Lake Country Reporter

October 9, 2003:
From the Lake Country Reporter:

Heckenkamp bases first novel on area
by Kristi Haunfelder, Staff Writer

Heckenkamp’s book has pieces of Hartland, Sussex, Pewaukee

If some of the places and things in Therese Heckenkamp’s novel, “Past Suspicion,” sound like things Lake Country area young adults could encounter, it’s because the setting of the novel is the Lake Country area.

“It’s set in this area of Wisconsin, but it’s a fictional town, a composite of Pewaukee, Sussex and Hartland,” Heckenkamp said. The novel was published in September.

Although the characters and events of the 22-year-old Pewaukee novelist’s work are completely fictionalized, they do reflect small aspects of her own life.

“You pick up certain things from different people you meet. Maybe, even subconsciously, that may come out in your writing, but they are fictionalized characters,” Heckenkamp said.

“I picked up a lot of different things from my life. My family . . . went tot the Memorial Day parade in Pewaukee and I used that as one of the scenes in the novel, with different characters.”

In “Past Suspicion,” the 17-year-old heroine Robin Finley loses her mother to illness and is forced to move from her home in California to live in a small Wisconsin town with an uncle she never knew existed. She works in her uncle’s bookstore to earn money, waiting for her 18th birthday so she can move back to California.

“It’s the mother’s brother. He’s very nice to his niece. He’s a quiet, gentlemanly type of fellow, but he doesn’t know much about teenage girls, besides from his sister 20 years ago,” Heckenkamp said.

Robin has a photograph of her father, but little else since she never really knew him. He died in an accident.

“She knew her mom loved her dad and they were happy, but it was for too short a time,” Heckenkamp said.

“For as long as she could remember, it was she and her mother; that was how her life was. She had asked about her grandparents at one point and was told ‘it’s just you and me,’ Heckenkamp said.

This causes some guilt for Robin. “She realizes all the things she should have asked, and now it’s too late.”

Curious about her mother, Robin begins digging and discovers that as a teenager, her mother had been interested in writing and had begun writing about a local legend, a young woman had fallen from the balcony of a mansion and died.

“It was rumored that it was suicide, but Robin’s mother was digging into the story and she thought it was not suicide, but maybe an accident,” Heckenkamp said.

It was also possible she was pushed. In 1849, her sweetheart had gone off to California to make his fortune in the Gold Rush and local legend had it that he had sent the young woman a copy of a map telling where he had stashed his gold.

While working in the bookstore, Robin meets a young reporter and has lunch with him, but becomes uncomfortable when he begins asking too many questions about her parents. Ultimately, Robin winds up exploring the mansion where the young woman fell to her death more than a century before.

“I’ve always loved writing, enjoyed reading and stories and this was an idea I was playing around with in my mind. When it started, it was a short story. It grew and I realized it was turning into a novel. I kept working on it and the possibilities and ideas just kept expanding,” Heckenkamp said. “Generally, I was working on this novel off and on.”

She had completed a rough draft before starting college at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, where she earned an associate of arts and science degree in two-and-a-half years, completed her novel and went in search of a publisher in 2001.

“I got about 20 rejection slips, a lot of them just for the query letter,” Heckenkamp said. Many publishing companies only accept a one-page letter or a letter and a sample chapter to decide if they want to look at the full manuscript.

Now, “Past Suspicion” has been published by PublishAmerica in Baltimore, Md., and is available for order through the publisher at and various booksellers, such as

“It felt to me like publication was completion, but I would keep writing even if I never got published,” Heckenkamp said.

“I’m not sure how many copies have sold. I got my first royalty statement . . . very shortly after it published,” Heckenkamp said. At that time, only seven copies of the book had sold and Heckenkamp expects another royalty statement in February.

While it’s not exactly making Heckenkamp rich at this point, “it’s nice to know it’s out there,” she said.

Heckenkamp, who works full time as a cake decorator, is already working on a number of other writing projects, including one about a 10-year-old girl who moves into a house next to a cemetery and how she turns that from a disadvantage to an advantage at school.

Before writing “Past Suspicion,” Heckenkamp received several writing awards and since publishing the novel has had several articles accepted for publication in magazines.

Awards include a $125 August Derleth Writing Award for UW college students for submission of creative work of poems and stories in 2001, second place in Cricket magazine’s Cricket League Poetry Contest for a poem titled “Illusion” published in 1999 and a 1994 commemorative stamp collection in a Hartland post office essay contest in 1996.

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