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 Patti Callahan Henry Doesn’t Think About Labels, She Focuses On Her Stories And The Craft Of Writing

How was I lucky enough to read an advance copy of AND THEN I FOUND YOU by Patti Callahan Henry? We share an editor—the wonderful Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s! And then, as luck would also have it, not only did Patti write a work of fiction laden with truths that hit all the right notes for me—family history, a little romance, a hopeful ending—but she is a very kind and generous author. Our paths and lives have criss-crossed without us knowing, which is what I like to think of as more than a coincidence— perhaps a wink or  reminder from the universe that there are always new wonderful people (and new books) right around the corner. And maybe they’re not completely new after all.  It’s inspirational for me to get to know an author who has NINE published novels to her name. Did you read that? NINE!  One of the best parts of this blog is that we get to learn from others. You’ll learn a lot about writing, women’s fiction, and what Patti thinks of labels, below. 

Please welcome Patti Callahan Henry to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Patti Callahan Henry Doesn’t Think About Labels, She Focuses On Her Stories And The Craft Of Writing

Amy:  Congratulations, Patti! Today is publication day for AND THEN I FOUND YOU, your NINTH novel! I read an advance copy of your book, as well as posts and your essay, written with your sister, about the origin of this novel, which is based in truth.  It’s about a woman who is found on Facebook by the daughter she placed for adoption.  Did you have any qualms about bringing real life into your fiction in such an intimate way?

Patti: Thanks, Amy! Pub day is always exciting no matter how many times we have one. This book was the most personal I’ve ever written, and yes, I had many qualms about writing it. But in the end, it has been the most satisfying journey. I started trying to write the True (with a capital T) story and found it nearly impossible. It was my sister’s intimate story to tell. So what I did was sit down with my sister and tell her how the novel wasn’t working, how I thought she needed to write it as a memoir. And together we decided that what I would do was take the emotional truths of the story, the synchronicities and the reunion, but change the names, states, ages and facts. After that discussion, I started over. And as a novelist, Amy, you know how hard it is to begin-again just when you think you’ve finished. But begin-again I did. And then thirteen-year-old Katie fell in love with Jack on the first day of spring and the novel started there….

Amy:  The idea of writing nine novels, for me, is not only exciting, but daunting.  How does it make you feel? Did you know when you wrote your first book that you’d be prolific?

Patti: No! I had no idea I would take my story/book/reading obsession this far! I had a goal: to write a novel. And when that goal was accomplished, and the novel wasn’t published, I decided to try again. After my first novel (but the second book I wrote) was published, I understood that I wouldn’t stop writing. I had no idea if I would keep being published, but the writing would continue. It still does. I know I won’t stop. I can’t.

Amy: Is there a particular character or characters from any of your novels that hold an extra special place in your heart and memory?

Patti: They are all like family, which sounds hokey, but isn’t. For varied reasons, some characters won’t leave me alone. Amy and Nick Lowry in Losing the Moon seem to be a fan favorite and people write to me about them, and I often wonder how they are doing! Catherine in Between The Tides comes to mind because she was right next to me for the seven years it took to write, rewrite and mend that book (this was the first book I wrote, but the fourth published). But my main character, Katie, in And Then I Found You has settled herself directly in the middle of my heart. Her bravery and kindness far surpass my own qualities and I adore her.

Amy: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Patti: I don’t have a title. Or let me rephrase that—I have about sixteen titles for the new work. It is about a woman (artist, wife and mother) who must find the truth between two stories about the same event in a single night….

Amy: The term “women’s fiction” comes up against a lot opposition, of and its writers can take a lot of slack. What’s your definition of women’s fiction, and does that label bother you?

Patti: I mostly don’t think about these labels, but focus on my stories and the craft of writing. I don’t look under “category” when choosing my reading or even my own writing subject. I choose a book when the storyline sounds interesting, no matter the genre. But if I must define “women’s fiction” I would say that it is a genre with a “female protagonist who must make choices in her life that will forever alter her life.” In my novels, those choices are emotional, internal and come with great struggle. For me, love is an integral part of every story, and not just romantic love, but sister, child, best friend, etc…  I have no idea if this definition is accurate, but it works for me. The label, whatever it is, doesn’t bother me. I write to tell a story, not find a “good enough” label.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction? (Or, let’s say, for about-to-be-published authors of women’s fiction?)

Patti: My advice for aspiring authors of any kind is always the same: Read. Write. Read. Write. Take classes on story structure, writing and publishing. Read On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Read all genres. Write every day. Read. Write. Go to writing conferences. Meet authors and editors and agents. Follow authors, editors and agents on twitter and Facebook. Read. Write. Read. Write. Go to author readings and ask questions. Read. Write. Read. Write.

Amy, it is so fun talking to you. And I so look forward to your new novel THE GLASS WIVES.

All Best

Patti Callahan Henry

New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published nine novels: Losing the MoonWhere the River RunsWhen Light Breaks,Between the TidesThe Art of Keeping SecretsDriftwood SummerThe Perfect Love SongComing up for Air and the upcoming And Then I FoundYou—which will be released by St. Martin’s Press in April 2013. Hailed as a fresh new voice in southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year. Her work is published in five languages and in audiobook by Brilliance Audio.

Henry has appeared in numerous magazines including Good Housekeeping, skirt! magazine, South magazine, and Southern Living. Two of her novels were Okra Picks and Coming up For Air was selected for the August 2011 Indie Next List. She is a frequent speaker at fundraisers, library events and book festivals. A full time writer, wife, and mother of three—Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Patti Callahan Henry grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. With the idea that being a novelist was “unrealistic,” she set her sights on becoming a pediatric nurse, graduating from Auburn University with a degree in nursing, and from Georgia State with a Master’s degree in Child Health. She left nursing to raise her first child, Meagan, and not long after having her third child, Rusk, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Henry wrote early in the mornings, before her children woke for the day, but it wasn’t until Meagan, then six, told her mother that she wanted “to be a writer of books” when she grew up, that Henry realized that writing was her own dream as well. She began taking writing classes at Emory University, attending weekend writers’ conferences, and educating herself about the publishing industry, rising at 4:30 AM to write. Her first book, Losing the Moon, was published in 2004.

You can find Patti on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

What Happens When Authors Attempt A Vlog? Bloopers!

Remember Samantha Hoffman and her book WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR?  Well, when it gets a little closer to her August 7th publication date, I’ll post a vlog — a video blog — with me and Sam talking about her book and publishing.  As you will be able to tell, we worked very hard on the video.  A vlog is serious business, folks.  No, really.  Serious business that required dinner and two glasses of wine at its completion.

So, to whet your appetite, here’s a minute of the best outtakes.  Sam and I have been laughing over these for a few days, so we thought it was time to share.  No one ever told me bloopers were part of publishing a book, but apparently, they are!  Lucky us!

To read my review of Sam’s book, click here. But don’t just take my word for it!

“Everything old is new again – especially in matters of the heart. Samantha Hoffman vividly renders a tale of angst, terror and triumph inherent in the process of finding true love, no matter the age. Hoffman reminds us all that it’s as hard to let go of love as it is to put down this rich gem of a modern-day Cinderella tale.” –Cathie Beck, author of Cheap Cabernet

“What More Could You Wish For is a book you won’t want to put down. It is heart-felt, funny, sad and poignant – a delightful tale. Highly recommended.” –Marilyn Heyman, Romance Reviews Today

To pre-order WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR, click here.

What More Could You Wish For Than An Author-Friend Who Wrote Fabulous Women’s Fiction? Irony And A Book Review!

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One of the best parts of being an author is knowing, and in some cases being friends with, the people who are actually writing books that are being published.  I would also say that one of the strangest things about being an author is knowing, and sometimes being friends with, the people who are actually writing books that are being published.

I can go crazy trying to decide which books to read.  While I make it a point to read my closest author-friend’s books, I can’t read every book of every author I’ve connected with or even know in real life.  I do buy most of the books, and share the information I know, and add each one to my growing TBR list and pile.

But when your friend sends you an ARC (Advance Reading Copy, sometimes known as a Galley), and you know you’re going to feature her on Women’s Fiction Writers on her launch day (August 7th) — you cross your fingers while you crack the spine and simply pray you like it.

And my prayers were answered when I read WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR by Samantha Hoffman — fellow Chicagoan, St. Martin’s author, and Brenda Copeland-ite.

I met Samantha Hoffman because we share a publisher and an editor and then learned also share a love of Chicago, good wine, and good food (do not take these similarities for granted).  And lucky for me – and everyone else – these are some of the things showcased in her soon-to-be-released novel. And while I’m not in the habit of reviewing books per se, I just couldn’t wait to type the praises of Samantha’s book.

I didn’t know what to expect.  When I get a book – and I apologize to everyone who has ever written jacket or backcover copy (eh hem, me, and my editor, last week, eh hem) I rarely read it.  I pick up a book or I download the sample and I dive in. I usually have no clue what it’s about and have taken the word of a friend or been lured by delicate, whimsical or striking cover art.  Crafy titles can grab me as well.  And WMCYWF has it all.

I’d say that Sam’s book falls neatly into a category I made up myself. (Ah, the wonders of having your own blog, y’know?)  It’s women’s fiction with heart, soul, and a romantic tint.  Romantic? Absolutely. More than a romance? Absolutely!  Get ready for eloquent turns of phrase.  Well-crafted insights.  Laugher. Tears. Resolution.  Wonder. I related to and adored Libby Carson, the main character, even though she spends a modicum of time and energy choosing between two men.  Sometimes that would make me roll my eyes.  Ok, most of the time. But Samantha tells this intricate love story with such deference to the realities of Libby’s life — which isn’t all fabulous — that I was empathetic toward Libby immediately, and felt she was very relatable.

Before I read the book I told Sam I thought the cover represented an important birthday – I had read Sam’s back cover and knew that her protagonist, Libby, turned 50 at the beginning of the story. Halle-freaking-luyah!  Nothing against the 30-something or even the 40-something crowds but being closer to 50 than I am to any age other than 49, I do enjoy a book about someone who is already checking off a new box on surveys and getting obviously misdirected AARP mail – as am I.

I don’t read a book based on any age-bias – but this just made the book different from many I’ve read.  And just as I relate wholely to many books with protags of all ages, you needn’t be anywhere near 50 — above or below — to enjoy this book.

And when I finished the book (in less than two days) I knew exactly what the cover meant. It meant that Libby’s life was overloaded.  That she was overwhelmed.  Thinking too much.  Doing too much.  And just like a cupcake loaded with burning candles – if something isn’t done about that soon, whether it’s blowing them out and eating the cupcake or dousing the whole thing and throwing it into the garbage (what a waste) – there needs to be action or there is going to be a big metaphorical fire.

Hmmm.  Feel the tension?  Me too!!

And, how many of us haven’t felt overwhelmed or overcooked or under appreciated?

WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR is the perfect book to take on a trip (take Kleenex too) because 1) time will fly and 2) you’ll accomplish reading the whole thing, and 3) it’s a feel-good book.  It’s also a smart book with a protagonist making difficult choices in both common and uncommon situations – and I’m partial to books like that because they make me think.  What would I do?

When I finished the book I pre-ordered three copies to give as gifts – and because I’ll see Samantha, I’ll have them signed.  Another perk of having author friends, indeed.

I’m only sorry you have to wait until August 7th to read WMCYWF but Samantha will be back to talk about her experience writing her novel and having it published (wait until you hear that story!) and talk about (or maybe even show us) the sights around Chicago featured in her book.  For me, that may include walking shoes and a cab ride or two – for you, that is sure to include amazing insights and fun and more about Samantha Hoffman’s book.

Truly, what more could you wish for?

Amy xo

To learn more about Sam and her book, check out her website by clicking here.

To pre-order a copy, which is a fabulous way to know you’ll have the book asap: check out your favorite independent bookseller, BN, or Amazon.

Women’s Fiction Author Brenda Janowitz Says: Use Editing As Your Path To An Elegant Story

We’re only half way through 2012 and I keep meeting other author publishing in 2013!  Today’s Women’s Fiction Writers author is Brenda Janowitz, who’s my St. Martin’s publishing cousin.  Brenda’s third novel comes out next year and it was fun to talk to her about the changes in publishing, her life, and her writing.  (I’m always in awe of multi-published authors…because of course, I want to be one!)

I hope Brenda will join us again when it’s time to launch Recipe For A Happy Life, but in the meantime she’s sharing great insights and advice.  Please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Women’s Fiction Author Brenda Janowitz Says: Use Editing As Your Path To An Elegant Story

Amy: In 2013, Recipe For A Happy Life, will be published. In 2007 and 2008, Scot On The Rocks and Jack With A Twist were published.  Can you take us on a brief journey of your road to publication — the first time around and now?

Brenda: The publishing industry has changed so much since my first novel!  It all started when I was invited to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding.  My real life started to resemble some of my favorite books, and I said to myself: I’ve gotta write this stuff down.  My friends signed me up for a writing class for my birthday, and the rest, as they say, is history.  I had no idea how to get a novel published.  I just figured that if I wrote one, I’d just get an agent and publishers would be knocking down my door.  Ha!  If I knew then what I know now…  But I didn’t, so I wrote the novel in the tiny pockets of spare time that I had when I wasn’t practicing law and then edited until I had the whole book practically memorized.  I sent it out to agents, and there was a lot of rejection.  It was the first time I said to myself: Hey! Publishing a book might not be as easy as I initially thought!  But then, luckily, my amazing agent, Mollie Glick, rescued me from the slush pile.  She was able to sell it to Red Dress Ink in a two book deal and that was it– I was officially a published author!

For my third novel, I was hoping to write my “big” novel.  Something a little different from what I’d done before, something more sophisticated.  It took me years to write RECIPE–I was trying to write a more ambitious book, and it took me longer to really figure out what I was trying to say with it.  Once I (finally!) finished it, Mollie sold it to St. Martin’s in a two book deal.  Everything about this experience is different.  New publishing house, new editor, and I’ve been having a wonderful time.  The book will come out next spring, and I can barely wait!

Amy: Is RECIPE similar to your first two books? And, can you tell us a little bit about RFAHL and where you got your inspiration? 

Brenda: RECIPE isn’t at all like my first two novels!  I’d like to say that it’s a bit more grown up than my first two novels, more sophisticated.  But the readers will be the judge of that!

The book is about three generations of women and the grand dame who rules over them from her Hamptons estate.  I was inspired by so many things!  My grandmothers, my mother, becoming a mom myself– that’s all in there.

Amy: When it comes to the actually writing of the story — are you a plotter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?  Do you have any writing rituals?  

Brenda: I don’t have any rituals.  I just write when I can, for as long as I can.  With two small children, I don’t have the luxury of a schedule.  And I wrote my first novel when I was practicing law full time, so I guess I never did!

As for whether I plot or write by the seat of my pants, I usually do a little of both. For RECIPE, I did a lot of free writing, where I just sort of wrote and wrote and wrote, only editing after I’d written around 100 pages.  But I also did a lot of outlining– figuring out how to make my story flow and fall into a three act, eight sequence structure.

Amy: What was your biggest obstacle, either internal or external, in writing this novel?  

Brenda: Life!  Over the course of writing this novel, I got married, moved out to the burbs, and had two kids.  So, I’ve been a little busy.  But I think that the themes I was working with (life, death, family, who we are and what we really want) also really challenged me and forced me to think through what I was trying to say with this novel in a way I never had before.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction? Does the label bother you? 

Brenda: I think women’s fiction is all about smart stories that women can relate to.  It’s the stuff I love to read, and the stuff that my friends read, too.  I don’t mind any label that helps readers find great books.  It can be disappointing when people take the label and use it to make negative assumptions about you and your work, but I choose to look at the positive in everything, so I like that readers have a way to find the books they love reading.

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

Brenda: Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.

Edit! Editing your work is almost as important as the writing itself. Sure, you’re telling your story, but it’s also important to consider the way that you tell it. You want your writing to be tight, elegant and polished. It can only get to be that way through careful and thorough editing.

Develop a very thick skin. You’re putting yourself out there when you write and not everyone is going to love what you do. But that’s okay! You’re not writing to please everyone out there. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. So start getting used to criticism and then see tip #1—keep writing!

A native New Yorker, Brenda Janowitz has had a flair for all things dramatic since she played the title role in her third grade production of Really Rosie. When asked by her grandmother if the experience made her want to be an actress when she grew up, Brenda responded, “An actress? No. A writer, maybe.”

Brenda attended Cornell University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Human Service Studies, with a Concentration in Race and Discrimination. After graduating from Cornell, she attended Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review and won the Law Review Writing Competition. Upon graduation from Hofstra, she went to work for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, where she was an associate in the Intellectual Property group, handling cases in the areas of trademark, anti-trust, internet, and false advertising. Brenda later left Kaye Scholer to pursue a federal clerkship with the Honorable Marilyn Dolan Go, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Brenda is the author of JACK WITH A TWIST and SCOT ON THE ROCKS. Her third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin’s in 2013. Her work has also appeared in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Post.

You can find Brenda at her website, on Twitter @BrendaJanowitz, and on Facebook.

Nancy Jensen, Author of THE SISTERS, Says: Learn To Love Revising As Much As Writing

A while back I put out a Twitter-request to help me discover new authors — and thanks to many of you, Women’s Fiction Writers is booked beyond April 2012!  One of the authors you kept mentioning was Nancy Jensen — and when I discovered Nancy’s website and all the great press surrounding THE SISTERS (and the fact that Nancy is published by St. Martin’s Press, as I will be) — I knew I could not make myself all of us wait until 2012 for an introduction!   

Please welcome author Nancy Jensen to Women’s Fiction Writers.  

Nancy Jensen, Author of THE SISTERS, Says: Learn To Love Revising As Much As Writing

ASN: Ok, let’s start with the big stuff.  The Sisters is on The Kirkus List for Best Fiction 2011.  How did you find out — and what did that feel like? (Really, we are dying to know!)

NJ: I found out when someone from Kirkus Reviews posted congratulations on the wall of my author page on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/authornancyjensen .   Of course I clicked on the link immediately, and then for a few seconds I didn’t believe it at all, thought the wall post must be some mistake, because in my excitement I failed to see that all the titles were listed alphabetically.  When I saw The Sisters was really there, sitting happily right next door to Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, I screamed, which scared a couple of my cats into knocking a bowl of cat food off a table, scattering kibble everywhere, which my dog then took the opportunity to gobble up.  So first I restored feline and canine order in the house, and then I emailed my agent and my editor.  For once, they didn’t know before me, so it was a thrill to be the one to share the news and glorious to know that there was lots of whooping and jumping up and down happening on Fifth Avenue in New York at the same time I was whooping and jumping up and down in my little house in Kentucky, further scaring the cats.

ASN: I read your post about doing research for your book using eBay, and I must say I found that ingenious!  How long did it take you to write The Sisters?  Did the extensive research on and offline (the book spans decades) ever take you away from the writing for too long?

NJ: When I finally took some time to reflect on it, I admit I was surprised when I realized just how much research I wound up doing on eBay.  I also did quite a lot research using more conventional methods, but it never really felt arduous or time-consuming to me.  Mostly I researched details as I bumped up against them.  Often with the Internet I could find what I needed in a few minutes to a few hours.  Sometimes I ordered books or made lists of library chores and when I settled down to those, I might work a full day or two, but because my writing time is limited to summers, I always made it a priority to get back to the writing as soon as possible.  Because of this, I did a lot of my research in small patches of time through the school year, marking sections and jotting down notes on whatever I thought might be useful.  All told, it took five years (or five summers) to write The Sisters, depending upon how you count.

ASN: Who or what inspired Bertie and Mabel?

NJ: When I was about ten years old, I heard for the first time that my grandmother had a sister.  The news was shocking because I knew very well about her brothers, whom she referred to often in conversation, but never had there been a word about the sister.  The second after I heard of the sister I was also told, first by my sister and then by my mother, that I could not under any circumstances ever ask my grandmother about her.  Over the years, the order was repeated, always with the warning that asking my grandmother would upset her terribly, and of course I didn’t want to do that.  The question that troubled me and that has stayed with me through the decades is What could happen between sisters that would cause one to erase the other?  Dozens of other questions spring from this first one, including what effect this breach would have, not only on the sisters involved but on later generations.  I couldn’t help wondering how the experience had shaped my grandmother, and in turn how that change of character might have affected my mother and then me.  Though the adult Bertie began as a character very loosely based on my grandmother, I had to invent the 14 year old Bertie from nothing, and so ultimately the adult Bertie arises from the girl I created.  Mabel of course is entirely invention, since I knew nothing at all about my grandmother’s sister.

ASN: Can you share a little about your journey to publication?

NJ: I started the way so many writers do, publishing short stories in literary magazines.  I did this for years then stopped writing altogether for about ten years—a long, complex story.  When I started writing again, I worked on personal essays and was able to publish several of those over a period of a few years.   After I’d published six or seven essays,  I was approached by the editor of Fleur-de-Lis Press and asked to consider submitting a mixed-genre collection of short fiction and essays for consideration.  At first I thought it would never work, but when I started compiling what I had, sifting, re-sifting, and arranging material, I realized there were themes that linked my work, even across the twenty years from the first to the most recent publications.  Fleur-de-Lis Press published Window: Stories and Essays in 2009.  By this time, I’d been working on The Sisters for about four years.  At the end of summer 2009 I thought I had a final draft—at least a reasonably final draft—of the novel, so I started trying to find an agent.  Just sorting through names, trying to find who might be interested in the novel, figuring out how to pitch the novel to that person was far more arduous than hunting through listings of literary journals, and though I sent out a lot of mail, I really wasn’t having much luck.  I could see the process might easily last for two or three years without success.  I was already preparing an alternate plan of shopping the novel to small and university presses if I couldn’t find an agent.  Then, on March 1, 2010, a writer friend referred me to agent Lisa Gallagher, who immediately agreed to read The Sisters.  She called me on March 7 to offer representation and sent some notes for revision a few days later.  Luckily, I received the notes just in time for Spring Break, and for that week I became a high-adrenaline, perfectly focused writing machine—in spite of my dog, who barked for two days solid because there were men walking around on the house putting on a new roof.  I sent the book back to Lisa, who had been researching editors while I revised, and she sold it on March 31.  I will forever think of 2010 as the Year of the Marvelous March!

ASN: Will you (can you) share with us if you’re writing something new?

NJ: I’m still finding my new novel right now.  I worked on final revisions of The Sisters all summer in 2010, and after that of course I had to start my full-time teaching again.  Then, this past summer, 2011, I lost my writing months because I moved and changed jobs, but now that my first semester is nearly over and I’m getting settled in, I can see that I’ll have some writing time in the spring—time I’ve never had before, so I’m really looking forward to getting back to work.  Maybe by the end of summer 2012 I’ll know if I’m really on my way to something.

ASN: How do you write — are you a plotter or a pantser?

NJ: Hmm…I have no clue what a “pantser” is, so I don’t know if I’m one of those or not!  I don’t think of myself as a plotter in any conventional sense.  I never know where a story is going, and I never do anything like an outline.  Everything arises out of character for me, and so this is often a really slow process, as it takes a lot of time to get to know characters enough to fully inhabit them, but once I am able to do that, the events of the story start to take shape.  Sometimes I see an event coming for a while, and then it’s a challenge to figure out how to get there, but still that always comes from character, and if the characters just won’t go there, then the event is what changes.  Strangely enough—the only time this has ever happened—I knew the ending of The Sisters fairly early in the process—about a year in, I guess—and I wrote the ending, but I had absolutely no idea how the rest of the book would ultimately support the ending.  I didn’t hold onto it as absolutely hard and fast, but it was always hovering around the edges of my imagination as an explanation.

ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

NJ: Categories of fiction always make me shudder a little, since they seem so limiting to me.  While I realize that The Sisters will appeal more strongly to women than to men, since all the main characters are women, it has thrilled me to hear quite a number of men tell me how much they like the book.  I think of women’s fiction principally as a marketing term—St. Martin’s Press, for instance, identifies The Sisters as literary fiction and historical fiction along with women’s fiction—so I’ll let the marketers decide what it means and I’ll just concentrate on trying to write another novel as well as I possibly can.

ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction specifically — or of any fiction?

NJ: I offer the same advice I offer my creative writing students—read, read, read, read, read.  Read as much, as widely, and as deeply as you possibly can.  Read across genres—meaning fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction—and read across centuries.  Be patient with your writing, learn to genuinely love revision as the real writing process, and keep near you one or two readers you really trust to tell you the truth and tell it clearly.

Nancy Jensen’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals, and her first book, Window, a collection of short stories and essays, was published by Fleur-de-Lis Press in 2009.  She has been awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council.  Nancy shares her home with eight rescued cats and her dog Gordy, who is her partner on a pet therapy team with Pawsibilities Unleashed of Kentucky, visiting hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and daycare centers.  When she isn’t writing or enjoying the company of her furred family, she teaches as a member of the core faculty in the MFA in Writing Program at Eastern Kentucky University. Her first novel, The Sisters, has been selected by the Independent Booksellers Association as the #1 Indie Next Pick for December and Kirkus Reviews has included it in its list for Best Fiction of 2011.

How Much Truth Is In (My) Fiction? Or…what do you mean it’s not about you?

My all-time favorite story about being a writer is from the day my first column was published in the Chicago Tribune in December 2007.  It was a piece about holiday cookies.  No recipes, just a story about the diversity of holiday cookies and how they don’t kvetch about being on the same plate. You get the gist.  My  friend’s mom read it, called her and said, “I didn’t know Amy was a baker!”

My friend replied, “Amy’s not a baker, Mom.  She’s a writer.”

As you can imagine I’ve been talking a lot about my writing since Friday when news of THE GLASS WIVES and its premise about a woman, compelled to live with her ex-husband’s widow in order to save the home she loves, all while scandals erupt in their suburban paradise, became public.

Point of fact – I am a divorced mom in a small town whose children’s father passed away many years ago, and obviously people who know me personally, know this.

So, what’s the first question people who know me ask?

“Is this book about you?”

The answer is no.

But, I realize (now) that it is a reasonable assumption to think the answer is yes, even though everyone who knows me knows that I don’t live with anyone besides my kids and our dogs and in the book the main character lives with her ex-husband’s young widow.

I realize (now) that it is a reasonable assumption to think the answer is yes even though me + scandal = me +  roller coaster. Not. gonna. happen. in. this. lifetime.

I realize (now) that it is a reasonable assumption to think the answer is yes even though the book blurb states the main character needs to save her home. The only thing that needs saving around my house is the growing pile of laundry.

It IS reasonable to think that the story is my story.

I also think it’s reasonable for me to think you’ll believe me when I say it’s not, so I’ll explain.

Truth is a springboard for fiction. (Word choice thanks to genius, non-writer bff)

Or, like my dear author friend Randy Susan Meyers said about her amazing book, THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS:

“No. It’s not me — it’s nuggets of all my fixations blown up into a world of crazy.”

Yeah. Like that.

I mined my own life and plugged in a thousand “what ifs”  and the result is THE GLASS WIVES.

It was a fun and creative, if not exhaustive, process as I discovered I loved writing fiction.

When writing fiction that is believable emotional truths are essential — so the fact that I have wonderful friends and family enabled me to write some characters that aren’t so wonderful at all.  Knowing what it’s like to have a best friend for thirty years enabled me to write a friend who’s willing to drop someone like a hot potato.  I have many friends who have sisters, and my main character has a sister.  It doesn’t mean I wish I had a sister instead of a brother, it means I used the truths in my life to create a world that doesn’t exist.  You know, like JK Rowling but without Hogwarts or magic or Voldemort or spells.  Ok, nothing like JK Rowling, but I did see an interview with her where she said that because she’d lost her parents she was able to write about Harry being an orphan.  It doesn’t mean she wishes she was an orphan as a child or felt like one or thought she was magic.

Fiction is a compilation of emotional truths that writers stretch and mold to fit the needs of a particular story.

For example, I’ve lived in ranch houses for the past eighteen years or so.  My characters live in a two-story colonial.  I promise you I do not wish that my house had a second floor, but it was fun to IMAGINE creaking stairs, kids jumping off the steps and landing with a thud, what might be at the bottom of the steps.

Another nugget of wisdom passed onto me by Randy is this:

“I recently read in The Nobodies Album, a novel by Carolyn Parkhurst, the butter that I can finally put in the cookies, a phrase from Parkhurst’s the main character, a writer, who muses: “There’s an analogy I came up with once for an interview who asked me how much of my material was autobiographical. I said that the life experience of a fiction writer is like butter in cookie dough: it’s a crucial part of flavor and texture — you certainly couldn’t leave it out — but if you’ve done it right, it can’t be discerned as a separate element. There shouldn’t be a place that anyone can point to and say, There — she’s talking about her miscarriage, or Look — he wrote that because his wife has an affair.”

I hope I never forget the phrase (and that I always give proper thanks to Ms. Parkhurst) the butter in cookie dough. What a perfect capture for fiction — taking the elemental issues with which one struggles, giving those problems to one’s characters, and kneading those thorny emotional themes that haunt into the thoughts, minds, and actions of those characters until, hopefully, you can beat that sucker into submission.”

It’s exciting to know that my novel will be published and my words read. I hope that all of you reading this and everyone you know will read THE GLASS WIVES and maybe think a little differently about the composition and meaning of family.

I wrote and published essays and articles for years before even attempting fiction.  I never even made up bedtime stories for my kids because I didn’t think I could.  Now I’m at a point where I don’t write much non-fiction anymore (if you discount this blog, although I’d rather you didn’t) because my life is like any other life. I’m living it. It’s personal – and it’s pretty much the day-to-day existence of a working single mom with a kid in college and a kid in high school and two crazy dogs and a pile of laundry. Or six.

I’d rather write believable fiction by combining my experiences with my imagination, insight, intuition and research to create people, places, events, problems and solutions that don’t exist but that could exist.

Does the fact that I don’t want to write about my life mean I’m boring?

I think it means I’m an author.

(OMG, I’m an author!)