Lessons and Lists in Women’s Fiction

Whew! I’ve finished this round of revisions on The Glass Wives and when my kickin’ critique partner winds her way through the rest of my chapters, I’ll be ready to send it off to my agent again. I know it’s even a better book than it was before.  I also know that I could not have written this book, this way, before now.

Here are some of my biggest lessons, whether remembered or learned, while writing the zillionth version of my novel.

  • No reaction is too big. (Huge lesson. Demure has no place in women’s fiction)
  • No problem is unsolvable. (You know why? It’s FICTION!)
  • No situation is unthinkable. (See above, just make it believable.)
  • No character is always safe. (No bungee-jumping necessary; emotional risks are equally as scary, and perfect for women’s fiction.)
  • No character is always right. (Because we hate that person.)
  • No character is always wrong. (Because we pity that person.)
  • The answer, the ending and the right word are like your keys, often in the last place you look — or in your Flip Dictionary. (Lose your keys? Read a book. They’ll turn right up. Lost a word?  Take a drive.  You get it, right? Distract yourself.)
  • Less is more. (Give your readers credit.  If they’re reading you, they’re smart!)
  • Endings can be overwritten and overwrought. (Keep It Simple!)
  • When your CP says “you might not need this” — you probably don’t. (Ok, you definitely don’t, and you have a diplomatic CP!)

And while I was rearranging scenes and chapters and writing new scenes and chapters, learning Scrivener and working on various paying gigs in my editing and social media consulting lives, I was also starting this blog.  Yes, three months ago I pressed “publish” on the first Women’s Fiction Writers post.  And wow – have we come a long way, baby!

And just like with the revisions on my manuscript, I could not have started this particular site in this way at any other time but right now.  Things happen when they’re supposed to, I think.  Or when they happen, we think, okie doke, I’ll work with that, and it becomes the right time.  Either way, this has been a joy ride!  We have had so many great conversations here, so many wonderful women’s fiction authors have shared their words and wit and wisdom.  And since the blog is booked through 2011 — I’ve decided to add a few more interviews per month.  So watch for that.  And while I get a groupie rush discovering authors by chance on my own (better than a shiny penny heads up, absolutely),  I want to know who you’d like to see on the blog in the future.  Leave a name or names (and links if you have it) in the comments and I promise to check ’em all out — but I can’t promise more than that. The rest is up to karma and scheduling.

I’ve had review requests, and frankly, I don’t want this to turn into a review blog.  I know that I have written about books and authors often but I try to do it in the context of what I liked and what I learned from the writing and the story.  It can be an old book or a new book, it just has to be a book that I consider to be women’s fiction and an author that I admire for one of the umpteen reasons that I admire authors.

For the time being, traditionally published authors are being featured here (with one or two exceptions) because I am interested in traditional publishing and in being traditionally published.  This may change – but for now – that’s the scoopage on that.

Some of you have emailed me with suggestions for future posts and I love those because – well – the well isn’t always full, you know?  So keep ’em coming.

And now, with my revisions finished…I’m off to revisit the WIP, currently titled Lying to Izzy Lane. Let’s hope I take all my lessons with me as I discover and write Izzy’s story!

Special note: 

Women’s Fiction Writers guest, Erin Blakemore,

author of The Heroine’s Bookshelf,

won the Colorado Book Award for the general non-fiction category!  

Congratulations, Erin!

43 thoughts on “Lessons and Lists in Women’s Fiction

  1. I love your conclusion that endings can be overwritten. I think there is a natural desire to tidy up all the loose ends and make sure everyone is happy. Life isn’t like that, so fiction doesn’t have to be that way either!

    I’m enjoying your blog.

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  2. Wow. So many delicious morsels of insight here, Amy. I don’t know where to start. Your bulleted list is fantastic (my hardest lesson to learn was “less is more,” though I think I’m ‘there’ finally). I also agree with your “okie doke, I’ll work with that, and it becomes the right time” statement. How true – and what great inspiration for me as I get very busy with freelance projects at THE moment I’m cranking up work on my WIP. :Okie doke,” I will say to myself. “I will work with that!”

    And finally… congratulations are in order: for your revision completions AND your three-month anniversary of this fabulous blog (booked through 2011! Fabulous! Can’t wait to see who you bring along and introduce us to). You should be so proud.

    Would love to see Caroline Leavitt on your site (am wrapping up her book PICTURES OF YOU) … she’s very much a women’s fiction maven. Or Sue Monk Kidd, Teri Coyne, Randy Susan Meyers, Therese Walsh, Erika Marks … I could go on and on and on… 🙂

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    • Great list of authors, Melissa! I realized I didn’t offer a list of who was already scheduled (oops, but I like surprises) so I’d add the ones who aren’t to my list of folks to check out and possibly email!

      I’m also currently deluged with freelance clients. Considering I have times when there are zero, I have to deal with the times there are “too many.”

      Maybe that’s why I’m awake at 2am with insomnia? :-/

      Amy

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    • Hahaha, Kat! I guess it’s a good thing I wrote this yesterday, because after a bout with insomnia, I have no energy or excitement at all right now 😦

      But you know what this means when it comes to tonight’s dinner, right? TAKE OUT!

      Amy 😉

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  3. I’m curious because I keep rereading your list and I must not be interpretting your list correctly. You say no reaction is too big. Then you say less is more. I agree with the second. Can you explain what you mean by no reaction is too big?

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  4. Hi Priscille — Absolutely! And it’s funny, I don’t see them as the same thing at all. By “no reaction too big” I guess I mean a verbal or physical or emotional reaction or a combination of any or all. By “less is more” I mean in the actual writing, the words, the way it is written. Does that make sense? I’ll see if I can think of some examples, but I’m running on a less-than-desirable amount of sleep today! 😉

    Amy

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  5. Thank you for the entertaining and inspiring post. It was exactly what I needed to bolster my courage for a big rewrite.

    I would love to see an interview with Eleanor Brown. I enjoyed “The Weird Sisters” for so many reasons.

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  6. Funny how all those creative essentials we’re “supposed” to know after years of writing has a way of slipping away in the midst of digging for words, characters, scenes, and dialogue day after day. Case in point would be this excellent post that has so beautifully nailed down those essentials to great writing. Thank you, thank you, Amy! You continue to inspire. I’m more than a little excited to hit the keyboard today — actually, on fire!

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  7. It might be risky, but I’d love to see an interview with authors who are considering a leap from traditional to self-publishing. I know of a few authors whose books I loved but they no longer have any coming out because their contracts were terminated. Touchy subject, I know.

    Regarding rewrites, that’d be a great blog subject. I’ve combed through some of my manuscripts two or three times, and others to the point where I felt like I’m beating a dead horse (excuse the cliche). I’d be curious to know if writers have individual guidelines as to how many times they review their manuscript, make changes, regurgitate it with crit-partners, before feeling it’s polished.

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    • Hey Kath,
      I know of someone whom I can tap for your first request. Uh huh! I do! I think some authors might shy away from interviews on the subject depending on the circumstances — but my wheels are turning. Thanks for the great idea. And rewrites are a great topic. I’ll tell you that when I was at the Printers Row Lit Fest the women’s fiction panel talked about that. One author said she did a few revisions — another said she has done up to 30 revisions! I think the answer is — whatever it takes!! I know you want a concrete answer!!

      Hugs,
      Amy

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      • Thanks, Amy! But, I don’t need a concrete answer – that would weigh me down ;-). I thought it’d be an interesting topic for discussions because it proves there is no right or wrong way to write; that it’s strictly gray areas, much like my roots.

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  8. Love that list of what you learned AND the title of the next book. Congrats on the quick success of this blog. It/You deserves a fantastic readership!

    Interview ideas:
    Allison Winn Scotch
    Laura Dave
    Marisa De Los Santos

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  9. Your advice is on the money and hard to keep in mind while writing. I’m a Donald Maass groupie and his advice is along the same lines. Not sure whether this came from one of his books on writing or his Twitter feed, but I have it taped to my computer: “Think always: What is the strongest thing my protagonist can do right now? What is the worst turn this scene can take? What is the strongest conflict with someone else at this moment and what is the strongest way in which that conflict can play out?” When I reread that, I always end up making changes and making the characters suffer more. Hopefully, it’s for the better, at least for the reader. 🙂

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    • You know what I’ve learned, Densie? It’s easier for me to tone something down rather than rev it up — so it’s better if I just blow out the emotions and reactions right away. Of course it took me three or four years to figure that out.

      🙂
      Amy

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  10. You’ve certainly done well with this blog in only three months.

    Great insights for writing in all genres. I sure have fallen into that “over-tidy ending” trap. In fact, in my US version of one of my UK novels, I’ve eliminated the whole last chapter. I realized the story wasn’t ending as much as deflating, like a used-up balloon.

    I really like the idea of a blog devoted to reality-based, non-flesh-eating fiction, so I hope you’ll keep up the interviews and reviews. Lots of writerly blogs out here, but not so many blogs for grown-up readers.

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  11. My CP asked that I cut the last 20,000 words of my novel. In her mind it ended and then kept going! I sat on that idea for a while, not wanting to get rid of my precious words. But I’ve done it! I’m almost done with a major revision, and novel that was once 134,000 words (first draft ever) is now only 82,000. I’ve learned so much in the past two years of writing. I just hope I can continue to grow, and this will be the draft that finally gets an agent. I love the advice on your blog. Keep it coming! 🙂

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    • Meredith,
      When I “got” my agent he had me cut the last 1/3 of the novel and explained why it ended there. And wouldn’t you know? He was right. There were a lot of scenes that were incorporated in before that — I tend to be quite the rearranger when it comes to revising! Good for you on all your own revisions and thanks for the nod on the blog. Much appreciated!

      Amy

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  12. Here are a few of my favourite women’s fiction writers who I admire for their ability to inject humour into their writing even as they deal with heavier themes:
    Lori Lansens
    Lolly Winston
    Ellen Meister
    Anna Quindlen

    It would be fabulous if you could hook one of them into an interview.

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  13. I love your list, Amy! I need to keep it somewhere for future reference. You’re right — this blog HAS come a long way and I love it! I’ve been rooting for this blog from day one. I’m so glad I have a place to hang with fellow writers of women’s fiction. All those YA writers I know are great and all, but no one understands my particular writing needs like you guys do! You probably know who I’d love too see interviewed — Emily Giffin! I’m reading her latest, Heart of the Matter, right now and I’m loving it. I can’t wait for her newest title to come out! Again, I love what you’re doing here, Amy! Keep it up. =)

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    • Lisa,

      I think that’s an excellent question — and one day I will simply post that and ask (politely) for opinions. What do YOU think? For me — and I probably said it best in the first blog post here — chick lit is always light in tone, nature and topic. Women’s fiction can have elements of that, but to me, has a little more depth — more lessons — more exposition and more lyrical prose. Or at least some of those things. To me it’s harder to discern the difference with lit fic because I find so much of the women’s fic I like straddles the lit/commercial line.

      At least that’s my take on it all today! 😉

      Amy

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      • That makes a lot of sense, to me.

        The only thing I can add is that chick lit is limited in scope, which the other two categories are not. It’s light, as you say, which in itself narrows the list of possible topics. But even apart from that, it seems to center around a select number of themes.

        Women’s fiction and literary fiction aren’t limited by topic. The distinction between the two is a matter of taste. I suppose you could say that they have a slightly different (explicit) goal; women’s literature provides things beyond mere literary value – such as lessons, as you mentioned.

        But again that’s of course far from a hard and fast distinction.

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  14. Amy, there are so many authors to choose from! 🙂 Here are a few that I’d love to see:

    Sarah Addison Allen
    Billie Letts
    Tatiana de Rosnay
    Susan Wiggs
    Anita Shreve
    Rebecca Wells

    Not sure if all of these lovely authors are available, but you never know!

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  15. Meant to comment on this the day it came out, but – better late than never?

    Some more authors to look into:

    Kelly Simmons
    Rae Meadows
    Camille Noe Pagan
    Sarah Jio

    Also, what about interviewing booksellers or librarians? Booksellers in particular might have some cool insights about how women’s fiction fits into their recommendations and sales.

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  16. First of all, I LOVE the titles of both of your novels! And wow……what you learned was spot-on! I especially like “no situation is unthinkable”. Exactly….yoo hoo, it’s FICTION, first of all. But…..not every single person has experienced or heard about a particular experience a woman may have had. Does that make it “unthinkable”…of course not. But as you said, it must be “believable.”

    And the endings……..I SO agree. I know many authors have difficulty “letting go” of their babies. But……..when it’s over, it’s OVER. And a simple, intelligent ending is the best, in my opinion. If the author has done their job, the ending will leave the reader satisfied.
    Bravo to you for such great discoveries, Amy! And I’m wishing you all the best finding a home for your writing. (I can’t wait to read it!)

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  17. Congrats on finishing your revisions! Just want to say that I look forward to reading your blog posts each week. Thanks!

    I’d love to read interviews with Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Sue Monk Kidd and so many others. Many writer you have listed. 🙂

    Like

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