Guest Post: Facing Fears In Writing And In Life by Author Julie Christine Johnson

Final_CoverWhat fears do you share with the characters in your novel? What fears or phobias do you give her that are not part of your life but that you want to explore? Today, debut novelist, Julie Christine Johnson shares with us a real life fear that worked its way into her novel, and how she — and her main character — have triumphed.

Share your story in the comments and please welcome Julie to WFW!

Amy xo


Facing Fears In Writing And In Life

by Julie Christine Johnson

Final_CoverLate May 1999. Inside a prop plane on the tarmac of a Midwest regional airport. We’re not moving. The roaring engines prevent conversation, but fifteen other passengers and I shift in our seats, glance at our watches. The door is sealed tight and the air in the steel tube is thick and hot.

Skin flushes fingers go numb chest constricts stomach collapses. A battery acid wave of panic cascades through me. My every thought is a scream: Get me off this plane. Open the doors. I have to get out. But I remain silent, biting the inside of my lip until I taste blood. Seconds before I race for the exit to keep my head from spinning off my neck, the plane moves forward.

Somehow I get home, and when I do, I cancel a trip to Europe. Problem is, traveling is my job. I’m Associate Director of Study Abroad Programs at a Big Ten University. And I’m not sure I can ever get on an airplane again.

I’ve been claustrophobic as far back as I can recall, which would be to the early 70s and a straw bale maze I clawed my way through, screaming, until I found an exit. I’ve walked up twenty flights of stairs to avoid an elevator. But until May 1999, I’d never had trouble flying. I’d been around the world, studying, teaching, working.

I didn’t set out to saddle Lia, the protagonist in my debut novel In Another Life, with my phobia, but when I trapped her in a corridor of an ancient cathedral, I felt panic rising within me and I poured it into her. Finding a sister claustrophobic in my character became a way to stand outside my own anxiety and watch someone else survive, and even find redemption through, my greatest nightmare.

As readers, fiction often allows us to explore the most unimaginable of our fears and feel relief that someone is able to articulate what we cannot, what we dare not. As writers, we are challenged to offer readers a sense of empathy for our characters, even if they don’t always agree with the choices those characters make along the way. Creating believable vulnerabilities that aren’t dependent upon plot, but which are the very essence of a character herself, invites readers beneath her skin, into her very soul.

My stories often take me into emotional spaces I never intended to go. As I write my way through, I’m able to imbue my characters with strengths I don’t possess or burden them with faults I’m glad I don’t have to claim. I am not my characters, but each possesses a thread of my spirit.

In the months that followed the panic on the tarmac, I got my wings back. I was given a prescription for Ativan to take before boarding a plane. I found behavioral coping mechanisms: meditation, crossword puzzles, coloring books. But never was there a flight without some episode of claustrophobic panic that made me wonder if this was it, this was when I’d finally lose my mind.

Last summer, I spent a blissful three weeks in the southwest of Ireland, attending a poetry workshop and doing some follow-up research and writing on my second novel (The Crows of Beara: Ashland Creek Press, September 2017). The trip home was the first in sixteen years that I felt not the slightest twinge of claustrophobia. I don’t know what changed, what made this trip different; I was just happy that for once, my demons remained silent. My Ativan remained unopened in my carry on. I worked on a crossword puzzle and then, somewhere over the North Atlantic, I fell asleep.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” —Virginia Woolf

Headshot1Julie Christine Johnson is the author of the novels In Another Life (February 2016, Sourcebooks Landmark) and The Crows of Beara (September 2017, Ashland Creek Press). Her short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, includingEmerge Literary Journal, Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt, the anthologiesStories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss and featured on the flash fiction podcast, No Extra Words. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs.

A runner, hiker, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state with her husband. In Another Life is her first novel.

Guest Post: Persistence On The Road To Publication by Author Phoebe Fox

HEART CONDITIONS frontNothing fills my writer’s soul than hearing other author’s road to publication. Or their road to not being published yet. It reminds me that while writing is something we do on our own, our experiences are shared. One for all and all for one. 

Today, Phoebe Fox shares her journey to publication with us. She uses words like REJECTION and PERSISTENCE. Words every writer can relate to. 

Please welcome Phoebe to WFW and share your own stories of persistence in the comments! 

Amy xo

Persistence On The Road To Publication

by Phoebe Fox

HEART CONDITIONS frontLong before I was published or even had an agent, a dear friend of mine, multi-published, ridiculously talented author Sarah Bird, revealed this authorial secret to me: that only one thing separated her from all her unpublished writer friends.


Being the type A overachiever that I am, I greeted this news with delight. “That’s it? Persistence? Shuh, I can do that all day long.” I used to be an actor, for god’s sake; I knew all about handling rejection.

When my first manuscript made the agent submission rounds to a resounding lack of interest, I reminded myself that the way to win the game was just to stay in it. Undaunted, I wrote a second story, polished it up, and sent that sucker out.

This time I was rewarded with more action: lots of requests for partials…requests for fulls… And then, invariably, the painfully polite form letters.

I got rejections. Then more. Then dozens and dozens more. On what was literally my hundredth rejection, finally my determination started to falter. “That’s it,” I said to my faithful critique group, to whom I’d been trumpeting my “persistence” theme for years. “I guess I’m putting this one in a drawer too.”

But this is the problem when you tell people about your personal mission statement: They remind you of it. They hold you to it.

One of my writing partners exhorted me to keep going, not to give up—to persist. And because I generally hate to accept defeat (and even more to have my own damn proclamations thrown back in my face), I reluctantly agreed.

I kept submitting–and on query 113 it finally happened: I got the offer. Superagent Courtney Miller-Callihan of the Sanford J. Greenberger Agency was marvelously enthusiastic and encouraging. She loved the story, loved my writing, and wanted to represent me.

I will admit to feeling a certain amount of gleeful vindication here: I was right all along! All I had to do was persist and there was no way I couldn’t succeed.

Courtney submitted my manuscript and I waited excitedly to find out which pub house would snatch it up—or whether, as she hoped, we’d be lucky enough to go straight to auction.

We got amazing feedback. Editors loved the original idea, my “fresh voice,” the clean, tight prose.

We got some of the nicest, most positive rejection letters you’ve ever seen.

And not a single offer.

This was a much harder blow. Like a lot of authors I assumed that getting an agent was the toughest part of the journey, and once you had been thusly anointed the rest of the path to publication was a sure thing. And it was especially painful because the feedback we got from editors told us that we’d been frustratingly close.

But I gritted my teeth, put the story in a drawer (beside the first one…) and grimly started plodding the path again. This time it was harder to start over. But I reminded myself of Sarah’s words. All right, dammit. I’d persist. I finished another manuscript—my third, if you’re keeping count.

But I kept thinking about my near-miss with the last one. That story had merit, I thought, and I’d never been able to get the characters and the storyline out of my mind.

This was right when the digital publishing world pretty much exploded, and I realized that there were other avenues open to me now if I really wanted to usher my stories into print.

I did a heavy revamp of that rejected manuscript and told Courtney that I’d decided to publish the story myself. At which point she whipped out some persistence of her own: “We came awfully close last time,” she told me. “Will you give me one more crack at it first?” (I’m telling you, every author wants a Courtney Miller-Callihan in her corner.)

And so for an unheard-of second time she shopped it around to publishers—more than a year after our first round of submissions.

And this time…we got the offer. That story became my first published novel, as well as the eponymous first title in my Breakup Doctor series, of which I’m now writing the fourth book.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that The Breakup Doctor is a much better book than it was the first go-around. I needed time to “season” it, as well as to season myself as a writer. And in the intervening time Henery Press, which has turned out to be the perfect home for it, had hit the ground running with a roster full of USA Today bestsellers and award winners, and had created an impressive reputation in the business.

To me, my convoluted journey to publication is not unlike the story of The Breakup Doctor itself—something really, really good came out of what at the time felt like nothing but rejection and heartbreak.

But if at any point I’d given up, or accepted defeat—been less persistent—I never would have gotten any of it—an agent, a publisher, a series contract, nothing.

After I signed a multi-book contract I thought the hardest part was done—and then I got to learn all about promotion, marketing, reaching your readers, and embarked on yet another difficult lesson in persistence.

Over and over again I have found persistence to be the most important trait any writer can have, and I’ve never received better advice.

Persist in writing. Persist in querying. Persist in trying to get published, to market your book, to write another book…and another. There are so many people and reasons ready to convince you that you shouldn’t—you have to be the number one voice always reminding yourself that you should.

You must be the person who always believes in you, who never gives up faith.

Keep moving forward.




Phoebe Fox is an author, a columnist for major media outlets, and a close observer of relationships in the wild. Her latest in the Breakup Doctor series, Heart Conditions, will be released February 2016. You can find her at

Guest Post: Do Readers Cross The Romance/Women’s Fiction Line? By Laura Drake

Thumbnail CoverWhat do my readers want from me? In today’s publishing climate, we’re often afraid to give something new a try, afraid of losing our readers, our followers, our mojo even. Sometimes our publishers are afraid as well, using the word “brand” to help us shape our new books. Staying within genre makes sense, but it’s not always possible. Especially when we have a story we want to tell that falls outside certain industry parameters. (I have a few floating around myself.)

Today we have with us, Laura Drake, multi-published, award-winning, romance author whose first women’s fiction title is releasing today! She wonders if fans of her romance novels will read her women’s fiction. Will the new readers she acquires with this book pop over and give her romance novels a try? Below, Laura shares with us her excitement and her fears for her new journey. She’s also sharing an short excerpt. 

Please welcome Laura Drake to WFW! And tell us what you think, in the comments.

Amy xo

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Guest Post: How Author Sharon Maas Navigated The Pathways Of Publishing

winniecoverHappy New Year! We’re kicking off 2016 with post by multi-published author Sharon Maass, about her publishing journey. Publishing nowadays looks different to everyone. It’s different for everyone. Even authors on the same path encounter different rough patches, different times of great ease (wait, I’m not sure those exist). 

Today, Sharon will share with us her own story. And hip-hip-hooray — it has a happy ending for Sharon that culminates with the release of her latest novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF WINNIE COX. (Here’s another secret: it’s $2.99 for Kindle  and Kobo, and $3.99 for Nook!)

Please share your own journey, or any questions, in the comments.

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Bette Lee Crosby Says “Write Where You Are.”

WHR - Ebook SmallWe’ve all heard it before. Write what you know. I’m not sure that always means what we think (a post for another day) but today, USA Today bestselling author Bette Lee Crosby puts her own spin on things with Write Where You Are. She was unintentionally inspired to write her new book, What the Heart Remembers, Book Three in the Memory House Series during a trip to Paris. 

How do you take advantage of where you are? And when was the last time you were unintentionally inspired?

Please welcome Bette Lee Crosby to WFW!

Amy xo 

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Guest Post: Author Cora Ramos Travels Her Own Path To Inspiration. What’s Yours?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the inspiration for The Good Neighbor, because I now know, from experience, that’s what readers want to know. I’ve realized that this new novel sprung from several seeds, not just one. Today, author Cora Ramos shares with us her inspiring sources of inspiration. 

Please welcome Cora Ramos to WFW and tell us — what was your path to inspiration for one of your books or stories?

Amy xo

What Is The Path To Inspiration?

by Cora Ramos

Dance the Dream AwakeJust as there are plotters and pantsers, and writers who use Scrivener and those that must use pen/pencil and paper, so too we all find inspiration into our stories in different ways. There is no one path nor is it the same for every book. For me, it is through the senses that my work is brought into form; a painting, a song, a smell, the feel of a silk scarf or in the case of my first book, a déjà vu moment when all the sensory details came together in one poignant moment of time that changed me forever.

It started on a trip to the Yucatan, Mexico and a visit to the ruins of a little known complex of pyramids called Coba, most of which are yet to be excavated and restored. In one déjà vu moment, the pyramid came alive and my senses tapped into some reservoir within me that sensed there were certain places I could access in the pyramid. I followed the intuition of the moment and found a room in the center. I felt like I knew things, and smelled the past of a Mayan life there. There were feelings that confused me but when I got home after the trip, it stewed in my brain until one day when I had to quick–write a story for a teacher writing in-service. I remembered that experience and wrote it out.

Soon after, I visited a private writing class that a friend of mine took me to. I wrote out the scene and the teacher encouraged me to keep writing and join her class. Then I had to come up with a story. I wracked my brain for a plot and when it wouldn’t come, I took out paint and paper and did a quick painted a shamanic woman dancing around a fire. The story started to form in my mind and motivated me to start writing even though I had no idea where it would go—yeah a pantser.

That began the long journey of learning how to write while plotting out a story that is now published with Black Opal Books, Dance the Dream Awake. Many of the experiences I had on that journey to Mexico were woven into the story.

My second novel, Haiku Dance, came about in a surprising way. I was writing a sequel to my first book, in the viewpoint of the male character. I have a samurai sword that inspired me to choose a Japanese past life. The paranormal element in my stories is past lives, and this past life would be in Japan, 980 A.D. in the Heian Era. That era is one of the jewels in the history of Japan, marked by the first novels written by women—the pillow books of Japan, The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu, being the most famous.

There is an element of letting go (which is why I can’t be a plotter in the beginning) and feeling your way through to the story to the moment of inspiration. It can come from anywhere but for me it is through the sensory details I seek out wherever I go, or some sensory element remembered in a moment of reverie.

cora head shot 3Cora J. Ramos is an award winning author of short stories of mystery and suspense that straddle the edge-whether that edge is the paranormal, a deadly decision or the place where science ends and magic resides. A collection of her stories can be found in the anthology,Valley Fever, Where Murder is Contagious; stories set in the San Joaquin Valley of California.
She is the author of DANCE THE DREAM AWAKE, a present day romantic suspense with a captivating Mayan past life.
Her newest novel, HAIKU DANCE is awaiting publication this year—a spicy historical romance of a samurai and a courtier in the Emperor’s court of ancient Heian Japan, 980 A.D. at the time when the Tales of Genji, Sarashina Diary and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon were written.

Guest Post: No Mystery At All: NYT Bestselling Mystery Author Juliet Blackwell Writes Great Women’s Fiction

9780451473691 (4)Do we choose what we write? Or does what we write, choose us? It’s kind of like how many licks it takes to get to the middle of a Tootsie Pop. The world may never know. But we do know, that as writers, we think about genre and the kind of story we want to tell. What if that changes? Do you dare genre hop in this publishing climate, make new writer friends, join new groups, learn the new rules?

Today we have with us Juliet Blackwell, esteemed mystery author who has now taken a leap into women’s fiction. Find out why she wrote this book, and maybe more importantly, how.

And yes, we’re (totally door-cover-sisters, I know). 

Please welcome Juliet Blackwell to WFW!

Amy xo

My Mysterious Path to Women’s Fiction (Or how—and why—a New York Times bestselling mystery author decided to turn her hand to women’s fiction)

by Juliet Blackwell

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