Guest Post: How One Author Struggled With Body Image And Wrote A Novel

high res coverWe often get so caught up in getting published, being published, finding an agent, promoting ourselves and our books, that sometimes we forget WHY we read and write what many call women’s fiction. It’s because that along with the relatable characters and real life situations — are some really serious issues. Today, Mary Rowen shares with us her own story of bulimia and how body image plays into real life and fiction. Mary is both eloquent and brave, and I hope you’ll chime in with your own body image experience in the comments and how it has impacted your writing.

Please welcome Mary to WFW!

Amy xo

 How Mary Rowen Struggled With Body Image And Wrote A Novel

by Mary Rowen

high res coverBody image. If that’s not a loaded term for women, I don’t know what is. I’d be willing to bet that the earliest human women noticed what the men in their tribes liked, and tried to make their bodies more attractive for them. But I wonder if there was a little bit more to that than the basic human need to reproduce. I’m guessing that even women who lived in caves appreciated being told—perhaps with grunts, or nods, or some early language—that they looked nice. Because let’s face it: it feels good to know you look pretty and desirable.

Evidence of this can be seen in almost all cultures throughout history, as women’s clothing and accessories frequently accentuate our breasts and other parts of our bodies we find most sensual. This often involves pain and personal sacrifice too, as few people would consider corsets, underwire bras, or stiletto heels comfortable. Some women go so far as to have surgery—literally risking their lives to “improve” their bodies—but even those who draw the line at shopping for flattering clothes and/or makeup will tell you that those things are time consuming and expensive.

Of course, it’s not all about attracting men. Many of us dress to attract other women—or just to make ourselves happy—and many no longer see reproduction as a goal. But the majority of women—despite our age—still seek out the approval of others when it comes to appearance.

Now some readers might jump up and scream, “But men seek approval too!” And yes, that’s true. Most men do want to look good, but in most cases, their desire isn’t as extreme as it is with most women. My husband, for example—a software engineer—looks great every time he heads out to work, but as far as I know, he only looks in the mirror while shaving, and perhaps when he runs a comb through his hair. He has a bunch of similar-looking clothing that fits well—chinos, jeans, button-down shirts—and he wears a clean top and bottom every day. Clean is important. But that’s about it for him. His body image is healthy enough to allow him to put on his clothes and go. And based on my observations of his peer group, that’s pretty much the standard. But I—and most of my professional female peers—spend far more time choosing outfits, blow-drying my hair, putting on makeup, and figuring out which shoes look best. I don’t obsess—and as a recovered bulimic, I know all about obsession—but I do check the mirror several times before leaving the house. Not doing so would be quite difficult for me.

But the one thing I don’t ever do—and I mean never—is ask anyone in my household if my clothing makes me look fat. That’s a gift I hope I can pass on to my daughter, who’s a young teenager. Because back when I was about fifteen, I decided—for some crazy reason—that I’d be more attractive if I dropped a few pounds. Therefore, when I read a magazine article warning about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia, I found it more instructional than frightening. I pored over the article—and the other pictures in the magazine—and something in my head clicked. Prettiness, I decided, resulted in happiness, and the only way to be pretty was to be thin. It was a screwed up equation for sure. But for the next fifteen years or so, I believed in—and lived by—that equation with a sick, almost religious fervor. During those years, I attempted to vomit almost everything I ate, and often felt confused, weak, and dizzy. My confidence level hit rock bottom, and I was hardly ever happy.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, if you’re a woman reading this, it probably does. A few months ago, I published a blog post about my eating disorder, and got tons of feedback from women who told me they’d been through a similar hell. Or, if not them, then a family member, a close friend, or a work associate.

So now, every time I start thinking about my weight, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter. Of course it’s not healthy to be obese—everyone knows obesity’s bad—but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is gaining a few pounds here and there, or going up a size in jeans. Or eating something truly decadent and delicious without trying to cut back on calories for the next few days, or doing extra exercise. Because again, in the scheme of things, a few extra pounds aren’t important. The energy expended on stress and extra exercise can be put to much better use.

I could conclude by saying something like, “Hey, a lot of people prefer a heavier partner anyway.” But that’s not the point. A woman’s body is hers. We’re not here on earth to be eye candy, or playthings. Our bodies have so many functions: transporting us across this magnificent planet, tasting, dancing, listening to music, making music, helping us create the things we imagine, bearing us children if we so choose—and sometimes nourishing those children—providing sexual pleasure, rocking terrific outfits, and much, much more. So yes, I believe we should eat well most of the time and try to stay healthy so that we can make the most of our lives, but thinness does not lead to happiness. The only real road to happiness is being OK with who you are. And while it’s fine to like the way you look, obsessing over appearance always leads to frustration and worse.

I’ve written a novel called Leaving the Beach in which the main character, Erin Reardon, is a bulimic woman who’s also obsessed with rock stars. It’s all fiction, and I hope readers enjoy the story. But I also hope it sheds some light on the ways eating disorders affect people. Most importantly, I hope Leaving the Beach will encourage people suffering from EDs to seek professional help. I really do believe that’s the only way to truly recover.

HeadshotMary Rowen is a Boston area mom with a wonderful family that allows her time to write almost every day.  Leaving the Beach, although pure fiction, certainly draws on some personal experience. As the tagline states, it’s “a novel of obsession and music,” and rock music has always been a driving force in Rowen’s life. She was also bulimic for over fifteen years, and really wanted to write a story with a bulimic main character. Eating disorders are so complicated—and dangerous—and she hopes Leaving the Beach might encourage people suffering from them to seek help.  Visit Mary at: http://maryrowen.com/

About LEAVING THE BEACH

Written with heart and keen observation about the day-to-day struggles of a “functioning bulimic,”Leaving the Beach explores the power of fantasy, then shoves it up against harsh reality until something has to give. In this women’s novel set on the sandy beaches of Winthrop, Massachusetts, we meet Erin Reardon, a lonely person who believes her destiny is to save grunge superstar Lenny Weir. Forget the fact that Lenny reportedly killed himself several years earlier; Erin’s not the only fan to believe his death was a hoax, a last-ditch effort by the drug-addled musician to reclaim his privacy. And Erin has felt a special bond with Lenny for years. So when she gets picked up hitchhiking by a mysterious man who resembles Lenny physically, she makes some quick assumptions. After all, he has extensive knowledge of the music industry, there’s a guitar in his trunk, and he has issues with drugs. She’s finally about to fulfill her destiny…

You can find LEAVING THE BEACH at iTunesBN, and Amazon.

Guest Post: Rona Simmons Takes Apart Some Popular Stories And Puts Them Back Together

cover for websiteWho knew that the summer I went all DIY at home (the crafting and home improvement gods have possessed me) that the first guest post of fall would be about dismantling a story and putting it back together? There is something very satisfying in doing a project yourself, figuring it out, making sense of it all. And that’s just what Rona Simmons shares with us below—and she’s doing it with works of women’s fiction. Lucky us!

As for me, it’s time to paint another piece of furniture or maybe get back to my list of fifty things to make with pumpkin…or, oh right, there’s a WIP I’m writing as I wait for my second round of edits on novel two! (It’s busy here in the empty nest, I tell you.) 

Please welcome Rona to Women’s Fiction Writers and share your thoughts in the comments!

Amy xo

 

Taking Apart Stories—And Putting Them Back Together

by Rona Simmons

cover for websiteI take things apart. I always have. Once, I took a clock apart to see how it worked and later, a vacuum cleaner to fix what was broken. I failed on both accounts, but my drive to see the inner workings of objects persisted. Today, I apply it to the world of writing. I want to understand how the magic happens: how an author hooks a reader on the very first page.

So, with a pliers in one hand and a screwdriver in the other, I selected five works of general or women’s fiction from the top of the 2013 New York Times bestseller list. I bypassed cover art, book blurbs, and introductory quotes, to focus on the authors’ own words, ones that would snare a reader from the start and keep them reading for the next several hundred pages.

My small sample included what I’ll call a “beach read”, a “hot topic” book on drug addiction, a “page-lingerer” chock full of lush writing and internal musings, a tale “based on true events”, and a story that explores relationships and secrets.

I read only the first sentences and paragraphs–up to 150 words, skipping prologues just as some readers might.

The opening sentences of the five novels were as different as night and day:

  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt: “While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.”
  • The Husband’s Secret, Lianne Moriarity: “It was all because of the Berlin Wall.”
  • The Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline: “Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room, just beyond her door.”
  • The Girls of August, Anne Rivers Siddons: “The girls of August had decided, given our long hiatus and the introduction of a new person–Baby Gaillard nee LucyAnne Gaillard, to be exact–that we best meet ahead of time at my house to map out our strategy and make sure we all felt OK about Tiger Island.”
  • All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner: “Do you generally use alcohol or drugs more than once a week?”

The authors’ writing styles were equally diverse. The openings ranged from dense, descriptive exposition (49 words per sentence and a reading level of 15) to short staccato sentences filled with internal dialogue (14 words per sentence and a reading level of 6). Three were in third person and two in first.

On the other hand, the openings occurred in remarkably similar situations: a woman alone, worrying. In fact, a lot of worrying took place in those first sentences. The women faced threats of unknown origin and specificity and, presumably, would confront their demons in the pages ahead.

  • The Goldfinch: A woman alone in her hotel room dreams of her dead mother. There are fearful sounds outside her hotel room. She is afraid.
  • The Husband’s Secret: A woman alone at her kitchen table stares at a sealed envelope, addressed in a familiar hand. And then there’s the elephant in the room, the Berlin Wall.
  • The Orphan Train: A young woman alone in her bedroom eavesdrops on her foster parents who discuss their worries and their suspicions about their foster child.
  • The Girls of August: A woman will meet a group of friends after a long hiatus. She worries about the upcoming event and worries about worrying.
  • All Fall Down: A woman reads about alcohol abuse and wonders if her own addiction is worse than she admits and could wreak havoc on her family and young daughter.

All five authors exposed the reader to the narrator’s inner thoughts and feelings, their “sixth sense” for lack of a better term. The Goldfinch was the best example: with “innocent” noises outside the door, the reader looks for threatening noises nearby, a bell “tolling” the hour with “a dark edge to the clangor”. I was surprised to find little discussion of the other five senses in the early passages.

Though not snared by the first sentence, after I’d read 150 words or so, I committed to read at least one of the books. Why? And, why would so many other readers invest in these stories?

The answer, I believe, is the presence of strong emotions, the sixth sense, in a tension-packed situation, the details of which are reserved for the later pages.

Will this finding change my writing?

The answer, of course, is maybe. I write my way. I write what I like to read and I hope that it has broad enough appeal to be enjoyed by others, many others–New York Times bestseller list or not. But I will seek more opportunities for my protagonists to express their fears and hopes in my own first pages.

Now, excuse me, I need to sit at my kitchen table, take something else apart, and worry.

WEB-DSC_6354-SIMMONS-HEADSHOTRona Simmons was born in Santa Monica, California. She’s the daughter of a WWII fighter pilot and later career military officer and moved with her family from state to state and country to country, living in 25 different places by the time she graduated from high school. So she’s still astonished that she’s spent the last twenty years in any one place.

Three years ago, she launched her second career using the writing, analysis, and research skills she’d acquired during her thirty-year career in corporate America. Since then she has written several articles for magazines, a novel, and a collection of short stories and was the ghostwriter for the biography of a prominent Atlanta businessman.

Rona’s latest novel, The Quiet Room, was published by Deeds Publishing, an Atlanta-based publishing company. Though this novel is set in the Midwest, and the one she’s working on now in New England, she considers herself a southern writer, drawing inspiration from the wooded acres where she lives with her husband and (she swears) the last member of a passel of cats.

website: http://www.ronasimmons.com

blog: womenatword.wordpress.com

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rona-Simmons-Writer-and-Author

Twitter: twitter.com/rona_simmons

Pinterest: pinterest.com/rdsimmons

Rona’s books are available through her website or: Amazon, Deeds Publishing, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers

Guest Post: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned Being A Writer by Colette Freedman

CF_TheConsequences_smlI really enjoy finding out what works well for other writers. Sometimes a tip hits home and I give it a try. Other times I wish I could follow suit because something seems smart. Other times I know myself well enough to know that something won’t work for me (like mandatory daily writing). 

Below, author Colette Freedman shares her writer life lessons with us. I think numbers two and three are my favorite, I wish I could do number seven, and believe strongly in number eight.

What about you?

Please tell us in the comments — and please welcome Colette Freedman to Women’s Fiction Writers!

                  Amy xo

Ten Lessons I’ve Learned Being A Writer

by Colette Freedman

CF_TheConsequences_smlWhen I started writing, I had very few guides. This was long before the days of cell phones as an extra appendage (guilty), rhymezone.com (a must when writing song lyrics) and the luxury of research at one’s fingerips and informative blogs beyond one’s wildest imagination. I just had the basics: libraries, parental advice, teachers’ thoughts, a lot of television watching and my own instincts. The following list is one which has taken me several years to perfect. Some of them, like numbers one and six may seem obvious, even though they involve the discipline we need as writers. Numbers five and seven are less obvious, but equally as important. In fact, each of the ten lessons I’ve learned has helped me to become a better writer and most of the list has come about by my own personal flaws of making mistakes and “doing the opposite”…ie refusing to vacation for fear of missing out, saying “yes” far too many times, and drowning in self doubt. As you pursue your craft, no many what your genre or platform, I hope that my lessons, learned from my personal mistakes, will help!

1. Write Every Day.

Writing often starts as a hobby.  You do it whenever you want; maybe weeks go by between sentences.  Writers write.  They do it every day.  Even if you work at Starbucks or in a law firm or in an advertising agency or as a lacrosse coach and write in the evenings and at weekends, you have to treat writing as a job. I worked in all of the above jobs (and many more). These ‘paying jobs’ took up most of my day and I was often exhausted when I got home and just wanted to turn on the tv and lose myself in a sitcom.  But I still had another job to do.  Writing is work and it takes work to actualize an idea into a fleshed out reality. If you believe you are a professional author and have the discipline of one, eventually you will become one (it happened to me!).

2. Say no.

Say it immediately and be definitive.

It’s both the easiest and the hardest one on the list. Life is full of wonderful opportunities and fabulous entertainment. But it is all a distraction.  As a writer, you need to pick and choose what is more important to you – an evening writing, or a night at the movies.  If you are not answering writing more than 50% of the time, you’re not really a writer.

3. Don’t be afraid to collaborate.

I like to work in three mediums: novels, plays and films. I’ve both written alone and I’ve collaborated in all three mediums and I absolutely love collaboration. When it works well, it is wonderful, although if you having a falling out with your partner, then it can be tricky.  The “baby” that you have created will link you and your partner together indefinitely. But let’s focus on the upsides, and there are many.  The biggest  upside is that you will have someone willing to go on the same adventure with you.

4. Get a comfortable chair.

I’ve written on everything from high back kitchen chairs to bean bag chairs…and I have a bad back to prove it. When I was working in advertising, my boss bought me an Aeron Herman Miller and it made all the difference. It’s ergonomic and I am able to focus more on the words on the computer than the aches and pains in my back. And if you are going to sit for hours at a stretch, remember: proper posture!  Which leads me very neatly to…

5. Stretch.

Working for hours on end is taxing on the body and eyes…. no matter how old you are. Stretch, take a walk, get a snack but get up every once and a while to move the blood around in your body.  Why do you think so many authors have dogs? They force us to get up every few hours. (I speak now from experience; I have two greyhounds who love to walk and  are always able to help me out on this one.)

6. Read.

I’ve said it in every interview. To write well, one needs to read well. Read voraciously in genres which interest you and explore ones that don’t. Read.  “What are you reading?”  is always the first question I ask people who tell me they are/about to be/are writers.  You’d be astonished you say, “Oh, I don’t have time to read.” I lose interest right at that point.

7. Vacation.

Ultimately, much of your writing life is going to be spent sitting in a room staring at a screen.  That’s a quick way to go stale.  You need to take a break  (This is an expanded version of item 5).  Pretty much every good idea that’s ever come to me occurred when I’ve been on vacation. And I don’t mean Italy or France (though those are terrific sources of inspiration), but Boston, Napa, Vegas, sunset Blvd – pretty much anywhere other than in your office, staring at a screen. When you are thrust in a new environment, it does something to the creative juices to get them swimming.   And of course, the part B of this, is to make sure that if a new idea comes to you that you have the tools to capture it.  There are lots of note taking options on phones and iPad, but I find that an old fashioned notebook, pen or pencil works just fine!

8. Pursue your passions and engage.

I love musicals and I’ll go to any show I can. (I’m even writing one right now in collaboration with an amazing partner. (see Collaborating, #2). If you love music or dance or art or politics or sports, enjoy them. Watch them. Participate in them. It fulfills you not only as a person but as an artist.

9. Get a mentor.

And what is a mentor?  It can be someone who has done what you are trying to do. It can be a teacher or a friend or someone who is already successful. It it can be a writing group – who encourages and supports you in your own efforts.  You probably don’t even have to seek one out as they’ve been there the entire time. (And yes, I have been lucky to have several mentors and advisors.)

10. Believe in yourself.

As you start out on your writing career, you will find scores of people who will tell you that you are wasting your time.  Ignore these naysayers. Confidence is the most important trait you can have in writing.  This is a lonely field and there will be many times when you will find yourself riddled with self-doubt. But you press on.  The rejections will come fast and furious (for every novel, play and screenplay I’ve had produced, I have had at least a dozen rejections). You must believe in yourself fully before other people can believe in you.

Colette_Freedman_307Colette Freedman is an internationally produced playwright with over 25 produced plays, Colette was voted “One of 50 to Watch” by The Dramatist’s Guild.

Her play Sister Cities was the hit of the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe and earned five star reviews: It has been produced around the country and internationally, fourteen times including Paris (Une Ville, Une Soeur) and Rome (Le Quattro Sorelle). The film version has been optioned and is in pre production.

She has co-written, with International bestselling novelistJackie Collins, the play Jackie Collins Hollywood Lies, which is gearing up for a National Tour. In collaboration with The New York Times best selling author Michael Scott, she wrote the thriller The Thirteen Hallows (Tor/Macmillan).

Her novel The Affair (Kensington) came out January 29, 2013. The play of the novel earned both critical and commercial success as it toured Italy February through May 2013.

Her novel The Consequences (Kensington) was released on January 28, 2014

http://www.colettefreedman.com

Twitter: twitter.com/ColetteFreedman

Pinterest: pinterest.com/colettefreedman

You can find out more about Colette’s books here: 

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/19Rc1zO

Good Reads: http://bit.ly/1ehlamu

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1dRPDpF

Guest Post: Author Rita Plush Gives A Real Voice To Her Characters Through An Audio Book

ImageToday, author Rita Plush offers us an inside look at how she facilitated the recording of her own audio book, what that process entailed, and what it meant to her. 

There are a myriad of paths to traditional publication today — small presses to e-publishers to big publishers. I love seeing an author take things into their own hands when it’s possible or necessary — because no one cares about the success of our book as much as we do. Kudos to Rita for finding a new way for her author voice to be heard. 

Please welcome Rita back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Four Reasons You Shouldn’t Try To Be Perfect by Author Kathryn Maeglin

HunkaHunkaCover225pixelsYou heard it here first. I am a fan of writing horrible drafts. Not publishing them, not reading them, but the only way I can get from HERE to THERE and from THIS to THAT is to let go of any notion of perfectionism in writing. You know, the same philosophy I have with the laundry. That’s not to be said that I don’t polish my work to a shine in the end, the way I iron my clothes (yes I do, pretty much daily). But to get there I LET GO.

Today, author Kathryn Maeglin shares her thoughts on perfectionism as well as her Serenity Prayer for Perfectionists. Do you need to reform? Or do you have advice? Chime in below.

And please welcome Kathryn Maeglin to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

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Guest Post by Author Kaira Rouda: Author Branding And The Real You

MIRROR_cover_300dpiToday I’m happy to share great advice from author Kaira Rouda. She’s a marketing pro and author with some simple yet essential reminders about author branding and being who you are. Being real. Thank you, Kaira, it’s something we need to hear again and again!

 Please welcome Kaira to WFW! 

Amy xo

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