Hangs head in shame. Shuffles feet. Smiles and bats eyes.
As you know, on August 18th, author Amy Hatvany’s guest post was featured on Women’s Fiction Writers. Well, what I’d forgotten was that not only did Amy write a guest post but she ALSO allowed me to interview her! So consider this the second half of a double-feature and welcome back the talented (and very forgiving) Amy Hatvany!
Interview with Women’s Fiction Author Amy Hatvany
ASN: Would you tell us a little about yourself?
AH: Let’s see…my professional history is speckled with dubious office and restaurant jobs. My favorite was working in a French pastry shop where I learned many dangerous, decadent culinary secrets. (My Apple tarte will knock your socks off!) I didn’t have a clear sense of what I wanted to do as a career, but I have always been fascinated by how people “tick” – what makes us do the things we do, what shapes us. I considered psychology and ultimately got a degree in sociology, but writing was something I’d always been compulsive about doing, so I thought, why not put my compulsion to work for me? Ten years and three novels later, here I am!!
As for something not in my bio…let’s see: I don’t have cartilage in the end of my nose, and it will likely droop down to my chin when I am an old lady. I have a double-jointed shoulder I can pop out of its socket; great party trick and handy if I ever end up in cuffs! I adore Bravo reality TV and I could scarf down Thai food and salted caramels on a daily basis and never get sick of them.
ASN: Best Kept Secret deals with alcoholism and recovery and motherhood — where did this idea come from?
AH: While the plot and characters are fiction, Cadence’s emotional journey is based on much of what I went through in my own recovery from alcoholism. As I worked on getting sober, I realized that there is a special kind of intense shame that mothers who have addiction issues struggle with. Though there is quite the “moms who need wine” culture out there, when the drinking becomes problematic, it’s not talked about very much. In fact, there is unfortunately still a huge amount of negative stigma and judgment in our society about women and addiction. I wanted to write about how this happens to a seemingly “together” woman.
But the book isn’t just about addiction. I really wanted to explore the immense pressure women face to do it all, have it all, and be it all…and when we can’t, what happens inside us. All women, whether or not they develop addictions, deal with some level of self-loathing and despair of not quite being “good” enough. I wanted to talk about that, to show that when taken to an extreme, the damage that can occur.
ASN: As a blog that draws a lot of aspiring authors (myself included) many of us would love to know — what was your “process” for writing your novel?
AH: Well, it had been almost seven years since I’d written anything, so when I started I had a very strong idea for the story concept – a woman struggling to come to terms with her alcoholism during a custody dispute for her son – but not much else. I felt pretty shaky, to be honest, but I believed in the story, which for me, counts most of all in whether or not what ends up on the page is any good.
Overall, I’m definitely a pantser! Outlines take the joy and discovery out of writing for me. I want to be surprised by what my characters need to do. I typically have an idea of where I want the main character(s) to be emotionally at the beginning of the book, and where I want them to be at the end. I want them to grow, to change, to become better or stronger people. How that happens for them is usually a surprise, and something I figure out as I go.
One thing my agent taught me in the very beginning is that I need to have one very strong sentence – the “hook” – to describe my entire book. If I can’t capture the essence of what the story is about in one compelling sentence, then I don’t have a good concept to carry a whole novel. It’s the sentence that you put in your query letter to draw the agent reading it in. It’s the sentence you use when someone asks you what your book is about. You want them to gasp a little or say, Wow! Because that means you have a book people will want to read. I use that advice time and again when I’m starting a new project. I find the hook, and then, I start writing. If I start without one? Disaster.
ASN: What was your journey like from draft to query to publication of your first novel — and how has publishing changes affected you?
AH: I read very early on that I needed a completed first draft, in as tip-top shape as I could get it, before even beginning to look for an agent. So, that’s what I did. I wrote the best draft possible of THE KIND OF LOVE THAT SAVES YOU, and then wrote a query letter that I sent out to ten agents. Nine agents passed, and one asked me to overnight the manuscript. She is still my agent today.
Of course, the manuscript was in terrible shape, but I was lucky that my agent wanted to work with me on it, and in about four months, I had a deal with Random House. A year later, I saw my book on the shelves. It was surreal, and wonderful! It still feels that way. I hold a copy of BEST KEPT SECRET and think, “I wrote this? Really?” It’s very odd.
Since I’ve been away from the publishing world for a while, coming back to the new dawn of social media has been alternating thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling, because I’ve been able to connect with so many other fantastic writers, and reach readers I might not have a decade ago. (I love being able to chat with readers on my FB page or Twitter, that they get to see I scrub toilets and argue with my kids, too. The sense of community is lovely!) Terrifying, because I see just how much competition there is. I think self-publishing opens up a whole new world for writers, but the competition is just as stiff, and in my opinion, the marketing is harder. I have a difficult enough time juggling a full-time day job (yes, I still have one!), family, writing, and promoting – the idea of having to deal personally with distributors, etc., I don’t think I’d handle well! More power to those with the gumption!
ASN: Can you share with us what you’re working on now?
AH: I’ve completed OUTSIDE THE LINES, my next novel, which will be released in February, 2012. It tells the story of a woman searching for her homeless and mentally ill father, whom she’s been estranged from for 20 years. I’ve just seen the cover and it is so lovely it made me weep!
I’m wrapping up the first draft of my next novel (as yet unnamed), which takes a look at what happens when a woman is unexpectedly thrust into the role of mother and is forced to confront the complicated reasons behind her previously hard-fast decision to remain childless.
Two more ideas are brewing…so it’s time to start being compulsive again, trying to find the “hooks” for those!
ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?
AH: I think women’s fiction validates the female perspective. It deals with our strengths and our shortcomings; it explores our emotional landscape through shared life experiences. I connect with women’s fiction because the writers get me. I write women’s fiction because I want to connect with readers. Traditionally, women bring comfort to those around them, and so many books have done that for me. My most sincere hope is that someone reads one of my books and feels a little less alone in the world.
ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
AH: Here’s the crash course: Learn to take constructive criticism well. Remember publishing, at its core, is a business, and your job is to create marketable product. Trust that it only takes the right pair of eyes to land an agent and/or publishing deal, and there are so many, many eyes out there! Don’t give up if the first one, ten, or a hundred say no. Find a great freelance editor and take their advice to better your work. Read the authors you love to see what they’re doing right.
Most of all, believe in yourself and your work. If you don’t, no one else will!
Amy Hatvany graduated with a degree in Sociology only to discover most sociologists are unemployed. Soon followed a variety of jobs – some of which she loved, like decorating wedding cakes; others which she merely tolerated, like receptionist. In 1998, Amy finally decided to sell her car, quit her job, and take a chance on writing books. She is the author of THE KIND OF LOVE THAT SAVES YOU, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS (under the name Amy Yurk), and BEST KEPT SECRET. Her fourth novel, OUTSIDE THE LINES, will be released in early 2012.