Author Ellyn Bache Talks About Naysayers, Fiction Labels and The Art of Saying Goodbye

As I wrote to Ellyn Bache in my first email, “while taking an early morning internet stroll I happened upon your website and blog.”  It’s simple but true. So Ellyn is a new-to-me author, but I realize she may not be new to many of you!  Her writing career, insights and advice are direct and sprinkled with humor.  And we all know you need a sense of humor in this business if you’re not going to ditch your hard drive into the river or bite your nails to the quick.  It’s always heartwarming and motivating to meet an author who’s done so much — but who is willing to take the time to share herself with those of us “coming up” in the ranks.

Please welcome Ellyn Bache to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Author Ellyn Bache and The Art of Saying Goodbye

ASN: Can you share with us how and when you started writing and how your publishing journey has evolved?

EB: I started writing for sanity’s sake when my first two children were toddlers.  A local newspaper used a press release I’d done for the humane society – and gave me a byline. I was hooked!  Here was an “adult” activity I could do at home during naps.  I wrote real estate articles, which I was able to sell, and short fiction, which I wasn’t.  Finally, after six years of rejections, McCall’s published my first story, which was a big deal back then.  I wrote my first novel, Safe Passage, after my youngest child went to school.  Sometimes you get a great piece of luck, and for me it was when the book was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon.  I’ve been writing now for more than 30 years, and have been fortunate to publish all kinds of different things – nine novels for women, a teen novel for boys, a collection of literary stories that won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize, a journal about sponsoring refugees, and five or six short books for children that are used in elementary school classrooms.

ASN: The Art of Saying Goodbye is about a group of women who are neighbors.  We’ve talked a lot here on WFW about taking fact and turning it into fiction. How much of any real life experience did you translate into your fictional world?

EB: The Art of Saying Goodbye is loosely based on something that really happened in the suburban development where I once lived.  A woman in her forties, vibrant and well-liked, was diagnosed with a terminal cancer that claimed her in less than two months.  The neighbors reacted in very different ways – with disbelief, shock, sorrow, relief that they weren’t the sick one (and guilt for feeling that way), frustration that they couldn’t offer more help.  But it was also a powerful, transformative experience no one had expected.  The idea of writing about it simmered for a long time.  The novel’s four main characters are fiction.  But their emotions are certainly real.

ASN: What do you love most about your newest book? Maybe your favorite character or scene or lesson learned?

EB: One character, Iona, is older than the others, a, curmudgeonly, 60-year-old widow.  She was great fun to write about – not politically correct, not tactful, not even always polite.  She’s my favorite, and seems to be a reader favorite, too.

The book is an Okra Pick – which means it was chosen for special recognition by the Southern Indie Booksellers.  When I told my friend Marilyn, she got so excited, she gushed and gushed – “Oh, Ellyn, this is wonderful.  This is the best thing!”  And on and on – until I realized she thought I’d said Oprah.  When I corrected her, she said in a very small voice, “oh.”  Since then I’ve been careful to explain that this is an honor named after a vegetable, not a TV star.

ASN: What do you think of all the controversy over the using the label women’s fiction — and it meaning something bad — not something good.  Do you wish that women’s fiction was just labeled as “fiction?”

EB: “Fiction” is such a broad term that it isn’t always helpful, though it’s certainly neutral rather than derogatory.  Now “women’s fiction” has come to mean light reading and (sometimes) romances, even though it’s used to describe a far wider range of novels.  So that’s not helpful, either.  My own books are on the literary end of the “women’s fiction” spectrum – but they’re not “literary fiction” in the heavy, intellectual sense, and they are intended for women.  So I don’t know.  Labels are useful, but never perfect.

ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?

EB: For me, women’s fiction has always meant the whole, broad world of women’s concerns.  Allegra Goodman, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Elizabeth Berg are very different writers, but to my mind, they’re all writing women’s fiction.  Naysayers to the contrary, women’s fiction is not inconsequential.  It entertains us, teaches us, nourishes us. Sometimes it changes our lives.

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

EB: Persist.  I know lots of talented writers who gave up and lots of not-so-talented ones who kept at it and got better . . . and are successful published novelists today.

Ellyn Bache started reading the short stories in her mother’s women’s magazines when she was about eight, so although she told people she was going to be a doctor (and even studied pre-med for a while), she ended up writing fiction, some of it “women’s fiction,” some of it “literary fiction,” some of it best left unlabeled.  Her short stories and novels have won awards, been made into movies, and received a number of other recognitions (see her website,  The mother of four grown children, she lives in Greenville, SC with Chief, her very sweet, very arthritic, dog, whose name reflects his role in the family.


Interview with Women’s Fiction Author, Kristina Riggle

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

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

Interview with Women’s Fiction Author, Kristina Riggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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