Encore! Encore! Women’s Fiction Author Amy Hatvany talks about Finding The Hook, Validating the Female Perspective and Believing in Your Work

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.

Women’s Fiction Author Amy Hatvany Answers the Age-Old Question: “What Kind Of Writer Are You?”

I have stumbled upon several Amys in my online author forays…and even at no-way-am-I-putting-my-age-on-the-first-line-of-a-blog-post, I get a charge and a chuckle out of it every. single. time.  So after Amy (tee hee) and I bantered about being Amys (ha ha), I got down to the business of knowing her.  Lucky me.  Amy Hatvany is another new-to-me author but I suspect she isn’t new to many of you.  Her latest book, Best Kept Secret, is the story of how the “secrets we hold closest are the ones that can most tear us apart.”  How true. 

Today Amy is sharing her thoughts about — you guessed it — women’s fiction. (Yes, on a blog about women’s fiction. Go figure! Amys are very accommodating and awesome that way. Ok, I’m done.)

Please give Amy Hatvany a warm WFW welcome!!

What Kind Of Writer Are You? 

by Amy Hatvany

I’m at a dinner party with my husband, and the hostess sidles up beside me near the fireplace, resting her lithe hand on my forearm.  “I hear you write books,” she says breathlessly. I feel for her; throwing dinner parties can be exhausting.

I give her a close-lipped smile – not because I’m annoyed, but because I’m pretty sure I have a black peppercorn stuck in a front tooth. Then, I nod. I know what comes next, and still, I am not prepared.

“What kind of writer are you?” she asks. Her question is simple, and yet, she has no idea just how complicated it is to craft a proper response.

I quickly suck at the fiery spot in my mouth, hoping to dislodge the offending bit of spice. “I write women’s fiction,” I say, hoping this will satisfy her. But it won’t. It never does.

She screws up her aquiline nose. “Like bodice-rippers?” She is incredulous. Maybe even a little disgusted. And I want to scream.

I go on to explain that while I don’t find anything wrong with them (ahem – and may even have a few stuffed under my mattress, away from my children’s prying eyes), no, I don’t write steamy romance novels. I write about realistic issues women face in our modern society. My books tackle complicated relationship dynamics and how to find redemption despite challenging circumstance. My books are about personal growth, are full of feeling, and hopefully, tell more than just a little bit of truth.

It’s her turn to nod, slowly. She gets it. Sort of.

I have had this conversation a thousand times. And a thousand times, I’ve had a difficult time conveying what exactly “women’s fiction” is. It’s a broad label, but one I wear proudly. I see the variety of books spanning this genre as giving strong voice to the multi-faceted female perspective.  As with any other genre, there are good stories and not-so-good ones; great writing and writing that needs improvement. But when I first quit my job and sold my car and sat down in front of my computer to take a chance at getting published, it never crossed my mind to figure out what “kind” of writer I was going to be. I was simply compelled to write. I wanted to capture emotion, to reach out and connect with a reader the same way other writers – through their words – had reached out to me.  So, that is what I set out to do.

Over the last ten years, the one thing I’ve learned about being a writer is that it consumes me. It’s not just a job, it’s who I am. As a result, reflections of this are going to show up on the page. I write women’s fiction because I am a woman. I have a female perspective. My style has been called empathetic, and I take that as high praise, because I believe overall, women are empathetic creatures. Reading about characters with whom we share commonalities – and even reading about those with whom we don’t – broadens our world. It makes us appreciate our lives, our experiences (good and bad), and maybe even changes how we see things from day to day. If my writing does that for even one person, then I consider myself a success.

Even so, at the end of the party, I hesitate by the door as my husband gathers our coats, thinking I might talk a little more with our hostess about my work. The truth is I’m not sure I’ll ever find a shorthand method to describe the writing I do. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because in the end, I’m hopeful she’ll go buy my books and find out.

Amy Hatvany was born in Seattle, WA in 1972, the youngest of three children. She graduated from Western Washington University in 1994 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.

The literary gods took kindly to her aspirations and THE KIND OF LOVE THAT SAVES YOU was published in 2000 by Bantam Doubleday. THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS was picked up by NAL in 2002. (Both were published under her previous last name, Yurk.)

Amy spends most of her time today with her second and final husband, Stephan. (Seriously, if this one doesn’t work out, she’s done, kaput, no more husbands.) She stays busy with her two children, Scarlett and Miles, and her “bonus child,” Anna. Their blended family also includes two four-legged hairy children, commonly known as Black Lab mutts, Kenda and Dolcé. When Amy’s not with friends or family, she is most likely reading, cooking, or zoning out on certain reality television shows. Top Chef is a current favorite. She eagerly awaits auditions for the cast of “Top Author.” (“Quick Edit” instead of “Quick Fire” Challenge? C’mon, producers! That’s gripping television!)

Editor’s note: Jennifer Weiner listed Amy’s book on the Today Show website and gave it a shout out as her summer pick for Woman’s World magazine!