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

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

Please welcome Mary to WFW!

Amy xo

 How Mary Rowen Struggled With Body Image And Wrote A Novel

by Mary Rowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About LEAVING THE BEACH

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

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

Guest Post 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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WFW Interview: Karoline Barrett, author of THE ART OF BEING REBEKKAH

RebekkahCoverGood morning, WFW! It’s pouring here today, with thunder and lightening that sounds more like the implosion of buildings across the street than heavenly bowling. The only good thing about it? IT’S NOT SNOW! 

It’s all perspective.

And that’s what we have here today, author Karoline Barrett offering her perspective on being a debut author with a new kind of publisher. Some are calling them hybrid publishers, I think Karoline is just calling hers fabulous! (Like with anything in publishing, please do your due diligence before signing with anyone or any company.)

Now, please welcome Karoline Barrett to WFW!

Amy xo

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A WFW Book Review: Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

Taking Inspiration from Author Holly Robinson

beach-plum-islandAs I’m awaiting edits on my second novel from my editor, guess what I’m doing? Writing another story. Now, that may seem presumptuous. It may seem crazy. Why not take a break? Well, the more I write, the more I write. Does that make sense? It would certainly make sense to author Holly Robinson, my friend, and one of the busiest writers I know. Holly is a novelist, ghost writer, freelancer, and award-winning journalist. In addition to those things, she’s a wife, mom of FIVE, and dedicated daughter. So when I think I’M SO BUSY and my thoughts jumble, I conjure up a vision of Holly doing everything she does. And then I get back to work.

Today, Holly’s second novel with NAL is out for the world to enjoy. BEACH PLUM ISLAND is her second novel with this publisher, but her third novel, and fourth book. Holly’s memoir, THE GERBIL FARMER’S DAUGHTER was published in 2010 by Broadway Books, and Holly self-published her novel, SLEEPING TIGERS, just as she got a contract THE WISHING HILL from NAL. And, now Holly is working on her third novel for NAL, LAKE UTOPIA, due out in 2015.

But back to BEACH PLUM ISLAND!

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Five Reasons You Should Enter The Women’s Fiction Writers Contest (Finally!)

logo_WFWA_risingstarOh. Em. Gee. It’s about time. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (linky love below) is holding its first contest for authors not yet published in women’s fiction. That’s right, if you’re not published at all, or if you’re published in another genre or non-fiction, YOU are eligible to enter. And I’ll tell you why I think it’s so cool, and why you should enter.

Reason #1: This is really a contest for women’s fiction, not for romance that borders on women’s fiction. Not for women’s fiction, but-really-for- romance-but-we-think-we-need-to-say-it’s-women’s-fiction. This is a contest that embraces all the nuances of women’s fiction, all the elements that are possible and all the elements that are present in today’s published women’s fiction.

Reason #2: As if #1 wasn’t enough, the final judges for this contest are acquiring agents of women’s fiction. Truly! If your manuscript is one of the finalists, it’ll end up before folks who could, possibly maybe you-just-never-know, offer to represent your work. And by represent your work, I mean, SELL IT TO A PUBLISHER.

 

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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