Third-grade teacher Heidi Jo Hooper married her high school sweetheart and they raise their two kids on a pig farm near their hometown of Gooding.
Bellus has published 21 books, including “F*cking Awkward,” which sold 7,000 copies in its first week. She travels the country for book signings, has hundreds of loyal followers and has become friends with fellow authors worldwide.
Hooper is a small town girl who enjoys chugging beer, hunting ducks and listening to Miranda Lambert while lounging on the porch of her remote cabin in Featherville.
After three years of living a double life, Hooper recently hosted her own “Coming Out” party, announcing to the world that she is H.J. Bellus.
“I was bent over scrubbing a pig’s butt thinking it was so ironic and nobody knew,” Hooper said. “I had to keep it a secret because this is a small community.”
Many educators are published authors — of children’s books, textbooks or research papers. But Hooper’s books are intimate stories laced with adult humor, sex and raunchy language.
“I’ve always been a little crazy, wild and vibrant,” Hooper said. “If you really know me, it makes sense.”
Growing up in Gooding
Hooper was sent to live with her grandparents when she was six years old. It was a devastating time in her life, she said, because her mother kept her two brothers. Her father wanted nothing to do with her.
“I always wondered … why was I the one who had to leave?” The thought still haunts her.
Eventually, she thrived in the care of her grandparents and today is grateful of her upbringing — so grateful that her pen name is derived from her grandfather, Jack Bellus. She puts a childhood memory of Jack in every one of her books — his old red truck, the nickname he gave her, his whisker burns or his teaching to never hate.
“I often draw on the emotions from my childhood when I write,” said Heidi, who still mourns the unexpected death of her grandmother Faye Bellus in 2002.
Heidi met her husband Tim in the ninth grade when both were showing pigs at the Gooding County Fair. They dated through high school and married two years later, while Heidi was attending Idaho State University.
After college, Heidi taught in Hagerman before settling back in Gooding, where she taught at the elementary school for 13 years. Tim farms corn and together they raise show pigs on their ranch 13 miles outside of town near the Malad Gorge. Their children Libby and Gus live a traditional farm life.
Leaving the kids — her own and those she’d grown to love in her classrooms — was the most difficult part about quitting teaching and becoming a full-time author. But the money and the passion for writing compelled her to take the risk.
“At one point I wondered if I was going to end up scrubbing toilets at Wal-Mart,” she said of taking on the competitive profession of romance writing.
Heidi said her new career takes more time than teaching but her family is supportive, though Tim hasn’t read any of her 21 published books.
“He tells people, ‘Don’t ruin the story line for me’ when they ask him about it,” she said.
From teacher to author
For three years, Heidi taught days and wrote books at night — late at night. Until the wee hours of the morning she’d craft phrases like:
- “Never let a name or circumstances define you. Rise above it and one day you’ll realize you’re worth fighting for.” — That Girl.
- “I dated a cross-eyed girl once but I dumped her cause I thought she was seeing someone else.” — Cree.
- “I quickly showered while daydreaming of nachos and then hit the city to find some.” — Cree.
- “Fairytales do exist if you’re brave enough and have just the right dash of badass in you to chase them down and fight like a warrior to live them out.” — Blue.
Former Gooding superintendent Heather Williams was stunned to learn of the double life, because Heidi was a dedicated teacher who made a big-time commitment to her classroom.
“She was a favorite of students, well-liked by colleagues and often requested by parents,” Williams said. “I always appreciated her desire to engage students in the learning, finding innovative ways to teach reluctant learners while still challenging her brightest pupils.”
Her first book was originally labeled “My Now and Forever” but a small publisher changed the title and adorned it with a racy cover photo while collecting a majority of the royalties.
After six books, Heidi took another professional risk and started to self-publish.
“I’ve learned the tricks and trades and now I have a pretty good eye for covers and titles,” she said.
The second book she self-published last summer — “Blue,” a modern-day beauty and the beast — hit No. 19 on Amazon’s list. Another book, “Dirty,” a tale of a stripper and playboy being raised by his grandfather, this week hit No. 90 on Amazon’s list of paid books. She now has several publications on the Amazon bestseller list. Heidi contributed to the book “F*ucking Awkward”, a selection of short stories from 24 authors about what happens when sexual encounters go awry. It reached No. 83 on the USA Today best-selling book list this week.
This year Heidi’s income as an author quadrupled her teaching salary.
“She is just a great storyteller and she just keeps getting better and better storylines,” said Michelle Cable of Newport, Mich. “Her first book reeled me in, hook, line and sinker.”
Heidi spends just as much time writing as she does marketing and branding herself as a small-town girl who wears cowboy boots and nerdy glasses. She has hundreds of Facebook followers, who she regularly interacts with, and her own fan club. Over the years, she’s become online friends with readers such as Cable.
Heidi has produced an adult coloring book, her own logo, her own small business (Small Town Girl Books, LLC) and she’s planning to create a line of T-shirts.
Her books are realistic fiction, inspired from personal experiences and enhanced by her imagination. She prides herself at inventing female heroines who are strong, adventurous and mouthy.
“My female characters take charge, instead of being wimpy and dominated, and my followers like that,” she said.
Today Heidi is pounding out nearly 10,000 words a day for her next book, “I Shaved My legs For This,” which has an August release date.
“If you dream it and if you believe it … it can happen,” Heidi said. “There’s a lot of luck, but a lot of hard work, too.”
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorHjBellus
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/HJBellus
- Email: [email protected]
- Google+: http://bit.ly/1m3rlcK
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7079478.H_J_Bellus
- Website: authorhjb.com
- Click here to find her books on Amazon.
- Click here for more on her USA Today best-selling book list.