My online friend Lynda Rutledge’s debut novel FAITH BASS DARLING’S LAST GARAGE SALE launches today and she’s here with us to celebrate — and wouldn’t you know — it’s her book’s birthday and she’s the one giving away virtual goody bags filled with amazing insights on writing and tidbits of her (and Faith’s) story. I just love the cover – don’t you?
Please pass me a party hat and welcome Lynda to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Amy xo (Hey, it’s the 120th WFW post. Something else to celebrate!)
Debut Author Lynda Rutledge Lets Ideas Simmer And Says A Good One Is Worth The Wait
Amy: Happy Book Birthday, Lynda! Today is the day Faith Darling is born — or more precisely — today is the day FAITH BASS DARLING’S LAST GARAGE SALE — your debut novel is born! Can you give us a peek into the premise of the book?
Lynda: I would LOVE to (Clearing throat…): On millennium New Year’s Eve, the reclusive richest old lady in tiny Bass, Texas—Faith Bass Darling—hears the voice of God tell her to have a garage sale of all her mansion’s incredibly expensive worldly possessions, because she believes it to be the last day of her life. As the townspeople grab up the family’s heirlooms for pennies and those close to Faith hustle to try to stop it, chaos ensues, of course. And the antiques of five generations of Faith’s founding family—a Civil War dragoon, a wedding ring, a French relic clock, a family bible, a roll-top desk, among others—begin to reveal their own roles in the family saga. Before Y2k midnight fireworks, almost everybody will be forced to think about some of life’s deepest questions, such as: Do our possessions possess us? Who are we without our memories? Is there life after death or second chances on earth? And, most important of all, is Faith Bass Darling REALLY selling an authentic Louis Comfort Tiffany Lamp for a $1?
Amy: Faith Bass Darling has a revelation from God ,and then has a yard sale. Did Faith and Bass, Texas come to you in a revelation? How did this story and its characters evolve?
Lynda: I wish it were as simple as a revelation. I often say that a writer doesn’t have an idea, an idea has the writer. It’s all rather mystical, if you ask me, but therein lies the allure, right? But this one’s been poking around in my head for years. I think the germ came from what you’d expect—a garage sale. My mom, who lived in a rambling old two-story house busting with stuff that five kids left behind, started having garage sales a few years after the last of us finished college. I found this out, living thousands of miles away by that time in Chicago, when she called to tell me she’d sold my well-thumbed stash of Superman comic books I left in the back of one of the house’s closets. (My dad owned a drugstore so I had hundreds.) She told me she’s sold them for a dime apiece, and asked if I wanted the money. “No, no, keep it, Mom,” I told her, but I remember feeling weirdly sad. I hadn’t thought about those comics in years, and now I felt sad? I laughed at myself. Why was I so attached to those old things? I didn’t quite know. (Of course, I soon heard about the first Superman comic book selling for a million dollars, and I was REALLY sad!) Then, about the same time, I began watching PBS’ Antiques Roadshow and after hearing dozens of spotlight stories of garage sale-found treasures, and I began to think not just of their value, but of their history and the meaning we imbue them with. And the ah-ha bolt of lightning struck: What if our antiques could talk? What if a town’s citizens were offered antiques for garage sale prices? What would make something like that happen? And that led to thoughts of what we can’t take with us, and what we truly want to leave behind. And I was suddenly off and writing.
Amy: What was the idea process like for you? Do you plan and outline or just wing it?
Lynda: Both. I know that sounds all mystical again, but it’s the truth: The idea itself sort of simmers, and I let it decide if it’s a keeper by whether it sticks around, that is whether my mind wanders back to it. I notice it will pop to the front of my mind during those times I need something to think about in order not to go nuts, such as waiting in line at the DMV or stuck in traffic. When that happens, my mind plays around with creating a world for the idea to live in. And if that lasts, this being all very passive (I try to get out of my own way), then I notice that characters emerge and begin to talk to each other, and that’s when I find a napkin or paper scrap to write down something/anything.
Then, if I feel my napkin scribbles are keepers, I open a file and put a heading at the top (i.e. Garage Sale Idea), and then begin to write down what these characters are saying to each other capturing characterization a little. If I like their conversations even a little bit, then I begin to think about a possible opening. And then I begin to think about a possible ending. And if both of those come together, that’s when I get a little creative thrill. Because I realize that if I have a beginning and an ending then the middle will come, being aware that everything will probably change. It’s all just a way to start. So, see? I wing it, until the idea sprouts legs and decides to walk around. Whew, is that a right brain answer or what?
Amy: I know your journey to publication has been long — but HERE YOU ARE!!! Can you share a little with us about your road to today?
Lynda: Oh, geez, it will only depress you…or maybe it will inspire you. So let’s try it: I just wrote a guest article for another writer friend for her blog “1st Books” entitled “The Time I Broke Up with Fiction” that explains this painful but all-too-typical writer’s experience in detail. Here is the short and less lyrical version: I was a fulltime freelance journalist, writing nonfiction, but I harbored literary pretensions. (I blame that undergrad literature degree.) So while I wrote nonfiction mostly for money, I wrote what ultimately were “practice” novels for love. The flirtation went on and on, residencies and awards kept my heart a’flutter. Until one day I’d had it. Into a drawer the last one went. A decade later, though, I began to re-imagine that last idea, or, rather, that idea began to stalk me. It would not let me go. It was an idea about a garage sale. And I began to ask more than just a good time from it; I began to see it as a conceit that could be used to tell a meaningful tale. And all that practicing finally paid off. Those pesky literary pretensions seduced me once again, and voila! Of course, as your writer readers may have heard, it’s not over when it’s sold. There are revisions, and then months of editing and copywriting and blurb-soliciting, and even when it’s all finished, it is then positioned for publication which may be months more waiting—all, of course, for the novel’s good. From manuscript to acceptance, my wait was about 20 months. A bookseller I know who meets writers regularly said the wait’s usually even longer from what she’s been told. But like all good relationships, all that waiting is easily forgiven once the fun begins.
Amy: Your novel deals with serious subjects, yet does so with humor. I love that in a book because it strikes a balance for me. How did you balance those elements of your storytelling?
Lynda: I don’t think I quite meant to; it’s just the way I view and cope with life. Early on, I found that dealing with life is easier with a sense of the absurd than without one. So the balance is really in my worldview. And that has played out in my fiction, but it may have also held it back too, honestly. For a very, very long time, I could not resist a good one-liner, and if one is good, surely a dozen are even better. That often doesn’t work on the page (unless, of course, you’re writing sitcom scripts). So I learned to reign it in for my fiction, to make humor be in the service of the truth, since I now, more than not, seem to stray into the land of deep meaning. This confuses some people, but it’s usually people who aren’t quite in touch with that same life-coping mechanism. But I believe seeing the absurd in the world and being able to laugh about it even as we want to cry about it is what keeps me sane and healthy through whatever life throws at me next.
But, you may ask, why not just stay with humor for publication and ditch the deep meaning? While I’m not sure I agree with the famous quote by Socrates about the unexamined life not being worth living (after all, my dog seems to enjoy his life very much and he’s never given a second to the meaning of life), I do believe that a bit of examining helps us understand our place in the world, and offers us something in the examining. Same goes for humor. A little bit goes a long way in quality fiction. I find that if you make someone laugh, whatever you say next is probably going to be taken more seriously (which sounds like an oxymoron, but why else do speakers start off with a joke?) I often quip that Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale is about death, God, and antiques, and not necessary in that order. It’s meant to be a joke but also mean to say, hey trust me, let’s tiptoe through some of life’s biggest mine fields together.
Amy: Your novel has male and female main characters and deals with universal issues — who do you see as your main audience?
Lynda: Well, I don’t really ask that question since the novel can be read on many levels. After all, I read every type of writing myself and I can empathize with both male and female characters in all of them. That, to me, is the mark of quality fiction. Amy Einhorn, my publisher/editor is known for choosing books that, as she puts it, are in the sweet spot between commercial and literary. I think that is true for Faith Bass Darling’s Last Sale. When it comes to characters and issues, as a teacher of writing I say never forget your audience, but don’t limit yourself, either. My novel is heavy with women, all sorts of women, and I mean ALL sorts. (After all, we are at a garage sale) But it also offers strong and weak men who are hugely important in the plot’s development, and they are deeply three-dimensional, I hope, because we live in a world that’s made up of both sexes. And we live in a world that is made up of universal issues that affect us all, no matter what sex we are. We are swimming in them all, always. Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale is about both relationships and ideas, so in that sense it speaks broadly to any human who has both…and that’s all of us, right? So my main audience is anyone wanting a good read that makes them laugh, maybe cry, but more than anything think, long after the book’s ended–hopefully with a satisfied, knowing smile on his/her face.
Amy: I know the moniker “women’s fiction” is shunned by some, but to me, the label has breadth and depth and is really only the tip of a literary iceberg. What is your definition of women’s fiction?
Lynda: If I understand the “labels,” correctly, there’s a certain type of book, slanted solely to women, focusing on relationships or problems, that might be called women’s fiction with the expectation that men won’t like it, although how do they really know? I am a deeply eclectic reader. I might read a book on mountain climbing by Jon Krakeuer, which seems very male, so who’s to say there isn’t a man out there somewhere reading something that seems very male? But if I happened to love that certain type of writing and reading tagged “women’s fiction” above all others, then I’d say it loud and say it proud—as you just did. So, back to the original question: My personal definition of women’s fiction is anything that appeals to a woman just as my personal definition of men’s fiction is anything that appeals to men. But I’d much prefer if we’d all just decide on our own. Pick up any book anywhere. Read the first page. Does it hook you? Well, then read on before someone mentions its “category.”
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Lynda: Write what’s in your heart and your ear, but think broadly about your audience. And then get prepared to change it all. It’s called revision, and the truth is, learning to love revision is what separates the wannabes from the on-my-way-to-beings. Be prepared to put some years into honing your craft. Watch yourself mature as a writer and a thinker, and let yourself do both. Write your practice novels. Don’t rush to publish. Oh, and don’t foist your work on friends (unless they own publishing companies or literary agencies). They love you; you want them to continue to love you. A person can only be a “first reader” once, so save that moment for when it truly counts. Do send out your work to agents in batches of 5 or so for feedback which you’ll take and use to revise…and grow. After that? Consider it all a journey; like any good trip you will learn along the way, especially if you try new routes. And if anybody had told me all that when I first began messing with words as a kid, I’d have taken that job at Burger King and forgotten the whole thing, being the impatient thing I am. But my stubborn side won out over that impatient young writer who wanted it all and wanted it now. And I’m so glad it did. I hope yours does, too.
Lynda Rutledge has petted baby rhinos, snorkeled with endangered turtles, and dodged hurricanes as a freelance journalist, while wiinng award for her fiction. She and her husband live outside Austin. This is her debut novel.