Author Interiew: Barbara Claypole White Shares Writing Advice She Wishes She’d Gotten

White-ThePerfectSon-21053-CV-FT-v4jpgNo one has more insight into the fictional world of a dysfunctional family than my friend, Barbara Claypole White. Her third novel, THE PERFECT SON, like her other novels, explores the impact of mental illness on family dynanics and she does this from the inside out, allowing readers unprecedented access to her characters and their lives.

But today I wanted to talk to Barbara about writing and publishing! So we did! Her road has been long and winding — and look where she is now. THE PERFECT SON already has 500 reviews on Amazon and it launched YESTERDAY! 

Please welcome Barbara Claypole White to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Barbara Claypole White Shares Writing Advice She Wishes She’d Gotten

White-ThePerfectSon-21053-CV-FT-v4jpgAmy: A virtual hug for you, my friend! And huge congratulations THE PERFECT SON, your third (THIRD!) novel. As with your other books, THE PERFECT SON deals with family dynamics and mental illness. But today we’re going to talk about writing and publishing, just to shake it up a bit!

From The Unfinished Garden to The In-between Hour to The Perfect Son, what changes have you seen in publishing and what do you think has effected you the most?

Barbara: I have a limited perspective, but it’s clear that publishing, like other creative industries, is changing rapidly. It used to be relatively simple with New York and a few outliers. Today we have choices that range from self-publishing, to online publishing, to traditional publishing. And no one knows how everything’s going to shake out. There are more choices and there’s more competition in what has become a flooded market. Trying to stand out is harder than ever, and authors are caught in the middle of a technological and economic war in which allegiances between the key players shift constantly.

And the mid-list is, to quote Bob Mayer, getting creamed. A-list authors have the luxury of being treated well by their publishers and getting book tours, a big share of the dwindling promo dollars, etc. One of my friends was even given a New York stylist to help him dress appropriately for his book tour. Most of us in the middle are merely treading water with leaky life vests, trying not to drown as we eek out our pitiful marketing budgets. And sometimes we occupy complicated positions to survive.

I straddle two camps. My new book is with Lake Union, which is an imprint of Amazon Publishing (for the record, I’m a book lover with a well-used Kindle), but I’ve always been committed to supporting independent bookstores. I go to tons of local author events and buy local when I can. But I’m not a fan of black and white thinking, and I never see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys. Come on, people—character development 101.

Fortunately I’m immune to criticism for my move to Amazon. From day one of my career, I’ve experienced publishing prejudice. My first two novels are with MIRA, the literary-commercial imprint of Harlequin. Write relationship stories and stamp the word Harlequin on your cover, and you develop a thick skin overnight. (Several of my early reviews for THE UNFINISHED GARDEN started with, “I would never have picked this up if I’d realized it was a Harlequin.”) Even a family member made snide comments about me being “one of those authors,” and I spent my life explaining to people that despite being with Harlequin, I didn’t write romance.

I was thrilled to start my career with MIRA. They have amazing editors, and I will be forever grateful for everything I learned through my two books with them, but things change and you have to adapt. Now more than ever, adaption is the key to mid-list survival. I enjoy being an Amazon author. I’m treated extremely well, I feel as if I have power and control over my book—and yes, it’s my book and not just a product—and there’s a good chance that for the first time I could make real money doing a job that consumes me and my family seven days a week.

Bottom line, I want to earn a living as a full-time author, and Amazon is my best hope. They understand promotion and can do things for a title’s digital sales that no big publishers can. I saw the power of Amazon last month when THE PERFECT SON was a Kindle First Pick. In the month before my launch date, I sold more copies of the e-book than THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR (print and digital) sold in a year and a half. So go ahead, ask me about life on the Dark Side… J

Amy: How has your writing process changed from book one to book three? And, how has your writing changed?

Barbara: I hope that I’m a better writer, but I’m not sure that my process has changed. I do think that I’ve learned to trust that process more. In other words, I panic less about my deadlines and how the hell I’m going to turn a shitty first draft into a polished story. I’m a very messy writer, and I have to meander through lots of research—mainly one-on-one interviews—lots of colored sticky notes, and an ungodly amount of rewriting. I love what Stephen King says about excavating plot. I think of myself as excavating characters—always tying to dig down to the next emotional level—and that’s how I find the good stuff.

My voice is darkly quirky, and I don’t think that’s changed. Working on craft is, however, ongoing for me, and I do have a better understanding of story structure and pacing than I did when I wrote THE UNFINISHED GARDEN. I even force myself to outline. Shocking, I know, but writing to contract is such a great motivator. I’ve discovered that outlines aren’t scary or restrictive, but they provide a road map that I clearly need. When the clock’s ticking, there’s something reassuring about knowing which direction you’re heading in, even if you decide to take a detour. (I love my detours…) 

Amy: Having a novel published is rewarding, but it’s also really hard work. What’s the hardest part for you? What’s the easiest part? (Are there easy parts?)

Barbara: Writing is hard and bloody, but it’s stitched into my very being. I have to write. Writing is my therapy, my escape, and the way I process the world of mental illness. It has certainly helped me find acceptance with my son’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I don’t think many people realize that mental illness is treatable not curable. And it can be fatal. You can’t just take a pill and hey presto, no more messed-up brain chemistry. Mental illness is ongoing. It demands constant management, and the strain on a family is incredible.

When I can just write, even when the writing’s hard, I’m at peace. But I do struggle with the author life. I always wanted to be a Bronte sister—without the T.B. and the alcoholic brother. You know, that gloriously romantic idea of writing a novel, wrapping it in brown paper, mailing it off to publisher…and then starting the next one. As an author, there’s so much to juggle, and I feel constantly torn in opposing direction, which is tough when you have a high maintenance family.

So I guess the actually writing is the easiest part. But I would never describe writing as easy. I do have a horrible time starting a new manuscript. I’ve never been one of those people who wakes up and says, “Oh, I had this brilliant idea for a story in the middle of the night and the plot came out fully formed.” I try not to think hateful thoughts about those people, because I struggle to find my plots. In fact, I pretty much struggle with everything until the third draft. That’s when the magic begins.

I also find it hard to walk away when a story’s done. I touch on dark stuff, and anything about mental illness is intensely personal for me. It’s almost as if I have to detox before I can move in with a new set of damaged characters. That slows me down and makes me less productive. Fortunately my lovely agent knows this about me!

Amy: Even though we’re here, on my (cough-award-winning-cough) blog, but tell us how you really feel about social media and the role it plays in today’s publishing and writing climate. 

Barbara: Ohhhh. How honest would you like me to be? J It can totally overwhelm you, but I don’t see how you can ignore social media. Personality is a huge part of succeeding in this business, and social media is a wonderful tool for networking with other authors, connecting with readers, and broadening your community. You have to move pretty fast to keep up with it, and I think it’s a mistake to spread yourself too thin. Pick the medium that works for you and do that well. For me it’s Facebook (although I use Twitter for information sharing). I’m considering Instagram, since I take so many photos of my garden, but I don’t have the time or sanity to learn something new right now.

Amy: What’s some writing or publishing advice you wish someone would have given you?

Barbara: Great question. The other day Matthew Quick was talking at my local indie, Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, and he kept stressing the importance of authenticity. We hear so much about creating your author brand, but Matthew was talking about producing art that is authentic. I agree. You have to be true to your writing voice and not worry about those readers who will never get you. I write about dysfunctional families, psycho squirrels, and mental illness, and yes, my characters use the F bomb. That puts me outside a lot of people’s comfort zones. But that’s my comfort zone, my passion. It’s what I want to write about; it’s my niche. The other day, when my agent was reading my proposal for novel four, she laughed and said, “Well, it’s classically BCW,” which I loved. It’s not that I want to keep churning out the same thing again and again, but I’ve found my voice and I have no intention of changing that. You can’t please everyone, but you can please yourself. Write for you and then release it into the world. And know the haters are gonna hate.

barbara-1English born and educated, Barbara Claypole White lives in the North Carolina forest with her family. Inspired by her poet/musician son’s courageous battles against obsessive-compulsive disorder, Barbara writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and The In-Between Hour was chosen by SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. Her third novel, The Perfect Son, launched on July 1st, 2015.

For more information, or to connect with Barbara, please visit barbaraclaypolewhite.com.

Author Interview: Advice From New York Times Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Henry: “Understand Why You Are Telling This Story”

Idea of Love_COVER (1)Did you ever come across someone and there are just so many coincidences you can’t help but acknowledge and celebrate them? Not only was I a reader of Patti Callahan Henry’s books, but then I found out we had the same publisher. And the same editor. And that she was born in Philadelphia, like me. So, how could I resist another opportunity to share Patti with all of you, to celebrate her eleventh novel (ELEVENTH NOVEL OMG OMG OMG), THE IDEA OF LOVE. Today, Patti shares her insight and expertise on finding your story and giving it life, and how she approaches novel-writing. I can’t write a book or a story or an essay without understanding WHY it’s a story I don’t want to tell, but need to tell. At some point my characters take over, it’s their story after all, but hearing this from Patti re-emphasizes that women’s fiction (at least the kind I want to write) comes from a well, and it’s our to reach inside and bring out whatever is there.  Please welcome Patti Callahan Henry back to WFW! 

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Carla Stewart Tells Writers: Don’t Be Afraid To Be Unique

AFlyingAffair_COVERI love interviewing authors for WFW. I think you all know that. Authors like Carla Stewart are the reason why. Today you’ll hear from Carla’s head and her heart on the work and passion of novel writing. A FLYING AFFAIR is her sixth novel. Sixth! I’m in the early stages of novel three and can’t quite think that far ahead, although prolific authors like Carla give me hope that there are readers and a future out there for all of us!

Please welcome Carla Stewart to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Carla Stewart Tells Writers: Don’t Be Afraid To Be Unique

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Author Interview: Anita Hughes Takes Readers To France With An Exotic And Fun Summer Read

FrenchCoast_Final Cover 1.28Today I’m pleased to welcome Anita Hughes back to Women’s Fiction Writers! Her newest novel, FRENCH COAST, whisks you far away without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair. Or bed. Or beach blanket. Anita shares with us how she chose the location for FRENCH COAST, and offers advice on choosing character names when you’ve used your favorites for your children (and Anita has five children)! I’ve known Anita since before our debut novels were published, and she’s as lovely as she is prolific. FRENCH COAST is her fourth novel!

Please welcome Anita to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Author Holly Robinson Talks About Emotion, Mystery, and Names—Oh My!

Haven Lake_FCSometimes you just click with someone, and that’s how it was for me and my friend, author Holly Robinson. I’m not sure even how or when we first connected, likely due to her first novel with NAL, The Wishing Hill, which was published around the same time as The Glass Wives. TODAY, Holly is launching her third novel with NAL, HAVEN LAKE (and has another coming out in the Fall, OMG). The best part of interviewing an author-friend is learning new things about her, her writing, her stories. They’re not usually the kinds of things that come up in casual phone conversations, but they’re the things I want to know and the kinds of interviews I want to share here.

Actually, that’s the best part of interviewing anyone—quenching my own curiosity by getting the answers to MY questions and knowing what, how, and why those answers would be of interest to others. (Hello, Journalism Degree!!)

Holly’s novels are family dramas strewn with emotion and mystery. Family secrets are woven through each one, as well as vivid settings, and character voices that ring clear and true. You’ll see what I mean when you read the interview! 

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Please welcome Holly Robinson back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Author Shelagh Connor Shapiro Says If You Want To Be A Writer, Find Out What Drives You

Shape of the Sky for posters, cardsThere are different kinds of publishers these days, and many ways to find an avenue to have books published if you do the work, persevere, and sometimes, look places you didn’t expect to find a publisher—like right in your own backyard. If you read this blog regularly you know I’m a fan of traditional publishing (in all its forms) and today author Shelagh O’Connor Shapiro shares her journey and success—amidst setbacks and disappointments—with us. I hope her story inspires you to find the path that’s right for you.

Please welcome Shelagh to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Shelagh Connor Shapiro Says If You Want To Be A Writer, Find Out What Drives You

Shape of the Sky for posters, cardsAmy: Can you tell us a little about Shape of the Sky and what sparked the idea for the story?

Shelagh: In 2004, the band Phish announced that they would be taking a break (possibly breaking up altogether), and that they would play a last weekend in the tiny town of Coventry, Vermont. In reading the event’s news coverage, which started months ahead of time, I learned that a farmer near Coventry had decided not to plant crops that year, because he could make more money renting his land for campground space. To be clear: he had done the math and he would make more money in that one weekend—renting his land to campers—than he would otherwise through the entire planting season. This floored me. I wondered what else this concert might bring to a tiny Vermont village. I began to write about a fictional farming couple who decided to make a similar decision. The town of Resolute, Vermont was born, and a series of interconnected storylines began to spin themselves out from that initial idea. My characters included a high school dropout with extraordinary musical talent; his mother, a paralyzed single mom with a secret; the new state trooper who arrives seemingly out of nowhere; a fan in love with a drummer; a rock star who finds himself short on inspiration and questioning his talent. These characters were so real to me by the end; I found myself feeling indebted to that actual farmer in Coventry.

Amy: In our instant gratification world, sometimes it’s good to remember that books (let’s assume) aren’t written overnight. How long did it take you to write Shape of the Sky? What was the process like for finishing the manuscript and getting it ready for publication?

Shelagh: This question made me smile. I am an exacting writer (to a fault, maybe). I do not outline, I do not free write, and I don’t fly through a first draft. Try as I might to become more efficient, my process is what it is, and I took almost five years to write what I decided was the final draft of Shape of the Sky. Thankfully, my editors agreed that it was in pretty good shape by then, and only asked for a few changes after that point. True, these changes included some painful cutting, but I trusted their instincts and was very happy with the end result.

Amy: Your publisher is Wind Ridge Books of Vermont. When authors today are almost spoiled for choice when it comes to publishing options, would you share why this was the best publisher for you? And what was your biggest obstacle to getting published?

Shelagh: Spoiled for choice? I have to admit, I didn’t feel that way. But I wasn’t interested in self-publishing. I wanted a press that could lead me through the thickets and help my manuscript become a book. Since publishing Shape of the Sky, I’ve honed my marketing and publicity skills, and so maybe I’d be more confident to self-publish now, if I wanted to bring a book into the world myself. But as I tried to find a home for my novel, I felt anything but spoiled.

The background on this is that Shape of the Sky was my fourth manuscript in nearly twenty years of writing. It then became my first published novel. With my second book, I did find an agent who put me in touch with two big, well-known publishers. They asked to see revisions before offering a contract. So I did extensive revisions, first for one press, then for another, but they both passed in the end. The agent subsequently left the business, putting me back where I’d started. Devastating, yes. So I started another book.

With Shape of the Sky, a number of agents asked for the full, then kept it for a very long time. Two agents had the book for a full year without reading it. During that time, I met Lin Stone of Wind Ridge Books of Vermont. She asked me if I’d like to submit my novel to her. And so I did. She wanted to publish the book, and then I did in fact feel spoiled, because of the way that this wonderful small press treated me—with respect and gratitude for the work.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle in writing the book had to do with the process I mentioned earlier. As I said, I am a slow writer, and my approach to writing has, in the past, involved a good bit of meandering to find my way. (One of my novels took more than five years to write, and I did not want that to happen again!) With Shape of the Sky, I managed to minimize this issue by finding a structure to keep me grounded. Once I had devised the structure I wanted to work within (which I won’t go into, because it’s a bit complicated for this post, but suffice to say I worked with a musical construct called the “Circle of Fifths”), the book moved forward much more quickly. Writing into structure kept me focused and also resolved certain creative decisions that could otherwise have become impasses. I will never again work without a structure that keeps me focused, excited and shielded from my own impetuousness!

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors in today’s publishing climate?

Shelagh: If you love writing, and if you are able to write, do it. If you want to “be a writer,” first decide what is driving you. Money? Fortune? Fame? Admiration? All great motivators, but pointless if writing does not bring you joy or some sense of discovery and purpose. If, however, writing is how you make sense of the world, and you’ll be doing it with or without a book contract, then don’t lose faith if your ideal publishing experience eludes you. For the most part, unless you’re incredibly lucky, only perseverance and hard work allows you to succeed as a writer. Think of the journey as a kind of koan, a “paradox to be meditated upon … used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment.” (www.merriam-webster.com) If you embrace the paradox, and focus on your writing, you’ll survive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShelagh Connor Shapiro’s novel, Shape of the Sky, was published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont in September 2014. Her stories have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, The Baltimore Review, Short Story, Gulf Stream and others. Her story “somewhere never gladly” was nominated in 2014 for a Pushcart Prize, having been included in Please Do Not Remove, a collection of stories and poems inspired by old Vermont library cards. She has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a contributing editor for the Vermont literary journal Hunger Mountain. Her radio show, Write the Book, which features interviews with authors, poets, illustrators, agents, and editors, is heard weekly on 105.9 FM “The Radiator;” archived podcasts can be found on iTunes and at writethebook.podbean.com Shelagh lives in South Burlington, Vermont with her husband, Jerry. Sons Bennett, Connor, and Aaron are all grown up and scattered about the country, but luckily they still come around from time to time.

Author, Shape of the Sky
Host, Write the Book Radio Show & Podcast
Website: shelaughswithoutus.com