Debut Women’s Fiction Author, Shelle Sumners, Shares Her Unexpected Path To Publication

Just when I think I’ve asked all the questions and heard all the answers — enter my editor-and-publisher-sister, author Shelle Sumners.  She’s full of wonderful advice, interesting stories, and a few surprises.  Shelle’s novel, GRACE GROWS, is like that as well. While her main character, Grace, has expectations of herself, works hard at her job, and is in a relationship, Grace’s journey in the novel is how the expectations, needs, and wants for oneself can change…and how it’s never to late to follow a new path in life, work, and love. 

Please welcome Shelle Sumners to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Debut Women’s Fiction Author, Shelle Sumners, Shares Her Unexpected Path To Publication

Amy: Shelle, congratulations on the upcoming release of your novel GRACE GROWS on October 30th!  What are you most excited about with the release of your debut novel?   

Shelle: Thank you, Amy!

First of all, there’s the daily, thrilling realization that I wrote a book and it’s being published! And also, I’m excited because Grace Grows is very unusual—it’s a novel with an accompanying soundtrack of songs that are part of the story. My husband Lee Morgan wrote the songs, and truly, they are amazing. In the book they read as lyric poetry that Tyler Wilkie has written for Grace Barnum, but they are also actual, recorded songs, that readers can download and listen to. My publishers have been excited about this, too–the Random House audio book has portions of the songs woven throughout the spoken narrative, and both the audio book and the St. Martin’s Press enhanced e-book will feature an MP3 of the song “Her” (my favorite!). So, Lee and I are both looking forward to readers experiencing this multidimensional, multimedia creation of ours.

Amy: Is there anything you’re nervous about? 

Shelle: I am surprisingly calm, perhaps because I’m doing a lot of knitting.

Amy: Obviously you were doing many things (like most of us) while writing, submitting, editing and publicizing your novel. How did you organize and balance your time and commitments?

Shelle: While I was writing the first drafts of Grace Grows, I was working full time as a program coordinator at a church in Princeton, NJ. I’d come home at night and write for two or three hours (my husband made dinner a lot), and I spent chunks of weekend time writing, when I could squeeze it in. I have a wonderful daughter who always, always came first, but who was also very patient when mom was writing. By the time the book was being published and I was revising it with my editor, I was recovering from a health crisis and had to give up my job (more about this later in the interview), so I was able to make editing the novel my main focus.

Amy: We are all so glad you’ve recovered, Shelle — and that writing and editing was your safe place through the bad times.  Can you share with us what you learned about writing through the good and not-so-good times?   

Shelle: When you’re writing your first draft, just do the work and don’t worry about whether or not you’re being brilliant. Just write. It will turn out that some of what you create will be very useful, and some you will discard. I think of the first draft as the time when you are making the raw material, the “clay” that you will sculpt and refine in the second draft and then polish in subsequent drafts (and there may be many). Fun fact: The final, published version of Grace Grows was my eleventh draft.

I used to subscribe to a daily email of Buddhist wisdom, and one day I received this scripture in my inbox:

Soundtrack cover for GRACE GROWS

Having applied himself

to what was not his own task,

and not having applied himself

to what was,

having disregarded the goal

to grasp at what he held dear,

he now envies those

who kept after themselves,

took themselves

to task.

–Dhammapada, 16, translated by Thanissaro Bhikku

I printed this out and pinned it to the bulletin board over my computer. I reread it constantly while I was writing, and it helped me keep going. Writing is my task. My bliss. I did not want to come to the end of my life and know that I had not at least tried to grasp at what I held dear.

Amy: We share the same St. Martin’s editor, Brenda Copeland, but everyone’s writing, editing, and publishing experience is different. Can you share a bit of your journey to publication and some of the most surprising events or realizations? 

Shelle: Surprise number one: I used to think I was an actor, but it turned out I was a writer! I had been a theater major in college and spent my twenties in New York and Los Angeles pursuing an acting career, but by the time I was thirty this was no longer creatively satisfying. I needed to try something else. I had always been a good writer in school, so I wrote a short, experimental, not very good play. Then I became obsessed with an idea I had for a movie. I bought Syd Field’s screenwriting workbook and taught myself how to write a screenplay. With that first script I got a literary agent, and it was optioned by a Sundance Film Festival–winning producer, but it was never made into a movie.

I wrote two more screenplays. Then, in a writing class, I met a very talented writer who happened to be a former book scout for movies. She read one of my scripts and told me that I really should try writing a novel. I’d been putting it off, but I worked up the courage and spent a year novelizing one of my screenplays. Not long after I finished the first draft of that novel, I had a dream about this young man and woman who, for some reason, were together at a waterfall. They were so in love, but there were obstacles. It was very early morning, still dark out, but I sat up in bed and wrote many pages of notes. Their story just flowed out of me.

About 18 months later, I gave the Grace Grows manuscript to my friend from writing class. She read it and asked if she could send it to a close friend in New York who is very connected in publishing and film. That wonderful woman read the manuscript and offered to take it to literary agents, and that is how I got my fantastic agent, Laurie Liss.

Laurie and I worked on the manuscript for several months, and then she took it to publishers and within about a week sold it to Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s Press.

I’ll briefly mention here that the sale of my book closely followed another life-changing event: The day after Christmas, 2010, I had a stroke. A stroke. Yes, I am too young, and this was completely unexpected. What happened was I accidentally tore the lining of my left vertebral artery, and a blood clot went to my brain. So, during the months that I worked with Brenda on my Grace Grows edits, I was in physical therapy for muscle and balance problems caused by the stroke. What a blessing it was to have something so wonderful, so dreamed of, happening alongside something so difficult. It helped me stay hopeful and positive.

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

Shelle: Stories that affirm women and invisibly connect us when we collectively read/experience them.

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

Shelle: Just try to tell a good story.

Shelle Sumners lives and writes in Bucks County, PA. Her debut novel Grace Grows is a Featured Alternate selection for Doubleday, Literary Guild and Rhapsody Book Clubs and is being published internationally. It has a companion soundtrack of phenomenal original songs that appear in the story, written and performed by her husband, singer-songwriter and Broadway actor Lee Morgan.

www.ShelleSumners.com

http://www.facebook.com/ShelleSumners

Twitter: @ShelleSumners

You can pre-order GRACE GROWS! Click here!

Author Karen Stivali Tells Us Why Women’s Fiction With A Love Story Is Not A Romance Novel

As a rule, I don’t like rules. But, when I read Karen Stivali’s post that explained her perception of the rules of romance novels, and why her books did not fit that mold — I was smitten. I don’t write romance — and I know that. What I wasn’t sure of was what constitutes that line between some women’s fiction and some romance novels.  Let us know what you think in the comments.

And please welcome Karen Stivali to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Karen Stivali Tells Us Why Women’s Fiction With A Love Story Is Not A Romance Novel

When my debut full-length novel, Meant To Be, released a few weeks ago I got a lot of questions from curious friends. There’s one conversation that I’ve been having over and over. It goes something like this…

Friend: What kind of book is it?

Me: It’s a love story.

Friend: Oh, it’s a romance novel?

Me: No, it’s women’s fiction with strong romantic elements.

Friend: So, it’s a romance novel.

Me: No, it breaks too many romance rules.

Friend: But you said it’s a love story.

Me: It is. And it’s romantic as hell, but it’s not a romance novel in the traditional sense.

Most readers, and even many writers, are not aware of how strict the rules are where romance novels are concerned. I’ll admit, as a reader and a writer I always thought the rules were a bad thing, but now that I’ve written both romances and women’s fiction I can see why the rules are in place. And why I sometimes break them or cross genres.

Back when I first started writing I remember reading an interview with Nicholas Sparks where he vehemently denied writing romances. That floored me. Has he ever written a story that wasn’t romantic? Not to my knowledge. But technically the vast majority of his books can’t be considered romances. Why not? The most common reason is the lack of a happily ever after ending. He writes love stories. His fiction focuses on love and romance but is classified as either mainstream fiction or, as women make up the vast majority of his readers, women’s fiction.

Romance novels are popular. There’s no denying that.  For decades they’ve had a huge, always-growing audience of devoted readers. Part of the reason for that is those readers want to know what they can expect from the stories. That doesn’t mean they want the same story churned out over and over again, but it does mean they want certain elements to be guaranteed. Romances guarantee the reader that they’ll find a story where the hero and heroine only have eyes for each other and where, no matter what obstacles they face in the course of the book, they’ll wind up with a happily ever after ( or at least happy for now) ending. They’re also guaranteed that the romance will drive the plot. Sure, there may be sub plots or side characters that aren’t romantic, but the focus of the story will be on the path the hero and heroine take to becoming a couple.

Women’s fiction is far harder to define. Some define it simply as books that will appeal to a primarily female audience. Others say it’s fiction written by women, for women, with a female main character (which would mean Nicholas Sparks doesn’t actually write women’s fiction either, as he’s clearly not a woman). Women’s fiction can have a romantic plot, but it certainly doesn’t have to. It can be a story of sisters, of friends, of mothers and children, husbands and wives, careers, losses, achievements, or any combination of those. Sometimes, however, women’s fiction does focus on a man and woman falling in love, or on the trials of male/female relationships. That’s the kind of women’s fiction I write.

Wait, you ask, then why don’t you write romances instead? The answer is sometimes I do. I have published several erotic romances that are all sweet, sexy love stories involving a man and woman falling in love and having great sex as they work toward their happily ever after ending. I just signed a contract with a new publisher on a (non-erotic) contemporary romance that’s a friends-to-lovers/second-chance-with-an-old-crush story in which the heroine has to decide if she can juggle having a career and the man of her dreams. I loved writing those stories. I love those characters. But sometimes the stories I have in mind don’t fit the romance mold. That’s the case with my women’s fiction, like Meant To Be (and its sequel, Holding On).

As a writer I stay very true to my characters and insist on telling their story. I don’t worry about rules or genres while I write, I write the story I have in my head. Period. Meant To Be is a friends to lovers tale with a an unusual twist. My main characters, Daniel and Marienne, are both married to other people when they become neighbors in a small New Jersey town. (Romance rule breaker number one—hero and heroine MUST be single at the beginning of the story.) The two couples become friends, sharing meals at each other’s houses, commuting to work together—normal things neighbors do. (Romance rule breaker number two—story must focus on the romance between the hero and heroine, not on other relationships.) Daniel and Marienne discover they have a lot in common. Similar likes. Similar histories. As their marriages begin to unravel they rely on their friendship.

Although it becomes clear to the reader that they’re beginning to fall for each other, there is never even a hint of cheating. In fact, they both stay loyal to their spouses, trying to make their respective marriages work way past the point where they’re truly viable relationships. Even when they both wind up single and available they struggle with the decision to risk their friendship to see if the romantic feelings are returned.

Since I write books that focus on relationships and since, in my opinion, sex is an important facet of most adult relationships, I write open door sex scenes. Sex is not just a physical act, it’s an emotional one. The interaction between characters during a sexual encounter can be far more telling about the relationship than a conversation or even an argument. For that reason, both main characters are shown having sex with their spouses. It’s very telling about the state of their marriages. It’s also romance rule breaker number three—the hero and heroine cannot be shown having sexual relations with anyone other than the hero/heroine (except in the case of consensual ménages, which I don’t write in any genre).

Romance rules aren’t the only ones I break with this story. By some definitions of women’s fiction I break a major rule of women’s fiction writing. Meant To Be is a story about Daniel and Marienne. As individuals, as friends, as two people falling in love. It’s about the journey they both take. They are each point of view characters and are equally important to the story. Although they both grow, mature and change throughout the course of the book, in many ways this is more Daniel’s story. In other word’s it’s by a woman, for women, but not just about a woman.

I often say this story is one long prelude to a kiss. Readers have told me they waited, breathlessly turning pages, dying to see if Daniel and Marienne would eventually find their way to each other at the end of this story. As I said, it’s a love story. It’s romantic as hell. But it’s not a traditional romance novel. It’s women’s fiction, with strong romantic elements. And a happily ever after ending. An ending that told me I wasn’t done with these characters and their journey yet, which is why there’s a sequel releasing at the end of November.

The sequel, Holding On, explores how even when you marry the person of your dreams, and have everything you ever wanted, relationships still aren’t easy. When you have everything you ever wanted the hard part is holding on. Is it a romantic story? You bet. Is it a romance? Nope. (Romance rule breaker—the hero and heroine cannot already be married to one another as the plot must focus on them falling in love and a married couple is, in theory, already in love.) It’s women’s fiction with strong romantic elements, because I like my women’s fiction with a lot of love and a lot of heat…and a happy ending…but not the traditional romance novel path.

So, it’s your turn to tell me. Do you like your women’s fiction with hearty doses of romance? Do you enjoy having dual point of view from the hero and heroine in your women’s fiction? Or do you prefer if romantic plot lines are left in romance novels and women’s fiction focuses on the woman’s journey?

Karen Stivali is a prolific writer, compulsive baker and chocoholic with a penchant for books, movies and fictional British men. When she’s not writing, she can be found cooking extravagant meals and serving them to family and friends. Prior to deciding to write full time Karen worked as a hand drawn animator, a clinical therapist, and held various food-related jobs ranging from waitress to specialty cake maker. Planning elaborate parties and fundraisers takes up what’s left of her time and sanity.

Karen has always been fascinated by the way people relate to one another so she favors books and movies that feature richly detailed characters and their relationships. In her own writing she likes to explore the dynamics between characters and has a tendency to craft romantic love stories filled with sarcasm and sexy details.

You can find MEANT TO BE on AmazonAllRomanceEbooks,Barnes & Noble,and Turquoise Morning Press.

You can find Karen on her website, on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

In case you’re curious about Meant To Be, here’s the blurb:

Sometimes you’re already committed to the wrong person when fate finally brings you the right one.

When NYU professor Daniel Gardner’s career-obsessed wife convinces him to move to the suburbs, he hopes it’s a first step toward starting the family he longs to have. Instead of domestic bliss he finds his neighbor, Marienne Valeti. She loves her freelance design job, but must contend with a growing sense of isolation created by her husband’s indifference. A penchant for good books, bad movies, and Marienne’s to-die-for brownies sparks a powerful bond between them. Passion simmers, but they resist its lure, surrendering only in the seclusion of their minds. Their friendship helps them weather every hardship, from divorce to widowhood, leaving them both secretly wondering if it can survive a first kiss.

Women’s Fiction Author Kellie Coates Gilbert Asks The Tough Questions, And Then Writes A Novel That Answers Them

I loved the title of Kellie Coates Gilbert’s novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, right away.  I love a play on words, don’t you? Then I saw the cover and loved that!  But what I love most is how Kellie describes how she asked herself questions and then wrote a book that answered them.  I haven’t done that exactly and think it’s a great idea.  Kellie shares a lot of insights and ideas with us today — so please give her a warm welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers. Then, share your own thoughts in the comments.  I promise – we don’t bite – but we might write back! 

Amy xo

Women’s Fiction Author Kellie Coates Gilbert Asks The Tough Questions, And Then Writes A Novel That Answers Them

Amy: Congratulations on the release of your novel, MOTHER OF PEARL! It’s a relationship story about a mother and a daughter — I won’t give away more than that, but can you tell us what sparked the idea for the book?

Kellie: I knew my first novel would focus on mothering and the perils women face in this role, especially during the teen years. I didn’t even know how many things there were to be afraid of until I had my first child. From the moment the nurse placed that tiny infant in my arms, a fierce need to protect bubbled from the deepest part of me.

As a novelist, I asked the question: What would a mother do if suddenly life took a turn and she learned the child she thought she’d protected had fallen into the hands of someone unsafe?  And what if she found out too late?

Early, when the inception of this story was still noodling in my brain, I saw a sadly recurring event on the news, the story of a coach who had inappropriately been involved with a teenager. While the cameras honed on the major players, I couldn’t help but wonder if the girl’s mother stood just out of view. What was she feeling?

Amy: I love your website’s tagline: Stories for Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Girlfriends…. What prompted you to be so specific about the type of stories you write?  

Kellie: I’m a former legal investigator and trial paralegal who worked on many high profile cases, including the Jack-in-the-Box e-coli litigation in the mid-nineties and the largest cattle fraud case in the United States.  People are often at their most vulnerable in these tense situations where much is at stake, giving me a unique perspective on the human psyche.  Early in my legal career, I recognized there could be value in telling stories about women facing relationship fractures, betrayal, and loss and how we often exhibit strength and dignity in these journeys.

My agent urged me to write romance to break into publishing.  I did, and my first novel sold.  But that story was not one that burned in my heart as I wrote. When the publishing house switched directions and pulled back even before we got the contract to sign, the situation was an easy one to let go of.

I am meant to write stories for women that focus on relationships, and the deep places in life. People have many layers, and never more than in family dynamics and hard times. I’m intrigued with the coping mechanisms we employ to fill our empty places. These are the stories of my heart.

Amy: Can you share with us a little about the timeline and circumstances of your journey to publication?

Kellie: Like many authors, I am an avid reader. Strangely, I never considered a career as a novelist. Instead, I pursued a sensible legal career with predictable income (especially while my boys were in college). But in 2004, I attended my first writing conference and left with an overwhelming feeling that I was always meant to write novels. The experience is hard to describe, but I knew in the deepest part of me I would publish a novel.

So, I lifted an outrageous prayer and asked for the impossible.

But first, I had to learn to write well. So, I spent seven years going to writing conferences and workshops, taking courses, reading every craft book I could find. And a published novelist mentored me.  She started off our first session by saying she was like a dentist who only works on the bad teeth.  She meant to encourage by reminding me I had a lot of good teeth. But frankly, fixing a broken novel is sometimes as painful as a root canal. But, with her help, I learned the tools of how to create a good story.

My biggest challenge can be time management.

I often wake early and spend the first twenty minutes of my day talking with my husband before he leaves for work.  Then, I spend some time reading before heading out for my morning swim.  This is where I think through the upcoming scenes and plot points in my current manuscript.

After breakfast, I head directly into my office.  My first attention is directed to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with readers and publishing folks.  I try to start my actual writing no later than ten in the morning (and meet this goal most days).

I enjoy a quiet, organized place to write with lots of light streaming through the windows. Often I have Pachelbel’s Canon playing and a steaming cup of coffee on a coaster next to my Mac computer.

Amy: Are you a plotter or a pantser (meaning, do you write by the seat of your pants)?  Can you share any early draft tips with WFW readers?

Kellie: I’m a combination of both, but lean heavily to the pantser side. Early, I create a notebook with photos of my main characters and think through what lie they believe about themselves, and why. I jot down notes about who they are and why these elements are key to the general story.

I also make sure I know the inciting incident that pulls the main character from her regular world. I note her goals and brainstorm all the threats to achieving that goal.  In the end, I have a general framework of where I am going with the story, which keeps me from wandering too much.  But if I over-plan, I seem to clench up and can’t write.  Plus, I enjoy discovering the story as I write.

The downside of this method is a messier first draft, which needs a lot of editing.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Kellie: I personally define women’s fiction as a story about a woman (or women) that tells more about her inner journey than her outer experiences, where relationships are key and the journey evokes a lot of emotion.

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

Kellie: Read.  Don’t get in a hurry. Learn as much about the craft of writing as you can before you start submitting. Get a great agent (and editor). And read. Then, read some more. In the end, great story trumps great craft.  If you have both, you’re far ahead of the pack trying to break in.

And here’s a bit of a secret:  Publishing a novel is as fun as you think it will be. Nothing compares to a reader email that says she couldn’t put your book down and your story will remain in her heart.

A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure.  Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope.

Kellie’s novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, Abingdon Press Sept 2012, tells the emotionally compelling story of a high school counselor who discovers her own teenage daughter had an inappropriate relationship with the football coach . . . and how she risks everything to bring him to justice.

For more information, go to http://www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com

Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book

Keith Cronin is a true writer-advocate in addition to being the author of ME AGAIN and a professional drummer!  Keith’s road to publication has been long and arduous and wonderful — and we are so lucky to have him back on Women’s Fiction Writers. I met Keith on Backspace, probably in 2007! (OMG, that’s like 27 years in online years!) Keith was one of the very first guests on WFW!  A link to that interview, and to my review of ME AGAIN, his re-released novel now available on Kindle, are listed below.

Please welcome Keith Cronin back to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book

Amy: Welcome back to Women’s Fiction Writers, Keith! Congratulations on the Kindle release of your novel Me Again, a year after its original hardcover release. Can you explain to us why there was a year in between these releases?

Keith: Thanks, Amy – it’s great to be invited back! The one-year wait was a contractual thing. Five Star is a very specialized publishing house, focused primarily on selling hardcover fiction to public library systems. In fact, when they bought my book, they were not doing any digital publishing at all. They’ve finally begun to enter the ebook market, but the terms of my contract give me all non-hardcover publishing rights one year after the hardcover release.

This arrangement didn’t sound too bad back in 2010 when I signed the book deal, but that one year ended up feeling like an eternity, given that my book came out right when ebooks started really taking off. So I’m thrilled to finally be able to offer the book to a wider audience – and at a much lower price.

Amy: How was your experience as a debut author? Was it different from your expectations?

Keith: It’s been both a roller-coaster ride and a huge learning experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Probably the toughest thing when launching a book is the ongoing choice you’re faced with, of when to just let things happen, and when to try to insert yourself into the process. On one hand, working with a publisher who’s been around, you need to give them credit for knowing how to do their part. But on the other, you can’t forget that yours is just one of many books they are publishing, so you need to stay on top of some of the details just in case they don’t – all without becoming a nightmarishly high-maintenance pain in the ass (or, NHMPITA). That’s always a balancing act, and I’m not sure I always stayed on the correct side of the NHMPITA line. But I’m fortunate to have many friends who are authors, and their experiences provided a much-needed reality check, and made me realize that most authors hit some occasional speed-bumps and woulda-coulda-shoulda’s with every book they publish.

I will say, the validation that comes with publishing a book has been very powerful – it makes you feel like all that hard work really meant something. And it’s incredibly gratifying when a reader speaks up to let me know they enjoyed my story. Whether they tell me face-to-face, send me an email, post a review, or comment on Twitter or Facebook, it never fails to lift me up and make my day. That stuff just never gets old.

But one of the coolest things I’ve found is that having a book out puts me in a position to help even more writers. I’m a huge believer in the power of writers as a community – my favorite being the Backspace online forum, where you and I met. When I speak at conferences and other events, or post my thoughts online about writing, it’s both rewarding and humbling to see how people respond. Just last week I did a reading and panel discussion down in South Beach, at the LitChat Literary Salon at the Betsy Hotel. One of the people in the audience was a high school kid, who came up to talk to me afterward. He said something that really struck me: “I’m not the best writer in my creative writing class. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that nobody else from my class showed up for this, after our teacher told us about it.”

I told him it’s not just a matter of who has the most talent, but more about who wants it the most, and the fact that he showed up indicated he had more of a hunger than the other students. By the way his eyes lit up, I could tell he was really encouraged. When you see that fire in another writer’s eyes, and know that you helped keep that flame going, it’s a really powerful experience.

Amy: I know you’re a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed, one of my favorite daily reads — but are you also working on a new novel? If so, will it be back under the broad umbrella of women’s fiction?

Keith: Yes, I’m in the brainstorm stage of my next project, and I think it will fit into that admittedly broad category, in that it will explore some pretty deep emotional territory. But I’ll be honest – I’ve really begun to think “women’s fiction” is a category that exists mostly in the minds of people who work in publishing, but not in the minds of most readers. I almost never hear the term unless I’m talking to somebody who is involved in the business. Even at literary conferences I keep encountering people in the audience questioning what women’s fiction is, particularly when they see a guy who looks like me claiming that he writes it.

That said, I definitely write with a female audience in mind. I’ve always related well to women – as a youth I was perpetually stuck being that nice guy whom so many girls liked “only as a friend” – oh, the agony! And I’m certainly not cut out to write testosterone-dripping Cussler-esque thrillers (in part because I don’t feel cardboard is a satisfactory material from which to build a character – oops, did I say that out loud?). So yeah, I’m sticking with this direction, because I think it lets me tap into what I’ve got, in a way that seems to resonate most with readers.

Amy: What’s your best advice for debut authors?

Keith: Well, this is definitely a piece of “do as I say, not as I do” advice, but here it is: Take advantage of any time you have to start writing the next freaking book.

I know, everybody says it. But it’s so true, and it needs to be reiterated. When you’re a debut author, your whole world becomes about this one book. And since it’s your first book (we’ll ignore any “trunk novels” for the moment), it’s easy to look at this one book as the sum total of all your literary energy. You’ve poured everything you had into this book, and there’s simply nothing left.

Sorry, but that only worked for Harper Lee. You wanna be an author? You gotta keep writing more books. And they sure as hell don’t write themselves.

Amy, with the publication date of The Glass Wives approaching (yay!), I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a LOT of waiting in this game. In fact, this advice isn’t just for debut authors. These bouts of waiting occur at all stages of your development and career, whether you’re submitting short stories to journals, or querying agents, or waiting while your agent pitches your book to editors, or all the stuff that happens after you sell, when you’re waiting on copy edits, cover art, author blurbs, ARCs, you name it. Bottom line, there is a huge amount of thumb-twiddling time in this business, during which your thumbs (and the rest of your fingers) would be put to better use typing away at your next book.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors?

Keith: Don’t succumb to the temptation to treat self-publishing as a shortcut. Now, please read that sentence carefully. I’m not going all Sue Grafton on you here. I’m not saying “don’t self-publish.” I’m not saying “self-publishing is a shortcut.” What I’m trying to say – with any luck, more accurately and diplomatically than Grafton did – is that there can definitely be a temptation to treat self-publishing as a shortcut. I mean, your book can be live on Amazon within hours of you typing “the end” in your Word document. Just knowing this is heady stuff, and the temptation is palpable.

What do I advocate instead? Before jumping on that bandwagon, try to get a sense of whether your stuff is ready. And I’m “old school” in this respect: I think you need somebody else to help determine that. An editor at a literary journal choosing to publish one of your stories. A reputable agent offering to represent you. Failing that, some serious interest and “near misses” with several reputable agents and/or editors. Some positive reviews and comments from professional writers with whom you interact, either in online groups or at conferences, workshops, or meetings with established groups or associations (RWA, MWA, etc.).

All this may make me sound dreadfully old-fashioned, but I just think it’s so hard to be objective about your own work. And while your mom or your spouse might think your writing is fabulous, I really think you need a second opinion, ideally from others with some firmly established expertise. In my experience, most of us just don’t get good enough to write fiction worthy of publication without paying some pretty substantial dues – and getting our butts kicked by people who know more about writing than we do.

So that’s all I’m advocating: do the hard work necessary to get your writing up to par. Then, by all means explore whatever publishing options are available, and make a choice that best suits your priorities.

Amy: What is one thing you would do as a debut author– if you had it to do all over again? Or did you check everything off your list?

This question brought back a memory, and sent me digging through my Facebook statuses (or is it stati?) from a year ago, and I soon found the post I was looking for:

“When I put out the recycling bins tonight, the amount of empty wine bottles in the glass/metal/plastic bin reminded me that yes, this was the week I published my first novel.”

So I’m thinking next time around, I’ll look into trying to get a volume discount at the local wine shop!

(I’m making a note of this one, Keith. CHEERS, my friend!)

Author of the novel ME AGAIN, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. He is also becoming informally known as “the title guy,” having provided the title for Sara Gruen’s blockbuster Water for Elephants, as well as Susan Henderson’s HarperCollins debut Up from the Blue.

Keith is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed, named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for the past five years. His fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Indiana University, and earned his MBA at Florida Atlantic University. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. Visit him online at keithcronin.com or facebook.com/keithcronin.

Find out more about ME AGAIN, and get your own copy, by clicking here.

You can read Keith’s first WFW interview, When A Man Writes Women’s Fiction, by clicking here.

You can read my review of ME AGAIN, here.

Margaret Dilloway, Author (and Aspiring Samurai), Talks About Writing Up-Market Women’s Fiction, Being Nice To Everyone, And Embracing The Chaos

Margaret Dilloway has two novels to her credit, How To Be An American Housewife, and The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns — and she also has a lot of inspiring words that are not inside those novels which you’ll find below. It’s such a learning experience to read what works for other writers, how they find the time, channel the energy, find their ideas, and how they stay sane through the process.  

I think Margaret Dilloway’s got it right — she embraces the chaos!

Please welcome Margaret to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Margaret Dilloway, Author (and Aspiring Samurai), Talks About Writing Up-Market Women’s Fiction, Being Nice To Everyone, And Embracing The Chaos

Amy: THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is your second novel, can you tell us a little bit about the story and main characters? (No spoilers, of course!)

Margaret: It’s about a high school biology teacher, Gal Garner, who’s an amateur rose breeder. She spends hours creating a new type of rose, the Hulthemia, and hopes one day to get it produced by a big rose company. She’s got a very methodical personality, and on top of that, Gal’s one of those people who lets people know the truth– the whole, blunt truth– which sometimes gets her into trouble. She’s also dealing with a lifelong kidney disease, and goes to dialysis every other day.

The kidney problems have affected all other areas of her life. One theme I explore is how it affected her family dynamics while she was growing up. It’s difficult to parent when one child’s in the hospital all the time. Her sister Becky has had lifelong problems with addiction, and she and Gal are nearly estranged. When Becky sends her daughter, Riley, to live with Gal, Gal has to readjust her life to make room for this other person. This kid who looks like an adult, but needs a lot of parenting.

One sidenote about the Hulthemia rose: it’s an open-faced rose that’s been being developed for the consumer market for more than 200 years. The man who assisted me with this book, Jim Sproul, was the first person to get it into the marketplace this season.

Amy: Was the process of writing this novel different than writing your first, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE? Can you share a little about how you write a novel?

Margaret: I don’t think any two novels will be the same for me. With HOUSEWIFE, it took me forever, because I wrote in a vacuum– I didn’t know any other writers and editors, or have any idea about story structure.

When I started ROSES, I was much more educated– I’d worked with a fabulous editor on HOUSEWIFE, who had very high standards. I started with an outline, but as I wrote, the story began to veer away from the outline. The ending’s entirely different than what I’d imagined.

ROSES took a few months of research and mulling, but when I finally sat down and committed myself to writing, the whole thing took about six weeks and required very little editing. I think this novel is going to be an anomaly.

I guess my advice is: be prepared, write an outline, but feel free to not follow it!

Amy: I love the tagline on your website: “Embracing the Chaos.” That seems like a smart motto! How do you embrace the chaos in your own life? (assuming it’s chaotic — aren’t they all?)

Margaret: “Embracing the Chaos” is sort of my mantra, because you’re right, all lives are chaotic. That was my hardest lesson to learn as an adult– how to be resilient, roll with the punches. (What do you mean, things won’t always work out perfectly??) My husband and I seem to be magnets for big, dramatic chaos. For example, my husband’s been hit by a car twice, and had to have his neck fused. We sold all our stuff and moved to Hawaii for a job, then sold it all again and moved back 18 months later, starting out with nothing twice.

On a smaller scale, we like to take on just a *little* bit more than we think we can handle. So that’s probably why we had a third kid, why he was an Army Ranger, why I’ve tried to devote myself to writing without success being a sure thing.

Amy: What is your favorite part of being an author? And yes, what is your least favorite part?

Margaret: My favorite part is interacting with readers. I love meeting people, and I love receiving positive letters from readers. I’ve had women write to me telling me I helped change the relationship with their mothers because of Housewife. That feels great.

My least favorite is all the business-y stuff. Being an author is like running your own small business– you need a “brand,” and that kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve had to learn a lot.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Margaret: When you say, “women’s fiction,” I think of something called, “upmarket women’s fiction,” which is a sort of commercial women’s fiction. To me, that means that there’s a female protagonist who’s dealing with a life problem, which are often part of a larger, bigger theme; and has a plot that moves along pretty fast. And it has well-written, complex characters– at least, I strive for that.

Women’s fiction sometimes tends to be code for, “light fluffy stuff about women’s lives that nobody takes seriously because they’re women,” which makes me all shades of mad. Women’s lives are important, and our experiences and opinions are important. There is excellent, affecting women’s fiction that makes you think differently about your life, and changes your worldview.

Think of the painter Mary Cassatt, the Impressionist who was the first one to take the lives of women seriously, who painted women in their everyday spheres. The male art world didn’t care about women or their silly little lives of motherhood and domesticity. But she treated women’s lives as a subject as worthy of paint. I want to be the Mary Cassatt of women’s fiction.

And I also want to be the Norman Mailer of women’s fiction, because I want to get into fights.

Not really, on that last part. Though I am half-Irish and have a quick temper, and my mother came from a samurai family, so you never know.

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

Margaret: Read widely outside your genre, write everyday, and don’t give up. I think the difference between me and others is I kept picking myself up and going forward. It’s really hard to do, so try to have people who are cheerleaders.

Have a life outside of writing, because, for most people, success is not a trajectory that goes upward forever and ever– it usually at least levels out. You need to not have all your self-worth tied up in that.

And be nice to people, even if they aren’t nice to you.

Margaret Dilloway is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, and How to Be an American Housewife, both published by Putnam Books. Entertainment Weekly called Roses “an exquisite little novel,” and Library Journal said it’s, “a captivating study of how love and understanding nurture our lives.” Housewife got four out of four stars from People Magazine, and was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Award.

Author Ilie Ruby Says Throw Away The Labels And Start Writing

Sometimes the simplest advice is really the best advice. Today, THE SALT GOD’S DAUGHTER author Ilie Ruby reminds us what’s important — our writing. She also shares what it was like to write her second novel, and how she integrates her love of folklore and myth into her work.

Please welcome Ilie to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Ilie Ruby Says Throw Away The Labels And Start Writing

Amy: Congratulations on your “sophomore” novel, The Salt God’s Daughter. The story is a story containing folklore and myths — can you tell us a little bit about it and how these stories came into your life — and subsequently found your way into your novel?

Ilie: Thanks, but I have to admit that “sophomore” makes me cringe a little. If I had thought about that label when I was writing this book I probably wouldn’t have written it. (So to answer your 2nd question up here for a second), my advice to you is to not think of it that way. Plus it reminds me of sophomoric. Can we never say that term again? I’m half joking. More, it makes me think about the labels and all the have to’s, and how to’s, and should have’s thrown at writers about things that have nothing to do with writing. The same is true for genre, for platform, I could go on about this. I suppose it is relevant to the extent that you build a context for your career and your identity as a writer, but no, I don’t have much to say about how the label affected me because it didn’t. I only knew that I wanted to write the best novel I could and that I wanted it to do as well as my first. But I chose a different path for my second book so I knew it would be different—unlike my first novel, I chose to do an exclusive offering to a boutique literary publisher. The decision was wholly editor-driven. My editor read the manuscript in its early stages and was very enthusiastic about it. I followed him to the independent publisher, where he is editor-at-large. I had a reason and I am happy with my choice. I put the novel in the hands of someone I trusted, who loved the book. So, far, things have turned out really well.

As for myth and folklore, which characterize my work—I studied mythology and journalism in college—two things that seem as if they couldn’t be more different. Mythology appealed to me because it canvasses the architecture of the human psyche in all of its messy complexities, and journalism appealed to me because of its brick and mortar approach to storytelling. The marriage of these two things is what is at work in my books. I’m drawn to the way myths celebrate beings that are bigger, exaggerated versions of human beings, but who are bound by very human, raw, often impassioned, emotions and instincts. The juxtaposition of a thing that is larger than life but also bound by the human desires and obsessions (love, sex, greed) fascinates me. My passion for stories lies in the confluence of myth and real life, the place where gritty human truths spark discoveries and epiphanies that seem divine.

Folktales were the first stories I learned. My mother is an ex-hippie and she picked up volumes of folksongs in the early 60s. The legend of the selkie (or “silkie”), which influenced the structure of this book, came to me when I was very young when she taught me to play it on my guitar—The Great Silkie. There are many versions of selkie mythology, tales of shape-shifting creatures that are seals in the water but that become people on land. The version I grew up with chronicles the journey of a woman who longs for love, and who draws to her a man from the sea—a selkie. He leaves before she gives birth to a child, but he eventually returns to take the child back to the sea. What made this folktale a natural vessel for the novel was its patriarchal patterning—and its timeless reflections on our longing for love and connection. As a girl growing up in the 70s and early 80s, navigating the riptide of feminism, I questioned the inequity of power in the myth. Why was the woman waiting? Why did the man, the powerful animal (literally, in this case), have all the control? What was particularly interesting about writing this novel was in the changing dynamic between the selkie and the human, between the man and the woman, by way of a female character, a survivor who endures both love and tragedy, and who must wrestle with the backlash of a patriarchal culture. She is the one who has the power in the end, not by a snap of the fingers but because of a series of choices she makes. I wanted not to create a version of a feminist superhero we so often see in the media—portrayed as a martial arts expert or a gunslinger—rather, this character embodies current-day feminism, a woman finding her way through a labyrinth of changing identity—as a daughter, as a mother, as a lover. Ruthie is, in fact, an unlikely hero, one I very much adore and one I think readers will relate to.

Amy: We (ok, I) sometimes hear horror stories about writing and publishing that second novel. ( Of course, I am ignoring all this as I work on my second now.) Can you share with us your process for writing and if it changed from The Language of Trees, your first book — to your second — The Salt God’s Daughter?

Ilie: I will say that my first book took me ten years to write—and it wasn’t that I was writing it for ten years—it’s that I was re-writing and editing it, and also wrestling with a hereditary condition that can take a toll on the body if I’m not careful. I must say, I’ve learned to use my time wisely and it also helps to be very stubborn. But to get back to the question, this book was different from the first because my editor was involved from the early stages. We worked very closely together and we more often in sync than not. It was an amazing writing and editing process.

Amy: Aspiring authors, and published authors, can get increasingly discouraged. How do you side step the publishing-me-blues? Or don’t you? Any tips appreciated!

Ilie: Do you mean how do you keep the faith in the face of hearing no? Winston Churchill has given us the best response: “Never give up, never give up, never give up.” It’s a tough journey, women’s fiction. I like to tell my horror stories to make new writers feel better about where they are. When I was younger in a writing program, I had professors rip my work to shreds (then I’d win awards for the same work). I had someone toss a manuscript on the floor (it was dreadful). I think that’s enough examples though there are more—and every author I know can tell you more. I tell you all this to say that this is a tough business and even after you are published, some will try to pull you down again—it happens. Get right back up. No matter what. You must, absolutely must, keep your mind clear, your resolve strong, and stay on track. It’s not easy to deal with these things. But if you’re going to be in the business, you’ve got to ready yourself. I should also say that as hard as it is, it is just as wonderful. The wonderful stuff happens when you meet writers you can trust, who love and support you, and readers who love your work and who will let you know. I’m in touch with so many readers because of my first book who have now come back for the second book and it is absolutely heart-warming. That’s rewarding.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Ilie: Women’s fiction—I’d define it as fiction that is written with a female audience in mind. Though I could see answering this myriad other ways, too.

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

Ilie: Write the best damn story you can. Tell it in the most honest and real way you can. And then have faith, persistence, and don’t let your social media activities become your writing. Social media is not your writing. Your writing is your writing and it must come first! Keep on, you will do it as long as you don’t stop.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Amy!

Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God’s Daughter (September 2012) and the critically-acclaimed novel, The Language of Trees, which debuted in 2010 and was selected as a Target Emerging Author’s Pick and a First Magazine for Women Reader’s Choice, and for which complex Chinese rights were sold. Raised in Rochester, NY, she attended the University of Southern California’s Professional Writing Program, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. She also holds a masters degree in education from Simmons College, and specialized in documentary filmmaking at Emerson College. She is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foundation Writing Scholarship, and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. Ruby is also a recipient of the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference Davidoff Scholarship and the Barbara Kemp Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship. She has worked as 5th grade teacher, an assistant producer for a PBS archeology series in Central America, and as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company. Ruby is also a painter, mother to three, and currently teaches writing in Boston.

Author Barbara Claypole White Discusses Her Debut Novel, Retail Therapy, OCD, And Fuzzy Slippers

I was lucky to receive an ARC of Barbara Claypole White’s debut novel, The Unfinished Garden. I’m also lucky to say that Barbara is a friend. TUG is a beautifully written love story, the kind you want to read slowly but can’t, because you need to know what happens next. It’s also the kind of book that’s so vivid, you can pretty much smell the gardens Barbara describes.

With insight and honesty Barbara shares with us how she came up with the idea for The Unfinished Garden, and how she is handling becoming a published author. Oh, and did I mention, her book launches TODAY? So happy book birthday to Barbara Claypole White — please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!!

Amy xo

Author Barbara Claypole White Discusses Her Debut Novel, Retail Therapy, OCD, And Fuzzy Slippers

Amy: How did you come up with the idea for The Unfinished Garden?

Barbara: The Unfinished Garden, like my favorite flowerbed, evolved over a decade. There are many echoes of my life in the novel, but two what if moments really birthed the story.

Twelve years ago I was working on another manuscript—an incredibly bad one—when my father died and I found myself back in my childhood home in rural England. I watched my mother navigate life as a new widow and thought, “Suppose that were me?”

I was a stay-at-home parent in rural North Carolina with no income and no citizenship of the country I called home. When I first met my husband at JFK Airport, I was working for a London fashion designer and he was a tenured professor at the University of Illinois. How’s that for a random act of fate?

My morbid dilemma—what would I do if something happened to my husband—became my heroine’s story. (He loves to tell people I killed him off in my novel.) I knew my heroine would be a gardener, because gardening is my therapy, but to understand the layers of her grief, I spent a summer interviewing a group of young widows. Before long, I had found Tilly.

The second what if moment came several years later. James was not my original hero, but as I sought escape from my young son’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, my mind veered off on another dark tangent: What if, once my son grew up, no one could deal with his quirky behavior and obsessive thoughts? What if no one could ever love him the way I loved my husband?

I didn’t set out to make a statement about OCD. I just wanted to create a believable character. Popular culture is littered with stereotypes of obsessive-compulsives. I love Criminal Minds—the television show—but if you pay attention, the words obsessive or compulsive often creep into the profiling of serial killers. And then there’s Monk, the brilliant television detective with the wipes-carrying assistant. Did anyone see the episode set in a classroom, when kids were laughing at him? Man, that one kicked me in the gut.

Imagine your darkest fears. Now imagine living with them every moment of every day. That’s what it means to be obsessive-compulsive. To fight back demands incredible emotional strength and courage. That’s what I wanted to bring to James. He’s neither a victim nor a psycho. He’s a successful and compassionate entrepreneur who happens to be terrified of everything except for snakes. Which gives him one up on Indiana Jones.

Amy: Your website says, “Love stories about damaged people.” Can you tell us about the kinds of stories you write—and how this theme evolved?

Barbara: A few years back, I was fortunate enough to hear Irene Goodman speak at a conference. The topic was platform, and I spent the next month agonizing over what this meant for a fiction writer. How could I create an author brand if I didn’t have an angle? What was ‘my thing’? What kind of stories did I write? Those thoughts stayed with me until I was ready to query, and then the answers became obvious. OCD is an unusual hook for women’s fiction, and my second novel circles depression, dementia, and bipolar disorder. Seriously.

But there was no master plan. I write emotional relationship stories about damaged people because that’s what I love as a reader. I’ve always been fascinated by mental illness—my aunt was schizophrenic—and I read lots of dark memoirs. Plus I’m a diehard romantic drawn to the idea that people who need each other, find each other. After all, I’m not far off my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a guy who picked me up at an airport.

Amy: When you write your novels (and I know you’re working on # 2) what’s your process? Do you outline? Plot? Or just write by the seat of your pants?

Barbara: Confession time: I didn’t think I had a process until I started book two, which is technically book three, if you count the first manuscript, hidden at the bottom of my closet. I’m not a plotter, but I am a researcher. Once I have an idea, I interview people and follow my instinct. At some point I start writing—normally while still researching—and then throw everything on the page.

I did create goal/motivation/conflict charts and an outline for my work-in-progress, but they were merely brainstorming exercises. The act of writing things down gets ideas circulating in my head. I’m always scribbling character notes on colored stick-ums, which I plaster to my wall. And never look at again.

I’m all about voice, so I have to keep excavating and rewriting until I hear the characters. No one sees my first draft because it’s crap, but valued readers see my second draft (which isn’t much cleaner than the first). By the third draft, I feel as if I’m pulling everything together. And then the fun begins: deep point of view. Yay.

Amy: What has been the most surprising part of the publishing process?

Barbara: When I started chasing this dream, it was because I wanted to write. And write. And write. But writing is only part of becoming an author, and these days I feel as if I’m guarding my writing time with a pitchfork.

Initially, I dashed from project to project with the attention span of an anxious kid force-fed caffeine. There’s so much juggling involved: the day job, promoting novel one, and trying to establish a career as an author while writing number two and dreading the moment someone says, “What about number three?”

Living with OCD has helped. I’ve always encouraged my son to think small when he’s overwhelmed, so I break life into manageable chunks: Take my son to school (fifty-mile round trip), come home, check email, write, pick up from school (another fifty-mile round trip), be Ms Mom/chauffeur/house elf until after supper when I do promo and author stuff. Of course, my garden is now the neglected garden and my house is never clean. My big plan for Labor Day weekend? Scrub my bathrooms and kitchen.

I’ve also realized that I need my friends more than ever. My gut reaction to all the craziness was to retreat, to shut everyone out. Big mistake. It takes a village to publish a novel and a community to keep you sane throughout the process. Your writer friends are the only people who can empathize with the madness; your non-writer friends will buoy you along with their excitement. Three friends are throwing a launch party for me next weekend, which includes a girls-only sleepover. Fuzzy slippers, wine, and jammies. Can you think of a better way to stay grounded during a book launch?

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

Barbara: I don’t really have one. How’s that for a lame answer? I’m not a fan of labels in fiction, but if you forced me, at gunpoint, to identify two authors I feel most embodied women’s fiction, I would chose Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes. Why? Because of the emotional reaction I have—as a wife, mother, daughter, sister—to their subject matter and their styles of writing. Both deal with relationships and darker issues but one uses hope, the other uses humor. They both hold the power to make me laugh, cry, or rush to the phone to tell my girlfriend, “We need to talk about this.”

But remember, there’s no separate category for women’s fiction on the bookstore shelves. Labels don’t matter. Only the story does, and the story has to have heart. Which makes me sound like Gene Hackman’s character in The Replacements. Now that was a fabulous chick flick—about football and male bonding. The feminist in me approves.

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

Barbara: Persevere. Write, rewrite, repeat as necessary—and never give up. Accept that your path to publication will be littered with rejections, and let each no be a badge of your commitment to succeed.

Rejection is the ugly step-sister of writing. Even after you’ve married the prince—or signed the pub. deal—it’s still coming to dinner once a week. I had to dump 90% of my work-in-progress before it became my second contracted novel. And thank God, because it was total rubbish.

I have yet to receive my first one-star review, but when that happens, I’m going to treat myself to serious retail therapy. And write my heart out.

Barbara Claypole White grew up in rural England with dreams of being a writer. So, armed with a degree in history, she became a publicist for London fashion. Passing through JFK one day, she fell in love with an American professor. Eighteen months later, she was a marketing director and a freelance journalist in the Midwest cornfields. But she had a secret: she was writing a novel. A really bad one.

When her husband was offered a distinguished professorship at UNC Chapel Hill, they moved to the North Carolina forest, where she became a woodland gardener and a stay-at-home mom. Gradually, she carved out time to write each day, but it wasn’t until their young son developed obsessive-compulsive disorder that she started writing relationship stories about damaged people. She had found her calling.

Barbara’s debut novel, The Unfinished Garden (Harlequin MIRA, 2012), is a love story about grief, OCD and dirt. Her second novel, with another cast of gloriously messed-up characters, follows in late 2013. She has an essay on raising a child with an invisible disability in Easy to Love but Hard to Raise (DRT Press, 2012). She also blogs through the highs and lows of OCD at www.easytolovebut.com and the rollercoaster of the writing life at http://bookpregnant.blogspot.com/

You can find Barbara Claypole White on Facebook or at www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com

NYT Best-Selling Author Susan Wiggs Shares Her Writing Journey With Women’s Fiction Writers

My Writing Journey

by Susan Wiggs

Although I’ve been a published writer for 25 years, I’ve been a WRITER for twice as long. Storytelling is somehow embedded in my DNA, and I’ve got the evidence to back it up. My very earliest writings were preserved by a doting grandmother, and survive to this day. I was just three years old when I learned to make recognizable marks on paper and call it writing. Something else I used to do, perhaps channeling writers who dictated their stories to secretaries, like Barbara Cartland and Sidney Shelton, was dictate stories to my long-suffering mother, who wrote them down while I illustrated them.

At the age of eight, I met my first writing mentor–Mrs. Marge Green at School 11, my third grade teacher. Like most writers, I was an advanced reader, so while she worked with other students, I was left to my own devices. She told me if I fancied myself a writer, then that’s what I should be doing–writing. I took her advice and self-published a book, which can be seen here.

Throughout my childhood, I read books all day every day. I told stories to my friends. I lied to my parents, invented stories for show-and-tell, and even fabricated outlandish “sins” to relate to Father Campbell in the confessional. For me, making things up was as natural as breathing.

In 7th grade, I rewrote the ending of OF MICE AND MEN because I was easily able to figure out a way to save Lenny in the end. (Side note: My chihuahua was rescued from a shelter in Salinas, and yes, his name is Lenny.) In high school and college, I was that annoying student who would request extra blue exam booklets for essay tests, because I had a knack for filling them at an alarming rate.

As a graduate student, I worked with a critique group for the first time, and I loved the process. A piece of bad writing could be transformed by this magical concept known as Rewriting. Who knew?

While in graduate school, I wrote my first full-length novel, a romantic historical saga about (I kid you not) the Dutch Revolt. Convinced I was on to something, I wrote its sequel. Eventually, I came to understand that storytelling is a lot more fun when READERS are involved, so I looked around at what readers were devouring at the time (1987). Big sexy western historical romances were the order of the day. And they just happened to be my favorites.

I wrote all 600 pages of TEXAS WILDFLOWER on a typewriter. In about three months. Shiloh Mulvane and Justin McCord consumed me every night. Why at night? Well, because in addition to writing, I was a full-time teacher, a full-time mom of a toddler, a wife, a homeowner, a dog owner. So if you want to write but are waiting until you can “find the time,” forget about it. You HAVE the time. You just have to decide what to do with it.

I sold the book to Wendy McCurdy, then an editor at Kensington, in 1987. Since then, I’ve published a book every year or so, honing my craft and learning the business along the way.

RETURN TO WILLOW LAKE, just published, was written by an older, wiser and much more skilled writer than the one who pouded out Texas Wildflower. My process is pretty much the same as the way I wrote at the age of 3. I make marks on paper, and call it writing.

How about you? What does your writer’s journey look like?

Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She’s been featured in the national media, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and is a popular speaker locally and nationally.

From the very start, her writings have illuminated the everyday dramas of ordinary people. At the age of eight, she self-published her first novel, entitled “A Book About Some Bad Kids.”

Today, she is an international best-selling, award-winning author, with millions of copies of her books in print in numerous countries. Her recent novel, Marrying Daisy Bellamy, took the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, and The Lakeshore Chronicles have won readers’ hearts around the globe. Her books celebrate the power of love, the timeless bonds of family and the fascinating nuances of human nature.

She lives with her husband and family at the water’s edge on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where she divides her time between sleeping and waking.

Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/susanwiggs

Twitter- https://twitter.com/susanwiggs

Website- http://www.susanwiggs.com

Pinterest- http://pinterest.com/beachwriter1/

Author Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s Advice To Writers: Be Open To What Life Offers

To me, the some of the best stories are when the characters are very, very different from me in some ways, yet so similar in others.  Writing a universal story is the goal of all authors, and Jyotsna Sreenivasan achieved this with AND LAUGHTER FELL FROM THE SKY.  Who can’t relate to expectations big and small? Disappointments? Love?  Exactly!

Please welcome Jytosna Sreenivasan to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s Advice To Writers: Be Open To What Life Offers

Amy: While you have published short stories and several non-fiction books, AND LAUGHTER FELL FROM THE SKY is your first novel. Did you always want to write and publish a novel or did the story take over — and then, well, we know the rest! 

Jyotsna: In the 1990s, I wrote and published (with small presses) two novels for children. After that, I thought I’d try my hand at writing a novel for grown-ups. Little did I know how much of an education that decision would turn out to be! Writing a novel is so much work – it generally takes many years and many drafts – that most writers desperately want their first attempt at a novel to be published. Well, when has anyone’s first attempt at anything been a success? So it was with me. I spent many years revising and revising that first manuscript, and collecting a whole lot of rejection notes. Finally, I decided to move on to a second manuscript, and then a third. Third time’s a charm, and that manuscript (after many revisions) ended up being And Laughter Fell from the Sky!

Amy: How and when did the idea for your novel strike? 

Jyotsna: And Laughter Fell from the Sky was inspired in part by The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, and in part by my own life experiences as a second generation Indian-American. The main character in The House of Mirth, Lily Bart, feels a lot of pressure to marry the “right” person in order to be accepted by the wealthy New York society that she desperately wants to be part of. Lily’s situation reminded me so much of the pressure Indian-Americans feel to marry the “right” person – someone of the right ethnicity, religion, and earning capacity. So I wanted to write a novel about an Indian-American woman in a similar situation.

Amy: Can you share with us a little about your journey to publication? 

Jyotsna: After I wrote the first draft, I had an acquaintance critique it for me. Based on her comments and enthusiasm, I did a revision and started shopping it around to agents. Eventually I signed on with my wonderful agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler. I then did several rounds of revisions with her. She was very perceptive, and I so much appreciate the time she put into this. Once we felt it was ready, she started shopping it around to editors, and I was fortunate to catch the interest of my terrific editor, Maya Ziv at HarperCollins. Then I did more revisions with Maya, and her comments were right on. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with my editor, agent, the marketing folks, the proofreader, and the cover designer, and everyone else at HarperCollins.

Amy: When a few editors and “readers” critiqued my novel, long before I had an agent, they said that since the main characters were Jewish, only Jewish people would want to read my novel or understand the cultural references.  Obviously, I disregarded those bits of feedback, moved forward and my novel sold. Did you come up against anything similar in portraying Indian-Americans in your novel?  Have you had anyone say anything like that since ALFFTS published in June? (And if they have, I hope you disregarded them as well).

Jyotsna: I have not had those same kinds of comments. However, this might be because the Indian-American community is much smaller and newer than the Jewish community in America, and perhaps agents and editors just assumed that they would not be a big audience anyway. I think we assumed that most readers would not be Indian. I tried to make the cultural references understandable to non-Indians. For example, both main characters have non-Indian friends who ask questions that a non-Indian reader might have. I hope in that way to make the cultural references understandable to non-Indian readers. At the same time, I wanted to make sure not to over-explain, because that would be annoying to Indian readers! So it was a balancing act.

I also wanted to make sure to include a variety of different kinds of Indian characters – people with different personalities and interests. I did not want readers to assume that my characters represented all Indian-Americans or all Indians. With my children’s novel Aruna’s Journeys, which is an autobiographical novel about an Indian-American girl growing up in Ohio, I had the experience that some Indian readers assumed I was trying to speak for all Indians, or that my characters were supposed to represent all Indians, and sometimes those readers felt insulted when my characters did not reflect their particular experience! I wrote a blog post in response to this, which you can read at http://genderequalbooks.com/arunas-journeys-authentic-or-inaccurate/

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

Jyotsna: I find it interesting that this novel has been categorized as “women’s fiction” or even “chick lit” since one of the two main characters is a man! However, it is true that it seems like the vast majority of readers (judging from my Facebook fans and blog reviewers) are women. So perhaps a good definition of women’s fiction is fiction that tends to appeal to women because of the subject matter. My story is a love story, and I assume more women than men are interested in love stories? I don’t want to stereotype, and certainly there are men who’ve loved this book.

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

Jyotsna: My advice for any aspiring author is to read a lot, write a lot, join a critique group, attend writing conferences, and just be open to what life offers. Writing and getting published can be so difficult that I’ve seen a lot of aspiring writers end up discouraged and bitter. I keep writing despite the difficulty, rejections, and setbacks because I love to write, I love to participate with other writers in critique groups, and I love attending writing and book conferences. It helps me to look at my writing and publishing activities as a spiritual journey, rather than as a way to achieve any particular goal. In terms of books that can help writers, I’d recommend Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (as well as all her other books about writing), and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Jyotsna Sreenivasan is also the author of novels for children, and nonfiction reference books. Her short fiction has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. She holds an MA in English literature from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English literature from Kent State University. She is currently in the process of moving from Moscow, Idaho to Columbus, Ohio.

Second Generation Stories: Literature by Children of Immigrants: http://www.SecondGenStories.com

Gender Equality Bookstore: http://www.GenderEqualBooks.com

Author Erica Bauermeister Wrote Her First Novel When The Characters Talked To Her. Don’t Laugh, Writers. You’ve Been There!

Sit down and hold onto your keyboards for this one! Erica Bauermeister’s novel, JOY FOR BEGINNERS, has SEVEN pivotal characters. Ok, you can breathe again.  This is a intricately woven tale of thwarting fears and taking chances — and how seven women, separately as much as together, agree to take on a challenge.  For me it was a beautifully written, evocative and enjoyable book — because it’s always fun to see other “people” doing things I don’t!  

Another JOY of fiction!

Please welcome Erica Bauermeister to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Erica Bauermeister Wrote Her First Novel When The Characters Talked To Her.  Don’t Laugh, Writers. You’ve Been There!

Amy: In JOY FOR BEGINNERS, which was recently released in paperback with this gorgeous cover, you share the story of a group of women each facing a challenge set upon them by the others. What fascinated me was how this novel was both their collective and their individual stories. Why did you decide to write it that way — and how did you set out to face your own challenges of telling separate stories that were also one?

Erica: JOY FOR BEGINNERS is almost more interconnected short stories than it is a novel. This type of novel has fascinated me for a long time — I love the feeling of digging deep into individual characters and seeing the connections between them. To me, interconnected short stories are a great deal like life; we get these brief, intimate insights into other people’s lives, like opening the windows of an Advent calendar, but we can never really see the whole person. I wanted to create a book that took those brief glimpses and made a coherent, artistic whole.

Amy: How did you get the idea for JOY? And, do you find that once you have an idea for a novel it sticks, or does it evolve with time?

Erica: Seven years ago, I was talked into rafting down the Grand Canyon. One of the great things about being a writer is that all the scary/embarrassing/frustrating/humiliating experiences in your life are grist for the writing mill. Even as you are plowing through a rapid that is dumping thousands of pounds of water on your head, you find yourself thinking “I’m so going to use this someday.” I didn’t know how I would use it for several years. But as a generally scared person, the idea of fear is a fascinating one to me, as was the opportunity to think about what scares different people. I wanted to look at a variety of fears, the ones that are so intertwined into us that they have become invisible, as well as the big, obvious, adrenaline-producing ones. Having seven very different female characters gave me the chance to examine fear in many different kinds of light, and my understanding of both fear and friendship deepened a great deal during the process.

Amy: Do you have a writing schedule or writing rituals that help you achieve your goal of “finished novel”?

Erica: I wish I had a schedule, but alas, no. I could blame my poor habits on all those years of being a mother, but the reality is that I’m just not wired to write at a consistent time. I grab moments when I can, and when inspiration hits. As I write books that are largely character-driven, this works out well for me – there are many times when my character needs to come to a realization and I honestly don’t yet know what it is. For me, it works best to take a break and let the idea come to me rather than chasing it down. But when it does come, I can write for hours and hours.

One of the things that helps give me structure in this rather free-form approach to writing is my writing group. There’s nothing more motivating than knowing there are three other writers waiting for your pages. And their critiques are energizing – I always leave feeling inspired about how to make my work better.

Amy: JOY FOR BEGINNERS is your second novel (though not your second book), THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS being the first. Are you working on another novel now and is there anything you can share with us about it, or your process for writing it?

Erica: I’m just finishing my third novel, THE LOST ART OF MIXING, which should be coming out late January 2013. It picks up four of the characters from THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS and adds another four into the mix (as it were). It’s structured around four pairs of characters, each pair in midst of a misunderstanding, and takes you into each of their viewpoints. It was an exciting challenge to dive deep into characters who could be in direct opposition to each other, but in the end, I found myself falling in love with each of them. In these days of divisiveness I think that’s an important mental exercise.

Amy: How would you define women’s fiction — and do you have an issue labeling your books as such (or maybe you don’t!).

Erica: I think both writers and readers would be well-served if we got rid of literary categories that are based on gender. No matter how we recast and redefine and empower those labels, they will always be limiting. They encourage stereotypes, when I think the whole point of literature is to open our minds to new ways of seeing.

On the other hand, I understand the need for a short-hand language to help us sort through the hundreds of thousands of books that we have to choose from – I’d just opt for categories that are based on the books themselves, rather than the gender of the writer or reader. Why not focus on the author’s choice of focus (character-oriented versus plot-driven) or the style of the book (lyrical/direct/conversational, etc) or the point of view of the narrator (first person/multiple points of views/omniscient, etc)? None of those categories are dictated by the gender of the writer or reader and I bet that they would be far more helpful in helping us find books we will love.

Amy: What’s your best advice specifically for aspiring authors — and soon to be published authors — of women’s fiction?

Erica: When I was 43, I made one of the best decisions in my life. I had been writing for hire; the pay was almost nothing and the work was uninspiring. At the same time I was renovating our house, essentially for free. I realized that writing what other people wanted me to write was killing any talent I might have had, so I switched the equation. I became a real estate agent and made my living through my knowledge of houses, and wrote a book that I believed in, just for me. It was the book I liked to think about at two in the morning when I couldn’t sleep, the book whose characters came and talked to me. I loved that book and it loved me. Ironically, or not, that book (THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS) was the one that sold and allowed me to quit real estate and write full time.

So my advice would be — find the book you need to write, the one you love with your heart and soul. The one you can’t not write. Then write that. All the rest follows, one way or another.

Erica Bauermeister is the best-selling author of two novels, THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS and JOY FOR BEGINNERS, as well as a new novel, THE LOST ART OF MIXING, due out in winter 2013. She lives in Seattle and Port Townsend and spends a lot of time writing while riding on ferry boats.

You can find out more about Erica and her books at: http://www.ericabauermeister.com, and you can “like” Erica on Facebook.