How to Write When You Don’t Have Time (or have had too much egg nog—or Hanukkah gelt)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? It’s cold, wet, gets dark at 4:30, and most of us have no time or energy to write.

Let me explain. We’re entranced during this season. I don’t even celebrate Christmas, and Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah is technically classified as a festival, and while important, it does not, in any way, have the heft of, let’s say, Passover or Yom Kippur, yet it gets all the good press. I digress. There are lights, food, and happy faces. People want to chat. They want to know your plans, about your kids, about your life (which has given way to those Xmas letters). What’s not to feel good about? Don’t forget Christmas decorations. Because lights. Need I say more?

What’s not to feel good about is falling behind on a deadline or a work-in-progress. It’s not bad to take a break. At one point while writing The Glass Wives (which seems like a lifetime ago) I stopped for six months for some life-tending. But if you don’t want to take a break, but feel like it’s time to spend your time on other things, remember that you can’t really write without living your life.

So go live it!

When people would ask me if the characters in The Glass Wives were based on real people, I answered honestly. Yes and no. Did I know people exactly like the characters? No. But were they snippets or truth stirred with pure imagination? Yes. But one of my favorite stories to tell is how one day I was waiting for my daughter to come out of junior high (she’s a college sophomore now) and I saw another pick-up lane mom get out of her car. She was dressed just the way I’d imagined my character, Laney, to dress. So I watched her. I watched the way she walked in her books and the way her coat swayed. I watched her push her long curly hair off her shoulders then scoop it back again. And, creepy as it may sound, every time I wrote about Laney I thought of this woman, this scene. But at that moment, I wasn’t writing a thing. Nor did I take a note, or record a voice memo. I simply had the experience and used it later.

You know, in my writing.

Nowadays I’m working part-time at a friend’s restaurant. Every day I talk to a hundred people if not more. Most are friendly, some are not. A few are rude. Some are in clothes that tell me what their jobs are, like a policeman or road worker (it’s the fluorescent vest that gives it away). Some are in clothes that tell me nothing except that the person cares about style, or doesn’t. I also know that I don’t know much about any of them but that it doesn’t matter because I write fiction. And when it’s time for me to write about something icky — I’ll likely remember the guy who handed me his credit card after holding it in his mouth.

When I want to write about confusion I’ll write about people who don’t leave a tip (I don’t waitress, but please, if someone is cooking your food, delivering it to you, and cleaning it up, leave a dollar on the table).

When I want to write about entitlement I’ll likely try to channel the woman who is never satisfied, never has enough crackers, or pickles, or mustard, and always wants something free to make up for it.

Maybe if I want a little angst, I’ll write about the bathroom lock that gets stuck every time I’m in there.

Perhaps one of my characters will wear a lovely hat with a purple flower, like a woman I met yesterday. Or maybe I’ll describe the reaction to someone having matzah ball soup for the first time. Or kreplach.

So, in the season of parties and shopping and family gatherings lies your opportunity to gather up all of the goodness and save it for a time when you do have time to write. When you have a character who requires a joyous demeanor, or an overstuffed belly, or even a Grinchy mood. Or a fancy hat. Or food on his face.

The best part is, no one knows what you’re doing. And you won’t be writing about these people, just your experience of them.

Don’t forget about the feeling you get when you wait in line for an hour, or get caught in a two-for-one sweater frenzy. Don’t forget the excitement of seeing someone you haven’t seen all year—or maybe that’s worry.

Whoever you see and whatever you do, if you need to, just pack away the pen and the smart phone and enjoy the season. Take it all in, but don’t take notes.  It will all be there when you need it, ready to be retrieved, and when your belly is filled with food, your calendar is filled with plans, your closets are filled with hidden gifts—hopefully your head will be filling with ideas!

 

 

 

Ten Things I Love About Living And Writing In My Empty Nest

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Stork atop empty nest. Not-so-subtle subtext intended.

My kids just went back to college after their Thanksgiving breaks and they’ll both be home in two-and-a-half weeks for a month or more. Their presence will refill the house with food and friends and football and ample noise, all of which I will enjoy. But, it will also mess with the empty nest mojo I’ve collected, stored and learned to love over the past few months.

Yes, you read that right. Learned To Love. (C’mon, what choice did I have?)

I did not like living alone (no offense to the dogs, they are great company) for the first two months. I thought the house was too big, too quiet, and the whole “higher education” and “college experience” thing had been grossly overrated.  More specifically, I “Hated it!” (Yes, I said that like the Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather characters from In Living Color, thereby showing my 1) age, 2) great taste in TV shows. Click here if you have no idea to what I’m referring!)

So, during those two months, I wondered: How do people do this? How do they live without anyone else in the house? Who do they talk to? (I have always talked to myself, so I’m not sure why this was a question for me.)

And now I wonder—how do they live with people around all the time? Take note, I never lived alone. I commuted to college and lived in the house where I grew up, with my brother and parents, and lived there until I got married. Not something I’d recommend, but something for which do-overs are not available. The truth is, I didn’t want to move out and live alone.

And now? I’ve gone over to the other side. Let’s choose a cliché, shall we?  I got into a groove, found my mojo, came to grips, saw the light. Whatever you call it, it was painful at first and then it felt fine. Even good.

It’s not that I don’t miss the not-so-little darlings. I do. But not the way I thought I would.

Here’s why:

  1. I can go to bed at nine and no one says, “Are you kidding?”  I always say I’m getting into bed to read but this is secret-mom-code for snoring within six minutes, do not dare wake me.
  2. I watch much less TV. I think I enjoy watching TV with my kids and therefore the litany of shows don’t get watched. Unless of course it’s General Hospital or a Hallmark Christmas movie.  Do. Not. Judge.
  3. I eat dinner for lunch and popcorn for dinner. There is no guilt in messing with a family meal when the family in question is moi! I will cook for myself, but often midday as a break from writing and editing. That’s when I’ll turn on the TV (yep, there’s one in the kitchen) and putter a bit. By nighttime I want my hair in a clip and something in a bowl I can likely eat with my fingers. Dry Cheerios work too.
  4. I can read my work aloud without someone asking who I’m talking to, and then saying, “Oh right.” I can also flail around a bit more figuring out how to write certain character movements and actions. I call that Method Writing.
  5. I make my own schedule. College kids don’t require a schedule but when there are other people around there are accommodations made for them, and in return. If someone is sleeping, we’re quiet. I don’t cook food if the smell is offensive to someone else (daughter doesn’t like curry, or fish). We remove other’s clothing from the dryer. We see if someone needs something from the store. Not Any More! Not that I mind—ever—but it’s kind of liberating to go to Walgreens and NOT wonder if someone else needs deodorant.
  6. I realized that my primary designation as Mom (or Momma, as my daughter calls me) hasn’t changed a bit. I’m still a mom first. To them and to me. That’s who I am. I just don’t have to do mom things first all the time anymore. This was a big revelation for me because all I ever wanted to be was a mom and a writer.
  7. Sushi is affordable when ordering for one.  ‘Nuff said.
  8. Inherent privacy.  There is little privacy for a single mom with two kids and two dogs. Once the kids were old enough to not want to know every time I went to the bathroom, the dogs figured out the tile floor was the coldest in the house. I couldn’t go anywhere alone. Now, everywhere in the house I am alone.  I don’t have to go in another room to have a private telephone conversation or talk to a client. I can use speaker phone. This is huge.
  9. I worry less. Before my son went away to college my cousin told me that if I don’t hear from the university, the police, or the hospital, then he’s fine. I took that advice to heart. I sleep like a rock when my kids are away, and when they’re home I wonder where they are and what they’re doing and when they’re coming home. I also wake up throughout the night.  Luckily they are amazingly tolerant and touch base with me when they’re out, and when they get home.
  10. When my kids come home, I think they are much more awesome than when they left. Even if it was just weeks before. Cheesy, but true. I mean, c’mon. Look what they did for me. Even if someone finished the stuffing or and put a paper plate in the sink or or came home at three in the morning, there is no way around how awesome this is. (When I hit them up in a decade to do it again, I’ll let you know how it goes.)

hanukah throwback 2013

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EDITOR AMY

Making the page a better place—one em dash at a time.

Author Priscille Sibley Says To Write Your Heart Out

You won’t be surprised to learn that I met Priscille Sibley on Backspace. You might be surprised to learn I read her novel when it had a different title and before Priscille had her current agent! How exciting it was for me to read it again in its final form.  Another exciting thing is to introduce to you THE PROMISE OF STARDUST, which has a male protagonist (OH NO) but is clearly being marketed as women’s fiction (TRUE)!  It’s was a real treat for me to ask Priscille questions about her novel and her process and to learn new things after knowing this author for so long. Priscille is also one of my Book Pregnant friends!

Please welcome Priscille Sibley to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Priscille Sibley Says To Write Your Heart Out

Amy: What is the most important part of THE PROMISE OF STARDUST to you, as its author. Having nothing to do with its plot, what is the book about? Maybe some would refer to that as its theme.

Priscille: Although my story deals heavily with reactions to grief, I believe that ultimately the novel is about hope and resilience. Here is a line from the book: “There is uncertainty in hope, but even with its tenuous nature, it summons our strength and pulls us through fear and grief – and even death.”

Amy: Your novel holds a moral dilemma threaded together, and torn apart, by a love story.  What was your favorite part of the novel to write? And I know that doesn’t mean it was the easiest.

Priscille: The backstory was more fun to write, lighter, essential to leaven the main story. About a quarter of the book’s chapters occur in the past. Elle is alive and healthy in those chapters, and Matt is much happier. After her accident, he is grieving. It was painful to climb into his head some days.

Amy: Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication, and perhaps the most surprising part of that journey?

Priscille: I am an unlikely writer. I didn’t study literature in school. (I have a BSN in nursing.) I was very fortunate that once I did start writing, I quickly discovered a number of online writer communities. I found a nurturing critique group. That said, I made plenty of blunders, too. After a couple of years, I realized my first manuscript contained fatal flaws. I put it away and started fresh with a new idea.  A year or so later I found a literary agent to represent me. Alas, manuscript number two didn’t sell. My first agent and I parted ways, while I was polishing my third manuscript. By the time I was ready to query The Promise of Stardust, I had a much better idea of what I personally needed from a literary agent. Fortunately, I was really blessed when my manuscript resonated with an agent who fit my new description. With her insights, I dug in and made more revisions. When she sent it out to publishers, it luckily found several interested editors and a home at William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Amy: Do you have a favorite character in the book? Or is that like asking you to pick a favorite child?

Priscille: Having spent an entire book inside Matt’s head, he should be the one I favor right? I love him. I admire his devotion to Elle. He is flawed and I don’t think he completely sees himself or the situation clearly, but I like the way he loves her. I also love Linney and Elle. I even liked Adam (hush, don’t tell Matt.)

Amy: Even though your protagonist is Matt, who is clearly not a woman, you’ve mentioned that it’s thought of as women’s fiction.  What is your definition of women’s fiction and how do you feel about your novel being considered part of that genre?

Priscille: Clearly. Matt is a Matthew and not a Matilda. I chose to write the novel from his point of view somewhat reluctantly, but Elle, his wife, has suffered a horrible brain injury. She is in a persistent vegetative state. So to tell their story, I climbed into his head, determined to make him authentically male. By most definitions, women’s fiction is about a woman’s journey. More and more I realized the story was about Matt, even though his focus is very much on her. I think the main reasons people describe TPOS as WF is that Elle is pregnant. Babies are still women’s turf. Moreover, The Promise of Stardust is an emotional story. (I keep hearing reports about tissues, and I’m never quite sure how to respond to that.) Author Keith Cronin, who has been here at Women Fiction Writers, said something women’s fiction being about the emotions conveyed in the story. I truly wish I had the quote because I think he nailed the definition.

Amy: What is your best advice to aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Priscille: Write your heart out. Really, put your heart in there. Take something that troubles you or resonates and turn it into something someone else can feel.

Amy, thank you so much for having me. I love this blog!

A few people always know what they want to do when they grow up. Priscille Sibley knew early on she would become a nurse. And a poet. Later, her love of words developed into a passion for storytelling.

Born and raised in Maine, Priscille has paddled down a few wild rivers, done a little rock climbing, and jumped out of airplanes. She currently lives in New Jersey where she works as a neonatal intensive care nurse and shares her life with her wonderful husband, three tall teenaged sons, and a mischievous Wheaten terrier.

Please visit Priscille’s website or follow her on Twitter @PriscilleSibley.

Read Big Girls Don’t Cry by Priscille on The Book Pregnant Blog.

Guest Post: Writing, Rejections, and Going for that Overhead Smash by Author Holly Robinson

My friend Holly Robinson’s novel, THE WISHING HILL (and its stunning cover) will be published by Penguin in Summer 2013. Oh, and she’ll have another novel published in 2014!  So I’m going to make sure she comes back to talk more about all that crazy awesomeness! But today, Holly shares with us why it’s important to just keep on writing, and trying no matter what.  Why? Because you just don’t know the moment that something is just going to go flying over the net. (The tennis pun is weak, I agree, but my intentions were good.) 

Please welcome Holly to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Writing, Rejections, and Going for that Overhead Smash

By Holly Robinson

ImageBy the time my agent was sending out my fifth novel, I figured I’d paid my dues as a writer.  Yes, it’s true that I majored in biology and had never even read James Joyce, but I atoned for that mistake by flinging myself into graduate school to earn an MFA in creative writing.  I even published short stories in literary journals where the payment was two copies.  I collected enough rejection slips that, one Halloween, I dressed as a Rejection Slip, donning a lacy slip with my rejections stapled all over it.

“Are you still writing?” friends and relatives asked, year after year.

“Of course.  And this one is it,” I always answered.

And then came novel #5.  This will be the one, I told myself, just like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate FactoryThis will be my golden ticket!

When the rejections amassed that fifth time, though, I lost faith.  That tiny negative voice in my head, the one that was usually like some bee you can wave off, began to sound like a trumpet in my ear.  The voice blared:  You are not smart enough to be a writer. 

“Let’s try one more editor,” my blessed agent said.

I knew the editor he was sending my fifth novel to, and she is one of the smartest in the business.  As a book doctor and ghost writer for many years, typically on nonfiction health books and celebrity memoirs, I’d had the opportunity to work with her on several books.  I desperately wanted her to love my novel.

I waited three agonizing weeks.  Then the editor’s reply came:  “I’m sorry, but the novel just doesn’t work for us,” she said, adding various detailed observations about where the plot flagged and why the characters didn’t ring true.

“Should I get you some wine?” my husband asked when he found me prone on the sofa, the rejection letter crumpled in one hand and a bouquet of Kleenexes in the other.

“Go get me chocolates.  Good chocolates,” I hissed.  “I’m never writing fiction again.”

I was devastated enough by that one rejection to eat my way through an entire box of dark chocolate truffles, drink half a bottle of Grand Marnier, and watch Nicole Kidman attempt to sing in Moulin Rouge.  By now, that trumpeting voice in my head had turned cocky and mean:  Your sentences are dull and stupid.  Your plot lines are insipid.  Your descriptions are trite.  Your characters are flat and uninteresting.  Who would want to read your writing? 

That was it.  I was done with fiction.

With so much extra time on my hands, I decided to do something entirely unlike me:  I took tennis lessons.

I had never played a sport in my life, and I rapidly discovered that practicing a sport means getting yelled at a lot.  My tennis coach’s nonstop badgering nearly made me quit:  “Get up to net!  Come on, don’t stand around the baseline!  Go for it!  You want that overhead smash!”

My problem was that I was too timid and polite.  I got hit on the head with tennis balls more than once, nearly pummeled to the ground by aggressive women on the other side of the net going for their overhead smashes.

I spent hours and hours on the tennis court.  I joined a travel team and moved up the ranks.  Still, I hung back, always playing it safe, until one day my coach lost her temper.

“You know,” she said, “the only person who really cares about whether you screw up out here is you!  Just get up to net and take the balls in the air!  You might miss.  But you might surprise yourself if you try.”

The metaphor here is obvious, and so were the flaws in my tennis playing.  I had to force myself to net again and again.  Until one day, to my shock, I found myself looking for those overheads and smashing them down at my opponent’s feet.  I missed a lot of balls, but I made some great shots, too.

I became more confident at tennis, and that made me start writing again.  What did I have to lose by trying another novel?  Nobody was going to publish it, probably, but so what?  I love writing fiction.  So I started another book.

This is one of those happy-ending stories, but with a twist.  While I was writing my sixth novel, The Wishing Hill, I also revised and self-published that fifth novel, Sleeping Tigers.  Self publishing wasn’t the way I wanted to go, but going to net in tennis had taught me to gamble.  I revised Sleeping Tigers and published it myself.

Meanwhile, I finished my newest novel, The Wishing Hill.  The same editor at Penguin, the one I had always dreamed about working with on a novel, bought it.  She recently bought the new novel I’m working on, too.  It will be published a year after The Wishing Hill.

What’s the takeaway here?

  1. If you are a writer, you will surely get rejected.  Nobody cares but you.
  2. Writing, like anything else, is all about keeping the ball in play, watching for new opportunities, and not being afraid to go to net.

Want to make it as a writer?  You have to fail first—and sometimes many times.  Get to the net and write another book.  Keep going for that overhead smash, and you might surprise yourself.

Image 1Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. She also works as a ghost writer on celebrity memoirs, education texts, and health books. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was named a Target Breakout Book. Her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, was named a 2011 Book of the Year Finalist by ForeWord Reviews and was more recently listed as a Semifinalist 2012 Best Indie Book by Kindle Book Review. She holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She lives north of Boston with her husband and their five children.

Debut Women’s Fiction Author, Shelle Sumners, Shares Her Unexpected Path To Publication

Just when I think I’ve asked all the questions and heard all the answers — enter my editor-and-publisher-sister, author Shelle Sumners.  She’s full of wonderful advice, interesting stories, and a few surprises.  Shelle’s novel, GRACE GROWS, is like that as well. While her main character, Grace, has expectations of herself, works hard at her job, and is in a relationship, Grace’s journey in the novel is how the expectations, needs, and wants for oneself can change…and how it’s never to late to follow a new path in life, work, and love. 

Please welcome Shelle Sumners to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Debut Women’s Fiction Author, Shelle Sumners, Shares Her Unexpected Path To Publication

Amy: Shelle, congratulations on the upcoming release of your novel GRACE GROWS on October 30th!  What are you most excited about with the release of your debut novel?   

Shelle: Thank you, Amy!

First of all, there’s the daily, thrilling realization that I wrote a book and it’s being published! And also, I’m excited because Grace Grows is very unusual—it’s a novel with an accompanying soundtrack of songs that are part of the story. My husband Lee Morgan wrote the songs, and truly, they are amazing. In the book they read as lyric poetry that Tyler Wilkie has written for Grace Barnum, but they are also actual, recorded songs, that readers can download and listen to. My publishers have been excited about this, too–the Random House audio book has portions of the songs woven throughout the spoken narrative, and both the audio book and the St. Martin’s Press enhanced e-book will feature an MP3 of the song “Her” (my favorite!). So, Lee and I are both looking forward to readers experiencing this multidimensional, multimedia creation of ours.

Amy: Is there anything you’re nervous about? 

Shelle: I am surprisingly calm, perhaps because I’m doing a lot of knitting.

Amy: Obviously you were doing many things (like most of us) while writing, submitting, editing and publicizing your novel. How did you organize and balance your time and commitments?

Shelle: While I was writing the first drafts of Grace Grows, I was working full time as a program coordinator at a church in Princeton, NJ. I’d come home at night and write for two or three hours (my husband made dinner a lot), and I spent chunks of weekend time writing, when I could squeeze it in. I have a wonderful daughter who always, always came first, but who was also very patient when mom was writing. By the time the book was being published and I was revising it with my editor, I was recovering from a health crisis and had to give up my job (more about this later in the interview), so I was able to make editing the novel my main focus.

Amy: We are all so glad you’ve recovered, Shelle — and that writing and editing was your safe place through the bad times.  Can you share with us what you learned about writing through the good and not-so-good times?   

Shelle: When you’re writing your first draft, just do the work and don’t worry about whether or not you’re being brilliant. Just write. It will turn out that some of what you create will be very useful, and some you will discard. I think of the first draft as the time when you are making the raw material, the “clay” that you will sculpt and refine in the second draft and then polish in subsequent drafts (and there may be many). Fun fact: The final, published version of Grace Grows was my eleventh draft.

I used to subscribe to a daily email of Buddhist wisdom, and one day I received this scripture in my inbox:

Soundtrack cover for GRACE GROWS

Having applied himself

to what was not his own task,

and not having applied himself

to what was,

having disregarded the goal

to grasp at what he held dear,

he now envies those

who kept after themselves,

took themselves

to task.

–Dhammapada, 16, translated by Thanissaro Bhikku

I printed this out and pinned it to the bulletin board over my computer. I reread it constantly while I was writing, and it helped me keep going. Writing is my task. My bliss. I did not want to come to the end of my life and know that I had not at least tried to grasp at what I held dear.

Amy: We share the same St. Martin’s editor, Brenda Copeland, but everyone’s writing, editing, and publishing experience is different. Can you share a bit of your journey to publication and some of the most surprising events or realizations? 

Shelle: Surprise number one: I used to think I was an actor, but it turned out I was a writer! I had been a theater major in college and spent my twenties in New York and Los Angeles pursuing an acting career, but by the time I was thirty this was no longer creatively satisfying. I needed to try something else. I had always been a good writer in school, so I wrote a short, experimental, not very good play. Then I became obsessed with an idea I had for a movie. I bought Syd Field’s screenwriting workbook and taught myself how to write a screenplay. With that first script I got a literary agent, and it was optioned by a Sundance Film Festival–winning producer, but it was never made into a movie.

I wrote two more screenplays. Then, in a writing class, I met a very talented writer who happened to be a former book scout for movies. She read one of my scripts and told me that I really should try writing a novel. I’d been putting it off, but I worked up the courage and spent a year novelizing one of my screenplays. Not long after I finished the first draft of that novel, I had a dream about this young man and woman who, for some reason, were together at a waterfall. They were so in love, but there were obstacles. It was very early morning, still dark out, but I sat up in bed and wrote many pages of notes. Their story just flowed out of me.

About 18 months later, I gave the Grace Grows manuscript to my friend from writing class. She read it and asked if she could send it to a close friend in New York who is very connected in publishing and film. That wonderful woman read the manuscript and offered to take it to literary agents, and that is how I got my fantastic agent, Laurie Liss.

Laurie and I worked on the manuscript for several months, and then she took it to publishers and within about a week sold it to Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s Press.

I’ll briefly mention here that the sale of my book closely followed another life-changing event: The day after Christmas, 2010, I had a stroke. A stroke. Yes, I am too young, and this was completely unexpected. What happened was I accidentally tore the lining of my left vertebral artery, and a blood clot went to my brain. So, during the months that I worked with Brenda on my Grace Grows edits, I was in physical therapy for muscle and balance problems caused by the stroke. What a blessing it was to have something so wonderful, so dreamed of, happening alongside something so difficult. It helped me stay hopeful and positive.

Amy: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

Shelle: Stories that affirm women and invisibly connect us when we collectively read/experience them.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Shelle: Just try to tell a good story.

Shelle Sumners lives and writes in Bucks County, PA. Her debut novel Grace Grows is a Featured Alternate selection for Doubleday, Literary Guild and Rhapsody Book Clubs and is being published internationally. It has a companion soundtrack of phenomenal original songs that appear in the story, written and performed by her husband, singer-songwriter and Broadway actor Lee Morgan.

www.ShelleSumners.com

http://www.facebook.com/ShelleSumners

Twitter: @ShelleSumners

You can pre-order GRACE GROWS! Click here!

Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book

Keith Cronin is a true writer-advocate in addition to being the author of ME AGAIN and a professional drummer!  Keith’s road to publication has been long and arduous and wonderful — and we are so lucky to have him back on Women’s Fiction Writers. I met Keith on Backspace, probably in 2007! (OMG, that’s like 27 years in online years!) Keith was one of the very first guests on WFW!  A link to that interview, and to my review of ME AGAIN, his re-released novel now available on Kindle, are listed below.

Please welcome Keith Cronin back to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book

Amy: Welcome back to Women’s Fiction Writers, Keith! Congratulations on the Kindle release of your novel Me Again, a year after its original hardcover release. Can you explain to us why there was a year in between these releases?

Keith: Thanks, Amy – it’s great to be invited back! The one-year wait was a contractual thing. Five Star is a very specialized publishing house, focused primarily on selling hardcover fiction to public library systems. In fact, when they bought my book, they were not doing any digital publishing at all. They’ve finally begun to enter the ebook market, but the terms of my contract give me all non-hardcover publishing rights one year after the hardcover release.

This arrangement didn’t sound too bad back in 2010 when I signed the book deal, but that one year ended up feeling like an eternity, given that my book came out right when ebooks started really taking off. So I’m thrilled to finally be able to offer the book to a wider audience – and at a much lower price.

Amy: How was your experience as a debut author? Was it different from your expectations?

Keith: It’s been both a roller-coaster ride and a huge learning experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Probably the toughest thing when launching a book is the ongoing choice you’re faced with, of when to just let things happen, and when to try to insert yourself into the process. On one hand, working with a publisher who’s been around, you need to give them credit for knowing how to do their part. But on the other, you can’t forget that yours is just one of many books they are publishing, so you need to stay on top of some of the details just in case they don’t – all without becoming a nightmarishly high-maintenance pain in the ass (or, NHMPITA). That’s always a balancing act, and I’m not sure I always stayed on the correct side of the NHMPITA line. But I’m fortunate to have many friends who are authors, and their experiences provided a much-needed reality check, and made me realize that most authors hit some occasional speed-bumps and woulda-coulda-shoulda’s with every book they publish.

I will say, the validation that comes with publishing a book has been very powerful – it makes you feel like all that hard work really meant something. And it’s incredibly gratifying when a reader speaks up to let me know they enjoyed my story. Whether they tell me face-to-face, send me an email, post a review, or comment on Twitter or Facebook, it never fails to lift me up and make my day. That stuff just never gets old.

But one of the coolest things I’ve found is that having a book out puts me in a position to help even more writers. I’m a huge believer in the power of writers as a community – my favorite being the Backspace online forum, where you and I met. When I speak at conferences and other events, or post my thoughts online about writing, it’s both rewarding and humbling to see how people respond. Just last week I did a reading and panel discussion down in South Beach, at the LitChat Literary Salon at the Betsy Hotel. One of the people in the audience was a high school kid, who came up to talk to me afterward. He said something that really struck me: “I’m not the best writer in my creative writing class. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that nobody else from my class showed up for this, after our teacher told us about it.”

I told him it’s not just a matter of who has the most talent, but more about who wants it the most, and the fact that he showed up indicated he had more of a hunger than the other students. By the way his eyes lit up, I could tell he was really encouraged. When you see that fire in another writer’s eyes, and know that you helped keep that flame going, it’s a really powerful experience.

Amy: I know you’re a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed, one of my favorite daily reads — but are you also working on a new novel? If so, will it be back under the broad umbrella of women’s fiction?

Keith: Yes, I’m in the brainstorm stage of my next project, and I think it will fit into that admittedly broad category, in that it will explore some pretty deep emotional territory. But I’ll be honest – I’ve really begun to think “women’s fiction” is a category that exists mostly in the minds of people who work in publishing, but not in the minds of most readers. I almost never hear the term unless I’m talking to somebody who is involved in the business. Even at literary conferences I keep encountering people in the audience questioning what women’s fiction is, particularly when they see a guy who looks like me claiming that he writes it.

That said, I definitely write with a female audience in mind. I’ve always related well to women – as a youth I was perpetually stuck being that nice guy whom so many girls liked “only as a friend” – oh, the agony! And I’m certainly not cut out to write testosterone-dripping Cussler-esque thrillers (in part because I don’t feel cardboard is a satisfactory material from which to build a character – oops, did I say that out loud?). So yeah, I’m sticking with this direction, because I think it lets me tap into what I’ve got, in a way that seems to resonate most with readers.

Amy: What’s your best advice for debut authors?

Keith: Well, this is definitely a piece of “do as I say, not as I do” advice, but here it is: Take advantage of any time you have to start writing the next freaking book.

I know, everybody says it. But it’s so true, and it needs to be reiterated. When you’re a debut author, your whole world becomes about this one book. And since it’s your first book (we’ll ignore any “trunk novels” for the moment), it’s easy to look at this one book as the sum total of all your literary energy. You’ve poured everything you had into this book, and there’s simply nothing left.

Sorry, but that only worked for Harper Lee. You wanna be an author? You gotta keep writing more books. And they sure as hell don’t write themselves.

Amy, with the publication date of The Glass Wives approaching (yay!), I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a LOT of waiting in this game. In fact, this advice isn’t just for debut authors. These bouts of waiting occur at all stages of your development and career, whether you’re submitting short stories to journals, or querying agents, or waiting while your agent pitches your book to editors, or all the stuff that happens after you sell, when you’re waiting on copy edits, cover art, author blurbs, ARCs, you name it. Bottom line, there is a huge amount of thumb-twiddling time in this business, during which your thumbs (and the rest of your fingers) would be put to better use typing away at your next book.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors?

Keith: Don’t succumb to the temptation to treat self-publishing as a shortcut. Now, please read that sentence carefully. I’m not going all Sue Grafton on you here. I’m not saying “don’t self-publish.” I’m not saying “self-publishing is a shortcut.” What I’m trying to say – with any luck, more accurately and diplomatically than Grafton did – is that there can definitely be a temptation to treat self-publishing as a shortcut. I mean, your book can be live on Amazon within hours of you typing “the end” in your Word document. Just knowing this is heady stuff, and the temptation is palpable.

What do I advocate instead? Before jumping on that bandwagon, try to get a sense of whether your stuff is ready. And I’m “old school” in this respect: I think you need somebody else to help determine that. An editor at a literary journal choosing to publish one of your stories. A reputable agent offering to represent you. Failing that, some serious interest and “near misses” with several reputable agents and/or editors. Some positive reviews and comments from professional writers with whom you interact, either in online groups or at conferences, workshops, or meetings with established groups or associations (RWA, MWA, etc.).

All this may make me sound dreadfully old-fashioned, but I just think it’s so hard to be objective about your own work. And while your mom or your spouse might think your writing is fabulous, I really think you need a second opinion, ideally from others with some firmly established expertise. In my experience, most of us just don’t get good enough to write fiction worthy of publication without paying some pretty substantial dues – and getting our butts kicked by people who know more about writing than we do.

So that’s all I’m advocating: do the hard work necessary to get your writing up to par. Then, by all means explore whatever publishing options are available, and make a choice that best suits your priorities.

Amy: What is one thing you would do as a debut author– if you had it to do all over again? Or did you check everything off your list?

This question brought back a memory, and sent me digging through my Facebook statuses (or is it stati?) from a year ago, and I soon found the post I was looking for:

“When I put out the recycling bins tonight, the amount of empty wine bottles in the glass/metal/plastic bin reminded me that yes, this was the week I published my first novel.”

So I’m thinking next time around, I’ll look into trying to get a volume discount at the local wine shop!

(I’m making a note of this one, Keith. CHEERS, my friend!)

Author of the novel ME AGAIN, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. He is also becoming informally known as “the title guy,” having provided the title for Sara Gruen’s blockbuster Water for Elephants, as well as Susan Henderson’s HarperCollins debut Up from the Blue.

Keith is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed, named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for the past five years. His fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Indiana University, and earned his MBA at Florida Atlantic University. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. Visit him online at keithcronin.com or facebook.com/keithcronin.

Find out more about ME AGAIN, and get your own copy, by clicking here.

You can read Keith’s first WFW interview, When A Man Writes Women’s Fiction, by clicking here.

You can read my review of ME AGAIN, here.

She Reads Co-Founder, Ariel Lawhon, Brings Us: The Impatient Character

I feel a special kinship with anyone who has started a website or blog or community for the benefit of writers and readers. I’m honored to have Ariel Lawhon here today, the co-founder of She Reads, a national on-line book club.  

Please welcome Ariel to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

She Reads Co-Founder, Ariel Lawhon, Brings Us: The Impatient Character

My biggest reading surprise of 2011 came in the form of Diane Setterfield’s gothic masterpiece, The Thirteenth Tale. Though published in 2008, I somehow managed to miss this novel until last summer when my family took a 1500 mile road trip. I packed five novels in the hopes that one of them would be good. I never made it past the first. And I’m not entirely sure if I spoke to my husband at all during that trip. I was consumed.

In her novel Diane Setterfield introduces us to Vida Winter, a prolific, reclusive author who chooses to tell her life story to a young biographer by the name of Margaret Lea. Vida Winter is one of the most memorable literary characters, and certainly the strongest female character I’ve ever read. She says something in the novel that felt so familiar to me that I’ve never forgotten it:

My study throngs with characters waiting to be written. Imaginary people anxious for life, who tug at my sleeve, crying, ‘Me next! Go on! My turn!’ I have to select. And once I have chosen, the others lie quiet for ten months or a year, until I come to the end of the story, and the clamor starts up again.”

I have experienced that demanding character, but never so intensely as while finishing my recent novel, The Rule of Three.

For months a new story had been nagging at me, creeping in during those moments when my mind was quiet. A long shower. That stretch of thought before drifting off to sleep. The dream that comes in the stillness before waking.

I recall writing a scene from my newly finished novel. It was a particularly tense argument between my Hero (her name is Stella) and Opponent that took place in an old, Jazz-era bar. There they were, leaning across the table in a dark, corner booth, both of them reaching for a tattered envelope containing a long-kept secret. I paused for a moment, fingers lightly touching the keyboard as I mulled a piece of dialogue. And then…

In the far corner of the bar was a woman delivering a baby! Of all the strange and bizarre things, the character in my next novel had walked into my current novel and set up shop. I could see it in my mind, like a fuzzy TV station that’s been caught between two channels, superimposing one face, one story, over another.

Vida describes that sensation best:

And every so often, through all these writing years, I have lifted my head from the page—at the end of a chapter, or in the quiet pause for thought after a death scene, or sometimes just searching for the right word—and have seen a face at the back of the crowd.”

I knew who this character was, of course. Her name is Martha. She’s a midwife. A mother. A diarist. A strong and capable woman if ever there was one. But in that moment she was an intruder. So I gave Martha her own notebook. I scratched down what she was frantically trying to tell me, and I politely escorted her from the premises. Then I shook off her specter and went back to the bar, and my characters bent in heated conversation.

The scene turned out well in case you’re wondering. As did the rest of the novel. But now it’s done. My mind, so battered after wrestling that story to the page, is finally rested. And Martha has renewed her protests, filling all that recently vacated space. It’s time to open her notebook.

There are other faces in the shadows behind Martha of course. A carpenter. A hoarder. A tattoo artist. They are waiting patiently. For now.

Ariel Lawhon is a novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She is also the co-founder of She Reads, a national online book club. Her latest novel, The Rule of Three, is based on the still-unsolved disappearance of a New York State Supreme Court Justice 1930 and is the story of three women who know what happened to him but choose not to tell. Ariel lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). She believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.