Interview with Women’s Fiction Author, Cavanaugh Lee

I met Cavanaugh Lee at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago back in June.  She was part of the Women of the Write panel — and she was funny and smart with more than a hint of a Southern accent.  When I learned more about Cavanaugh and her book, I knew it would be great to have her as part of our growing community on Women’s Fiction Writers.  It’s a brave new world of books out there — written and read in so many ways.  Cavanaugh’s book — written in emails, Facebook statuses and texts, braves that new frontier with gusto!

And, yes, I’ll admit that every time I hit “Save Draft” while working on posting this interview — I chuckled.  It doesn’t take much, you know.

Cavanaugh’s interview and book are sure to inspire and invigorate you! Please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Interview with Women’s Fiction Author, Cavanaugh Lee

ASN: Welcome, Cavanaugh!  To start, can you share with us your writing and publishing journey?

CL: My writing and publishing journey was a whirlwind. I wrote my first novel, Save As Draft, from January to May 2009.  I sent out my query letter to a zillion agents from May to July 2009.  On July 4 (a day I’ll never forget), I signed with my agent. By early September, I had a book deal with Simon & Schuster.  Save As Draft was released in hard cover on February 1, 2011.  Like I said, it was a whirlwind!

ASN: Your novel, Save As Draft, is a combination of emails, texts and Facebook statuses. What challenges (if any) did you encounter while writing and turning electronic communication into a novel with all the components novels need — the arcs, the multidimensional characters, the subplots etc?

CL: The “novel” is a constantly evolving literary “form” so it seemed only fitting in this digital day and age to write Save As Draft in electro-epistolary style, especially given the subject matter of the book, which is that the over-saturation of the internet has both inhibited and improved our communication skills in interpersonal relationships. The only challenges I encountered along the way were in regards to character development.  I had to be a little more creative in how I introduced my characters to the reader since I didn’t have the luxury of simply saying, “Izzy had brown hair and hazel eyes…etc. and so forth.”  It made me work harder in that I had to expose more by saying less.  I also had to pick and choose the most important characteristics I wanted to describe since I only had an email or text message to convey what I wanted.  I didn’t have paragraphs; instead, I had word limits, LOL!  This said, I had to make sure I knew what was most important.

ASN: When I met you at Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago, a lot of talk that day was about women’s fiction being “feminine tosh.”  Would you share with WFW how you combat — and if you combat — this perception of women’s fiction?

CL: I really don’t see women’s fiction any different than any other type of fiction.  It’s a genre, like any other genre, with the same messages. When you get right down to it, books are about characters – people – all of whom share the same vulnerabilities, flaws, and idiosyncrasies, be they women, men, animals or even superheroes.  It’s all about their quirks. That’s what makes a story interesting.

ASN: I also learned at Printer’s Row that Save As Draft is based on your personal break-up experience.  How did you make fact into fiction?  Did the lines blur?  Do people “believe” it’s fiction?

CL: Save As Draft is loosely based on real life events, whether readers want to believe it or not.  Either way, the only thing that matters to me is that people in their own unique way “relate” to something in it.  It’s also important that they are entertained.  I spelled out in my acknowledgements: “I hope you enjoy Save As Draft.  More than that though, I hope you can learn from my mistakes.  All of us (yes, even the most cynical) really are in this to fall in love – to find the one.  It’s certainly not easy, but a few helpful hints along the way make it a little easier.  I hope I’ve provided some tips or, at the very least, a fun heartfelt read for a few moments out of your otherwise crazy high-tech life.”

ASN: Can you share with us what you’re working on now?

CL: I just finished writing my second novel which is, believe it or not, a legal drama.  A writer has to write what she’s inspired to write and shouldn’t feel pigeonholed by genres.  I needed a break from writing about love.  I wrote Save As Draft when I was curious about love and why it’s so hard to find it in this modern electronic day.  I answered a lot of my questions by writing Save As Draft.  The past year, I’ve been curious about my experience as a prosecutor.  So, I’ve written about that – justice and the law and what it means to be guilty and not guilty.  Recently, however, I’ve been curious about love again so…I have no doubt my third book will be a romance. 😉

ASN: Are you a plotter or a pantser?  Do you have writing rituals?

CL: I’m such a plotter. I take copious notes, I plan things in advance, I prepare a structure. Then, I completely improvise within that structure.  Having an outline gives me the freedom to experiment and let my imagination run.  All writers are different though…

ASN: What is women’s fiction to you — and what is it not?

CL: Women’s fiction is a novel that seemingly addresses “women’s issues.”  I’m still trying to figure out what “women’s issues” are though…giggle giggle…

ASN: What’s your best advice specifically for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

CL: Write what you are curious about at all times.  Kathryn Stocket said it best in The Help: “Write about what disturbs you.  Particularly if it bothers no one else.”

After graduating top of her high school class in San Francisco, Cavanaugh Lee decided to “go for it” and moved to Los Angeles to become an actress. After graduating from UCLA School of Theater, she worked steadily as a “wactress” (waitress/actress) for four years, writing and producing an autobiographical play called ROCKSTARNERD and authoring a screenplay. True love (or so she thought) then led her to the deep south of Mississippi, but when the relationship crashed and burned she changed course and soon found herself graduating from UNC School of Law.

Now, by day, she works as a prosecutor in Savannah, Georgia. She writes, of course, by night. After recently toying in the world of cyber-dating, finding true love, becoming engaged, and then becoming unengaged (yes, he’s got the ring, she’s got the dress), she decided to parlay her modern romance experiences into a hilarious, heart wrenching novel that all young women (and men) will relate to and enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, this girl’s still very single so count on a sequel!

Having Advocates (and snacks) Within the Women’s Fiction Community

Friday night I took my almost sixteen year old daughter to GLEE Live (I’ll spare you the 96 pictures).  She screamed. I screamed. She jumped. I jumped.  She fist pumped. I fist pumped.  Our ears were ringing at midnight when our heads hit our respective pillows.

I couldn’t think of anything more amazing.

But, then I went to the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago. To the Ladies of the Write panel. Now that, my friends, was like writer’s crack. Beat GLEE by a mile.  And, there was no screaming.  A double-bonus.

I went with my in-real-life, good friend Pamela Toler, a non-fiction and fiction author is an all-around awesome sport.  She knows I am not only a reader and writer but a total author fan.  So when Kristina Riggle, Cavanaugh Lee, Beverly Jenkins and Meg Waite Clayton were a few feet in front of us in a classroom, Pamela just let me revel in their awesome authorness.  She may have told me to close my gaping mouth, I don’t remember. If she did, I’m sure it reopened and hit the floor when Meg mentioned that Eleanor Brown was also in the audience.  Pamela and I had just finished talking about Eleanor’s book, The Weird Sisters, about a minute before. (No fear, Eleanor is scheduled to be on the blog soon!)

For about thirty minutes the women on the panel bantered on the definition of women’s fiction, V.S. Naipaul, their writing process, where they get their ideas, how they find their voices when writing from multiple points of view and they gave great advice to any aspiring authors about persistence and perseverance.  They shared the metaphorical stage with generosity, grace and humor.  I doubt Naipaul would have handled himself with nearly as much, if any, class. Nor would he have rocked the awesome accessories and jewelry with such flair.

Frankly, these women were so funny they could take their show on the road.

But within the boundaries of the advice and hilarity, I realized that these articulate women not only wrote books for us to read with characters we could relate to, but as writers of women’s fiction — or however you want to describe their books — they are our advocates.  Of course their books are read by men too — but in having female protagonists in fiction they showcase the breadth of life experience women have, the intensity of emotion, the unequivocal joie de vivre and propensity for action.  They have proven it can be done.  These books sell.  These women (and male authors who write female protags), by writing the books they do, have become advocates for those of us who want to do the same thing.

And in life, we all need advocates.

A close friend reminded me recently that we all really need advocates in our careers — a person who knows you and your abilities, someone who sees your strengths and understands your weaknesses and will not only encourage and push you, but go to bat for you.  That really made sense to me.  So I thought about it.

How do we find an advocate in the women’s fiction community?

Of course, an agent and/or an editor is your advocate. 100%!  But what about an advocate within the writer and author realm? Writers need other writers, right?

I believe in order to have an advocate, you must first be one — without an agenda, without a motive other than to help.  Clichés might not belong in fiction, but on the blog, they’re fine and dandy. 😉  You get what you give. What goes around comes around.  Don’t blog because you want readers, blog because you have something to say. Don’t critique a manuscript because you want to be critiqued, do it because you want to help someone be a better writer.  Don’t push someone to help you, help someone else and when you least expect it, someone will be there to help you. And don’t put the cart before the horse.  Pay it forward.

Generosity of spirit breeds generosity of spirit.

Forget about yourself sometimes.  That makes people remember you.

For example, Meg was kind enough to mention the blog and her interview here, and also that the interview is going to be included in the paperback edition of The Four Ms. Bradwells, which I knew and am over-the-moon about.  I also feel lucky that Pamela and I got to hang out with Meg and Eleanor after the panel (Kris headed home :-().  If you have never been to Panera Bread with one of your favorite friends and two of your favorite authors, I highly recommend it.

What struck me as we sat and chatted and other authors came by, sat a spell and left, is that these folks have each other’s backs and read each other’s books.  They certainly work their tushes off on their own books and promotion but when surrounded by their colleagues and peers it was all about the other person.  No one was the better-selling author.  In a small group, there was little distinction between published and not-yet published for most of us.  Experiences and comments and questions were equal.

As authors steps ahead of me, they have paved the way.  They are my advocates simply by doing what they do and by being generous with their time and energy and insights on this blog.  And you know what?  We are their advocates by reading and buying and talking about their books.

Of course, Pamela, who allowed me to stand next to both Eleanor and Meg in the photos, and to giggle (without admonishing me) as she took my arm and led across a busy street and to the train, clearly wins the prize.

Pamela Toler, Me, Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters and The Language of Light

Pamela Toler, Me, Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters