Interview with Women’s Fiction Author, Kristina Riggle

Please welcome Kristina Riggle to Women’s Fiction Writers! I first met Kristina on Backspace and then I met Kristina for real at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago when she was part of the Women of the Write panel. It’s always fascinating to hear an author you admire actually SPEAK and find that they are as eloquent aloud as they are in writing.  I’m not sure that’s true of all authors, but it’s true of Kristina.  She has just launched her third novel, Things We Didn’t Say — which is always an accomplishment but seems even more so in this publishing climate. 

Many thanks to Kris for taking time from her “launch season” to be with us today!

Interview with Women’s Fiction Author, Kristina Riggle

ASN: Welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers, Kris! Would you introduce yourself and your book(s) to the readers?

KR: When someone says to me, “Oh, you’re an author? What do you write?” my smart alecky answer is, “I write novels about people with problems.” They usually laugh, and then I explain more carefully that I write character-driven novels with large casts of characters, and then I mention Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler. Not to compare myself in quality (though I try! I strive!) but to provide a touchstone. As for introducing myself, I’m a mom and a recovering journalist who still occasionally freelances for the book page of my local newspaper.

ASN: Congratulations on the release of your third novel, The Things We Didn’t Say.  How is or was it different than launching the first and second books?

KR: I’m answering this on my launch day! I’m a little less giddy, but only about one percent less. It doesn’t ever get old. I’m so excited about my first event in two days. Also, this time around I’m the most plugged in via social media, which has made the launch have much more of a community feel. Today’s very glamorous launch day activities include laundry and staining the deck. Though there is cheap bubbly chilling in the fridge.

ASN: Aspiring novelists (like me!) are always fascinated in how published authors’ ideas evolve and get from the idea stage to the printed page.  Can you describe your process?

KR: Since I had a book deal and a published novel behind me by the time I was generating ideas for this one, I had to keep readers in mind as I thought of ideas. Not because I’m trying to write something formulaic, for the sake of the market, but I had to try to give my readers more of what they have come to think of as “my” type of book, without being repetitive. Not to mention I had to enjoy writing it myself! Luckily my readers don’t expect snakes on a plane or zombies in Regency England, and since I believe in that old Biography show slogan, “Every life has a story,” my idea mill is always churning.

ASN: I was fortunate enough to hear you speak at the Printers Row Lit Fest — can you share with the readers your thoughts on the whole “feminine tosh” comment — and how we might combat that — or better yet — rise above it?

KR: I think joking about it takes some of the steam out of it. I mean really, how seriously can we take such nonsense? (Dare I say, “tosh”?) I have been kidding around that I was going to change my Twitter bio to “writer of feminine tosh” but everyone will have forgotten about all this soon enough and the joke won’t make sense anymore.

On a more serious note, though Naipaul’s comments were shocking in their audacity, he gives voice to something all of us women authors are aware of anyway, that we are starting at a distinct disadvantage in terms of being taken seriously by Certain People and Institutions.

Luckily, my readers, publisher, agent and editor take me plenty seriously, and that’s good enough for me. The rest will come with time, and more smart writing by smart women, of which there is plenty.

ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?

KR: I almost never use the term to people outside the industry because it doesn’t mean very much in the outside world. Women write all kinds of fiction, after all. Literary, detective stories, fantasy, sci-fi. And women read all kinds of fiction, too (I know I do) so it doesn’t make sense interpreted that way, either. That said, I know that in the business we need some kind of shorthand because it makes it easier to talk about books if we can pinpoint the type of book. Hmm. I didn’t answer your question. I’m not sure there is an answer! Like that judge’s definition of obscenity: I know it when I see it.

ASN: What are some of your favorite women’s fiction reads — past, present or even…future?

KR: My literary idols are Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg. I also very much enjoy Allison Winn Scotch, Laura Dave, Julie Buxbaum, Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin, Therese Fowler, Therese Walsh, Katrina Kittle. Becoming a writer — and connecting with writers — has done wonders for introducing me to a lot of terrific books! I literally just started The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and I already love it.

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

KR: A good friend of mine gave me a picture frame shaped like a typewriter, and you were meant to put the photo in the spot where the paper would go into the carriage. She suggested I put an inspirational writing quote in it. At the time I wasn’t published yet. The quote I settled on was this: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” (Richard Bach.) Great advice for women’s fiction, any fiction, or any writing, period.

Kristina Riggle lives and writes in West Michigan. Her debut novel, Real Life & Liars, was a Target “Breakout”pick and a “Great Lakes, Great Reads” selection by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. The Life You’ve Imagined was honored by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” book.

Kristina has published short stories in the Cimarron Review, Literary Mama, Espresso Fiction, and elsewhere, and she works as co-editor for fiction at Literary Mama. Kristina was a full-time newspaper reporter before turning her attention to creative writing. As well as writing, she enjoys reading, yoga, dabbling in (very) amateur musical theatre, and spending lots of time with her husband, two kids and dog.

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