Author Interview: Sonja Yoerg Shares Tips For Kicking Out Your Writer Doubt

Middle of Somewhere cover (1)How thrilled I am to bring Sonja Yoerg back to Women’s Fiction Writers! Over the past year I’ve gotten to know Sonja as we’re both members of Tall Poppy Writers (check out Tall Poppy Writer here). Sonja is wicked smart, a devoted friend, and real adventurer! Oh — and how could I forget? She writes a kick ass novel! 

You’ll not only learn about Sonja’s real and writerly journeys below, but get some great tips on kicking writer doubt out of your day!

Please welcome Sonja Yoerg back to WFW!

Amy xo

Sonja Yoerg Shares Tips For Kicking Out Your Writer Doubt

Middle of Somewhere cover (1)Amy: Congratulations on the release of THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, your second novel! Without any spoilers, what was one of your favorite scenes to write, and did it come easily or did you REALLY have to work for it?

Sonja: Thanks, Amy! I’m delighted to be here to chat with you again.

The main character, Liz, has two phone conversations with her absentee father, Russ. During one, she invites him to her wedding. He has another family Liz has never met, and he makes little effort to stay in her life. He’s not sure how old she is and didn’t realize she had finished college. Liz is fiercely independent, tragically so, and is used to her father’s selfishness and disinterest. But being used to something is not the same as being unaffected by it, and although Liz makes quips during the conversation, and takes Russ’s alarming callousness in stride, her frustration and sense of loss is there, underneath her words.

It was a fun scene to write, because Russ is a jerk and Liz is sharp and witty, and an emotional scene, too, because of the undercurrent of pain. Russ and Liz talk on the phone again near the end of the story, so I got to do it again, except, of course, Liz had now changed. If you hadn’t read the whole book, the two conversations might sound the same, even though what’s going on in them is very different. This sort of phenomenon is what fascinates me about writing, and reading.

Amy: How much, if any, of TMOS is based on your own experiences? And if it is, how did you parlay those truths into fiction?

Sonja: The day after our youngest daughter left for college, my husband and I set off on the John Muir Trail, a 220-mile trek through the California Sierra, beginning in Yosemite Valley and ending on the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. What a fantastic time we had! Just the two of us, with everything we needed on our backs, walking through the wilderness for eighteen days. At some point during the hike, I realized what a rich setting the trail would make, and began to develop the basis for the story. The idea for my debut began with a character, but this book began with a place.

My husband and I kept a journal on the trip, taking turns each evening to write about the day’s events. Exhausted from the strenuous hiking, we struggled to stay awake to complete the task! I used details from the journal in the novel and also relied heavily on my husband’s photographs—800 of them—to remind me of the landscape, the weather, the footing, the atmosphere. The story is as true to the actual John Muir Trail as I could manage; no mountains or rivers were relocated for convenience. I’m not sure why I insisted on this; perhaps out of respect for the journey we made.

Most of the John Muir Trail is remote and not heavily travelled. There are strict quotas for the number of hikers. But because the high passes are about a day’s walk apart, hikers tend to congregate at whichever lake is just shy of the pass, with the intention of tackling the climb in the morning when their legs are rested. As a consequence, we encountered the same people again and again, and welcomed their company. But it occurred to me how difficult it would be to get away from someone whose company you did not want. That idea became the main subplot in Middle of Somewhere. The wilderness may be vast but, as one of the characters says, “the trail is just a skinny little thing.” *cue creepy music*

Amy: What’s the hardest part of novel writing for you — and how do you get around it (or knock it down)?

Sonja: The hardest part? Dealing with doubt. There are days I cannot fathom why I ever thought I could write, when I question not only my ability, but my sanity. What was I thinking? The words swim on the page and I cannot make sense of the character, the scene, the plot, the entire first half of the damn book. I cannot make sense of me, because I was the one who thought I could do this. I even signed a contract saying I could, which in those moments feels more like a contract that has been taken out on someone—me.

How do I locate my bootstraps? I read something I’ve written that doesn’t stink. I pick a scene from a brighter day, or from a different work entirely. It doesn’t have to be writing that sold. It can be a favorite blog post, or a random scene scribbled in a notebook. It can be anything, as long as it helps push the monkey off my back. I read it and think, “Hmm. That’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read. Maybe I’ll look at what I wrote yesterday and see how it goes.”

Another trick I have is to play with mechanics. I’ll search for “that,” and see how many I can get rid of, or read a random chapter out loud to catch echoes. In doing this, I end up reading a passage that reads okay but needs tweaking. I’m a writer again.

Amy: Voice is a topic writers love to discuss, and it’s often accompanied by “how do I find mine?” Any tips for writers who are still “finding their voice?”

Sonja: I doubt there are tricks to finding voice. In my view, voice is the by-product of confidence. When I read the first few pages of a book, I either get the feeling I am in very good hands, or I don’t. For some writers, voice comes naturally. For the rest, I suspect that the best way to gain the confidence that engenders strong voice is to write more. Studying voice probably won’t help because it’s not a matter of technique. It’s more a case of getting out of your own way, and examining what you are doing will interfere with that. But, really, I’m just guessing here. I never studied writing so it could just be my bias.

Amy: The more writers I meet, the more I learn how people have different ways of deciding what to write about. How do you decide that a story is worthy of your time and energy?

Sonja: I’d love to hear about how other writers pick their stories, Amy. So far, the idea for the next book gels in my mind around the time I finish the previous one. My ideas are like puzzles to me. How can I make this more interesting for me to write? That’s what keeps me motivated and I hope it’s also what keeps the reader locked into the story. In a way, it’s more of a challenge for me to take a simple idea and build the complexity into it as I go. I suspect most writers work like that. So, I believe my answer is that it’s up to me to make the story worthy of my time and energy; that’s my goal as a writer.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring author of women’s fiction?

Sonja: Read outside your genre. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with women’s fiction—it’s what I write—but there’s much to be learned from reading broadly. Try some science fiction and fantasy, some thrillers and mysteries, biographies and travel writing. Go back and rediscover the stuff you had to read in high school, and a few favorites from your childhood. You don’t have to study other books; reading them will suffice. You’ll absorb the lessons subconsciously and knowledge will appear, without direct invitation, in your writing.

Thanks so much for having me here, Amy. I can’t wait until THE GOOD NEIGHBOR comes out next month. Best of luck with it!

Sonja Yoerg headshot 4Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and published a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Her novels, House Broken (January 2015) and Middle of Somewhere (September 2015) are published by Penguin/NAL. Sonja lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Author Interview: Three Questions For Author Lorrie Thomson Who Explores Writing & Inspiration For Her Third Novel

A Measure of Happiness_TPI’m such a rebel. Not really. But today I am sharing something a little different with you, my WFW friends. In celebration of the release of Lorrie Thomson’s third novel, A Measure of Happiness, I’ve asked her THREE things I was very curious about. When I interview any author I ask questions I really want the answers to, figuring if it’s interesting to me, it might be interesting to all of you too.

Since I’ve read all Lorrie’s books and have interviewed her before, I wanted to dig deeper — a theme of writing women’s fiction, right? So today Lorrie shares with us real insights into how and why she wrote this story, which takes a character from her second novel, What’s Left Behind, and makes her the focus. 

Please welcome Lorrie back to WFW and enjoy everything she shares with us today!

Amy xo

Three Questions For Author Lorrie Thomson Who Explores Writing & Inspiration For Her Third Novel 

A Measure of Happiness_TPAmy: I’d love to know more about plucking a character from one novel and placing her into the spotlight in another, without the book being a prequel or sequel.

Lorrie: Thanks so much, Amy, for asking me back to Women’s Fiction Writers to discuss A Measure of Happiness!

In A Measure of Happiness, small-town baker Katherine Lamontagne has spent the last twenty-four years giving out cakes and comfort to the citizens of Hidden Harbor, Maine, and keeping the secret of the son she gave away to herself. Until that son comes looking for her, making her reconsider her life and the meaning of family.

This is the first time I’ve returned to a story location and written a novel that contains characters from a previous work. But, even though A Measure of Happiness takes place fifteen years before What’s Left Behind, it’s not considered a prequel. The books are stand-alone novels. And although you’ll likely remember Abby Stone’s best friend, Celeste Barnes, from What’s Left Behind, this is the first time you’re privy to her point of view.

I adore A Measure of Happiness, and I’m so excited to share it with you. But if it weren’t for my agent and editor, I might never have imagined this story. You see, when I passed in the partial manuscript for What’s Left Behind, my agent, Jessica, suggested I come up with an additional story idea. Could I perhaps feature one of the characters from What’s Left Behind? Was there someone from that story I wanted to get to know better?

Celeste, with her fierce loyalty to Abby and her snarky mouth, was the first person who came to mind. In fact, I enjoyed Celeste so much that originally in A Measure of Happiness, hers was the first voice you heard. That’s where my editor came in. While Celeste is a fascinating character with personality to spare, secrets, and lessons to learn, she’s only twenty-two years old. For that reason, during a phone conversation with my editor, Peter, to discuss opening scenes, Peter shared his concern that A Measure of Happiness might be considered NA, New Adult. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll start over.” To that Peter replied, “Don’t start over. Just flip the scenes so that Katherine’s point of view comes first.”

I flipped the scenes.

I’m really glad that I took Peter’s advice. Because even though I’d spent a lot of time thinking about Celeste, her issues, and her back story, I hadn’t yet fully considered Katherine. Luckily, when I asked Katherine nicely, she was more than willing to share her secrets with me, too. She told me about the son she gave away for adoption, and the way that one event had shaped her life. She told me the real reasons she’d divorced Barry, a man she so obviously still loved. And she told me about the ghost from her past, the legacy of shame from a childhood that haunted her.

In A Measure of Happiness, Katherine isn’t the only character with secrets and shame. We all walk around with voices in our heads. Sadly, those voices often tend toward the negative, and Celeste’s inner monologue is no exception. For Celeste these voices, also known as the not-so-nice lies we tell ourselves, lead her to seek relief that’s neither healthy nor uplifting. Yet through it all, she keeps her signature snark and sense of humor.

In addition to Katherine and Celeste, you’ll get to know Zach Fitzgerald, a newcomer to Hidden Harbor, Maine. Just weeks after Zach’s mother kicks him out of the house—she has her reasons—Zach eats his way through two dozen Casco Bay bakeries, wanders into Lamontagne’s, and changes the course of both women’s lives. But make no mistake, in the end, each character finds his or her own way of making peace with the past.

Amy: So did your thoughts change about the town and characters as you wrote this new novel and ostensibly learned the backstory? 

Lorrie: I had great fun going back to Hidden Harbor, Maine, and the events and relationships alluded to in What’s Left Behind. In What’s Left Behind, Celeste is married with two children, and the hardworking owner of a bakery called Sugarcoated. In A Measure of Happiness, she’s young, single, and a long-time employee of Lamontagne’s. Yet same as in What’s Left Behind, one of the most important relationships in her life is with her best friend, Abby Stone. Their conflict comes from Abby’s on-gain, off-again romance with boyfriend Charlie Connors and Celeste’s instinct to protect Abby. In A Measure of Happiness, Celeste is also protective towards Abby’s three-year-old son, Luke. Yes, I had the bittersweet responsibility of bringing Abby and Charlie’s son back to life: the teenager who dies before the opening pages in What’s Left Behind. It should come as no surprise that in A Measure of Happiness, little Luke is quite a flirt.

Amy: Next, I asked Lorrie to share places that inspired A Measure of Happiness and she answered with both words and pictures!

1. Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine, where a pivotal scene takes place.

2. View from Fox Island to the Atlantic Ocean. During low tide at Popham Beach, the seas part and you can walk out to Fox Island. But don’t linger too long!

2. View from Fox Island to the Atlantic Ocean. During low tide at Popham Beach, the seas part and you can walk out to Fox Island. But don’t linger too long!

3. View of the Morse Tidal River in Phippsburg, Maine, from the real-life 1877 House. The house and its view inspired the home in Hidden Harbor where Katherine and her ex-husband, Barry, once lived—and where Barry now lives alone.

3. View of the Morse Tidal River in Phippsburg, Maine, from the real-life 1877 House. The house and its view inspired the home in Hidden Harbor where Katherine and her ex-husband, Barry, once lived—and where Barry now lives alone.

4.      Barry’s back porch. Strange, but it wasn’t until I read through proofs that I realized I’d even included the 1877 House’s green metal chairs.

4.      Barry’s back porch. Strange, but it wasn’t until I read through proofs that I realized I’d even included the 1877 House’s green metal chairs.

Lorrie Thomson (1)Lorrie Thomson lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their children. When she’s not reading, writing, or hunting for collectibles, her family lets her tag along for camping adventures, daylong paddles, and hikes up 4,000 footers.

Visit Lorrie at her website. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Author Interview: Colleen Oakley Shares Her Hardest Scene And Straightforward Advice For Writers

Before I Go paperbackToday we’re celebrating the paperback launch of Colleen Oakley’s BEFORE I GO. And before I go on — let me tell you that Colleen has four (coughFOURcough) little kids. And by little I mean two of them are twins. And they’re babies. So when you say or hear someone say (and by say I mean whine) “I don’t have time to write,” tell them about Colleen. Tell them you (and she) have the same 24 hour days that they do. Then tell them to read BEFORE I GO to see what can be accomplished.

Below you’ll learn about a paperback vs. a hardcover launch, Colleen’s favorite and hardest scene to write, and her straightforward advice for writers. 

Please welcome Colleen to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Colleen Oakley Shares What Readers Have Taught Her About Her Own Book 

Continue reading

Author Interview: Kelli Estes Talks About Her Debut Novel: The Girl Who Wrote In Silk

TGWWISFinalCoverAfter emailing and interviewing debut author Kelli Estes, I’m confident in saying, YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE HER. The description of her book will give you the chills, her publishing journey will inspire you, and her advice will ring true. 

At least that’s what happened to me!

Please welcome Kelli Estes to WFW!

Amy xo

Debut Author Kelli Estes Talks About Her Debut Novel: The Girls Who Wrote In Silk


Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading