Author Interview: Advice From New York Times Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Henry: “Understand Why You Are Telling This Story”

Idea of Love_COVER (1)Did you ever come across someone and there are just so many coincidences you can’t help but acknowledge and celebrate them?

Not only was I a reader of Patti Callahan Henry’s books, but then I found out we had the same publisher. And the same editor. And that she was born in Philadelphia, like me.

So, how could I resist another opportunity to share Patti with all of you, to celebrate her eleventh novel (ELEVENTH NOVEL OMG OMG OMG), THE IDEA OF LOVE.

Today, Patti shares her insight and expertise on finding your story and giving it life, and how she approaches novel-writing.

I can’t write a book or a story or an essay without understanding WHY it’s a story I don’t want to tell, but need to tell. At some point my characters take over, it’s their story after all, but hearing this from Patti re-emphasizes that women’s fiction (at least the kind I want to write) comes from a well, and it’s our to reach inside and bring out whatever is there. 

Please welcome Patti Callahan Henry back to WFW! 

Amy xo


Idea of Love_COVER (1)Amy: Yo, Patti! Congratulations to my Philly-St. Martin’s-editor-sister on your newest novel, THE IDEA OF LOVE! In your book, Ella’s husband dies in a sailing accident (this is not a spoiler, folks) while trying to save her, or so she’ll have everyone believe. So, what sparked the idea for the story? Do you remember the moment the idea came to you? 

Patti: Hi AMY! My Philly sister. So glad to be here again. I do remember when the seed of the story was planted. But it took me a while to realize it was a story. On book tour, I often hear this, “I have such a great story. Will you write it?” And I often joke that I don’t want to steal their story. But then I started to think, can you really steal a story? What would that mean and what would that look like? I imagined a desperate screenwriter trying to do just that. And then the characters started coming alive, like they tend to do. I added a little twist (not telling) and let it go from there.

Amy: If I counted right (which is math, so there’s always “if”) you’ve had eleven novels and one short story published. What comes first to you? The premise, the characters, or something else? Has that changed with different books?

Patti: What usually comes to me is a “what if” wrapped around a character. So I’d say they are inextricably tied together — the idea and the character. It really hasn’t changed since my first novel. I imagine the story, but I imagine it about someone, not as an abstract idea.

Amy: What’s your work style? Do you plot and plan and theorize, and then write? Or do you sit down and write and see where the story and characters take you? 

Patti: Oh, Amy. I’d love to be a plot, outline, notecard kind of writer. I’d also like to have my spices organized alphabetically and my clothes by color and use. But that’s not how I roll. I sit down and wonder the same thing that I hope you wonder, “What will happen next?” Of course it’s not as free-for-all as that, but mostly it is. I do know what it is about. And I spend a long time thinking and free writing about who the characters are and what they want before I start Chapter One.

Amy: In THE IDEA OF LOVE, Ella and Hunter get caught up in a tangle of lies. I’m always fascinated (and often write) about secrets and lies and how people deal with the repercussions. What did you intend for the reader to take away from this part of the story? Or what was your hope? What, if anything, did you learn from writing this (I always learn things from my characters, they’re way more insightful than I). 

Patti: Oh, I never have a goal for my readers to “take away.” I believe in the power of story so that they will take away what they want and need. Or at least that is my hope. And you are so right — my characters always teach me things. A couple in this book: People connect through the power of story. Even if those stories aren’t fully true. A connection is forged and empathy is found through the telling of the stories. And also there is power in re-telling the narrative of your life, in maybe even telling how you want it to be instead of how it is. And then there is the story of friendship and how someone can show up in your life in the most unexpected ways and if you remain open and curious, you just might find a new friend.

Amy: It’s true, looks aren’t everything, but look at that book cover! It’s beautiful. As the author, what does it say to you about the book? And did you have a “cover vision” in your head? 

Patti: Oh thank you so much! I didn’t have much at all to do with the cover except saying, “OH I love that.” I didn’t have a cover vision in my head. Eleven books later, I’ve learned not to do that very thing because what I see and what the art department sees rarely converge. As the author, this cover seems to say, “What is that dress for? Why is love involved at all?” And as a reader I would want to find out.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction? (Because really, that’s what they’re here for, in addition to adding to their TBR piles.) 

Patti: I am so remiss to give out advice because part of the writing process is about finding our own way. Yet, I also believe in the power of a community like this where we can share our stories and then find out what works for us as individuals. So in that light, I’d say, make sure you understand why you are telling this story. What does the character want? Why can’t they get it? How will they get it or something better in the end? Our minds feel comfortable in a narrative arc. We can tolerate discomfort and anxiety in a story when we know that there will be resolution. For me, the heart is the first target.

Patti Callahan Henry Author Portrait

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including The Stories We TellAnd Then I Found You, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.






I Write Novels For Women. Now, Please. Put On Your Lipstick And GET OVER IT.

As you might surmise from the title of this blog, and because many of you know me by now, I embrace the term women’s fiction. I understand that agents and editors need an idea of what they might be getting from an author, that everyone specializes nowadays, that there are categories and bookshelves (wooden, plastic, virtual) and there needs to be some kind of system, albeit flawed.

But I also don’t mind the label because I WRITE MY BOOKS FOR WOMEN.

Yes, there were men who read The Glass Wives. I think there were six or eight of them (okay, maybe five) and only one or two were related to me. This didn’t bother me at all. Not a smidgen.

I write my books to tell myself a story I don’t yet know, but that I want to know. As the process continues I begin to think about readers, what readers need to engage with my story and make it their own. Those readers I think of are always women. My main characters are women and they’re interacting, mostly, with and because of, other women.

See how that works?

I like my feminine book covers. The only thing I ever said about book covers to my editor was that I felt strongly that my covers represented the tone of what was inside the book. And they do.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is part of this women-in-publishing uproar I understand and support.

Fact: There is no “men’s fiction” label or category, and books by men about families or relationships are filed under domestic dramas, literary, or general fiction, even if the main character is a woman. That’s wrong, and many are working to change that. Some are working to make sure it doesn’t change.

Fact: Fewer books by women are reviewed, awarded, and recognized by the industry. That’s wrong too. Especially–or perhaps only–when the books written by women really ARE gender neutral and could have mass appeal if not marketed specifically to women.

The problem, as I see it, isn’t writing for women and being proud to do so without reservation and WITH great book covers, the problem is when it is assumed that all books written by women are for women only.

That’s the issue.

It’s okay if you’re a woman and your books appeal to the general public. So it has to be ok if you’re a woman and your books are meant to appeal to women.

There are many people/Tweeters/FBers/writers who explode at the thought of a feminine book cover or women’s fiction label. It’s wrong, they type in all CAPS and BOLD. DON’T FEMININE BOOK COVERS MAKE YOU MAD? WHAT ABOUT PRETTY AUTHOR PHOTOS? AARGH! BOO! HISS!

I don’t know about you, but I do not want to look like a dude in my author photo.

It might be wrong for some, but lipstick and good lighting are right for me.

P1020826 - Version 2

I want to write books about women that appeal to women. I’m not doing this by accident. It’s intentional as much as it’s organic. Those are the stories of my heart, and those are the only ones I can write. Those are the only ones that keep me up at night, keep me revising a paragraph until my words say precisely what I mean for them to say in precisely the way I mean them to. And with the right cadence. I did it just this morning with the last paragraph of my next novel (not done yet, but when the last paragraph presents itself, you write it).

So while I might resent the fact that women’s fiction gets eye-rolls and shrugs and some people (women) I know say they don’t read “those kinds” of books (what? about PEOPLE?). I say, too bad. Or at least I say it in my head. And I move on.

Not only do you need a thick skin in this business, but a resilient heart.

What I don’t want is to be pigeon-holed, especially by other women, into believing that my stories for women are wrong, that I shouldn’t be writing with only women in mind.

Because that’s wrong too.

When and if I write a book that I believe appeals to a non-gender specific reading public, I’ll jump the fence—right over—while holding my skirt high in the air, so I don’t fall on my face and smear my lipstick.

Until then, I’m over it.

You should be too.




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It’s Book Giveaway Time! One ARC of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR is up for grabs!

In honor of a long-awaited, family weekend with both of my kids and my parents (something that hasn’t happened in about a year and a half) I’m giving away ONE of my precious ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR, which officially lands on readers’ doorsteps on October 13, 2015!


This way I know I can keep you all busy entering and tweeting! I don’t want you getting into any trouble while I’m gone. ;-)

The only thing you have to do is tell me in the comments about your favorite neighbor growing up. (The rest of the entry options are not mandatory.)

When you read THE GOOD NEIGHBOR you’ll meet Izzy Lane, who moves back to her childhood home with her five-year-old son, and right next door to Mrs. Feldman, the woman who has been her surrogate grandmother as long as she can remember. The tables turn a bit as Izzy begins to see she can help Mrs. Feldman as a thanks for all the help she’s given Izzy her whole life.

I wrote this book for many reasons (more blog posts on those as pub day nears) but one was to pay homage to the Northeast Philadelphia street I lived on for 19 years — from the age of 5 until I married and moved away at 26. I didn’t want to write a book set in the 1970s (too much research for me, bowing down to my histfic writing pals) but I did want Izzy to have the same kind of memories I had, the same kind of affection for her city street and neighborhood. And she does.

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and I am a proud product of one of them. Many neighbors fill my memories, and I’m not silly enough to name a favorite when they all hold a special place in my heart. I’ll write more about my real neighborhood (not Izzy’s, as that is a reimagined cluster of many neighborhoods I know) another time!

Have fun with the giveaway and good luck!

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Carla Stewart Tells Writers: Don’t Be Afraid To Be Unique

AFlyingAffair_COVERI love interviewing authors for WFW. I think you all know that. Authors like Carla Stewart are the reason why. Today you’ll hear from Carla’s head and her heart on the work and passion of novel writing. A FLYING AFFAIR is her sixth novel. Sixth! I’m in the early stages of novel three and can’t quite think that far ahead, although prolific authors like Carla give me hope that there are readers and a future out there for all of us!

Please welcome Carla Stewart to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Carla Stewart Tells Writers: Don’t Be Afraid To Be Unique

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Guest Post: Author Katie Rose Guest Pryal On Finding Courage, From NICU To Novelist

ENTANGLEMENT front coverJust when I think I’m the busy and overwhelmed author—I read a post like this one by author Katie Rose Guest Pryal. Nothing like a little perspective with my morning coffee. (Goes so well with humble pie, which is delicious for breakfast.) 

Did any major life events or obstacles happened in tandem with your writing or publication? Share your own stories in the comments, and please welcome Katie to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Novelist Laura Nicole Diamond And The Beauty Of The Writing Community

Shelter Us cover, Kline blurbShe had me at community. And those of you who know me know that’s what this blog, and every writing group (in real life and online), each string of emails between myself and another writer, every long writer lunch, phone call, or nod, hearkens back to. No one understand the writer community—especially of women (roll your eyes if you must, but it’s true)—like we do. No one understands until she’s in it. And then you wonder where these people, who understand and make you feel sane, have been all your life. 

I feel so lucky to be part of a myriad of writer communities, and WFW is at the top. After all, I created this blog, this place, because I couldn’t find what I was looking for, the information and inspiration and authors, anywhere else.

Today, the lovely Laura Nicole Diamond joins us to share her own story of experiencing community in writing and publishing. Please welcome Laura to WFW, and add your thoughts in the comments!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Elizabeth A. Havey Explores Short Story Writing

003Fiction comes in many forms. And while we usually focus on novels, today, author Elizabeth A. Havey (who you might recognize as Beth) is here to share her thoughts on short story writing. For me, short stories started as a way to jump from non-fiction to fiction, and then as a way to enter contests, and now (though not as often as I’d like) to challenge myself to do something new. In short stories I explored writing in first person, a male POV, and using more than one narrator. I’ve been fortunate to have short stories published in literary journals — but never enough stories for an anthology of my own, like Beth’s A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE. Short stories are a cousin to novels, with different needs and outcomes.  Do you write short stories? Do you read them? Share your thoughts in the comments, and please welcome Beth Havey to Women’s Fiction Writers. And don’t miss the photo at the end of the post!!!

Amy xo

Tips and Tales for Short Story Writing

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