element of Truth, have gotten rave reviews and sold about 1,000 copies on Amazon and from her house.
They follow 33-year-old Jenny O’Rourke, a lawyer and drug rep who returns home to discover the truth behind secrets of her childhood, which include an attack on her family, the death of her brother and neighbor, being ripped out of her home at the age of 10 and put into witness protection, and a mysterious father who she never sees, but who tries to control her from afar.
Along the way, she encounters cults, the mob, government agents, Native Americans, secret rooms and ravenous wolves.
Slawecki laughs when she says even her mother, Carola Kempf of Venice, Florida, struggled to describe the plot to friends because there are so many twists and turns.
Kirkus Reviews called the books a “bold, largely successful launch of a series about family secrets and criminal enterprises,” and along with others praised their Da Vinci Code-like action and revelations.
“Slawecki keeps the plot racing forward at full speed, and her prose is taut and gripping,” Kirkus said.
“The writing is brisk and pure and highly entertaining,” said the review from Readers’ Favorite.
Slawecki’s writing talent has been honed by a degree in English literature from Widener University, feature writing for The Bucks County Courier Times and 20 years as an advertising copywriter for MBNA and then Bank of America. That deadline work can be fast and furious.
“There’s some storytelling there, too,” Slawecki says during a short conversation in which her energy and intensity are on parade.
“I’m so lucky because a lot of people don’t have a single passion,” she says. “I’m passionate about everything. I’m passionate about writing. I’m passionate about work. I’m passionate about family. I love to garden. I love to cook. I love volunteering.”
She and her husband, Adam, have lived in Delaware for 18 years. Their daughter, Lydia, is a junior at Padua Academy.
Slawecki had planned a launch party and book signing in April, but the coronavirus pandemic killed that. Now she hopes readers will find the books and like them enough to binge just like people binge on television series.
The books veered from her original plan of having her heroine discover secrets about the family who now lived in the house, into exploring Jenny’s family history. But the details of the Bucks County’s Lake Nockamixon, Tinicum and Tohickon Creeks, the Delaware River, New Hope, Peddler’s Village, Doylestown, Fonthill Castle and more are accurate.
Slawecki’s always been attracted to authors whose books involve a mystery that has to be unraveled, as in the best-selling tales of Dan Brown and quick reads from authors like James Patterson.
She was particularly pleased that Kirkus pointed out that fans of The Da Vinci Code or True Detective “will enjoy this mix of crime, conspiracy and occult.”
When it came time to publish, the Wilmington writer decided she wanted to control her books, down to the cover photo. She’d had some experience dealing with the industry through a Rutgers University project that involved multiple authors. That convinced her to skip trying to find an agent and to form her own publishing company.
She uses Ingram Spark to place hardbacks into bookstores, but also goes through Amazon’s KDP for softcover and ebook editions.
“It’s really difficult at times,” she says. “You think the writing is hard, especially editing and bringing things together, but really publishing can be the most challenging, especially with three.”
Slawecki has found that she needs to constantly promote the books through Facebook and other ads and by blogging. Her blog includes pieces about the history of Bucks County, such as abandoned railroad cars and secret societies in her hometown.
The mystery writer says it’s possible she might back into an agent and a publisher house deal, but for now likes being in control.
She also likes it when fans tell her they hope she’s going to write another in the series.
“I have left it open to writing more,” Slawecki says.
Of note: You can read the first eight chapters of each book on Amazon by clicking on the “Look Inside” button on top of each book’s photo.
Right now, Slawecki is selling all three for $9.99 for the Kindle editions. For Father’s Day, she will be selling and delivering signed hardback books for $20 out of her house. Contact her at https://www.heatherslawecki.com/