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

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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.

Margaret Dilloway, Author (and Aspiring Samurai), Talks About Writing Up-Market Women’s Fiction, Being Nice To Everyone, And Embracing The Chaos

Margaret Dilloway has two novels to her credit, How To Be An American Housewife, and The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns — and she also has a lot of inspiring words that are not inside those novels which you’ll find below. It’s such a learning experience to read what works for other writers, how they find the time, channel the energy, find their ideas, and how they stay sane through the process.  

I think Margaret Dilloway’s got it right — she embraces the chaos!

Please welcome Margaret to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Margaret Dilloway, Author (and Aspiring Samurai), Talks About Writing Up-Market Women’s Fiction, Being Nice To Everyone, And Embracing The Chaos

Amy: THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is your second novel, can you tell us a little bit about the story and main characters? (No spoilers, of course!)

Margaret: It’s about a high school biology teacher, Gal Garner, who’s an amateur rose breeder. She spends hours creating a new type of rose, the Hulthemia, and hopes one day to get it produced by a big rose company. She’s got a very methodical personality, and on top of that, Gal’s one of those people who lets people know the truth– the whole, blunt truth– which sometimes gets her into trouble. She’s also dealing with a lifelong kidney disease, and goes to dialysis every other day.

The kidney problems have affected all other areas of her life. One theme I explore is how it affected her family dynamics while she was growing up. It’s difficult to parent when one child’s in the hospital all the time. Her sister Becky has had lifelong problems with addiction, and she and Gal are nearly estranged. When Becky sends her daughter, Riley, to live with Gal, Gal has to readjust her life to make room for this other person. This kid who looks like an adult, but needs a lot of parenting.

One sidenote about the Hulthemia rose: it’s an open-faced rose that’s been being developed for the consumer market for more than 200 years. The man who assisted me with this book, Jim Sproul, was the first person to get it into the marketplace this season.

Amy: Was the process of writing this novel different than writing your first, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE? Can you share a little about how you write a novel?

Margaret: I don’t think any two novels will be the same for me. With HOUSEWIFE, it took me forever, because I wrote in a vacuum– I didn’t know any other writers and editors, or have any idea about story structure.

When I started ROSES, I was much more educated– I’d worked with a fabulous editor on HOUSEWIFE, who had very high standards. I started with an outline, but as I wrote, the story began to veer away from the outline. The ending’s entirely different than what I’d imagined.

ROSES took a few months of research and mulling, but when I finally sat down and committed myself to writing, the whole thing took about six weeks and required very little editing. I think this novel is going to be an anomaly.

I guess my advice is: be prepared, write an outline, but feel free to not follow it!

Amy: I love the tagline on your website: “Embracing the Chaos.” That seems like a smart motto! How do you embrace the chaos in your own life? (assuming it’s chaotic — aren’t they all?)

Margaret: “Embracing the Chaos” is sort of my mantra, because you’re right, all lives are chaotic. That was my hardest lesson to learn as an adult– how to be resilient, roll with the punches. (What do you mean, things won’t always work out perfectly??) My husband and I seem to be magnets for big, dramatic chaos. For example, my husband’s been hit by a car twice, and had to have his neck fused. We sold all our stuff and moved to Hawaii for a job, then sold it all again and moved back 18 months later, starting out with nothing twice.

On a smaller scale, we like to take on just a *little* bit more than we think we can handle. So that’s probably why we had a third kid, why he was an Army Ranger, why I’ve tried to devote myself to writing without success being a sure thing.

Amy: What is your favorite part of being an author? And yes, what is your least favorite part?

Margaret: My favorite part is interacting with readers. I love meeting people, and I love receiving positive letters from readers. I’ve had women write to me telling me I helped change the relationship with their mothers because of Housewife. That feels great.

My least favorite is all the business-y stuff. Being an author is like running your own small business– you need a “brand,” and that kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve had to learn a lot.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Margaret: When you say, “women’s fiction,” I think of something called, “upmarket women’s fiction,” which is a sort of commercial women’s fiction. To me, that means that there’s a female protagonist who’s dealing with a life problem, which are often part of a larger, bigger theme; and has a plot that moves along pretty fast. And it has well-written, complex characters– at least, I strive for that.

Women’s fiction sometimes tends to be code for, “light fluffy stuff about women’s lives that nobody takes seriously because they’re women,” which makes me all shades of mad. Women’s lives are important, and our experiences and opinions are important. There is excellent, affecting women’s fiction that makes you think differently about your life, and changes your worldview.

Think of the painter Mary Cassatt, the Impressionist who was the first one to take the lives of women seriously, who painted women in their everyday spheres. The male art world didn’t care about women or their silly little lives of motherhood and domesticity. But she treated women’s lives as a subject as worthy of paint. I want to be the Mary Cassatt of women’s fiction.

And I also want to be the Norman Mailer of women’s fiction, because I want to get into fights.

Not really, on that last part. Though I am half-Irish and have a quick temper, and my mother came from a samurai family, so you never know.

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

Margaret: Read widely outside your genre, write everyday, and don’t give up. I think the difference between me and others is I kept picking myself up and going forward. It’s really hard to do, so try to have people who are cheerleaders.

Have a life outside of writing, because, for most people, success is not a trajectory that goes upward forever and ever– it usually at least levels out. You need to not have all your self-worth tied up in that.

And be nice to people, even if they aren’t nice to you.

Margaret Dilloway is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, and How to Be an American Housewife, both published by Putnam Books. Entertainment Weekly called Roses “an exquisite little novel,” and Library Journal said it’s, “a captivating study of how love and understanding nurture our lives.” Housewife got four out of four stars from People Magazine, and was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Award.

How College Move-In Day Is Like Writing A Novel

A few weeks ago, my son Zachary and I packed up two cars with the necessities and incidentals for his junior year in college.  I stared at the mess cargo while standing in my driveway before we left home, and it hit me how that tightly packed, carefully chosen, absolute catastrophe in the back of my SUV and his compact car somewhat resembled my work-in-progress.

That was not a pleasant revelation, at first.

As for the stuff in the car, why he needed it all – why he needed even half of it — well, I was both intrigued and incensed.  Kind of like the way I felt about my story.  I knew there was a lot of dreck I wouldn’t need, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t end up schlepping it all along for a while, just in case.  Plus, on that early Monday morning in mid-August, there was no time to fuss, I had to get moving. Also the way I felt about my novel-to-be.  Usually when I have no time to write I have the most ideas. And with 3.5 hours to myself, I had plenty of time to think.

Always dangerous.

The way my son  meticulously and sometimes randomly, chose what was accompanying him this year, was not unlike the way I was thinking about my new story.  I had some threads from discarded work, ideas I’d jotted down on napkins, unusual names that piqued my interest, an old storyline I was renovating into something sparkly and new. I’d packed it all into the idea for a new novel, but had yet to unpack it, organize it, rearrange or make it pretty.  I mean handsome.

On the drive through two states for 3.5 hours, as I listened to a book on CD (old-fashioned, I know).  For me, this time seemed to serve as bridge between having Zachary home for three and half months, and going back for another ten months with just me and my daughter, Chloe.  It was also the bridge between me thinking about my new novel and actually writing it.  The metaphors became real as I made that final left turn into his picturesque college town and drove over, you guessed it. A bridge.

At his new house, we unpacked the cars for a very long time, bit by bit, first into the garage, then putting the boxes, bags, crates, and cases in the rooms and onto the floors in which they belonged, or where we thought they belonged.  When I rested on the questionably obtained pleather couch, and I watched Zachary and some his friends do the heavy lifting (ah, male youth) I knew that the  heavy lifting of my novel would also be when I would sort out the bits and pieces I’d compiled and decided where they were supposed to go.

Zachary has to look at something for a while to know where he wants it to be. He has to live with it for a while before finding its place and making it fit.  But when he’s ready, a few days in perhaps, it’s a whirlwind of activity and the results are great.  He’s always had a knack for getting things done right — especially when left to do in his own time, in his own way.

I too, have to look at something to make it make sense — and after a lot of thinking about the work in progress and messy notes and lists and outlines (outlines without Roman numerals that do not look like the outlines I learned to write in elementary school).  But, like with rearranging closets, drawers, furniture, electronics,and food – not to mention the yet to be purchased books — I would also  take everything out and make sense of it, look at it, study it, make it work. And, like Zachary and his four fraternity brother roommates, sometimes things would sometimes go smoothly, sometimes not, sometimes it would be noisy and sometimes it would be quiet.

As I ordered pizzas from right across the street for $6 each to feed the kids (the men) that helped him move in, I knew that he would continue to make changes to his room, to the kitchen to the living room — there would be input from trusted friends, and he’d take some advice and some he would toss with last week’s beer bottles — oh — I mean soda cans.

And then it was even more clear to me.  It’s a process – the book, the move-in, everything. It’s been a while since I’ve started something from scratch that I knew would be a full novel.  It’s been a while since I want things in their place so much that I became impatient with the process — but that won’t get me anywhere. I had to wait. Just like Zachary had to wait for his bed to be delivered the next day, just like he had to wait for the landlord to install — get this — toilet paper holders.  Waiting pays off.  In the end, waiting gives you time to make things the way you want them to be, the way that works for you — an  that is what will help you going forward, whether that’s moving on to a senior year of college or a third novel. Or your second kid going off to college in about a year if anyone is counting.

Breathe.

The next day I left for home, eager for Chloe to start her senior year of high school, and to unpack, organize, rearrange, rethink and remodel my WIP.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the keyboard. With my hands alone I would move into that new story and make it my home.

Even with lots left for him to do, when I drove away after having breakfast with Zachary, I didn’t shed or tear or feel a twang. I knew he too, was in good hands.

His own.

Author Ilie Ruby Says Throw Away The Labels And Start Writing

Sometimes the simplest advice is really the best advice. Today, THE SALT GOD’S DAUGHTER author Ilie Ruby reminds us what’s important — our writing. She also shares what it was like to write her second novel, and how she integrates her love of folklore and myth into her work.

Please welcome Ilie to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Ilie Ruby Says Throw Away The Labels And Start Writing

Amy: Congratulations on your “sophomore” novel, The Salt God’s Daughter. The story is a story containing folklore and myths — can you tell us a little bit about it and how these stories came into your life — and subsequently found your way into your novel?

Ilie: Thanks, but I have to admit that “sophomore” makes me cringe a little. If I had thought about that label when I was writing this book I probably wouldn’t have written it. (So to answer your 2nd question up here for a second), my advice to you is to not think of it that way. Plus it reminds me of sophomoric. Can we never say that term again? I’m half joking. More, it makes me think about the labels and all the have to’s, and how to’s, and should have’s thrown at writers about things that have nothing to do with writing. The same is true for genre, for platform, I could go on about this. I suppose it is relevant to the extent that you build a context for your career and your identity as a writer, but no, I don’t have much to say about how the label affected me because it didn’t. I only knew that I wanted to write the best novel I could and that I wanted it to do as well as my first. But I chose a different path for my second book so I knew it would be different—unlike my first novel, I chose to do an exclusive offering to a boutique literary publisher. The decision was wholly editor-driven. My editor read the manuscript in its early stages and was very enthusiastic about it. I followed him to the independent publisher, where he is editor-at-large. I had a reason and I am happy with my choice. I put the novel in the hands of someone I trusted, who loved the book. So, far, things have turned out really well.

As for myth and folklore, which characterize my work—I studied mythology and journalism in college—two things that seem as if they couldn’t be more different. Mythology appealed to me because it canvasses the architecture of the human psyche in all of its messy complexities, and journalism appealed to me because of its brick and mortar approach to storytelling. The marriage of these two things is what is at work in my books. I’m drawn to the way myths celebrate beings that are bigger, exaggerated versions of human beings, but who are bound by very human, raw, often impassioned, emotions and instincts. The juxtaposition of a thing that is larger than life but also bound by the human desires and obsessions (love, sex, greed) fascinates me. My passion for stories lies in the confluence of myth and real life, the place where gritty human truths spark discoveries and epiphanies that seem divine.

Folktales were the first stories I learned. My mother is an ex-hippie and she picked up volumes of folksongs in the early 60s. The legend of the selkie (or “silkie”), which influenced the structure of this book, came to me when I was very young when she taught me to play it on my guitar—The Great Silkie. There are many versions of selkie mythology, tales of shape-shifting creatures that are seals in the water but that become people on land. The version I grew up with chronicles the journey of a woman who longs for love, and who draws to her a man from the sea—a selkie. He leaves before she gives birth to a child, but he eventually returns to take the child back to the sea. What made this folktale a natural vessel for the novel was its patriarchal patterning—and its timeless reflections on our longing for love and connection. As a girl growing up in the 70s and early 80s, navigating the riptide of feminism, I questioned the inequity of power in the myth. Why was the woman waiting? Why did the man, the powerful animal (literally, in this case), have all the control? What was particularly interesting about writing this novel was in the changing dynamic between the selkie and the human, between the man and the woman, by way of a female character, a survivor who endures both love and tragedy, and who must wrestle with the backlash of a patriarchal culture. She is the one who has the power in the end, not by a snap of the fingers but because of a series of choices she makes. I wanted not to create a version of a feminist superhero we so often see in the media—portrayed as a martial arts expert or a gunslinger—rather, this character embodies current-day feminism, a woman finding her way through a labyrinth of changing identity—as a daughter, as a mother, as a lover. Ruthie is, in fact, an unlikely hero, one I very much adore and one I think readers will relate to.

Amy: We (ok, I) sometimes hear horror stories about writing and publishing that second novel. ( Of course, I am ignoring all this as I work on my second now.) Can you share with us your process for writing and if it changed from The Language of Trees, your first book — to your second — The Salt God’s Daughter?

Ilie: I will say that my first book took me ten years to write—and it wasn’t that I was writing it for ten years—it’s that I was re-writing and editing it, and also wrestling with a hereditary condition that can take a toll on the body if I’m not careful. I must say, I’ve learned to use my time wisely and it also helps to be very stubborn. But to get back to the question, this book was different from the first because my editor was involved from the early stages. We worked very closely together and we more often in sync than not. It was an amazing writing and editing process.

Amy: Aspiring authors, and published authors, can get increasingly discouraged. How do you side step the publishing-me-blues? Or don’t you? Any tips appreciated!

Ilie: Do you mean how do you keep the faith in the face of hearing no? Winston Churchill has given us the best response: “Never give up, never give up, never give up.” It’s a tough journey, women’s fiction. I like to tell my horror stories to make new writers feel better about where they are. When I was younger in a writing program, I had professors rip my work to shreds (then I’d win awards for the same work). I had someone toss a manuscript on the floor (it was dreadful). I think that’s enough examples though there are more—and every author I know can tell you more. I tell you all this to say that this is a tough business and even after you are published, some will try to pull you down again—it happens. Get right back up. No matter what. You must, absolutely must, keep your mind clear, your resolve strong, and stay on track. It’s not easy to deal with these things. But if you’re going to be in the business, you’ve got to ready yourself. I should also say that as hard as it is, it is just as wonderful. The wonderful stuff happens when you meet writers you can trust, who love and support you, and readers who love your work and who will let you know. I’m in touch with so many readers because of my first book who have now come back for the second book and it is absolutely heart-warming. That’s rewarding.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Ilie: Women’s fiction—I’d define it as fiction that is written with a female audience in mind. Though I could see answering this myriad other ways, too.

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

Ilie: Write the best damn story you can. Tell it in the most honest and real way you can. And then have faith, persistence, and don’t let your social media activities become your writing. Social media is not your writing. Your writing is your writing and it must come first! Keep on, you will do it as long as you don’t stop.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Amy!

Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God’s Daughter (September 2012) and the critically-acclaimed novel, The Language of Trees, which debuted in 2010 and was selected as a Target Emerging Author’s Pick and a First Magazine for Women Reader’s Choice, and for which complex Chinese rights were sold. Raised in Rochester, NY, she attended the University of Southern California’s Professional Writing Program, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. She also holds a masters degree in education from Simmons College, and specialized in documentary filmmaking at Emerson College. She is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foundation Writing Scholarship, and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. Ruby is also a recipient of the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference Davidoff Scholarship and the Barbara Kemp Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship. She has worked as 5th grade teacher, an assistant producer for a PBS archeology series in Central America, and as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company. Ruby is also a painter, mother to three, and currently teaches writing in Boston.

NYT Best-Selling Author Susan Wiggs Shares Her Writing Journey With Women’s Fiction Writers

My Writing Journey

by Susan Wiggs

Although I’ve been a published writer for 25 years, I’ve been a WRITER for twice as long. Storytelling is somehow embedded in my DNA, and I’ve got the evidence to back it up. My very earliest writings were preserved by a doting grandmother, and survive to this day. I was just three years old when I learned to make recognizable marks on paper and call it writing. Something else I used to do, perhaps channeling writers who dictated their stories to secretaries, like Barbara Cartland and Sidney Shelton, was dictate stories to my long-suffering mother, who wrote them down while I illustrated them.

At the age of eight, I met my first writing mentor–Mrs. Marge Green at School 11, my third grade teacher. Like most writers, I was an advanced reader, so while she worked with other students, I was left to my own devices. She told me if I fancied myself a writer, then that’s what I should be doing–writing. I took her advice and self-published a book, which can be seen here.

Throughout my childhood, I read books all day every day. I told stories to my friends. I lied to my parents, invented stories for show-and-tell, and even fabricated outlandish “sins” to relate to Father Campbell in the confessional. For me, making things up was as natural as breathing.

In 7th grade, I rewrote the ending of OF MICE AND MEN because I was easily able to figure out a way to save Lenny in the end. (Side note: My chihuahua was rescued from a shelter in Salinas, and yes, his name is Lenny.) In high school and college, I was that annoying student who would request extra blue exam booklets for essay tests, because I had a knack for filling them at an alarming rate.

As a graduate student, I worked with a critique group for the first time, and I loved the process. A piece of bad writing could be transformed by this magical concept known as Rewriting. Who knew?

While in graduate school, I wrote my first full-length novel, a romantic historical saga about (I kid you not) the Dutch Revolt. Convinced I was on to something, I wrote its sequel. Eventually, I came to understand that storytelling is a lot more fun when READERS are involved, so I looked around at what readers were devouring at the time (1987). Big sexy western historical romances were the order of the day. And they just happened to be my favorites.

I wrote all 600 pages of TEXAS WILDFLOWER on a typewriter. In about three months. Shiloh Mulvane and Justin McCord consumed me every night. Why at night? Well, because in addition to writing, I was a full-time teacher, a full-time mom of a toddler, a wife, a homeowner, a dog owner. So if you want to write but are waiting until you can “find the time,” forget about it. You HAVE the time. You just have to decide what to do with it.

I sold the book to Wendy McCurdy, then an editor at Kensington, in 1987. Since then, I’ve published a book every year or so, honing my craft and learning the business along the way.

RETURN TO WILLOW LAKE, just published, was written by an older, wiser and much more skilled writer than the one who pouded out Texas Wildflower. My process is pretty much the same as the way I wrote at the age of 3. I make marks on paper, and call it writing.

How about you? What does your writer’s journey look like?

Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She’s been featured in the national media, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and is a popular speaker locally and nationally.

From the very start, her writings have illuminated the everyday dramas of ordinary people. At the age of eight, she self-published her first novel, entitled “A Book About Some Bad Kids.”

Today, she is an international best-selling, award-winning author, with millions of copies of her books in print in numerous countries. Her recent novel, Marrying Daisy Bellamy, took the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, and The Lakeshore Chronicles have won readers’ hearts around the globe. Her books celebrate the power of love, the timeless bonds of family and the fascinating nuances of human nature.

She lives with her husband and family at the water’s edge on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where she divides her time between sleeping and waking.

Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/susanwiggs

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Website- http://www.susanwiggs.com

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