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

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.

Women’s Fiction Author Kellie Coates Gilbert Asks The Tough Questions, And Then Writes A Novel That Answers Them

I loved the title of Kellie Coates Gilbert’s novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, right away.  I love a play on words, don’t you? Then I saw the cover and loved that!  But what I love most is how Kellie describes how she asked herself questions and then wrote a book that answered them.  I haven’t done that exactly and think it’s a great idea.  Kellie shares a lot of insights and ideas with us today — so please give her a warm welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers. Then, share your own thoughts in the comments.  I promise – we don’t bite – but we might write back! 

Amy xo

Women’s Fiction Author Kellie Coates Gilbert Asks The Tough Questions, And Then Writes A Novel That Answers Them

Amy: Congratulations on the release of your novel, MOTHER OF PEARL! It’s a relationship story about a mother and a daughter — I won’t give away more than that, but can you tell us what sparked the idea for the book?

Kellie: I knew my first novel would focus on mothering and the perils women face in this role, especially during the teen years. I didn’t even know how many things there were to be afraid of until I had my first child. From the moment the nurse placed that tiny infant in my arms, a fierce need to protect bubbled from the deepest part of me.

As a novelist, I asked the question: What would a mother do if suddenly life took a turn and she learned the child she thought she’d protected had fallen into the hands of someone unsafe?  And what if she found out too late?

Early, when the inception of this story was still noodling in my brain, I saw a sadly recurring event on the news, the story of a coach who had inappropriately been involved with a teenager. While the cameras honed on the major players, I couldn’t help but wonder if the girl’s mother stood just out of view. What was she feeling?

Amy: I love your website’s tagline: Stories for Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Girlfriends…. What prompted you to be so specific about the type of stories you write?  

Kellie: I’m a former legal investigator and trial paralegal who worked on many high profile cases, including the Jack-in-the-Box e-coli litigation in the mid-nineties and the largest cattle fraud case in the United States.  People are often at their most vulnerable in these tense situations where much is at stake, giving me a unique perspective on the human psyche.  Early in my legal career, I recognized there could be value in telling stories about women facing relationship fractures, betrayal, and loss and how we often exhibit strength and dignity in these journeys.

My agent urged me to write romance to break into publishing.  I did, and my first novel sold.  But that story was not one that burned in my heart as I wrote. When the publishing house switched directions and pulled back even before we got the contract to sign, the situation was an easy one to let go of.

I am meant to write stories for women that focus on relationships, and the deep places in life. People have many layers, and never more than in family dynamics and hard times. I’m intrigued with the coping mechanisms we employ to fill our empty places. These are the stories of my heart.

Amy: Can you share with us a little about the timeline and circumstances of your journey to publication?

Kellie: Like many authors, I am an avid reader. Strangely, I never considered a career as a novelist. Instead, I pursued a sensible legal career with predictable income (especially while my boys were in college). But in 2004, I attended my first writing conference and left with an overwhelming feeling that I was always meant to write novels. The experience is hard to describe, but I knew in the deepest part of me I would publish a novel.

So, I lifted an outrageous prayer and asked for the impossible.

But first, I had to learn to write well. So, I spent seven years going to writing conferences and workshops, taking courses, reading every craft book I could find. And a published novelist mentored me.  She started off our first session by saying she was like a dentist who only works on the bad teeth.  She meant to encourage by reminding me I had a lot of good teeth. But frankly, fixing a broken novel is sometimes as painful as a root canal. But, with her help, I learned the tools of how to create a good story.

My biggest challenge can be time management.

I often wake early and spend the first twenty minutes of my day talking with my husband before he leaves for work.  Then, I spend some time reading before heading out for my morning swim.  This is where I think through the upcoming scenes and plot points in my current manuscript.

After breakfast, I head directly into my office.  My first attention is directed to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with readers and publishing folks.  I try to start my actual writing no later than ten in the morning (and meet this goal most days).

I enjoy a quiet, organized place to write with lots of light streaming through the windows. Often I have Pachelbel’s Canon playing and a steaming cup of coffee on a coaster next to my Mac computer.

Amy: Are you a plotter or a pantser (meaning, do you write by the seat of your pants)?  Can you share any early draft tips with WFW readers?

Kellie: I’m a combination of both, but lean heavily to the pantser side. Early, I create a notebook with photos of my main characters and think through what lie they believe about themselves, and why. I jot down notes about who they are and why these elements are key to the general story.

I also make sure I know the inciting incident that pulls the main character from her regular world. I note her goals and brainstorm all the threats to achieving that goal.  In the end, I have a general framework of where I am going with the story, which keeps me from wandering too much.  But if I over-plan, I seem to clench up and can’t write.  Plus, I enjoy discovering the story as I write.

The downside of this method is a messier first draft, which needs a lot of editing.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Kellie: I personally define women’s fiction as a story about a woman (or women) that tells more about her inner journey than her outer experiences, where relationships are key and the journey evokes a lot of emotion.

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

Kellie: Read.  Don’t get in a hurry. Learn as much about the craft of writing as you can before you start submitting. Get a great agent (and editor). And read. Then, read some more. In the end, great story trumps great craft.  If you have both, you’re far ahead of the pack trying to break in.

And here’s a bit of a secret:  Publishing a novel is as fun as you think it will be. Nothing compares to a reader email that says she couldn’t put your book down and your story will remain in her heart.

A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure.  Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope.

Kellie’s novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, Abingdon Press Sept 2012, tells the emotionally compelling story of a high school counselor who discovers her own teenage daughter had an inappropriate relationship with the football coach . . . and how she risks everything to bring him to justice.

For more information, go to http://www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com

Debut Author Nichole Bernier Dares Us To Write Nuanced, Unlikeable Characters Who Capture Readers’ Imagination And Attention

I’m so excited (ok, I know I say that all the time, what can I say, this is an exciting gig!) to have Nichole Bernier on the blog today.  Not only was her debut novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. one of the most anticipated of the summer, but she’s the founder of the amazing website, Beyond The Margins, so most of us already feel like we know her.  I think Nichole has some really special insights to offer us at Women’s Fiction Writers — and to many of us who are parents.  I hope you’ll agree.  I’m also thrilled that Nichole is having a book signing and reading in Chicago area in July, so I’ll be able to stalk meet her, and then share photos and stories with you later this summer!

Please welcome Nichole to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Debut Author Nichole Bernier Dares Us To Write Nuanced, Unlikeable Characters Who Capture Readers’ Imagination And Attention

Amy: Well, hello published author of a novel!! (I loved your FB updates! Last Wednesday as an unpublished author, last rainstorm as an unpublished author…) We know that books take a long time to get from idea to bookshelf.  What has your publishing journey been like?  And please, feel free to share any horror stories.  They’re comforting!  ;-)

Nichole: I’d been a magazine writer for a decade, and though I love reading fiction, I’d never had an urge to write it. But after I lost a friend in the September 11th terrorist attacks, there were things I couldn’t work through in my regular ways of writing. One day in early 2005, shortly after the birth of my third child, I wrote a dream sequence about a woman imagining her friend’s last moments. It didn’t occur to me that that would be anything more than a bit in my journal, but that sequence became the beginning of chapter three, and it’s never changed.

I wrote nights and weekends, and when it was clear this odd bit of writing wasn’t going away, I started siphoning off hours from my babysitter time meant to be used for my contracted magazine writing. As I got close to finishing the first draft, I found I really loved studying the business side of fiction and querying, which I found fascinating and altogether different than magazines.

But my big rookie error was in querying immediately after I finished the first draft. My mental timeline was still that of a magazine freelancer: finish, publish, paycheck. I wasn’t used improving something slowly and tortuously with no one in the world even waiting for it. We’d just moved to Boston and I was expecting my fourth child, and eager to cross “Get Agent” off my to-do list. There were some requests for partials and fulls, all leading to rejections in the end.

For the first time in two years I put the manuscript aside and fell into the rhythm of life with a newborn, not quite knowing what to do next. I had no writing community, no friends who wrote fiction, no mentors. A few months passed. Then I received a very personal rejection letter from a well-known agent, thoughtful reflection on what she saw I had envisioned and nearly achieved, but not quite. Even as a rookie I recognized this as more of a blessing than a rejection, and I threw myself into revisions. I developed a writing community. I revised for over a year. When I felt ready to query again, I received three offers of representation, for which I was endlessly appreciative. I felt it was important to meet the agents face to face, but by this time I was hugely pregnant with my fifth child (are we sensing a theme about landmark moments on the publishing timetime?) So I made a whirlwind trip to New York, and felt a strong connection to agent Julie Barer.

Julie worked with me for a year, urging me to streamline my story and weave more closely the timelines of my two main characters. After she sold it to Crown, the trajectory of the process suddenly made sense, all the necessary steps and hard work.

Amy: I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this: YOU HAVE FIVE CHILDREN!  And then to ask this: How on earth did you find time and energy to write a novel? (Please say chocolate had something to do with it.)  

Nichole: Would you believe me if I say I outsourced chapters to my older children? No?

Okay, the truth is I became both obsessed and streamlined. Before I started my novel I was a fairly multifaceted person: running, photography, cooking, skiing, golf. When I became serious about the novel most of my hobbies went down the tubes, and now I don’t watch a single tv show. I don’t say that with any particular pride, and in fact it’s a little embarrassing to be that out of touch with popular culture. But it’s amazing how being a busy parent has the laser-like ability to triage what’s really important to you.

I have an unscientific theory that if you are an involved parent, regardless of how many children you have, you get about three things to call your own. And the only other things that have remained for me are being involved in my kids’ schools, and a base level of exercise, which changed from running (reluctant, frenetic) to yoga (strengthening and calming). More than anything else, though, it was critical to have a supportive spouse who’d give me the hours and sometimes days away to really immerse myself in tough sections of writing and revision.

Amy: What’s your definition of women’s fiction? There’s so much controversy over even labeling books as such, does having your book fall under that category (as so many books do) bother you?

Nichole: I don’t know how or why that labeling got started, but I think it’s divisive and limiting. My best guess is that it was an easy way for marketing folks to throw a spotlight on books their likeliest target audience would enjoy, and to try to tap into the lucrative book-club market, which is primarily women. I think it does men a disservice, too, because it suggests that books aren’t really for them unless they have espionage, battle scenes or deer hunting. One of my most thoughtful Amazon Vines reviews came from a man who admitted he didn’t usually read books like mine, but went on to analyze very insightfully its elements of parenthood, marriage, and facades, and drew parallels to Sylvia Plath. So now I make no assumptions about the target audience for a book.

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

Nichole: Dare to write nuanced and nearly unlikeable characters. The world of so-called women’s fiction needs them. Trust that readers want to be challenged by what they read, are willing to go along with characters who might rub them the wrong way but still find them, their voice and their issues and circumstances, fascinating.

Unlikeable characters can be a hot button in the book world; for some they are riveting in a train-wreck way that grabs your attention but also makes you invested in them enough to care about their outcome. But some readers can be turned off if they cannot identify with a character. It’s a bit of an excursion and an education, writing beyond your comfort zone, teaching yourself to create characters who make questionable choices, but yet with the humanity to make readers care about them. 

Nichole Bernier is author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at @nicholebernier.

 

Writers: Get Inspired And Motivated By The Classics

Look to the Books

By Karen Wojcik Berner

Sentences not flowing the way you’d like? Consult your bookshelf.

Problems with your plot? Ask “What would Shakespeare do?”

Dickens. Woolf. Austen. Thackeray. Joyce.

Shakespeare. Ibsen. Wilde. Homer.

Poe. Shelley. Keats. Milton.

Having inspired readers for hundreds of years, the classics often reveal universal truths of human nature, truths that do not change from decade to decade, from century to century. Each time I sit down with one of these beloved novels, plays or poems, I discover something else I had not noticed before. Now that is great writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love contemporary fiction, but there is just something about revisiting a classic. Maybe it harkens back to my English major days, blissfully discussing narrative voice in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, trying to keep track of all the characters in Bleak House, or focusing on dialogue in Pride and Prejudice. Back when reading was fun and not something you try to squeeze in while waiting to pick the kids up from school, or on the train to and from work if you could ever get caught up on emails.

Here is your assignment. Pick out a classic. Lovingly caress the cover and spine. Oh, wait, a minute, that’s what I always do. Just get a classic and join me at the next sentence. Pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger), and snuggle into your favorite comfy chair. Begin reading through writer’s eyes.

Notice the sentence structure and dialogue. Chart the plot. Revisit vocabulary you haven’t heard in awhile. Track down the allusions to Greek, Roman and other mythologies. How does your novel embody the manners of the day?

All of these can be applied to our writing. For example, Virginia Woolf is a great illustration of how beautiful the English language can be. I’m not saying to write early-twentieth-century sentences whose word counts would equate to at least two paragraphs nowadays, but rather to pay attention to how Woolf uses her words and compare it with our own styles. How can we mix our sentence structure up a bit?

Check out one of the epic tales, stories that, although large in scope, still manage to connect to us on an individual basis. Melville’s Moby Dick comes to mind here, as well as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Talk about some crazy plots! What can we learn from them? Go big—don’t hold back.

No one blends a powerhouse storyline with gorgeous prose better than William Shakespeare. One day, awhile back, I could not get my main character from Point A to Point B. As You Like It was sitting open on my desk because one of my characters has a bit part in a Shakespeare in the Park production. I started reading and became enthralled again. Witty. Hilarious. And no one can deliver an insult like the Bard!

I began fooling around with some Shakespearean-style insults, hoping the wordplay would unclog my mired mind. Very therapeutic. Afterward, I was able to write a full chapter in one sitting, free from whatever was bogging my brain down. Who knew playing around with Shakespearean insults would function as a mental plunger?

After graduating from Dominican University with degrees in English with a writing concentration and communications, Karen Wojcik Berner worked as a magazine editor, public relations coordinator and freelance writer. A two-time Folio Magazine Ozzie Award for Excellence in Magazine Editorial and Design winner, her work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines. She is the author of The Bibliophiles series, about a fictional suburban classics book club. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family.

To learn more about Karen, please visit her website, www.karenberner.com

So, WFW friends, which classics have inspired or assisted your writing? I’m going to think on this — and chime in with a comment of my own!  Many thanks to Karen for reminding us that something new can be driven by something not-so-new! (Being not-so-new myself, I do appreciate this very much!)

Amy xo

 

 

Author Jenny Gardiner Talks About Her Publishing Journey and Writing Across Genres

As author Jenny Gardiner mentions below, it seems like we’ve known each other forever, so it’s exciting for me to have Jenny here, sharing her story with all of you.  She does it all, as you’ll see.

Please welcome Jenny to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Jenny Gardiner Talks About Her Publishing Journey and Writing Across Genres

Thanks so Amy much for having me visit today. It seems we’ve known each other from the writing world for such a long time! And certainly there has been a real sea change in publishing since we started out!

So you wanted me to talk a bit about my bad habit of writing across genres ;-). I say bad because nowadays I think it might not be the most beneficial career plan to spread myself so thin. Always my goal has been to “brand” myself, but I saw it as branding my voice, regardless of what type of book I was writing. However with digital publishing, it seems to be more incumbent than ever to build a loyal readership, which seems to work best when you stay in your genre, and better still if you’re writing series books in which you can keep your readers happy with more stories in that setting.

But the thing is I’m a writer as well as a storyteller, and I love to tell stories in whatever I write. Perhaps since I came up as a journalist, I’ve always just written, not considering that I needed to hone in on one thing. And maybe that’s been a good thing, it’s broadened my horizons and given me a wider readership in some ways than I’d have otherwise not had: the more the merrier, right? But the more I study and research what seems to work best for authors, the more I think that perhaps I need to work on continuity and doing so by sticking with one thing.

But darn it, I’m always coming up with ideas, and I hate to table them just to fit a mold, right?! So I suppose the reality is I’ll just keep on writing what I want to write, figuring that I’ll find readers or my readers will find me if I’m lucky!

But I’ll talk a little bit about where I came from and how I found myself where I am right now. As Amy knows my first novel was a finalist in the Dorchester Publishing/Romantic Times American Title III contest, and ultimately won. The prize was a publishing deal. That novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, was really more mainstream commercial women’s fiction, or maybe even chick lit, but ultimately because of the contest was shelved as romance. Part of that was the typical issue with bricks and mortar stores of where to shelve a book. As I was trying to sell other novels to New York houses, I kept pitching a memoir idea I had with my first agent. She never responded to me when I suggested we try to sell it. But my next agent thought it had potential, so she shopped it around. That book (which I originally titled Bite Me!) is Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me (sort of like Marley & Me with a deadly beak), which came out in hardback with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books a couple of years ago.

So after we got fabulous rejections from  rejections from editors for Slim to None, my book seemed doomed to lurk in the deep recesses of my computer for the rest of eternity. But then digital publishing came along, and I decided it made sense to give it a go in what was going to prove to be a new world order. I’d been an early adapter to the Kindle and LOVED mine, so knew that these e-readers would be HUGE, eventually. Once the price came down. When I heard that Apple was planning to launch this new product called an iPad I knew that was going to radically change the world of publishing for good because that would cause a price war, reducing the price of the product, making it available for lots of people, which would be great for authors breaking away from the “old skool” way of publishing books. Plus it led Amazon to want to woo authors into their corner, which led to a whole lot of authors being able to earn an actual living as writers because they actually paid legitimate royalties. Fabulous. And so I then decided to take all of the books that I had in my computer that for whatever reason I wasn’t inclined to pitch to New York houses because they weren’t integral to my branding, and sell themselves direct to my readers. Because I figured my readers would be happy to find more fun books to read. Which brings me back to trying to decide what makes sense these days as an author. And I keep flipflopping. Because I want to write and publish all sorts of things. In fact my next book I’m putting out (hopefully in the next few weeks!) is an anthology of essays, titled Naked Man on Main Street. And I hope readers will seek it out. But I’m giving serious thought to writing some contemporary romance series because it would be fun to write and because it would help bring in a whole new world of readers. And maybe when I do that I’ll contemplate whether to direct the rest of my focus on commercial women’s fiction, or maybe a hint of romance, or humor, or…Stay tuned (would you, please?!)

website: http://www.jennygardiner.net

twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/jennygardiner

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennygardinerbooks

SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER:  What happens after the happily ever after, when protagonist Claire Doolittle discovers that her Mr. Right has turned into Mr. Always right…

SLIM TO NONE:  New York’s premier food critic Abbie Jennings is outed in a picture on Page Six of the New York Post, meaning she can no longer do her job incognito. This is compounded by the fact that years of fine dining have added a little, shall we say, avoirdupois, which means she’s large enough she can’t go incognito. Her editor gives her six months to lose weight or she’s out of her dream job. All of a sudden Abbie learns she must stop eating in order to continue eating for a living.

ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE:  Photographer Lucy McSweeney has given up on finding the right man and has turned to the turkey baster to give her the baby she’s always wanted. Sparks fly when she has a chance encounter with the man she doesn’t know is her sperm donor. And things get a little crazy when she’s hired to photograph is upcoming society wedding.

COMPROMISING POSITIONS: Mercedes Fortunato gets way more than she bargains for when she lands her dream job on Capitol Hill against the wishes of her boss Mike Garrity, forced to hire her by his boss, a horny US Senator who’s set his sights on Mercedes. Mike grudgingly agrees to work with Mercedes and protect her from the lecherous senator, and things heat up when they realize maybe they aren’t quite the enemies they thought they were. Throw in a little corruption, a protective Italian family, and the FBI and someone’s bound to end up in trouble.

ANYWHERE BUT HERE: Mary Kate Dupree has been spinning her wheels for too long. Trapped in an abusive marriage to an overbearing good ol’ boy, she finally decides to break the cycle when she heads out to pick up her husband’s dry cleaning and instead picks up a handsome hitchhiker. They impulsive set off on a road trip of self-discovery, peeling away layers of their dark pasts en route to Niagara Falls, but once there, will they tape the leap?

WHERE THE HEART IS: Reese Larkin had given up on her ever going home again, until she realizes that home is the only place she’ll ever be able to reclaim what’s most important to her. After a call from a long-lost friend, she decides to embark on a road trip to revisit her past and along the way comes to realize that home really is where the heart is.

WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO’S DETERMINED TO KILL ME: Think of it is Marley & Me, with a deadly beak ;-)

I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP:  I’m a contributor in this humorous dog anthology, featuring a top-tier list of authors, including a forward by Chelsea Handler’s dog Chunk. 50% of royalties go to the Humane Society of the US.

Melanie Thorne Rewrote Real Life, Yet Her Novel Speaks Undeniable Truths

Today I’m happy to introduce my friend and fellow member of Book Pregnant, debut author, Melanie Thorne.  I was lucky to read an early copy of her novel, Hand Me Down, which Melanie sent to me herself. I was captivated by the voice, overwhelmed by the injustices, enraptured by the hope.  Melanie doesn’t hide the fact that she has taken her life and transformed into fiction.  Below she talks about how that’s possible and why it’s preferable to writing a memoir, for her. 

Please welcome my friend, Melanie Thorne to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

Melanie Thorne Rewrote Real Life, Yet Her Novel Speaks Undeniable Truths

Amy: HAND ME DOWN is a novel based in truth. So, here’s the question. Why write a novel based in truth instead of a memoir or a novel based in no truth? What compelled you to take your personal story and tweak it to be a novel?

Melanie: When I first started writing Hand Me Down, I had this idea that if it was published, it would say “based on a true story” on the cover. There was a part of me that wanted the world to know that the basic outline of events in the book had really happened; the betrayed teenage girl in me still wanted validation for her experience.

But there was a bigger part of me that wanted the freedom to manipulate the truth of what happened in order to tell the truth of the story. In a novel, I could adjust timelines, consolidate characters, change details, invent conversations, exaggerate behaviors—in short, make stuff up—without worrying about the limitations of “what really happened.” While I don’t necessarily believe that non-fiction is any truer than fiction, memoirs bear the responsibility of at least attempting to remain as accurate as the author’s memory allows. Fiction allowed me the freedom to ignore the irrelevant details so I could get at the bigger emotional truths more easily.

If I’m being completely honest, there is also an aspect of protection in writing a novel. Non-fiction bridges the gap between what exists on the page and what exists in the physical world. Real names are used, so the characters are not characters, they are actual breathing people who didn’t ask to be written about. In creating a work of fiction, people who begin as people become characters once they’re on the page. I can shape them as I see fit. I also get to walk the line between me and not me, between my life and Liz’s, and that uncertainty makes me a little less vulnerable than if I’d written a memoir. Fiction provides a bit of shelter.

Amy: There are many important issues addressed in HAND ME DOWN — and since I was lucky enough to read it early — I found the overriding arc to be about the meaning of family and the will of one’s spirit to survive anything. What did you have in mind when writing? What was your goal in telling this story?

Melanie: Your description pretty much nailed it, which makes me happy. It’s so wonderful to hear a smart reader get it. Thank you.

To go a step further, I would also say part of the goal is to illustrate not just the meaning of family, but all the different ways a family can look, the many shapes it can take. Family to me is about love and support. Some blood relatives will give you that, but some won’t, and like Tammy tells Liz in HMD, it’s okay to choose your family, okay not to love someone just because you’re related, or because they’re suddenly married to your parent. Liz does her best to choose her family, but also discovers that blood ties often have a very strong pull, even if we wish they didn’t.

Survival is definitely also a major theme in this book. Each main character has survived a family trauma, and in response to that defining event, developed defense mechanisms that became part of each of their personalities, like we do in real life. I wanted to explore the ways these learned behaviors get passed down through families, and how those shields that we carry as protection can cause their own problems.

But what survival is really about is hope. Hope exists in moments of joy and love and justice, even during the darkest of circumstances, even if those moments are fleeting, and I tried to show those moments in this story, because without them, these characters would have given up. Without hope, we would all give up. Liz’s story is just one example of how strong we can be in the face of hardship. People can survive anything. It’s really amazing.

Amy: HAND ME DOWN is an adult novel with YA crossover potential, big time, in my opinion. Who were you thinking of as the reader when you wrote the book?

Melanie: Since I wrote the first draft of this as my graduate thesis, my first readers were my peers and my professors, adults and talented writers, so the book was aimed at an adult audience from the start. But teens read adult books all the time, and a teenaged me would have loved a book like Hand Me Down, and I’m hoping YA readers will respond in kind.

I do think books aimed at younger readers have a different feel from adult literature, and while I would classify HMD as adult fiction, I truly hope older teens or teens who have had to grow up fast like Liz does will love the story, maybe even find comfort in her journey. Ultimately, a book that speaks to you is a book that speaks to you, regardless of its label. As a teen, I read adult books and as an adult, I still read teen fiction.

Being a teenager is universally relatable—we were all there once, entangled in all the horror and bliss—so I think a young narrator can appeal to readers of all ages. I hope I created a narrator who does just that.

Amy: I considered it fair game for WFW because the issues of women and family are prevalent in HMD — and because WF is, as we’ve mentioned a million times, a genre with a broad umbrella. Are you comfortable with it falling there? There is so much muck about WF these days, I wonder if some authors aren’t turned off by the label. I’m not — but I’m just one person (so I keep being reminded).

Melanie: My only concern about the Women’s Fiction label is the perceived notion of what that means: superficial or insignificant. I’m all for Women’s Fiction as a genre that is written by women and more likely to be loved by women, but dismissing these books as frivolous or unimportant—which does, unfortunately, happen—sells the books short, both literally and figuratively.

Lots of smart, female authors like Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult have already discussed the unfair treatment of women’s fiction from some literary circles, and I’m also frustrated by the double standards applied to fiction written by men vs. fiction written by women, but my instinct isn’t to run away from the label. I say we embrace it. Fiction for women, by women is not a bad thing. Women read more fiction than men, so it sort of makes sense that we needed our own marketing niche. I believe that women are likely to—and have been—respond to my book, so if the label makes my book easier for women to find it and read it, then I’ll take it. I’ve also had some wonderful responses from men, which says that there are men who see past the negative connotations of the genre, so maybe perspectives are already shifting.

Amy: When I started writing THE GLASS WIVES in 2007 (when it had the first of four titles before this one), there was much more me in the characters and much less — character. But over the course of writing it for five years, that changed and the characters emerged as completely independent. How did you separate your truth from your characters’ truths?

Melanie: My process was similar to yours. When I started, I envisioned real people—myself included—very specifically. I even used real names for most of the secondary characters. But through writing and revising, the people became characters who bore resemblance to the originals, but were no longer attempted replicas.

I’m not sure I did in fact separate my truths from Liz, though. Her emotional truth, her emotional journey, is mine. The exact actions, behaviors, and conversations are not all “real” but her feelings: her anger, her pain, her hope all belonged to me. As I mentioned earlier, in choosing to write fiction I gave myself the protection of readers not knowing exactly what is real and what is pure fiction in the book, but Liz’s emotions at least, are incredibly true.

For the other characters, I tried to keep their “real life” truths in perspective, while still allowing the good of the story to take precedence. I did my best to keep my characters flawed and complicated, the way all of us real people are, but I took control of their lives to make the story flow and highlight what I think is the real point of fiction: resonating emotional truth. We read—and write—fiction because it has the power to illuminate truth more clearly and cleanly than the messy randomness of “real life.”

Amy: How would you define women’s fiction?

Melanie: I’ve been thinking about this one since I knew I was going to be a guest here, and it’s too hard! So I think I might just offer a simple answer here, even though that question is anything but simple. It’s such a huge genre, with many sub-genres, but I’ll go with: books written by women that are most likely to be loved by women. My favorite women’s fiction includes strong, smart heroines, complicated relationships, and not necessarily a happy ending.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors, especially of women’s fiction, who want to tackle real life tough topics in a fictional setting?

Melanie: Don’t hesitate to sacrifice “what really happened” for the good of the story. So often I’ve heard writers say in response to a workshop critique: “But that’s true. That really happened.” It doesn’t matter. In fiction, the truth you owe your readers is the emotional truth of the scene, not a play-by-play recounting of an event or conversation.

If it’s a deeply personal story, as mine was, I might also suggest trying to look at the topic from multiple perspectives. That might not happen in the first draft, and that’s okay. It’s normal to write your side first. But in revisions, shift your angles of reference, try to see through the eyes of multiple people involved, give those characters reasons for their actions, even if you don’t understand the real life decisions the actions are based on. And don’t be afraid to admit the hardest thing about your characters, particularly if one of them is you. Writing takes a lot of self-reflection, especially if you’re tackling real life tough topics, but writing through the harsh truths makes the best stories.

PS. Thanks, Amy, for having me on your fantastic blog! I’m so honored to be a guest here.

I loved having you here, Melanie! It’s always extra-special when a WFW guest is also a friend!

Melanie Thorne is the author of Hand Me Down, a debut novel. She earned her MA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, where she was awarded the Alva Englund Fellowship and the Maurice Prize in fiction. She was a resident at the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat and her work has appeared in various journals. Her hobbies include reading, writing, watching smart TV, crafting, swimming, gardening, and traveling. She lives in Northern California. She loves to hear from readers! Visit her at www.melaniethorne.com

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