Guest Post: The Inspiration And Irony Of “Annie Aster” by Scott Wilbanks

Read this essay by THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER (which releases today!) author, Scot Wilbanks. You won’t be sorry.

You will be engaged, heartbroken, and inspired. 

Amy xo

Inspiration And Irony

by Scott Wilbanks

High Res bookcoverI head down to Los Angeles next week for the second leg of my cross country journey, and while I have no intimate connection to that city, other than a smattering of friends, it will be, by far, the most poignant stop on my tour, because of a particular young woman.

You see, there’s a story I must share while I’m there, and I’m afraid it will make her sad. It’s about the inspiration behind my debut novel The Lemoncholy Life Of Annie Aster, and she really needs to hear it.

I still find it baffling that my book—and my career, for that matter—owes its life to such humble and awkward beginnings. But there you have it.

And yet it had all begun so charmingly.

I’d never seen him before that peculiar weekend when our paths crossed five times at my local haunts in San Francisco’s Castro district.

The first of our encounters was so vivid that it even found its way into Lemoncholy’s pages. The passage is a wee bit melodramatic, I’m afraid, but I was walking down the street with my head in a book, had glanced up from the pages just as he walked past, and, well, time kind of stood still.

The cars crawled. A hummingbird inched forward like a slow-motion sequence in a National Geographic special, its wings undulating in the exquisite fashion of a Japanese fan dancer. A dog floated upward in the park across the street, a look of pure joy frozen on its face, eye focused on a Frisbee hovering inches from eager jaws and spinning so slowly that you could read the word Wham-O on it. Then, whoosh… time repaired itself and Christian was walking all too quickly past the face with the secret smile.

It was all a bit of a mystery, those encounters, and as the narrative indicates, I quickly dubbed the object of my fascination “the face,” while finding myself building a story in my head as to who he might be in those odd moments when I wasn’t doing business-y things, or washing dishes, or nodding off in bed with a book in my hands. All I knew for certain was that he was stupidly handsome, a condition that was offset by some pretty ridiculous sartorial choices.

Note to self: NEVER wear an orange flannel button-down over fade brown corduroys.

That face, combined with those clothes, fascinated me. Who was this guy?

In my book, Annie Aster suggests that he could be a “third cousin, twice removed,” or “a killer for hire” who has marked her best friend Christian for liquidation, which only prompts Christian to respond that those options need not be mutually exclusive, considering that he comes from Texas. (Many apologies to any proud Texans reading this. It’s an inside joke, and I do the state proud in the end.)

The fifth of my encounters with “the face” was a perfect illustration that Kismet does, indeed, have a sense of humor. Clearly annoyed that I’d wasted four good opportunities, the universe took a much needed break from its attempted match-making and my life had gotten on with the business of the humdrum for a good week or so, leaving “the face” little more than a memory; that is, until I’d felt a light tapping sensation on my shoulder at the gym. I turned around to find him staring me down with his trademark smile, the one that went through me like catnip. To my surprise, he pointed at my tank top, unraveled a kink in one of its straps, and simply wandered off.

Okay, the universe was not to be denied this time.

I quickly re-tangled the very same strap, tracked him down (politely interrupting the conversation in which he was involved, in the process), and suggested that his efforts lacked conviction.

That got me a laugh and his phone number, and, truth be told, I’d thought everything was going swimmingly, but then my date made it clear that we had separate agendas by rocking back in his chair to declare, “I think we are destined to be great friends.”

Great… friends.

Definitely not the response I was looking for.

Thirty minutes and a cataclysmic decline into tragically boring conversation later, I found myself driving home with my tail tucked firmly between my legs when it occurred to me that things are only inevitable if you accept them as such. By the time I’d pulled into my drive, I’d concocted a pair of characters in my head—Annabelle Aster and Elsbeth Grundy—pen pals who write one another between contemporary San Francisco and Victorian Kansas, depositing letters in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between the two.

I ran upstairs, whipped up a letter from Annie to Elsbeth in which she asked for advice regarding her love-struck friend—me—and promptly emailed it to my date. I know, right?

Within a couple hours, I received a call. Apparently, my email had made the rounds at his office and was a bit of a hit. More were demanded.

“Sadly, I cannot,” I said.

“Why’s that?”

“Elsbeth hasn’t written back,” I responded, as if nothing could be more obvious.

The next morning, I found an email in my inbox with Elsbeth’s name in the subject line.

Our correspondence became a regular thing. I would write as Annie, talking about Scott’s feelings, my feelings. He would write as Elsbeth, talking about his. Somewhere around the sixth exchange, we’d become an “item.”

A year later, we’d moved in together.

Five years later, his prophecy came true. We found that we were much better suited as friends than lovers. And we became the best of them, very nearly inseparable.

I began writing the first horrible draft of Lemoncholy the following year, a story that, at its heart, is about five misfits who are seeking understanding and enlightenment in an unforgiving world.

Of course, Annie and Elsbeth play the lead—one an eccentric in contemporary San Francisco who refuses to wear anything but Victorian clothes, the other a truculent., old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century Kansas.

But there’s also Christian. He’s Annie’s best friend; a young man burdened with a secret buried so deep within his subconscious that it leaves him with a stutter. And there’s Edmond, the charismatic, sweetheart who is weighed down by a demon—drug addiction.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I based Christian off my own life experience, and Edmond’s off my nearly failed date, turned partner, turned best friend.

And… this is the point where I suspect I’ll struggle a bit while sharing my story with the audience.

You see, four weeks after The Lemoncholy Life Of Annie Aster went into production, and just two weeks after I’d spent an hour on Skype, discussing my date’s first international trip to visit me and my husband in New Zealand where I’ve been living for the last six years, I received an email from the young lady who will be attending my reading.

She is my date’s sister—Edmond’s sister.

And she wrote to inform me that he’d passed away. His demon had gotten the better of him.

She’s never heard this story. But she loved her brother fiercely, and deserves to know.

As for me? There’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.

And for the curious. He’s in the dedication.

Scott's bio photoScott is the author of THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER, a commercial fiction novel with a fantasy premise releasing August 4, 2015 that tells the story of two pen pals who are fighting against the clock to solve the mystery behind the hiccup in time connecting their homes before one of them is convicted of a murder that is yet to happen… and yet somehow already did.

Scott’s website: http://scottwilbanks.wix.com/scottwilbanks

More about the book: http://scottwilbanks.wix.com/scottwilbanks#!books/cosk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/scottbwilbanks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scott.wilbanks.7

A WFW Book Review: My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb

cathy lamb mvbfToday is the book birthday for Cathy Lamb’s latest novel MY VERY BEST FRIEND. It’s Cathy’s ninth book, and had me turning the pages late into the night. And if you know me, that’s no small feat. I’m an early-to-bed kinda gal.

Sometimes I have an idea what a book is about before I start reading, sometimes not. Even when I do, my expectations of story seem to vanish on page one as I allow the author to do his or her (oh, who are we kidding, usually HER) job.

That’s definitely the case with MY VERY BEST FRIEND.

I was whisked away to the Oregon and the life of Charlotte Mackintosh, a romance writer who has no romance in her life. She’s an odd duck, to say the least, which made her completely endearing. Charlotte is also generous and kind and while she hadn’t traveled in years, she sets off to Scotland to sell her parents’ old cottage, where she lived until she was about twelve. The story takes us then to Scotland–and that’s where the whirlwind begins!

Cathy is a master at pacing. I sometimes felt like I couldn’t keep up with how fast I wanted to read. I’m not sure that makes sense but so much is happening I wanted to take it all in. There’s friendship, heartache, mystery, romance, and some real growth by Charlotte, and all the other characters, by the end of the book.

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Curiosity Might Just Kill The Author

 

If you’re a writer putting your work out there for others to read, at some point you’ll hear the advice: Do not read your reviews. Oh, you’ll do it anyway, at least for a while, but those bad reviews can sting. Well, at least when they’re coherent they can.

Bad reviews also sting because writers have feelings. (This seems to be a missing cog in some reviewers’ wheels.)

If we didn’t have feelings, we wouldn’t be able to write anything worth reading. We internalize what we read and what we see. That’s how we have enough mishegas—craziness—in our heads to need to GET IT OUT onto paper. For others to read. And review. Apparently so that we have more to internalize. Because we internalize what we read. (See a pattern emerging?)

And that’s what brings me to this next bit of advice that no one ever shared with me. I’m giving you this to your straight to save you all some heartache and to save you a trip to the reflecting pond. Because you know we all go there anyway. No need for extra travel.

Do not read the long bios of other authors.

I did this so you don’t have to.

Have a great time reading the short snappy ones on the back of the book, but back away from the long ones. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones tucked away or maybe even highlighted online that outline a lifetimes of degrees, travels, accomplishments, and diseases cured. Or the ones that detail the scuba diving prowess, the years digging wells in underprivileged countries, the Fortune 500 job ditched when a novel written on weekends hit it big.

Until I fell down the online rabbit hole of author bios, I’d really considered writing the great equalizer of my life. You write, I write, we have something in common. That’s all we need. Writing is an intense gig, writers can talk about a paragraph for hours.

But, for some reason, these compacted lives just toppled me. Had fact that I’d not done any of those important things tipped the scales in someone else’s favor? What else had I missed out on? I didn’t have time replant forests and living in a hut or in Dubai was not an option. I started raising kids in 1992. But some of these authors have also raised children (although my daughter assures me there is no way these people have friends).

I insisted to myself I am the only published author in the universe without a master’s degree in something. Had everyone been required to join the peace corp or save dolphins or spearhead urban gardening initiatives? And why didn’t I get the memo?

In those few moments of hazed uncertainty I was sure that while I was following my ex around the country while he followed his dream everyone else was intentionally padding their future curricula vitae for a website they didn’t even know would exist—when it never even occurred to me to do anything but what I was doing simply for the sake of doing it.

Where was everyone else who did nothing?*

While some of my everyday and everything friends are writers, I don’t know too much about most of my writer friends other than their writing, and the tidbits they share on social media. Cute kids and sports. Cute kids and school. Cute kids and awards. Inspirational quote. Pedicures (which I hate). Vacations. Food.

Is it better that way? Keep Writerland Clean? Is that our motto? Writerland is the place I belong. With a few exceptions, it’s my favorite place.

When I took a breath and a step back (which required assistance), I realized that none of the things I read about on any of these bios are things I wished I had done. Ever. Not one. None of them interested me, they just impressed me. And there’s a difference.

Your path, my path, his path, her path. It doesn’t matter how we differ as writers, what matters is what makes us the same. That’s the secret sauce for the writing life. That it is a great equalizer. (So go! Climb your mountain! Sail your seas! I’ll be right here when you get back!) And all that good stuff is exactly what I remembered after letting off some of my under-achieving steam with the help of a wonderful writer friend. One with a Ph.D.

But we didn’t talk about that.

Amy xo

* I am fully aware I did not spend my life doing nothing. I am proud of the kids I raised, the person I am, the things I’ve done. But now I have to go dig a well in my backyard for underprivileged suburban bunnies. Cya. 

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.

DON’T MISS OUT!

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR ARC GIVEAWAY!

(YES, MEN CAN ENTER 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!

ARC TGN

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

Click here:

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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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The Glass Wives, A Discount, and A Teaser

It’s been almost two years (May 14th, 2013) since THE GLASS WIVES hit bookshelves. That was, and remains, quite a journey. And now as we move toward the release of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR on October 13th, look who’s poking up her pretty little head and saying DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME, MA! (Notice how St. Martin’s Press used the same font on the cover of both of my novels? That’s a little bit of branding, folks!)

And now, THE GLASS WIVES ebook is $5.99!

Glass Wives_final cover

If you haven’t read it, now’s a great time. I mean, look at the blue sky. It totally says IT’S SPRING SO READ ME. DRINK TEA AND READ ME. SPIKE YOUR TEA IF YOU WANT, BUT READ ME.

You can also gift ebooks and $5.99 is the right price. JUST IN TIME FOR MOTHER’S DAY!

Here’s a Kindle link: KINDLE LINK FOR THE GLASS WIVES

Here’s a Nook link: NOOK LINK FOR THE GLASS WIVES

More soon on THE GOOD NEIGHBOR and maybe more news soon on other things too. Oh my, what might that mean???

Amy xo 

Don’t have the 4-1-1 on THE GLASS WIVES or need a refresher?

Here’s the review that was featured in Shelf Awareness for Readers on May 28th, 2013.

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