Guest Post: Author Eleni Gage’s Four Fabulous Tips For Writing About Someone You Know—And Surviving!

91L0NFaeALLYou’ve read the title of this guest post and I feel the universal cringe! If one of your fictional characters is inspired by someone in your real life, either a lot or a little, you’re bound to wonder WHAT WILL THEY THINK? Or even better (worse?) WILL THEY RECOGNIZE THEMSELVES. I don’t base characters on real people, but I do cherry pick bit of people I know, and people I see out in the wild and give those characteristics to the folks in my books. I want them to be real, right? 

Today, Eleni Gage joins us again to share her own experience. Brave woman, I say. Brave woman.

Brave woman with a gorgeous book cover, that is! 

Please welcome Eleni Gage to WFW, and share your thoughts in the comments!

Amy xo

Take My Life—Please!

by Eleni Gage

91L0NFaeALLWould you write a book inspired by your grandmother-in-law? I did. And it’s not because she’s famous, or I have a deep-seated desire to offend my husband’s family. It’s because a small segment of her life story inspired me. The irony is, I switched from nonfiction to fiction so that I wouldn’t be writing about—and ticking off—people I know. When North of Ithaka, my travel memoir about the year I spent living in the small Greek village where my father was born, was published, some villagers loved it and others…well, not so much. One dear family friend was angry when the Greek version translated my description of him as lanky to “skeletal.” A woman I adored objected to my commenting on her squeaky voice. Another man quoted the phrase I used to characterize his brother (a self-proclaimed “psychologist of the sidewalk”) and complained about his own portrayal. “But I didn’t write about you!” I protested. “Exactly!” he said. “It’s like I don’t even exist.”

Wouldn’t it be easier, I thought, to just make up people’s life stories? When I actually started writing novels, I realized that truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it’s often more interesting. What I love about reading novels is that each creates a world that seems so realistic, it feels true. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that the inspiration for the imaginary worlds I’ve written about came from real life. I’m willing to bet that, if you’re a fiction writer, there’s some person you’ve met, place you’ve been, or story you’ve heard that you’re just dying to embellish into a novel. If that rings true, here are a few guidelines that just might make your life easier.

1. Stick to the Particulars

Chances are there’s something specific in your inspiration that enchants you. In my case, with my current book, The Ladies of Managua, my then-boyfriend (now husband) mentioned that when he brought his Nicaraguan grandmother on a recent trip to Europe, they bumped into a man in an elevator who turned out to be the best friend of her high school sweetheart. They gave the stranger his grandmother’s phone number, he passed it on to her ex, and that man started calling her to say that she was his one true love. It wasn’t the unlikely coincidence of the elevator that resonated with me, but the details of the high school romance. My husband’s grandmother was a boarder at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which was fairly typical for Nicaraguan girls of a certain class and era. There she fell for a Cuban man she was about to marry until her sister dragged her away from the altar and home to Nicaragua.

The big-picture outline of the story grabbed me—star-crossed first love! But what made me want to incorporate it into a novel were the particulars of the time and place. Sacred Heart girls learned French, comportment and such ladylike details as how to get into and out of a cab most elegantly. In the case of Nicaraguan girls who attended the school in that era, when they returned home, their children grew up to lead the revolution that overthrew the Nicaraguan dictator and changed society in that country forever, making things like getting out of a cab properly irrelevant. That struck me as a particularly interesting moment in history. In real life, my mother-in-law wasn’t a revolutionary; she was an obedient daughter. But, I asked myself, what if she had been a guerilla fighter? That’s where the fiction came in.

2. And Strive for the Universal

The details of the time and place will create your imaginary world; you aim to make your setting specific and interesting, perhaps even exotic. But you also hope that your readers will relate to the emotions your characters feel. Although the women in my novel inhabit very particular worlds, the book is about the tension between mothers and daughters, the miscommunications that distance us from each other, and the struggle to connect to one another. As I explored those themes, the protagonist inspired by my grandmother-in-law did and said things the woman herself never would in real life, but that I felt were true to the character.

3. Choose your Muse Wisely

I love, love, love writing about older women, for a number of reasons. First, they carry so many younger selves within them: the girl and young woman they once were, and all the experiences they had. Second, they’ve seen so much social change. But I’m especially fond of a certain kind of older woman who sees her life as a narrative, and views herself as the star of her own movie. When I wrote my memoir, my aunt figured in it prominently. After I broached the subject of writing about her, she said, “You can say anything about me you want—as long as my picture is in the book.” Now there’s a woman who is a legend in her own mind.

Lucky for me, my husband’s grandmother is just the same. Frankly, she thinks it’s about time someone wrote her life story (and she’s so attached to the character that she has started to claim experiences and conversations that I made up entirely as her own). Not everyone would feel this way. If you’re basing a novel on someone who will recognize themselves in it, I’d advise making sure they’re of the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” school of thought.

4. Finally, consider your words carefully.

There was a moment when I wanted the title of the book to be its first line: “Revolutionaries make bad husbands.” Then I remembered that my father-in-law (who is not the son of my grandmother-in-law, but her former son-in-law) fought in the revolution, and I realized that title could make for some awkward Christmas dinners. So I scrapped that plan. After all, I’m a writer, not an idiot.

eleni gageEleni N. Gage is a journalist who has written for publications including Travel+Leisure, The New York Times, Elle, Real Simple, and The American Scholar. Currently the executive editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, and formerly the beauty editor at People, Eleni graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in folklore and mythology from Harvard University and an MFA from Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her Nicaraguan husband and two Greekaraguan children.

You can find Eleni online: www.elenigage.com, @elenigage, Eleni Gage

Guest Post: How One Single Mom Claimed Her Own Writing Space

If you know me at all, you know why this author’s guest post spoke to me. Both THE GLASS WIVES and THE GOOD NEIGHBOR feature single mom main characters who, amidst unique and universal struggles, have heart and moxie. Just like the very real author, Tracey Scott-Townsend. 

If you think you can’t find the time or space to write, read Tracey’s guest post again. Then stop kvetching and get back to work.

I did.

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Andrea Lochen Has A New Baby AND A New Novel

IMAGINARY THINGS.9.28.14I started writing fiction when my kids were junior high and high school, therefore I marvel at the moms who write books with small kids under foot—sometimes literally. And then there’s author Andrea Lochen — who was getting ready to launch her second novel, IMAGINARY THINGS, while waiting for her first baby (I know! I know! How productive can one woman be?). 

Below, Andrea shares with us three important points to remember when you’re expecting a book baby–or honestly, this is good advice at any stage of the writing life.

I have to pay much closer attention to #2, celebrating the small moments. I don’t do it often enough. 

What about you? Share your thoughts in the comments, and please welcome Andrea Lochen to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Advice For Debut and Aspiring Authors From Author Nicole Baart

TBD FinalToday we have Nicole Baart with us on WFW sharing her thoughts and wishes for debut authors, and after EIGHT novels, she’s an expert! I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of The Beautiful Daughters, Nicole’s latest, and found myself swept away into a world that included Africa, Iowa, love, friendships, and secrets. Big secrets. Nicole has a way of touching serious topics without making me want to look away, but stay the course with her enchanting characters.  I think my favorite bit of advice below from Nicole is “Be your own bad book self.” I think that’s key in writing, for authors, and in life, don’t you? Please welcome Nicole Baart to WFW! 

Amy xo

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The Glass Wives, A Discount, and A Teaser

It’s been almost two years (May 14th, 2013) since THE GLASS WIVES hit bookshelves. That was, and remains, quite a journey. And now as we move toward the release of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR on October 13th, look who’s poking up her pretty little head and saying DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME, MA! (Notice how St. Martin’s Press used the same font on the cover of both of my novels? That’s a little bit of branding, folks!)

And now, THE GLASS WIVES ebook is $5.99!

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If you haven’t read it, now’s a great time. I mean, look at the blue sky. It totally says IT’S SPRING SO READ ME. DRINK TEA AND READ ME. SPIKE YOUR TEA IF YOU WANT, BUT READ ME.

You can also gift ebooks and $5.99 is the right price. JUST IN TIME FOR MOTHER’S DAY!

Here’s a Kindle link: KINDLE LINK FOR THE GLASS WIVES

Here’s a Nook link: NOOK LINK FOR THE GLASS WIVES

More soon on THE GOOD NEIGHBOR and maybe more news soon on other things too. Oh my, what might that mean???

Amy xo 

Don’t have the 4-1-1 on THE GLASS WIVES or need a refresher?

Here’s the review that was featured in Shelf Awareness for Readers on May 28th, 2013.

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Author Interview: Debut Author Kristy Woodson Harvey’s Fourth Manuscript Is The One That Sold First!

9780425279984_large_Dear_CarolinaToday is launch day for Kristy Woodson Harvey’s debut novel, DEAR CAROLINA. Below, you’ll learn how Kristy mined her own life as a new mom to write this book that explores the bonds of motherhood in its many forms. 

I met Kristy through Tall Poppy Writers, a cooperative of women authors and am thrilled to help her celebrate her debut. Plus, she told me her mom’s book club read THE GLASS WIVES, and loved it (unsolicited, I swear!). 

Please help Kristy Woodson Harvey kick off her career as an author and welcome her to WFW!

Amy xo

Debut Author Kristy Woodson Harvey’s Fourth Manuscript Is The One That Sold First! 

9780425279984_large_Dear_CarolinaAmy: Was there one moment when the idea for DEAR CAROLINA came to you or was it a slow simmer of a story?

Kristy: It was definitely a moment! I wrote DEAR CAROLINA right after my son was born. My parents were staying with us, helping us get some sleep, and I could hear my son crying. So I got up, and, the second my dad handed him to me, he quit. I was holding him and we were staring at each other and I just remember having this moment and thinking, “I am a mother. I am someone’s mother. This is my child.” And then I remember thinking, “What would have to happen in your life for you to be able to give this person up? What would it be like to give away the most important part of yourself? And, on the flip side of that, what would it be like to adopt a baby knowing that your child would always have this deep biological connection with another woman.

The characters of Jodi and Khaki came to me then, and, as weird as it sounds, in those couple of seconds, I just knew what this whole story was. It was sort of like how people talk about their life flashing before their eyes, and it’s just an instant but they see the entirety of it laid out before them. That’s what the idea for this book was like.

I knew two things then: One, that making the decision to give up your child is the most selfless act and the greatest gift that one woman could give another. And two, I knew that that feeling a deep and almost heart-breaking love for your child didn’t have to do with giving birth. It came from that passionate knowledge that you would do anything to protect this person forever. And those two thoughts really drove the writing of this novel.

Amy: Some of my characters arrive with their names. For others I have to find the right name. How did you decide on the name Khaki?

Kristy: I love it! Thank you so much! Khaki is a fairly common nickname for Katherine, I guess, but I thought of this nickname in a more literal sense. (And her real name is Frances, not Katherine anyway!) We have several good friends who are farmers and a lot of them wear all-khaki outfits when they’re working. I could just picture this tiny girl, thinking her father hung the moon, riding around with him on the tractor in her all-khaki get-up too. And, since she and Graham have known each other for a long time, it seemed like it would be right for him to give her that name that stuck with her forever.

Amy: What’s your writing style? Do you outline? Wing it? Has your method changed since writing your debut novel?

Kristy: DEAR CAROLINA is my debut novel, but actually my fourth manuscript. I’ve never outlined. Even in school, I would write the essay first and then go back and make an outline to go with it when we had to turn one in! That doesn’t work for me because, so often, the characters end up doing things totally differently than I would have originally thought once I get to “know” them! My first two “practice” manuscripts that I never did anything with were written in third person because I read a writing book somewhere that said first-time authors should always write in third person. But, I wrote my third manuscript in first person, and in that one, I felt like I had really found my voice as a writer. I queried that one and ended up signing with an agent for that third manuscript, which is a bit of a prequel to DEAR CAROLINA, but DEAR CAROLINA ended up selling first. I generally start writing with those scenes that won’t let me sleep at night, no matter where they are in the book. I write big “chunks” of a manuscript, piece them together in a way that makes sense and then add chapters that make the book flow. It’s a little nuts, but it works for me!

Amy: Have you been surprised by anything in the publishing process—whether positive or negative? What has your biggest lesson been so far?

Kristy: One, you have to be crazy, crazy patient. Unbelievably patient! It’s a long, slow process. But I think the biggest surprise has been the way that people have reached out and really helped me, especially during the promotion process. Amazing bloggers like you, Amy, who have taken the time to share my book with your readers, random people I’ve never met who will email to say they asked their bookstore to carry DEAR CAROLINA, early readers who have shared very personal stories with me about the impact this book had on them… I’m an eternal optimist, but, even if I wasn’t, I think it has really affirmed my faith in the goodness of people! It has been a huge gift.

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

Kristy: I found my editor through a writing contest, which was something I never expected. I say you have to be at the right place at the right time, which means you need to be a lot of places! I had never been to a writing conference when I got my book deal, simply because I was pregnant and then nursing, so it wasn’t practical. But, now I’ve seen that the connections you can make there are so invaluable, at any point in your career. If there’s something you can feasibly do to get your work in front of the right people, do it! No one else is going to care as much about your writing as you do. And, also, keep writing. Even after I’d signed with an agent for my third manuscript, I was working feverishly on my next book, not waiting around for him to sell it. And that was great because DEAR CAROLINA ended up selling first!

Harvey Port 02 retKristy Woodson Harvey holds a degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s in English from East Carolina University. She writes about interior design and loves connecting with readers. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and three-year-old son. Dear Carolina is her first novel.

Check out DEAR CAROLINA online at B&N or Amazon or at your local independent bookstore.

Twitter: @kristywharvey
Instagram: @kristywharvey

If you’d like to learn more about the authors and books of Tall Poppy Writers, click here.

Guest Post: Author Kathryn Craft Asks “Are Likable Characters Important In Women’s Fiction?”

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EDITED TO ADD: THERE’S A GREAT CONVERSATION GOING ON IN THE COMMENTS! CHECK IT OUT!

Today on WFW, my friend, author Kathryn Craft, poses a question that has attracted a lot of attention in recent writerly media. IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE LIKABLE CHARACTERS? Even moreso, in women’s fiction (because that’s why we’re here) is it important for you to wish you could be friends with the characters in the book? This is a question I know the answer to for me. It’s not imperative — but my favorite books always end up being the ones I wish I could step inside, that I wish didn’t end, and the ones where I wish I could have coffee with the main character. That doesn’t mean the book has to be always happy or offer an HEA ending, it just means I have to like the main character and wish I could know her better. I also have loved some books where this isn’t the case, but when I think back on old and new favorites, that’s the prevalent theme. I’ll share some of my personal list in the comments. 

Below, you’ll learn Kathryn thoughts on the subject (a little different from my own), as well as about her new, compelling book, THE FAR END OF HAPPY, which was inspired by real-life events. Kathryn is a brave and talented author. And a real advocate for her author friends (I should know). 

Please welcome Kathryn Craft to WFW—and share your thoughts and favorite women’s fiction books in the comments!

Amy xo

Do You Seek Friends in Women’s Fiction?

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