Author Amy Stolls Says, “Write What Excites You, Not What You Think Will Sell”

If you’ve been reading this blog awhile you know two things. Number one, I wander the internet looking for women’s fiction authors I’ve not yet read or heard of, and number two, I get a megawatt charge out of finding and meeting authors named Amy. (Truly, it does not take much to make to make me happy.) Not only did I hit the double jackpot with Amy Stolls — but we both had grandmothers who called us by the same nickname (it’s kind of an “Amy secret”, you understand).  And if that wasn’t enough  for me — the premise of The Ninth Wife is intriguing and Amy is generous and encouraging and super funny (which is not always easy to be six-weeks after having a baby). 

Please welcome Amy Stolls to Women’s Fiction Writers — leave a comment, buy the book, tell a friend! You know the drill…

Author Amy Stolls Says, “Write What Excites You, Not What You Think Will Sell”

ASN: Can you tell us a little bit about The Ninth Wife?

AS: Sure.  It’s about a single woman in her mid-30s who meets a great guy, falls in love, and just when he asks her to marry him, confesses that he’s been married eight times before.  Crazy, huh?  She fights the urge to run away FAST because, well you know, love is hard to find.  Instead, she journeys out across the country in part to interview the other eight wives and figure out what to do.  It’s her story, but it’s also his, as every other chapter is from his point of view, so you get a glimpse into how a man could say I DO that many times and still be a pretty good catch.  You’re probably saying, “A good catch?  My tuchas!”  But he kinda is, if you ask me.  That was the big challenge — to make him likeable and believable enough that she would seriously consider his proposal.

ASN: You published a YA novel (to much acclaim) in 2005.  How and why did you “make the genre leap” to women’s fiction?

AS: You know, I don’t think I was ever actually aware during the writing process that I was leaping.  With both books, I just set out to tell a story.  I didn’t actually think about the target audience.  All of that happened once I sold the novels.  In other words, I didn’t write Palms to the Ground as a young adult novel, but I can see why it was bought, edited, and marketed that way.  Likewise, I didn’t think of The Ninth Wife as women’s fiction, but of course I can see why it appeals more to women.  My husband, by the way, didn’t read it until the galleys were out, despite my threats that the book exposes all his embarrassing guy habits (untrue, of course, but hey … I’m a spinner of untruths.  Unfortunately, my husband knows that.)  When he finally read it, he really liked it and thought some other men might, too (so he says, a decent spinner himself).

ASN: How would you define “women’s fiction”?

AS: Hm.  I don’t know that I can.  My quick response is that it’s fiction by and about women.  I’m inclined to stop there.  One might go on and say that it often deals with things like love and relationships and gets into not just the thoughts and actions but the feelings of its characters.  But that’s too shallow.  Women – especially women authors and readers – are way more complex than that.  We tote guns sometimes and start bar fights and fart.   Okay maybe we don’t fart, but the point I’m trying to make is that the genre, I don’t think, should be defined by plot.  Maybe I’ll say this: it’s fiction about women from a woman’s perspective (which, by the way, could be effectively executed by a skilled male writer).

ASN: What are some of your favorite books of women’s fiction?

AS: I just looked at my bookshelves to try and answer this question and was amazed (appalled?) to find very few books about love and male/female relationships.  I admit … I write from my own experiences, but I like to read books that take me very far from my own life.  I’ll come clean and say I just finished Max Brooks’s World War Z about zombies and totally devoured it, so to speak.  But okay, women’s fiction.  Let me see.  I’m a sucker for some of the grand dames like Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, and Toni Morrison.  Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping is about atypical women and I loved it.  The short stories – often about relationships — of such writers as Lorrie Moore, Mary Gaitskill, and Jhumpa Lahiri are great and often edgy (I like that).  On my nightstand at the moment?   Wingshooters, by Nina Revoyr.  Nina’s a writer of lovely prose.  Shall I stop there?  (I know I’m going to think of others later and pinch myself for not mentioning them.)

ASN: Are you working on another novel?

AS: Not yet.  I have an idea and a writers group to spur me on, but I also have a toddler and a six-week-old, so the best I’d be able to come up with these days would probably be a story about poopie and peepee and I think we can all agree there’s just way too much of that in American literature.  PoopiePeepee Fiction, I think they call it.

ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction – specifically in today’s tough and changing publishing climate?

AS: I know, it is hard.  I think you have to write what excites and motivates you and not what you think will sell, because second-guessing what will sell now and in the future is a fool’s game.  That said there are a few lessons I’ve learned as to what might help get your book noticed by agents, publishers, and readers.  Beyond really good, fresh writing and complex characters there should be a good story, one that you can sum up in a minute or two.  Which is to say, it helps to have a hook, something that sparks interest.  I really thought of this with my second book, as it was a criticism of my first (not enough narrative drive).  How does someone get to be married eight times?  Can a marriage with someone like that work?  Would you marry someone like that?   See?  You don’t even have to read the book to have a book group discussion.  Finally, this: when the whole arduous, hair-pulling process of writing a book is over for you, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, whether or not it gets published.  Simply endeavoring to create art is laudable; don’t forget to enjoy it along the way.

Amy Stolls is the author of the novel The Ninth Wife, published by HarperCollins in May 2011, and the young adult novel Palms to the Ground (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), published in 2005 to critical acclaim and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. She spent years as a journalist covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska before she received an MFA in creative writing from American University. Currently, she is the literature program officer for the National Endowment for the Arts, where she has worked since 1998, collaborating with thousands of writers, translators, editors, booksellers, publishers, educators, and presenters nationwide to keep literature a vital part of American society. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, two-year-old and newborn sons.

8 thoughts on “Author Amy Stolls Says, “Write What Excites You, Not What You Think Will Sell”

  1. Great interview! And this book sounds so interesting — can’t wait to read it! I love the “don’t forget to enjoy it along the way” and “have a hook, spark” advice. (Plus, I’m absolutely impressed that you have a toddler and a 6 week old baby and can think of writing another book let alone give an interview! My mind was MUSH! Very impressive!)

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  2. Hilarious interview, but with some real serious messages. Once again – Amy Sue – thanks for the intro (though I confess, this is on my Goodreads TBR list already)! I think those “questions” that every reader starts off wanting the answers to – or hook – are so integral. If you, as the author, can’t rattle off a list of them (like you did, Amy S), then chances are, your readers won’t be asking them OR feel compelled to read. I DO want to know how you pulled it off: making an 8xs married man appealing!

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  3. My question, how old is the guy in the book who is married 8 times? Also, glad to have read this because at first glance of the cover and the title suggests that this might be a historical fiction book, which is a turnoff for me. NOW I’ll have to check it out. And uh, hello, Amy is ADORABLE!!! Must get this book!

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