Author Jess Riley Masters Writing The Story That Demands To Be Written

Mandatory Release amazon coverMany writers not only read widely, but write widely. In my tenure as a fiction writer I’ve dabbled in short stories that use different voices and points of view. I see them as experiments at first, yet some have become my favorite work. 

Author Jess Riley shares with us how she stepped out of the realm of traditional women’s fiction and how it’s her favorite book to date. Jess has been both traditionally and self-published.  I don’t know if Jess knows this but I remember her from Backspace when her first novel was published. It feels good to be in on her career all along the way!

Please welcome Jess Riley to Women’s Fiction Writers! 

Amy xo

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Author Of 9 Women’s Fiction Books, Beth Kendrick Says: “Be Patient With Yourself And With The Process”

FORMAL-F3054-01q-vintage-priscilla-of-boston-wedding-gownAuthor Beth Kendrick has written nine women’s fiction books. NINE! And now she’s sharing some of her thoughts, inspirations, and advice with all of us at Women’s Fiction Writers. I think what I’ve learned most from Beth is that we all have our own path. What works so incredibly well for Beth, might not work for me or for you. But the key is to give yourself the time and attention to find what works for you, allow yourself to mess up and start again, to find ideas in unusual places, and to let your stories flow. You can always fix ’em later!

Please welcome Beth Kendrick to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Carolyn Turgeon Shares Her Novel-Writing Mistakes So You Can Avoid Them

The-Fairest-of-Them-AllAs writers we sometimes wish for the secret sauce—that ingredient that will make our careers, our writing, our books, different from the rest, memorable, popular. And while there is no way to know all the answers, the best part of being a member of the writing community is that writers are generous souls. We share. We want everyone else to work hard but we don’t want anyone to suffer needlessly. And that’s where Carolyn Turgeon steps in! Today she shares her own novel-writing mistakes with the Women’s Fiction Writers community so that we can think, change course, even swerve to get out of their way on our own journey.

I happened upon Carolyn’s novel GODMOTHER years ago and fell in love with it. Told everyone I knew about it. It remains one of my favorite books. I know many of my friends read it and it ended up a book club selection for several area book clubs! Perhaps that was the real precursor to this blog and sharing my love of books and authors. 

Now Carolyn is celebrating the publication of her FIFTH novel, THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL, which is perched at the top of the TBR pile on my nightstand.

Please welcome Carolyn Turgeon to Women’s Fiction Writers! 

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Jennifer Cody Epstein Reflects On Mothering, Writing, And Moving Forward

Today, author Jennifer Cody Epstein shares with us her personal evolution as a mother, and an author. It’s something I related to right away even though we’re at different stages in parenting. Even if you’re not a parent, Jennifer deftly explores how change as we become more comfortable with who we are and what we’re doing in life—and how looking back is often the best way to illuminate the path forward. 

Please welcome Jennifer Cody Epstein to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Reflecting On Mothering, Writing, And Moving Forward

by Jennifer Cody Epstein

About a week ago, while digging around on my computer for an essay I’d written, I unexpectedly stumbled on something completely different: an online diary I’d begun—very sporadically—keeping about a year after my second daughter Hannah was born. I was so exhausted when I wrote these entries that I have no memory of writing them at all; seemingly, I’d left them (as so many other early-motherhood memories) in a hazy sort of recollective No-Man’s-Land. And they were, after all, just three fairly brief entries, written over the period we were trying to train the girls to sleep in the same room. But they brought back those bleary and love-saturated days with such force that I found myself sitting back in my work chair after reading them, both amazed and bemused by how enormously life can change in just eight years. From the first entry:

March feels like the darkest month ever, and my life a hallucinogenic combination of brilliance and utter blackness. I am so tired that I can’t walk straight; that I forget where I’ve gone and what I’ve gone there to do…When the girls fall into their nightly rounds of sleep roulette—waking approximately every two to three hours, waking each other and us (exiled, for now, to the lumpy, short couch in the overwhelmingly loud living room, where the cat mewls and scats around all night) up, I find myself too exhausted and too depressed to even cry. I lie there in a miserable cocoon of self pity; hating life, hating our house, hating the cat, of course loathing myself. 

I was also at that time trying desperately to finish a draft of my first novel, The Painter from Shanghai, which I’d started at graduate school. Lucky enough to have secured an agent and the support of my husband Michael (a gifted filmmaker, he is also one of my central readers) I was aiming to have the book finished in time for the former to take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair. But as the entries reminded me, I wasn’t finding it much easier than motherhood:

Before bedtime we went over Michael’s notes on my chapter (the re-re-re-re-rewrite of 24 and 25) and, while more positive than the last reviews (which were basically: “Throw it away, start over”) they were predictably blunt and brutal. My compulsive flashbacking and addiction to research are getting in the way; I’ve lost the momentum and the priorities of the story. He made the apt comparison of the way that I get overwhelmed by the day’s minute chores and end up doing three things at once–like trying to get out the door, crying and making pasta at 8 a.m. for the baby’s lunch, when all I really need to do is get out the door. But still—it hurts that I’ve taken five fucking months (more or less) to write even this miserable bit; since I got my agent in September! And while Frankfurt remains comfortably far-ish, I know it’s actually coming towards me at warp speed. The way Hannah’s first b-day did. The way Katie’s astonishing metamorphosis did, from Hannah-like babydom to someone who picks her own, hip little outfits and says things like “Quite probably it’s better if we watch Teletubbies now, Mommy.”

Reading these weepily-written confessions made me think about the oft-made comparison between writing novels and pregnancies. Having done each twice at this point, it’s a metaphor I’ve always supported, since it really strikes me as being pretty apt. But it also made me ponder the broader parallel to be made between being a parent and the writing life itself—something that at that moment eight years ago, in my numbed and overwhelmed state, I clearly didn’t have the capacity to consider. For while it’s true that some of motherhood’s bleakest points corresponded with my darkest moments as a new writer, on the maternal side, at least, they were also interspersed with moments of sheer joy and wonder—and a surprising prescience that one day I would look back and actually miss them. For instance, as Katie “graduated” from preschool:

There’s this sense of precious childhood vaporizing even as we watch. Next year will be so different—a new school, a longer day. Homework. More independence, both socially and physically. There won’t be that womb-like closeness that we’ve still shared these past two years; this knowledge that when I come pick her up we’ll still have most of the day left together, and she’ll come racing out to hug me, because I am, after all, her world (or most of it). I feel like 5 will slip to 8 will slip to 12 so very quickly. And while I know I’ll love all those stages (well, 12 may be tough) it pains me—really pains me, in a dull and crushing way that feels like a lead sack pressing down on my chest—that these lovely, safe, small years with her are now behind us. 

As I discover these entries, Katie has indeed turned twelve, and at present is independent enough to be at sleepaway camp for two weeks. My career has also matured: The Painter from Shanghai was published in 2008 (ultimately, in 16 different languages) and my second novel, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, came out this past March. For me, being an author has changed in much the same way as being a mother has. It is still hard as hell sometimes; there are still mornings when for no real reason I just burst into tears. But twelve years in—and with the unspeakable bonus of a regular sleeping pattern–I have also found both a kind of confidence and a fairly dependable rhythm. What once seemed daunting to the point of despondence now seems more simply like a lot more hard work—but work that I now know, in the end, that I can do. I also have more faith in the outcome: my daughters are beautiful, smart, kind and funny, and my books have sold decently and been well-reviewed. In other words, having gotten this far in both aspects of my life, I feel like maybe, just maybe, things are finally working out.

That said, there are still times when I miss the extreme peaks and valleys of the early days; when getting a full night’s sleep felt like a reward of Midas-like proportions and finishing a chapter felt like conquering a mountain. I adore being a mom to two pre-teens as much as I did to infants and toddlers. But there is something about the exhausted euphoria of those distant-seeming years I’ll admit to missing a little. Or, as I called it in one of my entries, Ending notes:

Hannah’s face in the morning, so fresh and happy and pink and smooth. She has the most open, grounded smile of any baby I’ve seen. Delicious. Katie on Saturday, wandering FAO Shwartz together after ballet and ice-cream sundaes for lunch; equally awed and enchanted by the lushly dressed Barbies and Madame Alexanders. A little friend. A clown. A partner in childish indulgences; sweet, fleeting crimes. 

Jennifer Cody Epstein is most recently the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment (W.W. Norton, 2013) as well as the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai (W.W. Norton, 2008). A graduate of Amherst College (BA), the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (MIA), and Columbia University (MFA), she has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, a filmmaker, and her two daughters.

You can find out more about Jennifer’s books by clicking here.

Why Sara DiVello Chose To Write Non-Fiction And Teach Yoga

No! Wait! The blogosphere did not stop spinning! Today on WFW I’m thrilled to have Sara DiVello talk about why she chose non-fiction over fiction. In my case, I always knew I’d write, be a writer, author, editor. But I always assumed I’d work in the world of non-fiction. After all that was my background and until 2007, that’s all I’d ever done, except for childhood or school-mandated short stories. Then everything changed. And who am I kidding, blogging and essay writing keep me steeped in creative non-fiction, as well as fiction.  Just one of the reasons Sara’s story was so interesting to me. Plus, I’ve always wanted to try yoga (except I get dizzy when I’m upside down). 

Please welcome Sara DiVello to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Why I Chose to Write Non-Fiction And Teach Yoga 

by Sara DiVello

I always knew I wanted to write. And without really thinking about it, I just assumed I would write fiction—women-focused fiction to be precise. That’s what I loved to read. That’s what I most identified with. It was a no-brainer.

But at some indefinable moment, I realized I had a lot of…how shall I say, too-freaking-crazy-to-make-up stories because apparently I possess a crazy-magnet. By which I mean that any unusual, off-beat, or down-right crazy folks in my vicinity will almost always come sit next to me, talk to me, or otherwise seek me out—and, unfortunately, sometimes offer me employment.  As a result, I had, over the course of years, accumulated some really-funny-yet-true stories of corporate hijinks while I was working in the fast-paced world of high finance: female bosses that made half-million dollar salaries but got staggeringly drunk and puked at client presentations, male bosses who yelled at me for openly telling the truth at internal meetings (apparently itself a crime in the corporate world), and male colleagues who had their million-dollar bonuses docked, but still remained employed, even after sending emails detailing their sexual fantasies (apparently involving a horse), not to mention a gentleman who referred to himself in the third person as “The Meat.”

Then there were the yoga people I encountered after I enrolled in yoga-teacher training as an escape from my career. I quickly discovered the yogis were just as crazy, but in slightly different ways. They took “yoga names” and often swore off showering and shaving, but talked regularly and enthusiastically about their inner essence as they vigorously massaged various body parts and munched on raw, cruciferous vegetables.

Four years ago, I sat down to start writing a novel, but I realized I had to tell this story first—not only because of the entertaining parts, but also because the main themes felt like something that people could relate to—feeling stuck in a career but powerless to do anything about it, or unsure of what else to do, or really scared of the unknown or dramatic change.

I wanted to talk about career and identity and grapple with questions like, What am I doing with my life? Am I doing what I feel in my bones I am meant to do—what I really, really want to do? Or am I doing what I’m doing because it’s expected of me and I’m good at it? My career transition, as told through “OM,” naturally provided the framework to talk about these questions, as well as other topics I’m passionate about such as how women interact and treat one another in the workplace. I found the incongruity of the strength and loyalty of female friendships in the personal realm contrasted with the snarky undercutting and backstabbing that I saw and experienced in the corporate world fascinating.

It was then that I wondered if maybe, sometimes, the story doesn’t choose its teller. I guess I won’t know until I try to write a second book (fiction next time!). But that’s how I found myself writing a memoir that I never intended to write.

The Scary but Comforting Factor of Non-Fiction

The scariest part of writing a memoir is the inherent additional levels of vulnerability. It seems terrifying enough to put yourself out there as an author of fiction, presenting your hard work to the world for judgment, review, and critique. But putting your hard work out there when the story is also a true one about you, and your career, your marriage, and your life feels even more intimidating.

Was I terrified? Yes, absolutely. But at the same time, I remember how comforted I’ve been when other authors have admitted their vulnerabilities, fears, weaknesses, insecurities, or less-than-perfect lives. Not because we glory in others’ struggles or hardships or rejections, but because it’s good to know (for sure—not just internal conjecture) that you’re not alone and, in fact, that you’re in excellent company. It’s comforting. It’s validating. You think, “Oh, thank goodness!” and then maybe you even get a little teary from the sheer relief of knowing that you’re not the only one. And then you have some chocolate or wine (or both!) and suddenly everything’s a whole lot better.

I find that the weight of living up to expectations and holding up appearances—both professionally and personally—is not only exhausting, but also ultimately alienating and lonely.

Women’s Fiction Writers is my favorite blog. I love to “meet” all these amazing writers. I love the positive energy and support (which I learned in the corporate world is directly attributable to leadership—Amy, take a bow), and I love hearing about each person’s path to publication. When an author shares—generously and openly—about her struggles, rejections, or messy house, I instantly feel a kinship with her. I appreciate her bravery and I want to celebrate her success with every bit as much happiness and support as if it were my own. I bet a lot of you feel the same.

As I see it, reading—and writing—memoirs is the same premise. I’m sharing my struggles as well as a lot of awesomely awkward hilarity, and if reading about my path to finding a fulfilling career and some degree of inner peace helps someone else on her journey, lets her know I had bad bosses and colleagues too, or maybe just brings her a few really good belly laughs along the way, then I am a very happy writer.

OK, I’m also a yoga teacher. So you’re probably expecting some sort of yoga ninja secrets…and, well, I aim to please!

Here are my best yoga moves for the Weary/Stressed Writer:

The jaw, neck, and shoulders are the first places in your body to hold and accumulate stress. When you’re stressed, you clench the jaw and tense up in the neck-shoulder-upper back area, which I’ve affectionately name the “tri-plex of stress-holding doom.” Here are two simple yoga tools you can use to help unclench, release, and relax the tri-plex. If you’re in a public setting and can’t do something flagrantly yoga-letic, try utilizing the “fire point”: Press the tip of your tongue to the little mound right behind your top two front teeth. You’ll feel your jaw and neck relax, your whole face melt, and your shoulders drop and release.

If you CAN do something more obvious, start with the Fire Point and then give modified Eagle Pose a try: Extend your arms in front of you, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, at shoulder-height. If this is enough of a stretch for the shoulders/upper back, stay here. If you need more of s stretch, drop the left elbow below the right and twine the forearms, pressing the back of the palms together (or, flexibility permitting, the fingers of your left hand pressed into your right palm). The key to releasing the upper back muscles is to keep the elbows lifted–equal height to the shoulders–and the shoulders as relaxed and low as possible. Take a few deep breaths and switch sides.

And if these moves aren’t enough, you can always come to my class!

Sara DiVello worked in PR and marketing for thirteen years before realizing she preferred yoga mats and bare feet to cubicles and high heels. A graduate of Arcadia University, Sara teaches yoga and lives in Boston with her husband and their eleven-pound rescue mutt, Peluda. Learn more at or connect on social media:



Sara DiVello’s debut memoir, Where in the OM Am I? One Woman’s Journey from the Corporate World to the Yoga Mat (June 2013) has been selected by Shape Magazine as one of the 12 books to bring to the beach this summer and by Working Mother Magazine as one of the eight memoirs to read this year.

“OM” chronicles Sara’s transition from working in financial services to teaching yoga and all the crazy/weird/hilarious characters in both worlds. For an inside look at the book, check out Sara’s brand-new book trailer: 

Author Travis Erwin Traveled A Twisted Road To Women’s Fiction

I’m pretty sure that Travis Erwin is my favorite bacon-and-beef-loving author. And that’s a lot coming from me, an accidental vegetarian for the past four months! I don’t care that Travis doesn’t do lettuce…but I do care that he is a kind and generous author friend who is an unconventional women’s fiction author.  I’ve known Travis for years. We met (I think) via author Erica Orloff’s blog where we were both her blog groupies readers and fans. Travis even found a copy of THE GLASS WIVES on one of his travels and posted a picture and read it on the road. I bet he didn’t even hide the book cover! He’s just that kind of a guy. Plus, he’s 6’5″, who’s going to say something? 

Please welcome, my friend, Travis Erwin, to Women’s Fiction Writers—and hang on—it’s quite a ride!

Amy xo

My Twisted Road To Women’s Fiction

by Travis Erwin

Twisted Roads. That’s the title of my new Women’s Fiction novel. Not the name I originally chose. But in hindsight, the perfect title for the book, as well as my publishing journey.

I began the original manuscript for Twisted Roads back in 2000 while taking a writing class taught by RWA Hall of Famer, Jodi Thomas. I was a new father and truthfully was just fulfilling an assignment when I completed the first 50 pages or so. But Jodi urged me complete the book and submit it. I finished the manuscript that same year, and in doing so went from being an avid writer with a few story ideas in my head, to being a full-fledged writing addict.

Now I still had no idea I was writing Women’s Fiction. Neither did Jody for that matter. She struggled to describe my work and in my mind I was simply telling a story about people trying to get along in this crazy game we call life. Jodi sent my book to a friend. I recall the woman’s comments well. “It has romantic elements as well as a literary feel without reading like literary. He captures the emotions well and I love his voice, but I’m afraid this cross genre stuff is hard to sell.”

I’m not sure who that friend was. Somebody in the business, but I was so new at that point, specific names did not mean much. I don’t think the term Women’s Fiction was as popular then as now either. And let’s face it. At 6’5 nearly 300 pounds, me and my bearded face and decided Texas twang do not immediately conjure thoughts of Women’s Fiction.

The first time that label was applied to this book or my work was at a writing conference in 2001. I submitted a sample for critique. An anonymous sample that was selected by a New York Editor for me to read aloud for a workshop critique. I read all of two lines before that editor stopped me cold, looked me up and down, and said, “I can’t believe YOU wrote this.”

She went on to explain she would have bet her life a woman wrote the piece. I took that as a huge compliment, especially when the editor asked me to submit the complete manuscript. I worked with that editor for over a year revising and honing, but ultimately her bosses said no.

I was devastated. I thought I was there. I thought my very first book was going to be bought and printed by a big New York House. I thought I had arrived. I thought I was the second coming of Nicholas Sparks.

I thought wrong.

But I didn’t take my defeat and limp away into the night. No I went back to writing the next story. I thought, Heck if I was that close with my first just think how easy it will be to sell the next one now that I’ve learned so much.


No one cared about that next book. And I do mean NO ONE.

I’d won some contest with that first book, but I couldn’t get a honorable mention or a even a partial request from the dozens of agents I queried.  No one cared.

Okay I said. Bad premise. I’ll write the next one.

Lots of near misses with agents and a few good comments from contests but again no one was all that interested. By now I was five or six years into this journey and was still wearing that … It’s just a matter of time label in my circle of writing friends and mentors that were long since published.

I believed them. Maybe a bit too much. I routinely heard, “You have a great voice,” and I hung my hat on that compliment. I ignored the, “You need tighter plots, richer characters.” I let myself believe I had potential and that was enough. I thought … If I knock on enough doors … send enough queries … attend enough conferences … drink rum with enough editors and agents … my time will come.

Yeah, and now you know why we Texans have the reputation for being full of shit.

I got lazy. Cocky. And just plain stupid.

I of course didn’t realize this right away. No I went to another conference. Actually a week long workshop out in Arizona. I had my eye on this particular agent and I’d just finished my fourth Women’s Fiction manuscript. I read some to her. She liked it. Requested the full. Called me on the phone once twice, three times to talk about other ideas I’d written, where I saw my writing future, and ways to improve the manuscript I’d submitted to her. Well that’s what the first two conversations were about.

Her third call was to tell me she was going to decline representation. She was very kind, and when she told me it was with regret she was doing so, I could tell she was genuine.

Nevertheless, I was devastated. I wanted to give up. I would have given up except I’m pretty dang stubborn. I had to prove my doubters wrong. But my give a hoot was broken. I started blogging as my writing outlet. I told whatever crazy story filled me head in whatever way I wanted. Forget the writing rules. I was telling a story damn it, not writing a book.

Funny thing is I learned a lot about writing by blogging. I learned how to hook readers to keep them reading more. If I didn’t, they simply clicked away and went elsewhere for their online entertainment.

wrote some good stuff I’m proud of that was a direct spin off of my blog. I published some of it, including a humorous novella called Plundered Booty, and my coming-of-age memoir The Feedstore Chronicles but I didn’t feel satisfied. I wanted to tell stories from the heart. Not romance stories per say, but stories of life. Women’s Fiction.

So after Feedstore was published I sent my publisher the half a dozen novels I’d written as well as a few others I’d started but not finished. They read through them and chose that long ago written tale. The one I began this journey with and it was them that chose the name TWISTED ROADS based on a line at the tail end of the book.

But the crooked path does not end there. My editor at TAG of course wanted a few edits. I scrapped an entire character and replaced them with a bigger, better, enriched character. In doing so the book came alive in ways it never had. I knew then those near misses were for a reason. The book was finally after thirteen years what it should be.

I missed my first deadline though, so the book got moved from a Christmas 2012 release to the summer 2013. The e-book hit May 1st as planned but formatting issues due pushed back the print release until June 1st. Then for whatever reason my book got stuck in a black hole between the publisher, printer, and distributor. Twisted Roads finally found its way into the world as a printed book in late June after a thirteen year, winding journey of near misses and close calls.

Like my character says in the book … Twisted roads are the only ones worth driving.”    

I’m a native Texan and despite the ever-present gale force winds here in The Panhandle, I can’t imagine living anyplace else. Long before I figured out that I wanted to be writer, I was an avid reader. I write lots of different things but mostly humor and Women’s fiction. Yes, I know it’s a little weird for a six-foot-five, two-hundred, and too-many-pounds man to write “girly stuff” but what can I do. I have to write the stories that fill my head. I’m obligated to be the voice for the characters that speak to me, because they’re not going to shut up either way, and at least on paper I can act like they exist for a reason. Otherwise, I’m just a guy with multiple personalities.

You can find out more at

Click here for Twisted Roads on Amazon!

Author Holly Robinson’s Passion Shines Through On The Page—And In Life!

What’s better than meeting an author-friend (for the first time) for pancakes on her pub day? NOTHING! Author Holly Robinson was nice enough to meet me while she and her husband and one of their kids were en route to a family celebration in Wisconsin! Since we email often and had recently spoken on the phone, we just picked up where we left off.  

What you’ll learn about Holly below is that she is an endless source of energy and inspiration. I don’t think she ever stops. She’s a working freelance writer, ghost writer and book doctor in addition to being a novelist who just sold her second novel to Penguin! She’s also a wife and mom to FIVE kids. The great thing is that Holly is incredibly generous with her knowledge, and her enthusiasm is contagious! 

Please welcome Holly Robinson to Women’s Fiction Writers! And now, pass the syrup!

Amy xo

holly robinson 2

Author Holly Robinson’s Passion Shines Through On The Page—And In Life!

Amy: Yay Holly! You’re finally here! I feel like I’ve been waiting forever! Congratulations on the launch of THE WISHING HILL!  Can you give readers a quick overview of its premise?

Holly: Amy, I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am to be here!  Thank you so much for inviting me to stop by.  I’ve been following WFW for ages, and I’m so inspired by the other authors I’ve seen interviewed here.

THE WISHING HILL is told from two points of view—Juliet, an artist living in Mexico whose husband has just left her, and Claire, an older woman who lives next door to Juliet’s childhood home in Massachusetts.  When Juliet is called home to help care for her mother, Desiree, a flamboyant actress, Juliet goes reluctantly. She and her self-absorbed mother have always clashed. Plus, nobody back home knows about her divorce—or the fact that she’s pregnant and her ex-husband is not the father.

Juliet intends to get her mother back on her feet and return to Mexico fast, but nothing goes as planned. Instead she is drawn into a long-running feud between her mother and Claire, her mom’s reclusive neighbor. Little does she know that these relationships hold the key to shocking secrets about her family and herself that have been hiding in plain sight.  There is romance in the novel for both Juliet and Claire, but the central plot really revolves around love, trust, betrayal and how to forgive and accept the people you love after they’ve hurt you.

Whoa.  As I write this I’m thinking it all sounds very dark and Dickensian, but it’s also a very comic novel in places—like when Claire is being pursued by an ardent suitor who’s over 70 but has the energy and sense of humor of a teenaged boy.

Amy: THE WISHING HILL is not your first book, but it is your first traditionally published novel.  Can you tell us how that came about?

Holly: It was a complete accident!  I have made a living as a freelance journalist, essayist and celebrity ghost writer for over twenty years.  In that time, I also wrote five novels.  I have a wonderful agent who tried very hard to sell them all.  Finally, when he couldn’t sell my fiction even after I’d published a well-reviewed memoir, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter, with Random House, I got so frustrated that I decided to go the self publishing route.  Two weeks after I’d put my novel SLEEPING TIGERS up as a paperback and ebook myself, my agent sold THE WISHING HILL to New American Library/Penguin.  I literally had to get off the chair I was sitting on and lie down on the floor with the phone pressed to my ear when he told me the news.  Penguin recently bought my new novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND,  which will be published in April 2014.

I have to say that I’m thrilled to be published traditionally, because I love my editor—she’s the smartest woman I know, and she pushes me to raise my writing to new heights.  It’s also fantastic to have the marketing and publicity wheels of a traditional publisher turning on my behalf.  However, self publishing is a lot of fun and gives you complete control over the process of putting your book into the hands of readers.  The Indie publishing world is full of supportive people, and you can definitely find readers that way–especially if you write romance, mysteries, or other genres where books typically belong to a series.  Self publishing also teaches you more about the business of marketing and social media than you could learn in an entire MBA program!  Every writer should consider self publishing at least one book to learn what it takes to put yourself—and your book—out in the public eye.

Amy: Recently there has been a lot of talk about book covers, especially book covers for women’s fiction. Is the cover of THE WISHING HILL literal, metaphorical, or a little of both?

Holly: There is definitely a difference in the kinds of covers chosen for literary fiction, science fiction, women’s fiction, mysteries, etc., but why shouldn’t there be?  People really do judge books by their covers.  Even though I sometimes read on an e-reader, I still am attracted to certain covers because they’re interesting, beautiful, funny or appealing in some other way.  I think of book covers as art with a message.  For THE WISHING HILL,  the cover is both literal and metaphorical.  There is an actual scene where Juliet, as a child, goes to a hill covered in dandelions with both Desiree and Claire, and she calls it “the wishing hill” because it’s “a hill covered in wishes.”  (That was the original title, but the editor decided it was too long.)  It’s a metaphorical cover, too, in the sense that it gives that image we all have in our minds of wishing, as children, for lots of different things—many of which are impossible to have, but we fantasize about having them anyway.  In this novel, Juliet, Desiree, and Claire all fervently wish for “perfect” families, which we all know is one of those impossible wishes shared by every one of us.

Amy: I know you’ve been fortunate to go on some writing retreats. When you’re not able to do that, what’s your writing/real life/ day like?

Holly: I literally write all day and often at night, too, because I make my living as a freelance writer.  I have a lot of deadlines every week for articles, book chapters and marketing brochures, but I try to reserve early morning, at least two hours a day, for writing fiction (or making notes and researching a book, which is what I’m doing now.)  I’m lucky that my children are all older now—the youngest is in high school—so that I can think unfractured thoughts during daylight hours.  With five kids, that definitely didn’t used to happen!

Amy: For THE WISHING HILL, did you start with a story, a character, or a problem? Meaning, what lead you—or pushed you—to write this particular story?

Holly: The main idea for THE WISHING HILL came from my grandmother’s story.  She was the oldest of five children, and when her own mother ran away with a much younger lover, leaving her children behind with their father, the family splintered.  I can’t say more, or you’ll guess one of the key secrets in the book!  But I’m always interested in the tensions underlying mother-daughter relationships, so that inspired a good part of THE WISHING HILL.  Beyond that, I knew I wanted to write about living in Mexico, a place I lived and worked for a while, and this gave me a chance to contrast that vivid, colorful setting with New England, where I live now.  I also wanted to write about women who were trying to make it as artists—Juliet is a painter, and her mother is an actress—so I was able to do that here.  I think it’s important to create characters who are living their passions, because too few people are doing that in real life.

Amy: What’s your definition of women’s fiction, and does the label bother you?

Holly: I think of women’s fiction as any fiction featuring women as main characters who have complicated inner lives and complex relationships, where the focus is on how those women are going to resolve (or at least survive) the conflicts in their lives.  I have heard (and seen here) how bothered some writers are by the label, like the wonderful Caroline Leavitt, but I’m not.  I actually think “women’s fiction” is a useful term in the publishing business when it comes to selling books.  Having been self published, I’m a pragmatist, in that I realize how difficult—and how important—it is to be able to put your book in at least one main “category” where readers can easily recognize it as something they’d like to try.  Think of it as a grocery store aisle:  If you’re shopping for cereal, you’re not going to look in the pet foods aisle, right?

Amy: Share your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction.

Holly: Write stories that you would love to read, and your passion will shine through on the page.

Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents.  She also works as a ghost writer on celebrity memoirs, education texts, and health books.  Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was named a Target Breakout Book.  Her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, was named a 2011 Book of the Year Finalist byForeWord Reviews and was more recently listed as a Semifinalist 2012 Best Indie Book by Kindle Book Review.  She  holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She lives north of Boston with her husband and their five children.

Author Lori Nelson Spielman Advises Writers That Stepping Away Is As Important As Stepping It Up

Author Lori Nelson Spielman is a very dear in-real-life friend of mine. And believe it or not, we met because of this blog! Since then we’ve found that we have even more in common than writing and publishing (and that’s special in its own right). Lucky us!

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BUT, if I didn’t also think her debut novel, THE LIFE LIST was awesome, I wouldn’t say so. I read an early copy of the book, handed to me by Lori herself the second  we met at the beach in Michigan (first time, perfect weather—second time, snow in April). Right away, I was mesmerized by Lori’s writing, and the story itself. It takes the main character through twists and turns of a very real and unexpected life. The best kind, if you ask me. While it starts off seeming like the main character is about to lead a charmed life (and then there wouldn’t be a novel, would there?) the exact opposite is true. There are very heady issues in this book. Real problems for the characters, real emotions. Much is not what it seems. And I loved that about the book. I enjoy the twists that go my way and the ones that don’t.  And I love an ending that leaves me hopeful. 

And I’m hopeful that you’ll enjoy THE LIFE LIST as much as I did. 

Please welcome my dear friend, Lori Nelson Spielman, to Women’s Fiction Writers! 

Amy xo

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Author Lori Nelson Spielman Advises Writers That Stepping Away Is As Important As Stepping It Up

Amy: Lori! This is so exciting for me to have you on Women’s Fiction Writers. Of course I wish we were sitting near the beach with wine and I was asking you these questions, but for now, the blog will  have to suffice. (And it does make it easier to share with everyone else!)

Would you give us a quick overview of your debut novel, THE LIFE LIST?

Lori: First of all, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, Amy. I’m a huge fan of Women’s Fiction Writers, and a huge fan of yours as well.

Okay, now on to the question. The Life List tells the story of a young woman who embarks on a year-long journey of self-discovery after her mother passes away and leaves her an inheritance with one big stipulation — in order to receive it she must complete the items on the “life list” of goals she made for herself when she was 14.

Amy: I found that THE LIFE LIST taps into not only the main character’s, Brett’s, childhood dreams and aspirations, but our own.  What this says to me is that we probably know ourselves better than we think, and get caught up in life, and forget.  What’s one thing you wish Brett would have done differently so that she didn’t lose track of so much that she had to rediscover? (If this question makes no sense, ignore it. I know what I mean but am not sure I conveyed it well!)

Lori: I know exactly what you mean, Amy! I think it boils down to confidence, or more accurately, Brett’s loss of confidence. As girls, we’re fearless. We imagine we can do anything, become anything, and most certainly deserve every good thing life has to offer. Somewhere along the road, many of us lose this youthful confidence. We begin to wonder whether we’re good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough to reach those lofty childhood dreams. Too often we settle for less than we deserve, whether it’s in our careers, our relationships, or our dreams. In short, Brett’s failure to believe in her own worth kept her from realizing her dreams, the same way it does for many of us women.

Amy: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times. Well, make it a million and one. Do you have a Life List for the future now?  I’m more of a day-at-a-time gal, and really don’t, but I certainly see the value in it.

Lori: I’m glad you used the term life list, Amy. People often refer to my book as being about someone’s bucket list, but I think there’s a real distinction between the two terms. To me, a life list as a blueprint of how you want to craft your life—things you determine are important on your way up, so to speak. Have a close family. Live on a lake. Have a fulfilling career. A bucket list, on the other hand, are those things you aspire to do on your way down, before you die, things that can be checked off in an instant. Skydive. Visit the Grand Canyon. Tour Machu Picchu. So, to answer your question, I do have a life list, though today it’s shorter and more specific—more like a bucket list. Does this mean I’m on my way down?! Yikes!

Amy: Oh! I love the distinction between a life list and a bucket list. I am always drawing lines between similar words and terms and picking them apart. This time you did it for me! (I can always count on you!) So, now onto some writing talk. When you’re writing do you outline, or just wing it (some would call that pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants)?  

Lori: I’m pantser with suspenders. I don’t just wing it, but I don’t have a detailed outline, either. When I get an idea for a story, I let it incubate for a few days. It usually bends and twists into something different than what I’d first imagined.  I watch the story unfold visually, much like a film. I envision many of the scenes and I know the ending, but I don’t necessarily write a detailed outline. Instead, I write madly and badly—yes, I allow myself to write a horrible first draft. In places where I need to do research, I simply make two X’s and continue, knowing I’ll go back to it later and fill in those gaps. Lucky for me, I enjoy the rewriting stage, which is where the bulk of the work occurs.

Amy: I know you’re working on something new—you don’t have to share any details, but how is it coming along? Is the process different this time than when you wrote THE LIFE LIST?

Lori: Yes, you and I have talked about this. It feels completely different this time, knowing my agent and my editor will read it. They’re looking for a book very similar in tone to The Life List, and I feel an enormous amount of pressure, hoping to please them. I do have a story idea that we’re all excited about, and once life settles down a bit, I’m anxious to get started on it.

Amy: How would you define women’s fiction, and does the label bother you?

Lori: I define women’s fiction as stories that are written primarily for women. Perhaps the label should offend me, but it doesn’t. With The Life List, there’s no question my target audience is women. I’m happy to own that. I do, however, have a problem when other authors get slapped with the label simply because they are female, despite their novel’s cross-gender appeal.

Your question made me think of this story. My friend’s son, an avid hiker, read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. He found it “too emo”. Apparently, the parts of the book my girlfriend and I found most compelling—the emotional scenes—were the very ones he disliked. There’s no doubt we women share our feelings more than men, something a study at Stanford found creates more serotonin, resulting in a general feeling of well-being. The researcher went on to say spending time with girlfriends is just as important as going to the gym. So, to extrapolate a bit, I’ll hypothesize that reading women’s fiction just might add years to your life. How’s that for an endorsement?

Amy: Share your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction.

Lori: Of course I’d advise the standard–read and persevere, take classes and attend workshops. But I’m going to throw a curve ball here and suggest knowing when to give up is equally important. Please don’t misinterpret: I’m not suggesting anyone give up writing. I’m talking about setting aside that project that hasn’t garnered a single request for pages after a hundred queries, a piece of work that no longer feels fresh. My dear friend has spent five years querying agents to no avail, yet she refuses to start a new project. Like a woman convinced the man who broke her heart is The One, she’s left paralyzed by her devotion. I know as well as anyone, it’s excruciating to let go of a project you’ve poured your heart and soul into, but sometimes we must. If I hadn’t set aside the novel I’d written thirteen years ago and started another, and then another, I’d still be a frustrated aspiring writer, collecting rejection letters. As Kenny Rogers once sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.”

A former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, Lori Nelson Spielman currently works as a homebound teacher for inner-city students. Her debut novel, THE LIFE LIST, has sold in 16 countries and Fox 2000 has purchased the film option. Lori and her husband live in Michigan.

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Brenda Janowitz’s Third Novel Was Worth The Wait—For Her, And For Readers

I’m thrilled today to have Brenda Janowitz on Women’s Fiction Writers. Brenda and I share an editor—Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s Press. I was lucky to read an early copy of Brenda J.’s latest novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, and I read it in a weekend. The setting, the characters, and the heartfelt story was just what I needed to take me away those cold winter mornings!  Now it’s summer and it’s your turn! Below you’ll read about Brenda’s publishing journey…and just how much it meant to her to write and publish this book!

Please welcome Brenda Janowitz to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Brenda Janowitz’s Third Novel Was Worth The Wait—For Her, And For Readers

It’s here!  It’s finally here!!  My publication day, that is.  My third novel officially hits bookshelves (and virtual bookshelves!) today.

You’d think I wouldn’t be quite so excited about my novel coming out today.  After all, it’s not my first time having a novel come out.  My first novel was published in 2007, and then my second novel was published shortly thereafter in 2008.

But you may have noticed that it’s now five years later….

You see, life has a way of intervening where plans are concerned, and since my second novel came out, a lot has happened.  I mean a lot.  I got married, moved out to the suburbs, and had two children.

But it was always there—that urge to write.  We writers are a strange breed.  We have to write.  It’s not really a choice.  I was complaining about some personal problems I was having to an old friend of mine (you know that sort of friend you’ve known since you were 18 years old?) and she listened and then asked: have you been writing?  And I had to admit it to myself and to her—I had not.  I told her so, and she looked back at me, no judgments, and simply nodded her head.

Writers need to write.

So, I got back to it.  And I completed RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE just as I became pregnant with my second son.  RECIPE says so much about me, so much about my life and how it’s changed, and I just hope that readers will respond to it.

RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is about three generations of women with a culture all their own.  When Hannah finds herself spending the summer with her glamorous grandmother, a widow six times over, at her sprawling beach-front Hamptons estate, she learns that there’s more than one recipe for happiness.

A story of mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE is a quirky story about correcting the mistakes from your past and trying to create a future for yourself.

The book was inspired by my own grandmothers, two of the most glamorous women I’ve even known.  Neither was a widow six times over, but both of my grandmothers were very elegant ladies.  When I think of my childhood memories, I’m not likely to picture them in aprons baking cookies.  I picture them in evening gowns.

So, tell me about your grandmothers.  Or your best memory of a family member.  Or someone who inspires you.

I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKS and JACK WITH A TWIST. My third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin’s on July 2, 2013. My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me on Facebook or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.

Author JoeAnn Hart Embraces Her Inner Earth Goddess In Her Fiction

I love all the interviews and guest posts on Women’s Fiction Writers, but sometimes I feel like a hoarder. Just hanging onto all the good stuff until…it’s time to share. And that’s how I feel about JoeAnn Hart’s post today. Reading this made me think about more than women’s fiction as a genre (or not, that’s not really an argument here) and about more than whether I’m a plotter or a pantser. As I embark on next part of writing my now-unnamed second novel, I have to, I must, remember what is most important to my characters. What matters to them? What do they want to change outside themselves that will impact their inner selves? What drives them besides themselves? It’s fiction. It can be ANYTHING! 

Please welcome JoeAnn Hart to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author JoeAnn Hart Embraces Her Inner Earth Goddess In Her Fiction

With the Summer Solistice just passed, it’s a good time to revisit the Earth Goddess and her literary legacy. In sync with the first Earth Day in 1970, when I was an impressionable 14 year-old, women were throwing off the shackles of patriarchy in the streets and in their homes, even in churches, chucking out any male god who lived on a cloud. Many turned to the Old Religion, governed by the Goddess, who once reigned over a peaceful, matrilineal world in harmony with Nature. Then, according to legend, the priests came, driving her and her followers underground where they were called witches, and thus began civilization’s slide into constant war and ecological devastation.

Women writers of the 70’s and early 80’s incorporated this mythopoeic vision into their novels, and I read them all. Marge Piercy, in Woman on the Edge of Time, wrote about an ideal society based on the assumed female principles of peace and love of the earth, set against a cautionary tale of continued male domination and its attendant disregard for the planet. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood created a dystopia of sexism and violence after men become infertile by a toxic event of their own making. Other writers contemplated the past instead of the future. Marion Zimmer Bradley retold the King Arthur myth from Morgan le Fay’s point of view in The Mists of Avalon, making the goddess worshipper the heroine and not the villain. Jean Auel, in Clan of the Cave Bear, placed the goddess plunk in the center of the Stone Age.

By the mid-80’s, as women put on their shoulder pads and floppy ties and went to the office, feminism began to pull away from the Earth Goddess. Flouting one’s fertility and innate peaceful nature at the office was not going to break any glass ceilings. The focus had turned to job equality and pay equity, so academic and political interests set out to prove there were no differences between the genders. And rightly so. It’s a small step from archetype to stereotype.

But I believe there’s still a place for the goddess and her reverence for the earth in fiction, perhaps now more than ever. As individuals we recycle and consider our carbon footprints, so why not ask the same of our characters? In my novel, Float, the protagonist goes to the beach to examine some mysterious words in the sand and ends up rescuing a seagull strangled by a plastic six-pack holder. This sets off a series of events that leads to a search for a true biodegradable plastic. I hadn’t intended for my character to get so environmentally involved, but just the act of having him notice the plastic was enough to move the plot in that direction.

Some writers may be afraid of opening up the Pandora’s Box of climate change or toxic waste because they don’t know what can be done about it. But fiction does not have to provide the answers, as Chekov said, it only has to ask the right questions. Let’s celebrate the Solistice by incorporating a little Goddess into our writing, and let our characters start asking a few pointed questions about the mess around them.

Photo credit: Brendan Pike

JoeAnn Hart lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport, where fishing regulations, the health of the ocean, and the natural beauty of the world are the daily topics of wonder and concern. She is the author of the novel Addled (Little, Brown, 2007) a social satire that intertwines animal rights with the politics of food.

JoeAnn’s essays, articles, and short fiction have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals and national publications, and she is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe Magazine. Her work has won a number of awards, including the PEN New England Discovery Award in Fiction. She and her husband tend a few farm animals, including two donkeys from Save Your Ass Rescue. In fair weather, Hart rows a dory around the harbor.

Float was a finalist for the Dana Award in the Novel, and the first two chapters, slightly modified, won the Doug Fir Fiction Award for a short story relating to environmental issues.