Author Ellyn Bache Talks About Naysayers, Fiction Labels and The Art of Saying Goodbye

As I wrote to Ellyn Bache in my first email, “while taking an early morning internet stroll I happened upon your website and blog.”  It’s simple but true. So Ellyn is a new-to-me author, but I realize she may not be new to many of you!  Her writing career, insights and advice are direct and sprinkled with humor.  And we all know you need a sense of humor in this business if you’re not going to ditch your hard drive into the river or bite your nails to the quick.  It’s always heartwarming and motivating to meet an author who’s done so much — but who is willing to take the time to share herself with those of us “coming up” in the ranks.

Please welcome Ellyn Bache to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Author Ellyn Bache and The Art of Saying Goodbye

ASN: Can you share with us how and when you started writing and how your publishing journey has evolved?

EB: I started writing for sanity’s sake when my first two children were toddlers.  A local newspaper used a press release I’d done for the humane society – and gave me a byline. I was hooked!  Here was an “adult” activity I could do at home during naps.  I wrote real estate articles, which I was able to sell, and short fiction, which I wasn’t.  Finally, after six years of rejections, McCall’s published my first story, which was a big deal back then.  I wrote my first novel, Safe Passage, after my youngest child went to school.  Sometimes you get a great piece of luck, and for me it was when the book was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon.  I’ve been writing now for more than 30 years, and have been fortunate to publish all kinds of different things – nine novels for women, a teen novel for boys, a collection of literary stories that won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize, a journal about sponsoring refugees, and five or six short books for children that are used in elementary school classrooms.

ASN: The Art of Saying Goodbye is about a group of women who are neighbors.  We’ve talked a lot here on WFW about taking fact and turning it into fiction. How much of any real life experience did you translate into your fictional world?

EB: The Art of Saying Goodbye is loosely based on something that really happened in the suburban development where I once lived.  A woman in her forties, vibrant and well-liked, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer that claimed her in less than two months.  The neighbors reacted in very different ways – with disbelief, shock, sorrow, relief that they weren’t the sick one (and guilt for feeling that way), frustration that they couldn’t offer more help.  But it was also a powerful, transformative experience no one had expected.  The idea of writing about it simmered for a long time.  The novel’s four main characters are fiction.  But their emotions are certainly real.

ASN: What do you love most about your newest book? Maybe your favorite character or scene or lesson learned?

EB: One character, Iona, is older than the others, a, curmudgeonly, 60-year-old widow.  She was great fun to write about – not politically correct, not tactful, not even always polite.  She’s my favorite, and seems to be a reader favorite, too.

The book is an Okra Pick – which means it was chosen for special recognition by the Southern Indie Booksellers.  When I told my friend Marilyn, she got so excited, she gushed and gushed – “Oh, Ellyn, this is wonderful.  This is the best thing!”  And on and on – until I realized she thought I’d said Oprah.  When I corrected her, she said in a very small voice, “oh.”  Since then I’ve been careful to explain that this is an honor named after a vegetable, not a TV star.

ASN: What do you think of all the controversy over the using the label women’s fiction — and it meaning something bad — not something good.  Do you wish that women’s fiction was just labeled as “fiction?”

EB: “Fiction” is such a broad term that it isn’t always helpful, though it’s certainly neutral rather than derogatory.  Now “women’s fiction” has come to mean light reading and (sometimes) romances, even though it’s used to describe a far wider range of novels.  So that’s not helpful, either.  My own books are on the literary end of the “women’s fiction” spectrum – but they’re not “literary fiction” in the heavy, intellectual sense, and they are intended for women.  So I don’t know.  Labels are useful, but never perfect.

ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?

EB: For me, women’s fiction has always meant the whole, broad world of women’s concerns.  Allegra Goodman, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Elizabeth Berg are very different writers, but to my mind, they’re all writing women’s fiction.  Naysayers to the contrary, women’s fiction is not inconsequential.  It entertains us, teaches us, nourishes us. Sometimes it changes our lives.

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

EB: Persist.  I know lots of talented writers who gave up and lots of not-so-talented ones who kept at it and got better . . . and are successful published novelists today.

Ellyn Bache started reading the short stories in her mother’s women’s magazines when she was about eight, so although she told people she was going to be a doctor (and even studied pre-med for a while), she ended up writing fiction, some of it “women’s fiction,” some of it “literary fiction,” some of it best left unlabeled.  Her short stories and novels have won awards, been made into movies, and received a number of other recognitions (see her website, www.ellynbache.com).  The mother of four grown children, she lives in Greenville, SC with Chief, her very sweet, very arthritic, dog, whose name reflects his role in the family.

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5 thoughts on “Author Ellyn Bache Talks About Naysayers, Fiction Labels and The Art of Saying Goodbye

  1. Thank you for introducing us to Ellyn, such a prolific writer with such a stunning list of awards and accomplishments. THE ART OF SAYING GOODBYE sounds just like the type of deep, emotional, heart-stirring fiction I love and also aspire to publish myself. I strive to write the kind of literary women’s fiction you refer to. Ellyn – to have Susan Sarandon play one of your characters must have been thrilling; she’s one of the best actresses in Hollywood (in my opinion). But then winning the Willa Cather Fiction Prize must have been equally heart-stopping!

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  2. This sounds like such an interesting book, Ellyn — the kind of circumstances we all go through in life and never quite know how we or others may react to them. Fascinating! I’m so happy that Amy interviewed you so I can get a glimpse of you as an author — love the funny Okra story. And thank you for your advice to persist; I appreciate the encouragement!

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  3. Thanks for the kind words, everyone. As to Susan Sarandon vs. the Willa Cather Prize — the movie was the show-stopper, no question. Literary prizes are wonderful, but they’re something you’re always working toward, while the film was something I felt I had nothing to do with — agents talking to screenwriters, talking to production companies, talking to stars. I was the little gray mouse in the corner. As it turned out, a very nice place to be!

    Another note about literary prizes. This year, my new short story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award in short fiction. It’s a prestigious honor — and although few people will know about it, and the book won’t be published as a result, being a finalist was enormously encouraging because there’s a new, long story in the collection, something unusual (a re-write of the Samson and Delilah story from a modern perspective, with Sam as a woman). I hadn’t sent it out, wasn’t sure I should — until placing in the contest gave me confidence that the story is worrth pursuing. Contests are often a dead end, but if you feel like you’re onto something but aren’t 100% sure, they can be helpful in so many ways, even if you don’t win.
    All my best,
    Ellyn

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