Author Grace Wen Talks About Novellas and Women’s Fiction

Today I’m happy to share the WFW stage with author Grace Wen.  I was so intrigued by the idea of learning more about novellas — which I guess are simply — short books by today’s traditional standards.  Do you think you’d read a novella? Write one? Let us know in the comments.  And like Grace says below — she didn’t choose the novella format, it chose her.  So I guess you just never know!

Please welcome Grace Wen to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo 

Author Grace Wen Talks About Novellas and Women’s Fiction

Amy: Grace, I’m so excited to learn more about novellas!  Can you tell us the length of a typical novella and how it differs from a short story and from a novel?

Grace: There’s no hard and fast definition for a novella, but I use the Romance Writers of America definition as a guide: they define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words, which translates to between roughly 80 and 160 pages. There’s certainly wiggle room on either end, but this range covers most of the bases.

Amy: We’d love to know about your novellas that are women’s fiction — what can you tell us without giving us any spoilers?

Grace: I have two novellas out right now that are women’s fiction. AN IMPERFECT WIFE is about a woman who moves away from her hometown to support her ambitious husband’s career. Unfortunately, his new job takes all of his time, and she can’t find a job of her own to fill the hours. She eventually finds a shoulder to cry on — but it belongs to her husband’s boss. NEVER LET GO is about a driven young woman who believes she can have anything she wants if she works hard enough for it. When her dream man dumps her, she embarks on a campaign to prove her devotion to him. Her devotion soon crosses the line into stalking, yet even after her ex moves on to a new girlfriend, she refuses to let him go.

As you might have noticed, I’m drawn to drama and misbehaving characters like a suicidal moth.

Amy: Why did you choose to write novellas as opposed to full novels?

Grace: I think novellas chose me! I must admit that when I started writing fiction, novels terrified me, so I dipped my toe into the water with shorter work. My first writing credits were short stories for pulp confession magazines. I thought AN IMPERFECT WIFE would be yet another short story, but it completely got away from me as I was writing it. As the pages piled up, I found I liked the freedom the longer format provided.

Since I’m a relatively new fiction writer, I’m still learning how to tackle novels. I have one novel draft under my belt and am working on another right now. Writing novellas gave me the confidence to play with character, plot, and my process without thinking, “OMG, how am I ever going to finish this?” Now that I know I can start and finish multiple projects, novels are much less scary. I will always write, read, and love novellas, though. As a writer, they allow me to explore ideas that might not have enough scope to fill a novel, and as a reader, they deliver complex stories with an intense punch.

Amy: How did you connect with your publisher and how has that process been?

Grace: I met Celina Summers, the managing editor for Musa Publishing, on the Absolute Write forum six years ago. A group of us became fast friends because we were all at similar places in our writing journey. We were, and still are, each other’s beta readers and cheerleaders. When she announced Musa’s launch last year, I asked her if she would consider my women’s fiction novellas; I was afraid they’d be a hard sell because they were an odd pulp confession/women’s fiction hybrid. Luckily for me, she bought them.

Working with Musa has been a delightful experience. I enjoyed the editing process in particular because it was so demanding. Erica Mills, my editor, was like my own personal trainer because she kept pushing me to think harder, write stronger, and demand more from myself. I definitely grew from the experience.

Amy: What’s the reception been like for the idea of women’s fiction in a novella format?

GraceIt’s been quite positive. A few readers let me know they enjoyed being able to finish my stories in one evening. I’m thrilled that novellas are becoming more popular as more readers embrace e-books.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Grace: Hm, that’s a tough question, especially with the controversy over whether women’s fiction should be defined as a separate genre at all. I think “women’s fiction” is simply a marketing category identifying stories that women are more likely to enjoy than men. Other than that, I don’t attach much significance to the label. As Jennifer Weiner and others have noted, contemporary stories about families, relationships, and feelings written by men are considered simply “fiction” while such stories written by women are tagged “women’s fiction,” “chick lit,” or “romance.” To me, a good story is a good story, no matter who writes it or what label is attached to it. If the “women’s fiction” label makes it easier for readers to find what they want to read, that’s great.

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

Grace: Don’t be afraid to write a horrible, awful, no good, very bad first draft. This is still the toughest advice for me to follow, but it’s the most valuable. Every time I write a first draft, I’m convinced it’s the WORST STORY EVER. Every. Single. Time. But I force myself to keep pushing forward until I hit “The End.” And wouldn’t you know it, when I start revising, the draft is never as awful as I thought. Every single time. The draft is rough, of course, but it’s fixable, and that’s the most important part — I have something to fix. All the writing craft advice is useless if you don’t have a draft to revise in the first place. Nora Roberts wisely said, “You can fix a bad page. You can’t fix a blank one.” So keep writing those bad pages so you can later turn them into great ones!

Grace Wen writes women’s fiction and romance. She finds people fascinating and loves to ask her characters nosy questions to avoid being a real-life busybody. An Imperfect Wife, her debut women’s fiction novella, won the runner-up spot for Love Romances Cafe’s 2011 Best Contemporary Book. Grace lives in southeastern Michigan with two neurotic but cute cats. When she’s not writing, she’s usually reading, cooking, or training for her next half marathon.

Twitter: @GraceWen

Blog: http://www.grace-wen.com

FB: http://www.facebook.com/GraceWenAuthor

15 thoughts on “Author Grace Wen Talks About Novellas and Women’s Fiction

  1. Thanks Amy and Grace for the post, it’s good to see that novella’s are gaining in popularity through the digital marketplace. I have written three full length novels and a few short stories and am now getting ready to explore the in-between with novellas! I like the idea that they can give the reader a bit of a deeper story than a short story, but not so long as a novel so it’s something you can read in one night. 🙂

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    • I think you’ll enjoy writing novellas, especially if you’ve written both shorter and longer work. You might find novellas “just right” a la Goldilocks for many plot ideas. Have fun!

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  2. I wrote a novella that was published in an anthology and it was a fun experience, and in some ways more difficult than had it been an entire novel – simply because i had to control myself more to make it compact! :-D.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about that bad first draft! It is hard to let go and do that – there’s the “what if I die and someone reads it and thinks I’m a hack?” *laughing* — but, what’s so cool about it is when you go back in the first revision (and beyond) and discover things all over again – find the story, fill in the places that need filling, etc!

    Wonderful post/guest as usual, Amy!

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    • I love revisions much more than I like first draft writing because, as you mentioned, it’s fun to rediscover the story and fill in the gaps. To me, revisions are like one big puzzle (I love puzzles). It’s so satisfying to see the work slowly come together from the first draft muck. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. Thanks for sharing the interview. I’m new to novellas and “women’s fiction” in general (funny how Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy just write books!), but I like the fact that you take on complicated themes such as infidelity and obsession. I usually find that it’s the emotional authenticity of the characters that pulls me into the story, whatever the genre.

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    • I know what you mean about other authors just writing “books” as opposed to “novellas.” A Clockwork Orange, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Christmas Carol, and Animal Farm are all novellas, yet most people (including me) simply think of them as books. A good story is a good story, regardless of length of genre. Thanks for stopping by!

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    • Hi, Marguerite! :fangirl hug: Yes, shorter work is great for busy schedules. Also, I have a hard time putting down a book once I start it, so shorter work lets me get some sleep.

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  4. I’m a fan of novellas as well, and I’m so glad that e-publishing is offering a forum for the shorter works of fiction. As a writer who hasn’t been writing too many years, I tend to write short. I like having the option of turning a story into a novella rather than having to add so many words to the word count. Sometimes, too, less is more!

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    • I agree, less can definitely be more! I’ve read some novels that felt like they were padded, as if there wasn’t enough story to support the extra words. Now that novellas are more popular, I think there’s less pressure to stretch the story beyond it’s natural length. A win for both the writer and the reader!

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  5. Another great interview! Grace, it’s such a pleasure to be introduced to your work! I LOVE novellas as well and as so many others have already stated, I’m happy to see this format gain more popularity in the digital marketplace. I’m also a new writer and so far all of my collections have been short stories or novellas. Reading your interview, it felt comforting to learn that other authors are taking the same journey in starting with novellas first and then expanding into writing novels. Although I’m working on a novel now, the whole process still terrifies the heck of me! I want to finish this novel but I keep returning to novellas because the medium forces me to write very tight, and I like that feeling. I like the feeling of completing a work, and I like focusing on a particular moment in time. Novellas give me just enough space in which to really do that. Thank you for an awesome interview and the wonderful advice! Wishing you all the best with the publication of your latest work!

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    • Hello, Carolyn! I’m so glad you enjoy writing novellas too. Yes, it does force you to write tight, which is a great skill to carry over in your novel writing too. I’m glad you mentioned enjoying the feeling of completing a work. Novellas let you get that “ahhhh” feeling more often. Best wishes in your writing!

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  6. Great post Grace.One of the wonderful thing about e-publishing is that it gives writers of long-short stories or short novels (i.e. novellas) someplace to sell their stories. They are also a nice way for a reader to get to know a new (to them) writer since a novella isn’t a huge time or money commitment.
    Best of luck, Grace and Amy.

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