Lisa Marie Miller, Deseret Morning News
Chris Heimerdinger actually wanted to be a filmmaker. "But when I got out of college, no one wanted to give me a million dollars to make a movie," he said. So, he decided to write a book instead.
"My first love is really storytelling," Heimerdinger said, and he decided he could do it with words as well as images.
His first book, a story of three young kids who are magically transported back to Book of Mormon times, was published in 1989. It was based on a dream he had while he was serving an LDS mission in Gainesville, Fla., he said. "I just decided to flesh it out."
And his wife suggested the title: "Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites."
Some 14 years and more than that many books later, Heimerdinger has developed a loyal following of readers young and old.
He's done eight more books in the "Tennis Shoes" series, has set three in New Testament times and has worked in some other historical settings.
His books have sold between 800,000 and 900,000 copies in all and have also been released in audio versions. (For more information, go online to www.cheimerdinger.com.)
And Heimerdinger's dream of a movie is going to come true, as well, he said. His latest book, "Passage to Zarahelma," is on its way to the screen.
He said he published that book himself so there would be no question about movie rights, and he plans to write and direct the film, as well. He already has some investors lined up. "We're still dotting i's and crossing t's and raising money. But I've filmed the first chapter to show people that I can direct."
Though he has done some documentaries and company videos, this will be Heimerdinger's first foray into dramatic directing. But his major at Brigham Young University was filmmaking, so he's looking forward to this new challenge. And he thinks this kind of movie has potential. "No one has made any LDS action-adventure-fantasy films."
But he is not abandoning novels, which will be good news for his fans who are pressuring him for another "Tennis Shoes" book. "I'll pursue that."
Heimerdinger has been writing full-time since 1990. There were some lean years at first, he said. "But I've been incredibly blessed to be able to write about subjects that I care about and still feed my family." He and his wife, Beth, have four children: Steven Teancum, Christopher Ammon, Alyssia Sariah and Elizabeth Liahona Cecelia. If it sounds as if they have Book of Mormon names, it's because they do.
Although he has a lot of young-reader fans, Heimerdinger doesn't specifically write young-adult fiction, he said. Several of his leading characters have been teens, but a lot of them have also been adults. "I write the kind of books I like to read," he said. And much of his audience has grown up with him.
Heimerdinger said he feels comfortable with the niche he's carved for himself. "It was always my intent to use the LDS market as a stepping stone to the national market. But every time I tried to pursue a national idea, I would just get a stupor of thought."
His "Return to Christmas" went national, but he has no plans for anything more at this point. "You'll never become a multimillionaire writing for the LDS market," he said, but added that that's not what it's all about. "I'm where I'm supposed to be. To do anything else would deny who I am."
Heimerdinger was not a Mormon when he grew up in Cody, Wyo. But then he went to BYU, where he joined the LDS Church. "I didn't even last one semester," he said with a laugh.
And it is a rare blessing, he said, to be able to write about his faith. "I don't take that for granted. I know it could all disappear."
Heimerdinger tries to put in a full day of writing whenever possible. "Most of my ideas come when I'm staring at a computer screen." Although, he notes, his books also take a lot of research. His success, he said, is based on research fueled by imagination. "I'm not trying to prove that the Book of Mormon is true, but to celebrate what it is. My books are an expression of what I care about the gospel, the Book of Mormon, family values."
So, he said, "my ambitions are to stay where my primary market is. I want to see this market grow and expand. When you see what the world is doing, it's sometimes pretty depressing. I think the time will come when the LDS people will be dependent on their own media for entertainment."And when young people ask him how to get started, he encourages them to write what they know and to develop their imaginations. "There are really no limits within our own market."