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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Guest Post: Multi-Published Author Cathy Lamb’s Publishing Advice for Aspiring Authors

Grab a cuppa and settle in. Today, multi-published women’s fiction author, Cathy Lamb, shares her personal publishing story as well as some unconventional advice for aspiring authors.

Cathy Lamb is the author of nine novels. NINE! (And she’s working on number ten! Yay!) She has been one of my favorite authors since the day a friend handed me Henry’s Sisters. I was hooked. I’ve read all of Cathy’s books and recently finished What I Remember Most, a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resilience, friendship, and love. I adore Cathy’s characters, they—even with their many flaws and sometimes gut-wrenching backstories—are people I wish I knew. I want to step inside the story and be part of it.

One of the best perks of being an author is making author friends. Cathy and I have become friends through various writer groups.  I’m thrilled to say she recently read The Glass Wives. Can you imagine? Her work has inspired me and she has read MY book. You can poke around on Facebook and see more about that here.

But first, read the post, and welcome Cathy Lamb to Women’s Fiction Writers.

And if you haven’t read any of Cathy’s books, why not start today? I recommend her first book, mentioned below, Julia’s Chocolates. I was hooked with the first line: “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.” Aren’t you?

Share your rocky road to publishing in the comments! Or ask a question!

Amy xo

The Rocky Road To Publishing

by Cathy Lamb

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I am asked all the time how one should go about getting traditionally published.

I will assume that you want to know how to do this without losing your mind.

Here is my answer.

You need to write something good. Really good.  You need to write something that a publishing house believes will sell.

So work, work, work on that story of yours.

Write when you’re crying. Write when you’re daydreaming. Write when you’re hopeless. Write when you’re exhausted and miss your hippie days.  Write when grief is overwhelming you, write after you kick your husband out, write after a weekend with your sisters where you laughed so hard you wet your pants.

Write when all is well, write when all seems black.

Study writing. Go to writing classes. Study your favorite books and ask yourself why you like them. If you read a dull book, ask yourself, “Why did this not work for me?” Make sure you don’t replicate those problems.

Read fiction, non fiction, memoirs, thrillers, biographies, etc. Read all over.

Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. On Writing by Stephen King. Writing Out The Storm by Jessica Morrell.  And read Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing for advice and inspiration.

Study more. Write more. Read more. Begin again. Edit, edit, edit. Use that delete button.

When you’re ready to submit your work, you need to get  yourself an agent. (Remember, this article is not addressing self publishing or publishing with Amazon. That is a whole other massive and mind numbing article with conflicting opinions.)

Should you finish writing your book before you try to get an agent?

Probably anyone else, in any magazine article or speech about “how – to – publish,” here or on Jupiter, will tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent for her review with the hopes that she’ll love it and ask for the full manuscript.

This is enormously good advice in many ways. Writing a full book before sending it to an agent makes you nail down those characters. It forces you into the writing process.

You learn about pacing, character arcs, character development, word choice, descriptions, dialogue, narration, setting, voice, and a hundred other things, including whether or not you are capable of sitting your butt down and finishing a book. All excellent points.

I, however, will not tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent to review.

Why? Because of my own personal and miserable publishing history which involves piles of rejection slips from rejected, full manuscripts.

Let me share my literary misery.

(Skip this part if you can’t stand to listen to people whine. I’ll understand, I will.)

After years spending time writing full manuscripts, as a certain category romance publishing house kept asking for more, they would be rejected. Repeatedly.

I wanted to bash my head through a wall. All those months of work…trashed. For nothing.

Looking back, the writing was bad. The idea was bad. The characters were bad.  The organization and dialogue and narration were bad. Bad, bad, bad. I’m surprised I got as far as I did.

On my LAST attempt at writing a book, when I completely changed genres to women’s fiction from romance, I wrote the first 40 -ish pages of my book, Julia’s Chocolates, no more. I sent it to four agents and a famous editor. The famous editor never responded. All the agents, based on those first forty pages, requested the full manuscript.

I waited until my favorite agent – the one I have now – asked for the full manuscript. I lied and told him I needed to do “a little editing,” and worked my butt off for about four months, writing from ten o’clock at night until two in the morning, while taking care of three young kids, a house, and working a freelance writing job for our state’s newspaper.

I used to edit Julia’s Chocolates while my kids were playing at Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds. I lost a lot of that fake money to the games.

Anyhow, I sent the full manuscript to my favorite agent, blurry eyed and exhausted. He loved it and I signed with him in a couple of weeks. A few weeks after that he sold Julia’s Chocolates  as part of a two – book deal to the publishing house I’m with now.  I was ecstatic and I still love both my agent and my editor.

So my advice is to write a bang up 20 pages. Yes, I did say twenty.

But why write only 20 pages? Because then you won’t waste your time. If the subject matter/characters of your book are not appealing, if it is not going to sell, you have not wasted a year, or many endless years, of your life writing a book that no publishing house wants. With twenty pages you have limited your loss of time and effort and, unfortunately, tears.

The brutal truth is – and here I will say something that will be offensive so put on your tough alligator skin – what you’re writing may not be anything anyone wants. It could be the topic. Could be the market. Could be the wildly insane competition out there.

It could well be the writing. It’s just not good/intriguing/gripping/fun enough.

So write twenty pages.

When the twenty pages are perfect and wildly wonderful, write a short cover letter to the agents describing the plot in the first two paragraphs, the ending paragraph should be about you, your writing history, etc.

Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.

Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten.

Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.

Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.

Want more mean truths?  An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.

He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.

You will probably be surprised at how fast the rejections come back. It is disheartening, I know it. I lived it. Bang my brain against the keyboard, this part is not fun, and I so feel for you.

But buck up on the rejections or get out of writing. Rejections are a part of being a writer. Even multi published, successful authors still get rejections. Cry. Throw a fit. Take thirty minutes then get over yourself and your pride and your belief that your book should be Number One on the NY Times bestseller list by Tuesday.

If your book keeps getting rejected, analyze it without emotion and figure out what’s wrong with it. You must put your ego aside. Do not give it to your mother or wife to analyze it, they are too close to you and probably won’t be honest.

Hire a reputable editor. (Like Amy) An editor does not like or love you, which is how it should be. You are paying her to be honest and to help you improve. Do not hire an editor if you are afraid your feelings will be hurt. Listen to what she tells you, be open to the criticisms and suggestions.

(Side note: Do not hire an editor if you want her to flatter you and tell you that your book is perfect. A good editor is blunt and honest and knows her stuff. Most of the time she is polite, but not always.   Only hire her if you want to hear the truth, you won’t get defensive, you want her criticisms, you’re okay with her shredding your prose, and you are mature enough and smart enough to turn around and use the criticisms to write a better book.)

You may have to eventually change genres, like I did, from romance to women’s fiction, which worked splendidly, and I am now writing my tenth novel.  I wish I had changed genres years before I did. I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and heartache.  I would encourage you to do the same after repeated rejections in one genre.

But, lickety split, let’s go back to agent talk.

If an agent likes those twenty pages, he will ask you for the full manuscript. This is where you write your heart out, like I did, above.  Make it the best writing of your life. Give up sleep. Get up early, go to bed late, write during the weekend.

You may have to edit that sucker four or ten times. I edit all my books eight times before I send it the first time to my agent and editor, and I have been writing for years. Address the stuff I mentioned above about compelling characters and believable character arcs, word choice, description, setting and PACING.  Pacing is key. Too slow and you’ll put people to sleep.

Many people will say that this approach, where only 20 – ish pages are actually done when you first send it to an agent,  will result in a rushed, poor manuscript if it’s requested by an agent.

Here’s the key:  Don’t send in a rushed, poor manuscript. Duh. Send in an excellent manuscript. The very best you can do.

Yes, your manuscript arrives later than the agent wanted but, trust me on this one: If it’s a heckuva manuscript, he won’t give a rip. He’ll lean back in his chair, throw up his arms, look to the ceiling as if in “Hallelujah,” and try to sell your manuscript for as much as he can get.

If you get ONE reputable agent who is interested in your work, you should click your heels together in joy. I have heard unpublished authors fret,  hands wringing, all uptight, “What would I do if I send my manuscript to more than one agent at a time and they all  want it?”

This happens so rarely, stop your worrying.

If you are very fortunate and two agents or more ask for the full manuscript, send it to your favorite agent first, wait a month, send an email to see if they’re interested, and if they don’t respond in a timely manner, send the full to the second agent. Or, send it to both agents at the same time, (this is what I would do) and let them know another agent is looking at it, too.

If the agent likes your manuscript and thinks he can sell it, he will call or email  you. It is unlikely that he will send a smoke signal.

If you still like that agent after that conversation, you will sign a contract with that agent.  This means he will represent your book to the publishing houses, which basically means he will contact the editors he knows, either at lunch or a cocktail party or a meeting or a bar, and talk your book up. He will contact editors in houses who sell your type of genre.

Hopefully an editor is interested. If he is, the agent will send the editor your manuscript. If the editor believes his house can sell it and make loads of money off it, he will then buy the book. This involves more contracts. All the contracts are in legalese and are quite long and detailed. They will bore you silly. Get an attorney to review it.

The contracts from the editor/publishing house will go through your agent. You will sign the contracts if you agree to the upfront money the publishing house is offering, and the royalties they offer after the book sells and your upfront money is paid off.

Please people. The number of writers who get upfront six figures – plus is tiny. Miniscule. Do not expect anywhere near this, especially for your first book.  I know writers who get all the money they can upfront, because they know they will earn no royalties.  Be aware that the vast majority of people who call themselves writers (probably 97%) cannot make a living writing, that’s why they keep their day jobs.

Remember, you will also give a portion of your earnings to your agent (15%)  once you are under contract with a publishing house. All monies go from the publishing house, to the agent, then to you. Royalties are paid twice a year.

Once the contract is signed, you’ve sold your book. It is now time to skip and cheer so the aliens on Jupiter can hear you.

There is a WHOLE TON of stuff that you need to do at that time, social media, etc. but that is another article and I do not want to make you cry.

Hopefully there will be more contracts to come and you’ll be on your merry, lovely way. I wish that for you, I truly do.

In the meantime, always remember….

You must keep writing all the time if you want to publish.

You must keep reading excellent books, and learning from them, if you want to publish. I am still learning. Still studying. Still critically analyzing my work and doing the same to other authors’ work whose skills I admire.

Don’t you dare ever read crappy books. It will affect your writing.

Understand that this is an incredibly competitive industry. There are so many freakishly talented authors out there it is head spinning. You are competing against them. Never forget it. Bring your best to the table.

You must live a full life if you want to publish. Love. Laugh. Be with family and friends. Dance. Sing. Go have adventures. For heaven’s sakes, travel. Listen to people. Think new thoughts. Open your brain up to new ideas.  Read the newspaper. Take an art class. Try photography. Go to the mountains. Play in the waves. Make new friends. Be interested in others. Be interesting yourself. Be compassionate and kind. All this will fuel the writer in you.

Good luck. I mean that.

Cathy Lamb

***** A little more on agents, even though you are probably sick of this topic…

Do you need an agent?   Unless you are writing category romance, like Silhouette or Harlequin, or you’re self – publishing, you need an agent. An agent acts as a screener. If you cannot get an agent to represent you, the general rule is that the publishing house won’t look at your work. In other words, if an agent didn’t like it, they won’t either.

How do you contact an agent in the first place? If you’re in writers’ groups, agents’ names will start floating around. Pay attention to those names.   You might also meet agents at writing conferences or workshops.  Your best friend’s brother’s half sister may be an agent.

Or, pick up this book, 2015 Writer’s Market  and find an agent in there under your genre. If you’re writing romance, look for romance book agents, writing thrillers, go for agents representing thriller writers

Make sure you are sending your work to good, honest agents. Go to this website http://pred-ed.com/ to check. Reputable agents NEVER ask for upfront money or reader’s fees. If yours does, drop him and move on.

 

 

 

A Point of View on Points of View in Women’s Fiction

On Sunday I read THE PEACH KEEPER by Sarah Addison Allen.

Ok, I lied. I read thirteen pages Saturday night. On Sunday by noon I’d read the remaining 261 pages.

And do you know what I decided when I’d finished the book?

First, I’m going to read all Sarah Addison Allen’s books. Second, I’m going to write a novel with more than one POV.  (Sorry, Izzy, you’re toast. This another book and the main character’s name is Di. As in Diamond.)

In addition to enjoying (understatement) the story and the writing in TPK, I was fascinated by the structure.  It’s not 100% linear. It’s not every-other-chapter from a different POV. It flows seamlessly and nothing is left out but it’s not necessarily put together in the way you’d expect.

Now, this author has a lot of experience and I wouldn’t compare my abilities to someone who has multiple published books notched into her computer, but — what’s better than an author who can inspire me to do something better with my own writing?  Not to write like another author – but to push me to write better as myself?  I think it would be fascinating to write the same story from multiple points of view. I’ve only ever written one short story that way — one that’s currently out on the submission road after getting awesome feedback in a Backspace Short Story Contest.

I don’t think it’s necessary to have mulitple points of view in women’s fiction (or any fiction). I remember reading HENRY’S SISTERS by Cathy Lamb and being astounded at the depth of all the characters in a book written in one first person point of view.  It’s not the number of points of view.  You can have twenty points of view and no depth, no coherent story telling.  You can have one point of view and everything you need.

For me, this is about changing it up and pushing myself to do something different within my chosen genre — and to challenge myself.  Sort of — to give myself a promotion and see if I make the cut. I don’t want to write something different, I want to write differently.  Up the ante.  Writing something new is always a challenge.  The Izzy book I mentioned a few posts back is written in first person.  My novel that’s finally – once again – in the capable hands of my agent, is written in close third person.  Jumping into this shiny new idea of writing with multiple voices led me to pick up a pen (GASP) and a notebook (GULP) and jot down some ideas (I totally got writer’s cramp).  I’m not sure how many points of view there will be — two or three — and the story is about three sisters (way cool for me, as I have no sisters – none by blood anyway) and intuition (I do have that) and premonitions (I’ve had those too) and what happens when we pay attention to them — and what happens when we don’t.  Can’t really say more because I really don’t know more. Yet.

I have no preference when reading women’s fiction — it can be first person or third, one POV or many.  It’s the skill with which the author relays the story that is important.  If the voice or voices work — it works for me.

What POV works for you when reading and writing women’s fiction? 

(What also works for me is now having Sarah Addison Allen on Women’s Fiction Writers.  I’m going to get right on that!!* Oh, and full disclosure here, I received an Advance Reader Edition of THE PEACH KEEPER. I never ask for books but do accept AREs and ARCs when they are offered or land in my mailbox. I never promise to read or review the book or have the author on WFW – but if it happens, we all win! )

*Edited to add: At Sarah Addison Allen’s request, she’ll be featured on WFW in early 2012, which will correspond with the trade paperback release of THE PEACH KEEPER.  

Women’s Fiction Author Cathy Lamb Talks About Collecting Rejections, Writing Books and Eating Chocolate

I discovered author Cathy Lamb when a good friend handed me Henry’s Sisters and said, “Read this book now.”  What she didn’t tell me was that I would read it in under forty-eight hours, use a whole box of Kleenex and then proceed to read the rest of Cathy Lamb’s books in the next six weeks, only to go through author-withdrawal upon finding out the next one doesn’t come out until…get this…August!  

When I emailed Cathy about participating in the blog she was friendly and gracious even thought I’d apparently left her off the sidebar author list. (How many ways can you say: mortified?) Anyway, at least I knew I’d blabbed about her books in early posts so she knew my reverence was sincere. (Just don’t tell her about the shrine, ok? ;-))

I’m thrilled to share her insights with all of you — and hope you’ll add comments below!

Many thanks to Cathy for her time and enthusiasm.

Women’s Fiction Author Cathy Lamb Talks About Collecting Rejections, Writing Books and Eating Chocolate

ASN: What was your journey like from concept to publication of your first book, Julia’s Chocolates in 2007?

CL: A brutal rejection slip actually was the best thing that happened to me as a writer.

I had published many articles in a local newspaper, but hadn’t published any of the category romance books I’d been writing for years.  To be baldly honest, the reason I was trying to break into the category romance field was because I didn’t think I was smart enough to write women’s fiction. I didn’t think I could create interesting enough characters or develop a deep enough plotline with cool twists and turns and the right pacing to be published. Yes, I know, that doesn’t say much for my self esteem as a writer.  The romance editors at major houses were very encouraging. I’d sit down, write up the first chapter and a synopsis and send it in.  They would then ask for the first three chapters. So, I’d sit down, write the three chapters up, and send it in. The editors would then ask for the whole book. So I’d sit down, write it up, send it in. Then the publishing house would reject it, usually with detailed two page rejection letters, and ask me to try again.  This was, of course, tremendously disappointing. All that work, for nothing. Still, after flinging myself against a wall a few times, I hung in there and kept writing. The brutal slammer was when I went through the above process and had an editor with a name that starts with S who worked for a company that starts with an S tell me over the phone she was pretty sure they would buy my book if I made a few minor edits. I made the requested edits. To make a long story short, the editor didn’t actually make a final decision on the book for two years.  I wrote a scathing letter and the publishing house ended up apologizing to me for the length of time the process took. They encouraged me to write again and submit all future work to the head editor.

The book, however, was rejected.

Crushing.

I could either start banging my head against my keyboard and muttering strange things to myself, or I could quit writing category romance completely.

I quit.

And then later I finally, finally, finally wrote something that meant something to me. I let my imagination fly and I let my characters be the wild, devoted, screaming, lost, strange, quiet, secret-harboring, desperate, joyful, lusty, pig-loving people they needed to be. I let the plot grow organically instead of trying to shove it into a rigid formula. I addressed issues I wanted addressed that were close to my heart and I tried to inject humor. I wanted to reach women. I wanted to give them a book that would allow them to escape from life for a few hours, a book with characters they could relate to. A book that would make them laugh.

I sent Julia’s Chocolates to the five top agents/editors I could find. I figured I could then say I was rejected by the best. The editor never answered. Three of the agents asked for the book. I went with my favorite agent. He sold it to Kensington Publishing in about a month as part of a two book deal.

ASN: Since 2007 you’ve published a book a year. What’s your writing process — or more specifically — how do you write so many books? (Not that I’m complaining!)

CL: My first book, Julia’s Chocolates, sold in 2005 and was published in 2007. Since then I’ve written The Last Time I Was Me, Henry’s Sisters, Such A Pretty Face, and upcoming in August, The First Day of The Rest of My Life. I have also had short stories in the following anthologies: Comfort and Joy with Fern Michaels, Almost Home with Debbie Macomber, and Holiday Magic with Fern Michaels.

The novels take seven to eight – ish months. Or so. Around that. Something like that. Give or take a week or month or so and some head banging time on the computer. The short stories, two to three – ish months.

ASN: I hear the blog readers gasping for breath. How do I write so many good books?

CL: Well. I don’t sleep much. I have stories wandering around in my head and characters talking to me. I feel completely out of sorts when I’m not writing a book, even if I’m wiped out from writing the last one. My life is a mess and disorganized and unfocused without writing. I love to write. I love to tell stories. I love to live in my imagination.  It’s an excuse for staring into space or talking to myself, out loud, on my walks.

As far as the writing process, I sketch out my main characters to the tiniest detail in a journal, and in my head. I journal and scribble and make notes until I have a coherent story, although the story changes and morphs as the characters do and say things they were not given permission by me to do. They take on a life of their own in my head and do as they please. They are sometimes difficult to handle but I write what they say, even when they are throwing things or throwing fits. The plot changes then, too, and because somewhat fluid as I go. I usually know where the ending will end.

With my first draft, I write 2000 words a day, 10,000 a week, or I don’t let myself go to bed on Saturday night until it’s done. (I have had many late Saturday nights) I edit every book 12 times. I get input from an incredible editor and agent before I launch the book, and sometimes in the middle when I have questions.  I try every single time to write a better book than I did the time before. I really, really strive to do that. I try to balance the difficult plot lines with humor. I try to give the reader a 3 – D picture of the story and the characters so it’s in movie form for them.

And I eat a lot of chocolate and live part time at Starbucks slurping decaf mochas.

ASN:  One of the things I like most about your books is that the main characters find themselves in situations I’m unlikely to be in myself (I’m not a big naked runner) but I can still relate to them.  So the stories are both unusual and familiar. For example, because I feel like I know the characters so well, I understand Julia getting rid of her wedding dress on a tree in North Dakota in Julia’s Chocolates as well as Stevie’s obsession with chairs in Such a Pretty Face.  How did you come up with these particular actions or quirks?

CL: I had an image in college of a gal escaping on her wedding day and throwing her dress in a dead and spindly tree. That image, that picture, was one thing that later helped launch Julia’s Chocolates. Because I had to ask WHY? Why did Julia do that? Who is she? Why doesn’t she want to get married? Why did she leave it to the last minute? What was her childhood like?

As for the fantastical wooden chairs that Stevie cut and painted, that was inspired by the years of freelance work I did for The Oregonian.  I gave six Portland artists plain, wood chairs. I let ’em loose and they painted them to be auctioned off for the Children’s Cancer Association. The chairs were remarkable. Absolutely amazing. So my real life experience went into Such A Pretty Face.  Stevie turns chairs into magic, that’s what she does.  Part of her journey is to take the imagination and daring that it took to create those chairs and bring them into her ‘real’ life.

In Henry’s Sisters, Isabelle is promiscuous. I have several friends who have that in their backgrounds and it is very painful for them.  So, I gave that challenge to Isabelle. I asked myself, “Why was Isabelle promiscuous? Who is she? What in her childhood happened, or in her teen years, to make her promiscuous?” That set the story off.  Plus, I was writing that story after my father died and I was in a horrible, grief stricken mood. Isabelle, at the beginning of the story, inherited my black mood.

ASN: Can you give us the inside scoop on The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life, due out in August?

CL: The inside scoop? Well, The First day Of The Rest of My Life is about pink.

It’s also about a beauty parlor on Cape Cod, a lavender farm in Oregon, and a bit of history in France.  It’s about a troubled life coach who has a sister who explodes houses. It’s about two trials, gunshots, a yellow ribbon for hope, a granddad with a terrible secret in his past, the past catching up with the present, an Irish fisherman father, sailboats and ice cream, hurtful photographs, and facing your past head – on while wearing cool high heels.

ASN: What are some of your favorite books and authors, women’s fiction and otherwise?

CL: Favorite books…oh, so many. My motto: So many books, so little time.  I just loved Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Brilliant. I loved Escape, the Cellist of Sarajevo, One Thousand White Women, The Book Thief, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, The Color Purple, the Color of Water, Song Yet Sung, anything by Geraldine Brooks, Infidel, Night, The Art of Racing in the Rain, A Long Way Gone, American Bloomsbury, anything by Asne Seierstad, Of Mice and Men…the authors Kaye Gibbons and Bailey White.  (For more of my favorites, go to my website CathyLamb.net.)

ASN: Last, but definitely not least, what’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?  What’s the key to writing great women’s fiction?

CL: Ladies, the key to writing great women’s fiction is to read. All the time. Always read.  Figure out why you like a certain author, a certain paragraph, even a sentence. STUDY the writing. If you want to be a writer, you must study great writing. Ask yourself what you liked about the pacing, the descriptions, the sensory stuff, the characters, the plot itself. Ask yourself why you KEPT READING the book. Ask yourself how you can create characters that readers care about – and study how the author did it.  Do not read crap. Ever. It will effect how well you can write. Read amazing authors only across all genres. I read non fiction, fiction, memoirs…everything. Read.

Write all the time. I have a small journal with me at all times. I feel nervous without it.  Buy journals and scribble and write whatever you’re thinking. Go deep. Reach for the painful stuff in your life, in the past, in the present, and work that out through writing.  Deep writing, unfortunately, in MOST cases, comes from deep pain. Use the pain.

Read On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott, Writing Out The Storm by Jessica Morrell. Natalie Goldberg is very inspirational, too. Take writing classes. I took them at the University of Oregon when I was in school, I took them at the local community college.  I took private writing classes. Loved ’em all. Met cool people, too.

Widen your universe all the time. Meet new people, try new things, go to plays, the symphony, take walks, go to different neighborhoods…LISTEN to people. Listen to their stories. Find a character you can believe in.

Keep writing. If you start to hate it because the rejections are just too hard, take a break.  Not a LONG break, but take a break. Do something different, read more. And, consider doing what I did, change genres. I would never have published in category romance writing. I see that now. I couldn’t do it. My agent laughed when I told him I’d been trying to write category romance. He was right. I was too stubborn to see that for too long.

Enjoy life. That’s the most important.

Cathy Lamb was born in Newport Beach, California.  As a child, she mastered the art of skateboarding, catching butterflies in bottles, and riding her bike with no hands.  When she was 10, her parents moved her, two sisters,  a brother, and two poorly behaved dogs to Oregon before she could fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a surfer bum.

She then embarked on her notable academic career where she earned good grades now and then, spent a great deal of time daydreaming, ran wild with a number of friends, and landed on the newspaper staff in high school. When she saw her byline above an article about people making out in the hallways of the high school, she knew she had found her true calling.

After two years of partying at the University of Oregon, she settled down for the next three years and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and became a fourth grade teacher.  It was difficult for her to become proper and conservative but she threw out her red cowboy boots and persevered. She had no choice. She had to eat, and health insurance is expensive.

She met her husband on a blind date.  A mutual friend who was an undercover vice cop busting drug dealers set them up.  It was love at third sight. 

Teaching children about the Oregon Trail and multiplication facts amused her until she became so gigantically pregnant with twins she looked like a small cow and could barely walk. With a three year old at home, she decided it was time to make a graceful exit and waddle on out. She left school one day and never went back. She likes to think her students missed her.

When Cathy was no longer smothered in diapers and pacifiers, she took a turn onto the hazardous road of freelance writing and wrote about 170 articles on homes, home décor, people and fashion for a local newspaper.  As she is not fashionable and can hardly stand to shop, it was an eye opener for her to find that some women actually do obsess about what to wear. She also learned it would probably be more relaxing to slam a hammer against one’s forehead than engage in a large and costly home remodeling project.

Cathy suffers from, “I Would Rather Play Than Work Disease” which prevents her from getting much work done unless she has a threatening deadline.  She likes to hang with family and friends, walk, eat chocolate, camp, travel, and is slightly obsessive about the types of books she reads. She also likes to be left alone a lot so she can hear all the odd characters in her head talk to each other and then transfer that oddness to paper. The characters usually don’t start to talk until 10:00 at night,  however, so she is often up ‘til 2:00 in the morning with them. That is her excuse for being cranky.

She adores her children and husband, except when he refuses to take his dirty shoes off and walks on the carpet. She will ski because her children insist, but she secretly doesn’t like it at all. Too cold and she falls all the time.

She is currently working on her next book and isn’t sleeping much.