Author Linda Pennell Writes History Fiction, Embraces Social Media, And Laughs At Those Who Belittle Women’s Fiction

Confederado-Soulmate 105_105x158As an author of contemporary fiction, I always jump at the chance to ask questions of historical fiction authors. To me, the research process seems laborious and daunting—but to them, it drives the story and fuels their creativity. Today, author Linda Pennell shares with us a little of her inspiration, method, and how she combines her love of the past with the social media frenzy of today. I also love her attitude toward the scuttlebutt surrounding the women’s fiction label. 

Please welcome Linda Pennell to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

 

Author Linda Pennell Writes History Fiction, Embraces Social Media, And Laughs At Those Who Belittle Women’s Fiction

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Guest Post: From Writing Facts To Writing Fiction by Darlene Deluca

I remember trying my typing fingers at fiction in 2007 and wondering how I was going to just make things up. It was foreign to me, this concept. I’d been a journalist, a corporate writer, an essayist, then dabbled in the brand new world of blogging. All true writing, all authentic, all me. Now I had to put the five Ws and and the H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) aside, at least sometimes? 

Indeed!

Today we have a guest post from Darlene Deluca who did the same thing. While I continued writing both fact and fiction, she set aside her corporate life to embark on fiction writing alone. Brave (and lucky) Darlene is joining us to day to share her journey.

Please welcome Darlene Deluca to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Guest Post by Debut Author Lindsey J. Palmer: Why I Set My Novel At A Women’s Magazine (even after The Devil Wears Prada)

pretty-in-inkWhen you’re writing a novel do you choose the setting—or does the setting choose you? When you read about debut author Lindsey J. Palmer’s decision to write about the world of women’s magazines, you’ll see that in her case (and in many) a setting just begs for a story. How can we, as writers, resist?

Please welcome Lindsey J. Palmer to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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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.

Seré Prince Halverson Talks About Book Clubs, Book Covers, And Books That Make Her Feel Less Alone

I met Seré Prince Halverson almost a year ago because we are both members of the debut authors group, Book Pregnant.  Right away Seré captured my attention with her kindness and charm, and that was even before I knew much about her book, THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY.  

Today marks the paperback launch of “Joy.”  Same book, new cover, and hopefully many new, enthusiastic readers.  

When you’re finished reading the interview and getting to know Seré, treat yourself to excerpt of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY (published by Dutton) by clicking here

But first, welcome Seré to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Seré Prince Halverson Talks About Book Clubs, Book Covers, And Books That Make Her Feel Less Alone

Amy: Seré, congratulations! Today is the paperback release of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY!  What’s it like to be re-introducing your book to new readers?

Seré: Thank you, Amy! It feels different than when the hardcover came out because it’s not quite such a huge unknown. I’m excited, but I’m happy to say that I’m also sleeping at night, which was something I could not say when the hardcover came out. I had serious Debut Author Insomnia.

I’ve discovered that I really enjoy talking to book clubs and have been blown away by their insightful discussions. A lot of those I’ve visited have had a picnic theme to tie in with the Life’s a Picnic store in the book. So, to celebrate the paperback release, I’m having a Win a Picnic Basket for your Book Club drawing. I thought it would be fun to deliver Sonoma County goodies and wine right to their doorstep! And planning a picnic is much more pleasant than Debut Author Insomnia. Details are here.

Amy: Without giving anything away, can you tell us a little bit about the story and how you came up with the idea?

Seré: A woman walks into a market…That woman was me. I walked out with a bag of groceries, and a vision of an Italian American family. That vision collided with some other visions I’d been having of a young woman, curled up in bed in despair. She had once everything she ever wanted and now had lost it all. But I didn’t know her story yet. And those visions collided with my fear of sleeper waves, my love for Sonoma County, my contemplations of mother/stepmother relationships and how harshly society judges mothers who leave their children, without knowing the circumstances behind that decision. (Yes, it was a rather big collision of visions.)

Amy: Oftentimes paperback editions have a brand new book cover — and that’s the case for TUOJ.  How was the process of having a new “look” for your book?

Seré: First, let me say that I was very attached to the first cover. I loved the beautiful simplicity of it. My paperback publisher, Plume, always creates a new cover, but I was a bit skeptical. Until I laid eyes on it. Very different from the first, but I fell in love all over again, this time with the vertical treatment of the horizontal photograph, the water reflection, the little girl—together, they capture important elements of the story.

Amy: Do you have something you’d like readers to take away from your book? 

Seré: My favorite books pull me in and make me feel like I’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, whether they’re Birkenstocks or Manolo Blahniks or old holey Keds with a flappy right sole. The best books also make me feel less alone–even if the characters’ lives are completely different from mine. And I love books that challenge and move me. Those are the kinds of things I hope readers feel when they read The Underside of Joy.

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

Seré: Such a hot topic these days. Definitions are sometimes necessary, especially for marketing, but they’re also limiting. I like to think the definitions are evolving. The Underside of Joy is a story about motherhood but also about family, war, food, love, death, grief, joy, resilience—lots of things that involve women and men. The book had a pink flower on the cover and now the paperback has a little girl on the beach—clearly marketed as women’s fiction, right? Right. And yet, I’ve received such thoughtful e-mails from a number of male readers, ranging in ages from 25 to 89.

So I’m going to say I see women’s fiction as an extremely broad category of fiction, which is marketed toward women but can usually be read and enjoyed by both women and men. (Men who aren’t scared off by feminine-looking covers, that is.)

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

Seré: My advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction is the same as my advice for aspiring authors of any fiction, in fact it’s the same for aspiring anyones—anyone who is working at something they’re passionate about. Writers love this one because we need it in the face of all that rejection: It’s the Winston Churchill quote—a favorite of my dear friend and writing sister, Elle Newmark: “Never, never, never, never give up.” Just don’t. Keep going. That doesn’t mean you can’t break away for periods of time if you need to, but keep rolling your work-in-progress around in your head, and always come back to it.

It took me hundreds of rejections and three completed novels before The Underside of Joy was published. Even if it hadn’t been published, I wouldn’t regret the years I’ve spent writing and learning my craft. Passion is a good thing. Elle also said, “Passion is our consolation for mortality.” She died last year, after a life of writing and living passionately—a life very well-lived. I learned a lot from her and am learning from her still.

Thanks so much for these great questions, Amy! I’m looking so forward to reading The Glass Wives!

Oh, thank you, Seré, all of that means so much to me!

Seré Prince Halverson worked as a freelance copywriter and creative director for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband live in Northern California and have four (almost) grown children. The Underside of Joy is her debut novel. Published by Dutton in January 2012, it will be translated into 18 languages.

You can find Seré on her website, blog, and on Facebook.

Don’t forget to read the excerpt of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY by clicking here

A Book Cover Is Worth A Thousand Words…And A Sneak Peek Inside!

Okay, it’s more like this cover is worth 84,000 words.

My words.

I’m beyond thrilled to officially share the cover for The Glass Wives. Can’t wait to hold this baby in my hands. Okay, yes, I did print a copy and wrap it around another book, you know, just for kicks, but you know what I mean.

Big hugs and thanks to an amazing cover designer and my editor Brenda Copeland, and the team at St. Martin’s, who have always had the perfect vision for The Glass Wives.

And this is proof.

Take a look. Don’t you just want to reach out and sip from one of those cups? What does this cover say to you?

To me it says: OHMYGODI’MGOINGTOBEAPUBLISHEDAUTHOR!

And a special thank you to Randy Susan Meyers, a wonderful author and mentor, for her kind words which my publisher deemed just right for the front cover. It feels like a hug from a friend to see her name there with mine!

I hope you like it as much as I do!

Amy xo

And there’s more!!

Wouldn’t you know it? Just as I was wrapping up my Debutante Ball post for today, I received an email from my editor with sample pages of my book. And she said I could share them here with you! Truly? This is like Christmas! Or it would be if I celebrated Christmas.

If you click below, you can get a sneak peek of the INSIDE of THE GLASS WIVES! I love the fonts, the design. Heck, I love the page numbers. It’s not the final-final-final version, which means if you catch a mistake, it won’t be there in May. It also means you get to read the first three pages!

The Glass Wives-1  <— click here

Can’t wait to hear what you think!

Amy xo

Author Sharla Lovelace Rides The Fence Between Romance And Women’s Fiction

Dear WFW friends,

It’s both tragedy and joy that bring people together. A week ago we were all waiting to see what Hurricane Sandy would do to the East Coast. Beaches, homes, businesses, and lives have been ravaged. Then, and even now, we’re focusing much needed time and attention where it should be. On the victims. 

But for some, things are getting back to a new normal. And that includes the world of publishing.  And celebrating with a friend, or discovering a new author, doesn’t mean we are not fully aware of what’s going on on Staten Island, Long Island, and Lower Manhattan, not to mention parts of New Jersey and the Jersey Shore. It doesn’t mean we won’t do our part or that we don’t know what’s important. 

The truth is, many things are important. So, if you are fortunate enough to have power and heat and your life on-track, celebrate with us here for a little while today. It’s the joyful book birthday for Sharla Lovelace’s second novel, BEFORE AND EVER SINCE!

Sharla and I have internet trails that criss-cross around cyberspace. It’s these kinds of online connections that make me forget — I’ve never actually MET this person. And haven’t we come a long way that it’s not embarrassing to admit that? 

Please welcome Sharla to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Sharla Lovelace Rides The Fence Between Romance And Women’s Fiction

Amy: Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, Sharla! Can you tell us how launching BEFORE AND EVER SINCE differed from launching your THE REASON IS YOU?

Sharla: Well, really, the biggest differences were in time and promo. First one, I wasn’t writing anything else when it came out, so I sat all happy in my published glow, and watched the little birds fly around my head. :) I didn’t know much about promoting, so I wasn’t doing all that I should have been doing. Now, as my second book comes out, I’m promoting it, my first, my novella, doing launch parties and all-weekend events, all while trying to keep writing on my new series and another book idea my agent came up with. Which, while that is all insane, it’s necessary to succeed as a new author. So, maybe there won’t be birds, but hopefully there will be sales. LOL.

Amy: If you could launch your first book all over again, is there anything you’d do differently?

Sharla: Everything I just mentioned above. :)

Amy: We’re both members (and on the board) of the RWA-WF Chapter. Tell us what women’s fiction means to you — and how that might differ from romance in your opinion. Where do your books fall? Under one category or both? (I think that’s possible, and I bet you do too!)

Sharla: Most definitely! In my opinion, there are many different levels of women’s fiction. There’s what I call “purist” which is strictly and only about the woman’s journey, no romance or even a hint of it involved. Then there are the “hybrids”. *laughing* I write Romantic Women’s Fiction, which borders on Contemporary Romance at times. I ride the fence. Because I love romance and tension and chemistry in a story, my stories always have them, but the difference is that the plot isn’t about the relationship. It may be about family, or issues, or something going on that the main character has to face and deal with, while this chemistry is pulling at her from the side. It’s a big part of the story, but not the central plot. I do have HEA’s though, so when push comes to shove, I qualify for romance too. Some stores put me in Mainstream, some in Romance. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Amy: Amidst all the changes in publishing, how do you keep a positive attitude? So many people get discouraged!

Sharla: I just keep plugging along. I’m a believer that rejections make you stronger and make you do better work. The publishing industry may have to be really really choosy right now in what they can afford to take on, and that just makes me want to write better so they will.

Amy: Do you have a writing schedule or any rituals you want to share with us that really help your process?

Sharla: I have a full time day job, so my writing schedule consists of what I can do after 4pm, around dinner and errands and laundry and my daughter’s schedule. She’s a senior this year so lots of crazy things. And she’s preparing to go into the Navy this summer, so additional crazies. I long for the day when I can be a grownup author and write full time in my pj’s. :)

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

Sharla: I know it’s a cliche but never give up. Don’t sell your dream short. If you want self publishing, do it because you want that, because it’s your first choice, not because you can’t get in a different door. If you want traditional, then keep improving and working your craft. Rejections mean it’s not there yet. You want your book one day to be out there looking flawless and worthy next to the big names. Take the criticism and keep on keeping on. You will get there if you have the drive and stamina. It took me years. Never give up.

Thanks so much for having me over to chat, Amy!

Sharla Lovelace is the National Bestselling Author of THE REASON IS YOU, BEFORE AND EVER SINCE, and the e-novella JUST ONE DAY. Being a Texas girl through and through, she is proud to say that she lives in Southeast Texas with her family, an old lady dog, and an aviary full of cockatiels.

Sharla is available by Skype for book club meetings and chats, and loves connecting with her readers! See her website http://www.sharlalovelace.com for book discussion questions, events, and to sign up for her monthly newsletter.

You can follow her as @sharlalovelace on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Author Terri Bruce Counted Her Rejections But Didn’t Count Herself Out

I have, at times, been guilty of putting my head in the sand — but not when it comes to publishing! When I queried my novel I counted every rejection, every helpful hint, and every nibble. I did not want to miss a thing.  Author Terri Bruce also was keenly aware of her rejections – but she put them to work for her, making her more determined to find a home for her novel.  And she did.

Please welcome Terri Bruce to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Terri Bruce Counted Her Rejections But Didn’t Count Herself Out

My story is pretty usual—I’ve always been a writer; I wrote long, rambling stories as a child, wrote stories I posted on the internet during college, and then set writing aside after I graduated, as the demands of a budding career took over. After a four-year lag of doing no writing, I came home from work one day in 2001 with a story hammering in my brain. I sat down at the computer and started typing furiously. After a couple of hours, my husband leaned over my shoulder to see what I was doing. “Hey!” he said. “That’s pretty good!”

Nine years later, I finished that story.

In between, I battled Lupus, bought a house, changed jobs twice, and joined a local writers’ group with the intention of getting serious about writing. It was hard, during those years, to find the time to write—there was too much “life” getting in the way. The writers’ group was definitely the saving grace for me; while there were times I submitted less than a page for critique, the accountability of being in a group ensured that I kept writing and moving forward, even if it was an inch at a time.

When I finally finished that manuscript, I cried with joy. It was the first full-length novel that I had really poured myself into, and I had proven (to myself) that I could take the time to craft a comprehensive plot, build realistic characters, and polish a raw first draft into something ready to submit for publication.

I pitched that story live to an editor at a writing conference and I queried it to about twenty agents and publishers, but alas, I very quickly realized the story fell into the “experimental fiction” realm, for which there is a very small market. I decided to “trunk” that manuscript, as I was already nearly finished with another story, one that I was sure was much more “commercial” in nature—it was the story of a directionless thirty-something woman who has to struggle with the fallout from her life choices when she dies and finds herself stuck on earth as a ghost. This story, eventually called Hereafter, “only” took two years to write, so I was feeling pretty good when I began sending query letters.

Then, the rejections started rolling in—10, 20, 30, 40…

At first I was stunned, then hurt and bewildered. Finally, I became numb. I began to play a game on Facebook—every time a new rejection came in, I posted the tally: 45, 50, 55, 56, 57, 58…

So I revised the query letter. I revised the opening chapter. I revised my list of prospective agents—widening the search. I began querying small presses as well as agents.

Amy’s definition of Women’s Fiction is a story in which the main point of the book is for the woman to improve herself, her situation, her life, her relationships and the focus is on internal growth of self, [and] the most important part of the book is not about moving toward romance. THIS is the story I had written; THIS is the story I wanted to tell. Interestingly enough, though, I didn’t consider Hereafter Women’s Fiction at first—Women’s Fiction was serious stuff, written by literary greats! Plus, my story was clearly paranormal—it had a ghost!—or maybe Fantasy Lit—it had humor!

However, two things quickly became apparent: 1) without a romance element, Hereafter wasn’t Fantasy Lit, and 2) those that read the manuscript felt that the story, in terms of emotional weight, was much more on the Women’s Fiction end of the spectrum than the Chick Lit. Looking once more at Amy’s definition, I realized that, yes, I had actually written Women’s Fiction.

However, people kept urging me to change the story—add more action, make it more light-hearted, and definitely add some romance—in ways that would have moved it away from Women’s Fiction. Interestingly enough, no one suggested dumping the paranormal element so it would fit more squarely in the Women’s Fiction category. [To be clear, none of these suggestions were “revise and resubmit” requests from agents, which I might have more seriously considered; these were more off-the cuff suggestions from people who read the story and couldn’t find anything wrong with it/didn’t know why agents weren’t taking to it.]

I had 62 rejections on Hereafter before I received a single request (a partial) from an agent—which ended in rejection. The tally continued to go up—70, 71, 72, 73, 74…

My family didn’t understand why I didn’t stop sending queries. My husband encouraged me to “try again”—to write a different story, one that more easily fit into one genre. However, I believed in Hereafter. It was a good story, I was sure of it.

I managed to rack up 84 rejections before I got my first request for the full manuscript—which also ended in rejection. I began to feel like I was playing that Cliffhangers game on the Price is Right—I “only” had 120 prospects on my list. Would Hereafter get picked up by an agent or publisher before I ran out of places to submit it to?

My friends and family, though horrified in that “watching a train wreck” kind of way by my tally posts, kept my spirits up with “their loss” kinds of comments (though in much saltier language). Other writers going through the same trial by fire were astounded by my tenacity. Most gave up long before I did, opting to return to the drawing board and write another novel, with the hopes that the next one would be “the one.” I, too, was working on another novel; unfortunately, it was a sequel to Hereafter. If Hereafter didn’t get picked up, then I had just put more eggs in a losing basket. I wish I could say I kept going because I believed in myself so strongly. However, the truth is, at this point, there didn’t seem to be any reason why I wouldn’t just keep submitting to the rest of the names on my list—there really weren’t that many left.

My lucky number turned out to be 92—the 92nd response (after 8 solid months of querying) was an acceptance by a small press. Responses 93 and 94 also happened to be acceptances, by two other small presses, putting me in the happy situation of getting to choose between three offers. After I signed the contract with Eternal Press, I received several belated rejections, bringing my final tally to 112 rejections.

112 rejections

I look at that number now and part of me thinks, “Holy cow! How did I keep going?” and the other part thinks, “Pffttt! That’s not really a lot in the grand scheme of things—many people get even more rejections than that.” The take-aways from all of this, for me, are that tenacity is key to getting published, and agent/publisher rejection often has very little to do with a writer’s talent and more about personal taste and ease with which they can slot your book into a particular market. The more I hear about other authors’ long paths to publication, though, the more I think that, perhaps, perseverance alone is the dividing line between success and failure in this industry. As the saying goes: never give up! Never give up! Never give up!

Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.

Author Juliette Fay Says Worry Less And Write More

I hope all of you in the path of Superstorm Sandy are safe — and that you have power, internet, chocolate, some of your favorite people around you — and I hope you have books!  It might be a perilous day on the East Coast, but for author Juliette Fay, it’s also an important day — the publication of her third novel, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. Juliette shares with us what she thinks of the fact that her book is labeled women’s fiction even though it’s about a man, how she allows her ideas to simmer for a year before she writes them, and what it’s like to revisit characters from her first novel, SHELTER ME, in THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. 

Please welcome Juliette Fay to Women’s Fiction Writers!

And of course, stay safe, my friends.  

Amy xo 

Author Juliette Fay Says Worry Less And Write More

Amy: Congratulations! Today is the release of your third novel, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. Would you tell us a little bit about it? I know the story revisits the setting from your first novel, SHELTER ME, but isn’t exactly a sequel.  Can you explain?  And what is it about the setting and characters that drew you back? 

Juliette: The Shortest Way Home is about Sean Doran, a nurse who’s worked in devastatingly poor areas around the world. He’s at risk for Huntington’s Disease—his mother died of it when he was young—but like many who are at risk, he has never wanted to be tested to find out if he has it, too. To avoid the possibility of passing it on, he’s never married or had children.

Sean makes what he thinks will be a quick trip to his hometown of Belham, Mass, also the setting for Shelter Me. There he finds that his elderly aunt who raised him, his sister, and his nephew are having a crisis of their own. Sean is drawn progressively deeper into the family drama, and finds it harder and harder to leave.

The reason I set it in the town from Shelter Me is that people often ask for a sequel to that novel. Unfortunately, I just don’t have an entirely new story with those same characters to offer. And I didn’t want to trump one up, because a bad sequel is more than just a bad book—it also has a way of ruining your memory of the first book.

I decided to set The Shortest Way Home in Belham, and used some of the characters from Shelter Me, so the reader would know, peripherally, how things worked out for them. As a result, Cormac the bakery owner, who was the cousin of Janie, the main character from Shelter Me, is the best friend from high school of Sean, the main character from The Shortest Way Home. Cormac was one of my favorites, so it was really fun to write about him again. The two stories are connected but stand alone, too.

Amy: Has your process for writing a novel changed since SHELTER ME and your second novel, DEEP DOWN TRUE? What have you learned between book one and book three? (and yes, we have all day!) 

Juliette: I wrote Shelter Me without any idea if it would ever end up on a bookstore shelf. There’s a certain amount of freedom in that. You just write want you want to write with no sense of an agent, editor or readership looking over your shoulder.

With Deep Down True, I felt the pressure—it was internal more than anything else. I had to work hard to shut it out. Also, I was promoting Shelter Me, so it was like having two jobs, and a bit distracting. My editor for Deep Down True did a lot of trimming, and at first I was resistant. But she was (mostly) right, and it was a crash course in getting rid of anything extraneous. I learned to write cleaner and clearer. In the end I was very grateful.

When I turned in The Shortest Way Home, my editor joked that I had learned the lesson so well, she had almost nothing to do! A little clarifying here and there, a little buttressing this theme, trimming down that one, but generally her edits were fairly minor. It was so satisfying.

Right now, I’m almost done with book four, and I hope she’ll find that I’ve continued to hone the skills she’s taught me.

Amy: How did the idea for your novels strike you? What was the inspiration?

Juliette: A writer has to live with a story for a long time—for me, a year or more. So while none of my books are autobiographical, they’re all about things that intrigue or worry me: the sudden death of a spouse and learning how to be a single mother; how female friendships can get stuck in a middle school cycle of trust and betrayal, and how we always have that insecure middle schooler inside us; living with the threat of an incurable terminal disease.

My inspiration for The Shortest Way Home was a friend whose mother had Huntington’s. This was before the test was available and I watched my friend live with the terrible uncertainty of not knowing if she might have it, too. When she found out she didn’t, her life changed. She started looking at things with a sense of permanence. I was fascinated by this, and wanted to explore it through a story—not about her, but about a character dealing with a similar experience.

Amy: We’ve talked about this a few times on WFW, but how do you think books with male main characters fit under the women’s fiction umbrella?

Juliette: I think they fit fine. It’s not like readers of women’s fiction don’t want to read about men.

But maybe there’s a different question you’re asking: how does the gender of the writer affect the way a book is labeled, regardless of the gender of the main character. If that’s what your wondering, and if I’m being completely honest … I think that if someone in possession of a set of testicles had written this book, it would be called general fiction. After all, it’s not just about a man—it’s about a single man with no children. But since it’s ultimately a family drama, and I have ovaries, it’s called women’s fiction.

Amy: And this leads us to…what is your definition of women’s fiction? And does the hullaballoo surrounding “the label” bother you? 

Juliette: I think of women’s fiction as family drama, and I wish they’d use that label instead. But the women’s fiction label doesn’t really bother me, because a rose is a rose. Happily, there are a lot of people who want to read family drama/women’s fiction—and, hey, I’m here to help.

What bothers me is that sometimes it’s assumed that women’s fiction isn’t as well written or serious as other categories, despite the fact that there can be gorgeous prose and weighty subject matter found in women’s fiction, just as there can be some bad verbiage and fluffiness elsewhere. Every genre has a wide range of both writing style and “seriousness.”

All this is to say, the label itself isn’t so bad; it’s the assumptions that aren’t always helpful.

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

Juliette: My best advice is to be a really good friend to yourself. A really good friend would be encouraging yet honest, would kick you in the butt when you’re getting lazy or being a fuss pot, and would make you take yourself seriously, but not too seriously.

Let that really good friend be the voice in your head. Let her drown out the voices that sound like critics or the growing laundry pile or that one mean English teacher you had high school.

That really good friend (who is you) would say: Worry less and write more … so stop talking to yourself and get going!

Juliette’s latest novel, The Shortest Way Home, is due in bookstores on October 30th. Her first novel, Shelter Me, was chosen as a 2009 “Book of the Year,” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress (which makes it government-related, right?) Her second, Deep Down True, was short-listed for the Women’s Fiction award by the American Library Association. She lives in Wayland, Massachusetts with her husband and four children.

You can find out more about Juliette and her books on her website, on Facebook, and by following her on Twitter @juliettefay.

Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

It’s been just about 18 months since I launched Women’s Fiction Writers, can you believe it?  And in that time I’ve featured debut women’s fiction authors, best-selling women’s fiction authors, some indie women’s fiction authors.  But one of the most special things to me is when the author being featured is an author I’ve admired for a long time.  Another favorite thing is when an author is an IRL (in real life) friend.  Well, Kelly O’Connor McNees is both!  So this is an extra-special day for me (oh, this isn’t about me? oops!).  I connected with Kelly because I read and adored her first book, THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT. I looked up the author website and sent an email, because that’s what I do, and did, even before I had a publisher or an agent (always appreciated by authors, by the way).  Then last Spring or maybe late Winter, we met in real life, in downtown Chicago, with another author friend, Renee Rosen.  We made that transition from acquaintances to friends.  From online to in real life.  And then Kelly’s second book came out, another historical novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE, and I knew that it fit neatly under the women’s fiction umbrella we’ve discussed so often here at Women’s Fiction Writers.  It’s a book with a lot of visual history, which to me means it creates pictures in my head that are vibrant, detailed, and real, ones I refer to again and again. And the three main characters are ones I was thrilled to follow on their literal and metaphorical journey to Nebraska where they went to meet their husbands.  I highly recommend both books (that doesn’t surprise you, I’m guessing!)

Please welcome, my friend, Kelly O’Connor McNees, to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

P.S. I’ve shared more photos of Kelly and me at the end of the interview! 

Author Kelly O’Connor McNees Says: Recommit To Your Purpose Every Day, And Write The Book You Want To Read

Amy: Kelly!! Congratulations on the publication of your second historical novel, IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE! Can you share with us where you got the idea for this novel?

Kelly: I had been thinking for a long time about a story that involved women homesteaders in the years following the Civil War, when the government was offering cheap land to Americans willing to move west and settle it. But I wasn’t exactly sure what shape the story would take until I found Chris Enss’s book Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, and I knew I wanted to write a novel about women who arranged to marry men they’d never met.

Amy: How was it different publishing your second novel from publishing your first?

Kelly: It’s an awful cliche to say that book publishing is in a “time of transition,” but it is true. My first novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, was published in 2010, and I have seen change even since then. The big challenge continues to be how can authors connect with readers who haven’t heard about their books? Of course we have plenty of avenues online–Goodreads, book blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and more–but I think most people still buy the books they hear about from their friends. To me, that means the most important thing a writer must focus on is writing compelling, well-crafted fiction readers will enjoy.

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!

Kelly: I think you have to recommit, every day, to your purpose as a writer. I also think you have to control what you can control, and let the rest go. For me that means keeping my focus on practicing and improving my writing, reading widely, and participating in my literary community. I cannot control how many copies of my books will sell, and whether I will continue to be published. But I can control how hard I work.

Amy: We’ve discussed the definition of women’s fiction here many times – and the broad umbrella the genre provides. There was no doubt that IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE falls under that umbrella. What is your definition of women’s fiction?

Kelly: I have mixed feelings about this term because to me it means, simply, fiction about women’s lives. But to others in the reading world, it is a disparaging term. I had a man ask me recently whether In Need of a Good Wife was “for guys,” and I had to take a deep breath before responding. The idea that a story that focuses primarily on women will not interest men is alarming to say the least. I and most women I know read about men’s lives all the time. Most lauded fiction is concerned with men’s experiences. Your wife is a woman; your sisters and mother and daughters are women, but women in fiction don’t interest you? I’m sorry, but what a crock of shit.

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

Kelly: Write the book you want to read.

Kelly O’Connor McNees has worked as a teacher and editor and lives with her husband and daughter in Chicago.

You can find out more about Kelly and her books on her website.

The author and her book at The Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Illinois.

Kelly reading from IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE. This was before the smoke alarm went off in the store, and in every store on the block.

Me and Kelly after the alarms were turned off. We’re smiling because we’re happy, and because it’s quiet.

On a 100 degree day in Chicago, me, Kelly, and Renee Rosen chill with fish tacos and wine on Michigan Avenue.