Author Beth Kendrick has written nine women’s fiction books. NINE! And now she’s sharing some of her thoughts, inspirations, and advice with all of us at Women’s Fiction Writers. I think what I’ve learned most from Beth is that we all have our own path. What works so incredibly well for Beth, might not work for me or for you. But the key is to give yourself the time and attention to find what works for you, allow yourself to mess up and start again, to find ideas in unusual places, and to let your stories flow. You can always fix ’em later!
Please welcome Beth Kendrick to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Of 9 Women’s Fiction Books, Beth Kendrick Says: “Be Patient With Yourself And With The Process”
Amy: Did I count correctly? Is THE WEEK BEFORE THE WEDDING lucky number thirteen? Is this the thirteenth time you’ve written a novel or been included in an anthology? Can you tell us what your writing and publishing journey has been like?
Beth: Not unlike Space Mountain at Disneyland—there’ve been a lot of sudden twists and turns, thrilling adrenaline rushes, and heart-stopping drops. Oh, and don’t forget the occasional urge to vomit into the wastebasket.
I started writing novels when I was 22 years old via a fiction course at the UCLA extension school. I was in a doctoral program for psychology at the time, and writing was supposed to be a fun little hobby. Yeah, whoops.
Because I’m insane, I finished a draft of my first women’s fiction book, managed to land an agent, and sold to Simon & Schuster while simultaneously working on my dissertation. (I had a lot more energy when I was 22.) I kept swearing that I would write “just one more” novel and then get back to a real job. Thirteen books later, here I am—a lifer and loving it.
Amy: You obviously know what you’re doing. As someone who’s writing her second novel, and in honor of all the aspiring novelists who read this blog: HOW DO YOU DO IT? Do you have a schedule? Outlines? Good luck charm? If there is one or two things you consider essential for your success, what are they?
Beth: How do I do it? Girl, I ask myself that same question every day.
My “process” is a hot mess. I brainstorm plot points and bits of dialogue on index cards and notebooks, but I don’t do a lot of formal outlining or character descriptions. Have you seen “A Beautiful Mind” with Russell Crowe? Remember the scene where the professor’s wife discovers his secret backyard office/lair, with stacks of paper and torn-out newspaper articles and incomprehensible scribbles covering every available surface? Yeah, that’s what my home office looks like. Except there are also a pair of lazy red dogs sitting sentry under the desk and barking at the garbage truck.
A few years ago, I started write scenes out of sequence (I’ll work on whatever dramatic moment I’m feeling most enthusiastic about that day.) ***Word of advice to aspiring authors: NEVER DO THIS.*** My first drafts are crime scenes. Subplots and crises and secondary characters splattered all over. Before I can revise, I have to sort through the scenes, re-order everything, take out all the extraneous nonsense, and fill in the gaping holes. I call it “working the Rubik’s cube”, and again, you should NEVER DO THIS. Once I tried this method, I couldn’t stop, but seriously, save yourself before it’s too late.
Amy: Tell us a little about A WEEK BEFORE THE WEDDING. My best ideas hit me when I’m in the shower or when I’m driving (or anywhere I can’t write them down.) Where were you when the idea sparked?
Beth: Well, here’s the blurb from the back of the book:
After enduring a chaotic childhood, Emily McKellips yearns for a drama-free life, complete with a white picket fence. Her dreams are about to come true: She has a stellar career, a gorgeous house, and a fiancé any woman would die for. But as friends and family arrive in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, for her wedding, an uninvited guest shows up.
Ryan is Emily’s first husband from a disastrous starter marriage. They wed on a whim, only to discover that combustible chemistry couldn’t ensure a happily ever after. But Ryan is no longer the headstrong boy she left behind. He’s now a successful film producer who just happens to be scouting a resort in Valentine with his adorable retriever in tow.
As the bridesmaids revolt and the mothers of the bride and groom do battle, Emily is surprised to discover new sides of both her ex and her fiancé. She thought she had life and love all figured out, but the next seven days might change her mind—and her heart.
Or, as I like to describe it, “Sweet Home Alabama” meets “Dirty Dancing” meets your little dog, too. There’s a lot that I love about this book—a vintage wedding gown from the 50’s, a mischievous golden retriever, a hero who is hot like fire–but the driving force behind the story is friendship and sisterhood.
Before I started my first draft, I browsed online and found a gorgeous Priscilla of Boston wedding dress that ignited my creative spark:
Amy: Women’s fiction is often character-driven fiction. What do you keep in mind when creating your main or most important characters? What do you try to avoid writing or doing?
Beth: I try to create characters I’d like to have drinks with, which means they are funny, honest and deeply flawed. And once I breathe life into them, I do my best to get out of the way, let them mix it up, and make some really bad decisions. I used to try to protect my protagonists, to shield them from the fall-out of their mistakes, and one of my critique partners called me on it. She said, “You have to let bad things happen to your characters. Really bad things. Horrible things.” And it’s true. Now my motto is: if you’re going to plunge in the knife, you might as well twist it. When one of my characters gets into trouble, I’m always thinking, “How can I make this situation even worse?” Totally sick…but also kind of fun.
I try to avoid overanalyzing characters in advance. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t do extensive pre-writing and I like it when characters take charge and surprise me. It feels fresh and spontaneous, and that comes across to the readers.
Amy: How do you define women’s fiction—and does the label bother you? (As you might have guessed from my blog title, it doesn’t bother me.)
Beth: As long as readers enjoy my books, I don’t care what kind of labels the booksellers or publishers use.
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Beth: Besides “don’t write scenes out of sequence”? Be patient, both with yourself and with the process. Find a network of other writers who are at the same stage in the process (e.g., just starting to write, knee-deep in a first draft, querying agents, etc.) Writing can be so solitary and isolating, and it’s crucial to have writer buddies who will support you, who will celebrate and commiserate with you and hold your hair back when you’re throwing up into the wastebasket after Space Mountain. Enjoy the ride!
Beth Kendrick lives in Arizona with her trusty rescue dogs, Roxie Hart and Friday. She is the author of nine women’s fiction books, including Week Before the Wedding and Nearlyweds, which was made into a Hallmark Channel movie.