Author Interview: Anita Hughes Takes Readers To France With An Exotic And Fun Summer Read

FrenchCoast_Final Cover 1.28Today I’m pleased to welcome Anita Hughes back to Women’s Fiction Writers! Her newest novel, FRENCH COAST, whisks you far away without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair. Or bed. Or beach blanket. Anita shares with us how she chose the location for FRENCH COAST, and offers advice on choosing character names when you’ve used your favorites for your children (and Anita has five children)! I’ve known Anita since before our debut novels were published, and she’s as lovely as she is prolific. FRENCH COAST is her fourth novel!

Please welcome Anita to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Anita Hughes Takes Readers To France With An Exotic And Fun Summer Read

FrenchCoast_Final Cover 1.28Amy: Your novels are set in interesting and exotic locations. Do you spin the globe, close your eyes, and point? How did you choose the location for French Coast and your other novels?

Anita: I chose the location of French Coast because I have always loved the French Riviera and Cannes. When I was young, my mother, who was European, always talked about the Carlton-Intercontinental in Cannes. I also watched How To Catch A Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly a few times. It is set at the Carlton and it is one of my favorite movies. When I pick a location, I think where I want to spend the next few months, because while I’m writing I feel like I’m there. Then I pull up images on the internet and soak them in.

Amy: I have names on the brain since I’m writing a new novel and still deciding on some character names. How did you arrive at the names for some of your characters in French Coast? 

Anita: Names can be a challenge, especially after you’ve written a few books! I have five children and I can’t use any of their names. I usually just let names come to me, but they really have to fit the characters. I sit with them for a few days and if it feels right, I start writing. A sign that a name is right is if I start not being able to imagine my characters having any other names – a bit like my own children.

Amy: Have you ever used the name of someone you know, even if the character was nothing like him or her? Can you tell us about that. (I do that sometimes, as a little nod to someone important.)

Anita: I think I have used names of movie stars but no real people. But that’s a lovely idea – to give a nod to someone important!

Amy: I know you’re a fast writer—so what’s your secret? Do you outline or do you write and see where the story takes you? What is planned out in your stories and what do you allow to happen organically?

Anita: I do an outline for my publisher and that helps me see the whole story and not feel lost. I definitely let the story go where it wants to and often have characters and plot lines that weren’t in the initial outline. I think some of the best work I do is not at the computer – I think about the story all the time and write what I’m going to write the next day in my head: complete with dialogue. Then when I sit down to write it is easy and I never have to think more than a day ahead.

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

Anita: I think the best advice is always to read. I have always been a reader and still read a couple of books a week. I think the most important thing to develop as an author (especially of women’s fiction) is a voice. You want your reader to want to spend time with your characters and care about them and the way to do that is through voice. Developing a voice comes from spending a lot of time at the keyboard until you feel confident in your writing and can really let the characters take over.

Thank you for having me on your wonderful blog, Amy! You are a real inspiration and guide to authors of women’s fiction.

20101121_FFF_0023-EditcAnita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia. At the age of eight, she won first prize in a nationwide writing contest sponsored by THE AUSTRALIAN, Australia’s most prestigious newspaper. She graduated from Bard College with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing Program. She lives at The St. Regis Monarch Beach, where she is at work on her next novel.

http://anitahughesbooks.com/

https://twitter.com/hughesanita

https://www.facebook.com/AnitaHughesBooks

Self-Editing for Authors—Getting Rid of the Aww and the Awe

I often question my writing, judge my prose, belittle my word choices, and doubt my plot points. Some days I love what I’ve written.

The “disbelieving me” is in awe of the time and effort it will take to get from first draft to final draft. The “believing me” might think, “Aww, this is so good it doesn’t need to be changed.

No! To both.

I must self-edit.

I also must strike a balance where I am confident in my work but know it needs work.

Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, self-editing can be daunting. At least it can be for me. I stare at the monitor and all this little black shapes stare back at me. Just looking at them is exhausting.

I know myself. I self-edit differently than I write. I’m a binge writer, but a bit-by-bit editor. Not that I can’t, or haven’t, edited for hours, but I can also edit a paragraph, then leave for an appointment or to do the dishes.

Oh, who am I kidding? I do not stop editing to do the dishes.

But I do stop if I’m overwhelmed.

The key here is not to get overwhelmed.

First Drafts

My first drafts are embarrassing. I write in sentence fragments and run-ons. But what I have when I’m finished, I hope, is the beginning, middle, and end of a chapter, the right idea to build upon. I write light in first drafts. That means I know I’m going to go in again to flesh out ideas. Many of my friends write 125, 000 word first drafts they edit down to 90,000 words. My finished first drafts are about 50,000 words. I edit up. No matter how you work, some of these tips might work for you to take the sting out of first draft editing.

  1. Do it quickly. Later I’ll advocate stepping away, but with a first draft I want to capitalize on my momentum. I’ll write a scene or chapter and go back and self-edit the same day. Sometimes, same hour.
  2. Don’t look back. For this draft I just go back in and change things with no mind to what was there before. I don’t want to remember the dreck, I want to revise it.
  3. Dump what doesn’t work. I elaborate on my sentence fragments and cull my run-ons. I specific “something like purple but not” and write lavender or periwinkle.
  4. Decide what does works. Or what doesn’t. This is usually the time I get a gut feeling at this time if the names I’m using really works for me. I also get a feeling about characters and if I need them. I want to move forward writing about what’s necessary.
  5. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. This is where I clean it up. No one’s cursing (well, maybe a little), but in a first draft I type so fast I don’t always use proper formatting. I want to GET IT OUT. So I go back and tidy up. Appearances are everything (you’ll see why later).
  6. Define the path. Is there a beginning, middle, and end of the chapter? If something’s missing I don’t write it, I make a note that it’s missing. Does the chapter ending leave a question or cliffhanger? If not, I consider how to make the chapter end so that the reader must turn the page. Have I buried anything in overwriting exuberance? (Who, me?)

My first draft isn’t really finished until it’s self-edited. Until I know someone else could read it and make sense of it, even with the weaknesses and holes. I call it my finished first draft. Before that, you don’t want to know what I call it.

Second Drafts (Or, to Infinity—And Beyond)

I have never counted drafts. Let’s say that with each of my novels (published, soon-to-be published, and under-the-bed) I’ve written more than two drafts and fewer than a hundred.

This, for me, is where fine-tuning begins and where I remember the best advice/joke I ever told my daughter.

“How do you eat an elephant?”

“One bite at a time.”

If I looked at a whole manuscript and imagined editing the whole thing on my own, I’d crawl under this bed I call an office and that would be that. But because I write, and edit, my novels a chapter at a time, at first, it’s more manageable to me. For the time being I pretend that’s all I need to worry about, which allows me to focus (ie: which eliminates panic).

  1. Print out pages. Whether I’ve written the whole book or not, I print out one chapter. If you’re not a paper person, this is where I’d use track changes.
  2. Get your hands dirty. Yes, I use multicolored markers. Yes, they end up on my hands. When I do Track Changes, I go into the options and make all the different kinds of changes different colors. Makes it fun.
  3. One Bite At A Time. I go paragraph by paragraph and polish so that what’s going on there makes sense to me, and is tightly written, but I don’t go overboard. This is where I’d rather have too much than too little. This is where I start my editing up.
  4. Read aloud. Especially dialogue. I tend to use characters’ names in dialogue until I edit it. I also use a lot of “Well.” Because, well, I just do.
  5. Lay it out. I look at chapters by laying the pages side by side on my dining room table. I look for visual cues. Do the paragraphs all start with the same word? (A no-no) Are the sentences and paragraphs the same lengths page after page? How long are your dialogue runs? These are things you can consider when revising, because variations make stories more interesting.

Final Drafts

Final drafts take many forms. I have final drafts for my critique partner, then for agent, and then final drafts for my editor. If you’re not hiring an editor (silent scream) and you’re self-publishing then your final draft is for your reader.

For me, this is the detail and danger zone. This is where I nit-pick and where I usually am convinced that all my time and effort and energy has resulted in a big pile of poo. Luckily, this is normal. And that’s why I start with the hardest thing of all.

  1. Step away. Unless I’m right up against a deadline, I leave the manuscript untouched for days or weeks if possible. This provides perspective. If I have an epiphany (in the shower or while driving, ‘natch) I write it down but don’t open the Word doc.
  2. Go slow. When it’s time to get back to work, I start again by tackling one chapter at a time. I read for content and clarity. I circle or highlight what I need to come back to.
  3. Be honest. I note overused words and clichés. No one is above using them. Now is the time to get rid of them. Then, I do a search for any crutch words. Every writer has them. I use “and” more times than should be legal. I also make note of lingo and colloquialisms that might not work if the publication of the book was delayed, or if someone reads the book in five years. With backlists readily available as ebooks for both traditionally and self-published authors, this is a real concern. Here’s a list of “banished words” from Lake Superior University. This is a list of overused words and phrases at Write Divas. I’m not affiliated with either site, but these lists are comprehensive and helpful (and fun to read).

The best thing about self-editing, is that it’s not the end – it’s just the beginning. This is how I get my writing ready for others to critique and edit it. Yes, at some point, it’s finished, but you shouldn’t be the only person editing your work if you want it read by others. If you want people to pay to read it.

Beta readers and critique partners, agents, and editors will not only help your story, but their feedback will bolster your ability to self-edit in the future. Self-editing is the gift that keeps on giving.

By that I mean giving us headaches, some heartache—as well as the opportunity to be the best writers we can be.

This article was first published in Write On, the magazine of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (not affiliated with my WFW blog, although I am a founding member of the WFWA organization.)  You’re not a member of WFWA? Check it out here

Have you read the early praise for THE GOOD NEIGHBOR? Click here!

Author Interiew: Debut Author Sonja Yoerg Rises From The Slush Pile After Querying 100+ Agents

House BrokenHappy New Year fellow women’s fiction writers and readers. New year, new author. Apropos, right? 

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Sonja Yoerg, who’s debut novel, HOUSE BROKEN, is a riveting family saga strewn with secrets. It’s deftly told from three points of view, and that’s no easy task! I was impressed by the distinctness of the three voices from three generations. I loved that HOUSE BROKEN is set in the present. I enjoy historical fiction but have just been itching to read a slew of contemporary books, since that’s what I write. HOUSE BROKEN did not disappoint. Plus, look at the face on the cover! How could I resist? 

Please welcome Sonja Yoerg to Women’s Fiction Writers and tell us about your journey to publication in the comments. (When I read Sonja’s answers, I emailed her immediately because I’d queried well over 100 agents as well the first time around.)

Here’s to a productive 2015 for us all!

Amy xo

Debut Author Sonja Yoerg Rises From The Slush Pile After Querying 100+ Agents

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Author Priscille Sibley Says To Write Your Heart Out

You won’t be surprised to learn that I met Priscille Sibley on Backspace. You might be surprised to learn I read her novel when it had a different title and before Priscille had her current agent! How exciting it was for me to read it again in its final form.  Another exciting thing is to introduce to you THE PROMISE OF STARDUST, which has a male protagonist (OH NO) but is clearly being marketed as women’s fiction (TRUE)!  It’s was a real treat for me to ask Priscille questions about her novel and her process and to learn new things after knowing this author for so long. Priscille is also one of my Book Pregnant friends!

Please welcome Priscille Sibley to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Priscille Sibley Says To Write Your Heart Out

Amy: What is the most important part of THE PROMISE OF STARDUST to you, as its author. Having nothing to do with its plot, what is the book about? Maybe some would refer to that as its theme.

Priscille: Although my story deals heavily with reactions to grief, I believe that ultimately the novel is about hope and resilience. Here is a line from the book: “There is uncertainty in hope, but even with its tenuous nature, it summons our strength and pulls us through fear and grief – and even death.”

Amy: Your novel holds a moral dilemma threaded together, and torn apart, by a love story.  What was your favorite part of the novel to write? And I know that doesn’t mean it was the easiest.

Priscille: The backstory was more fun to write, lighter, essential to leaven the main story. About a quarter of the book’s chapters occur in the past. Elle is alive and healthy in those chapters, and Matt is much happier. After her accident, he is grieving. It was painful to climb into his head some days.

Amy: Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication, and perhaps the most surprising part of that journey?

Priscille: I am an unlikely writer. I didn’t study literature in school. (I have a BSN in nursing.) I was very fortunate that once I did start writing, I quickly discovered a number of online writer communities. I found a nurturing critique group. That said, I made plenty of blunders, too. After a couple of years, I realized my first manuscript contained fatal flaws. I put it away and started fresh with a new idea.  A year or so later I found a literary agent to represent me. Alas, manuscript number two didn’t sell. My first agent and I parted ways, while I was polishing my third manuscript. By the time I was ready to query The Promise of Stardust, I had a much better idea of what I personally needed from a literary agent. Fortunately, I was really blessed when my manuscript resonated with an agent who fit my new description. With her insights, I dug in and made more revisions. When she sent it out to publishers, it luckily found several interested editors and a home at William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Amy: Do you have a favorite character in the book? Or is that like asking you to pick a favorite child?

Priscille: Having spent an entire book inside Matt’s head, he should be the one I favor right? I love him. I admire his devotion to Elle. He is flawed and I don’t think he completely sees himself or the situation clearly, but I like the way he loves her. I also love Linney and Elle. I even liked Adam (hush, don’t tell Matt.)

Amy: Even though your protagonist is Matt, who is clearly not a woman, you’ve mentioned that it’s thought of as women’s fiction.  What is your definition of women’s fiction and how do you feel about your novel being considered part of that genre?

Priscille: Clearly. Matt is a Matthew and not a Matilda. I chose to write the novel from his point of view somewhat reluctantly, but Elle, his wife, has suffered a horrible brain injury. She is in a persistent vegetative state. So to tell their story, I climbed into his head, determined to make him authentically male. By most definitions, women’s fiction is about a woman’s journey. More and more I realized the story was about Matt, even though his focus is very much on her. I think the main reasons people describe TPOS as WF is that Elle is pregnant. Babies are still women’s turf. Moreover, The Promise of Stardust is an emotional story. (I keep hearing reports about tissues, and I’m never quite sure how to respond to that.) Author Keith Cronin, who has been here at Women Fiction Writers, said something women’s fiction being about the emotions conveyed in the story. I truly wish I had the quote because I think he nailed the definition.

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

Priscille: Write your heart out. Really, put your heart in there. Take something that troubles you or resonates and turn it into something someone else can feel.

Amy, thank you so much for having me. I love this blog!

A few people always know what they want to do when they grow up. Priscille Sibley knew early on she would become a nurse. And a poet. Later, her love of words developed into a passion for storytelling.

Born and raised in Maine, Priscille has paddled down a few wild rivers, done a little rock climbing, and jumped out of airplanes. She currently lives in New Jersey where she works as a neonatal intensive care nurse and shares her life with her wonderful husband, three tall teenaged sons, and a mischievous Wheaten terrier.

Please visit Priscille’s website or follow her on Twitter @PriscilleSibley.

Read Big Girls Don’t Cry by Priscille on The Book Pregnant Blog.

Guest Post by Author Nancy DiMauro: What Is Women’s Fiction? I Know It When I See It!

Dear Friends,

After three days of watching CNN, I decided it was time to shut off the TV and move forward with things that are normal, while not forgetting about the things that aren’t.  It would have been easy to abandon the blog for a week, but then, when is the right time to keep going? The right time is now. I don’t stand on any soap boxes because that’s not what I’m here for, nor what I’m about, but when I saw authors tweeting and FBing blatant self-promotion over the weekend, I all but went bonkers.  

I’m done with bonkers. 

To each his or her own. 

And my own is now to move forward with a normal post on our normal blog in a normal way.  So please welcome Nancy DiMauro to Women’s Fiction Writers as she discusses, once again, the meaning of women’s fiction—as she sees it.

Amy xo

I Know It When I See It—or—What Is Women’s Fiction?

by Nancy DiMauro

paths less travelled coverMore women buy books than men. Publishers look for “Women’s Fiction.” So, what the heck is women’s fiction?

The phrase “I know it when I see it” is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters. (Here’s the link.)

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to quote Wikipedia, but the definition’s perfect for my purposes. Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote from Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) was his response to the question: “what is hard-core pornography?”  Because the phrase “hard-core pornography” is difficult to define in a manner to include all possibilities, Justice Stewart refused to provide an objective test  but instead articulated a subjective one.

Women’s Fiction is an umbrella term that encompasses any fiction whose audience is primarily females over the age of 25. So, how do you know it when you see it?

To me, stories in almost any genre comprise women’s fiction. I think J.D. Robb’s In Death series as well as Patricia Cromwell’s Scarpetta series are “women’s fiction” even though they are thrillers.  I also see Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks as women’s fiction.  Chick lit was women’s fiction  although we’re supposed to forget about that label now. And don’t get me started on “Hen Lit” which was Chick Lit aimed at the over 50 crowd. Women and men write Women’s Fiction.

No wonder there’s no set definition in the publishing marketplace.

It’s the combination of strong female characters and stories that focus on the issues we wrestle with every day that makes Women’s Fiction. I want to identify with the protagonist’s character development arc; the story of who she was when the adventure started and who she becomes as a result. It may be, and often is, that the character development is the B or secondary plot, but it’s there.  Eve Dallas from the In Death series has changed dramatically. She’s become more as she has accepted the joys and hardships that come with being a woman, and having gal pals.

Think about it: Conan the Barbarian and James Bond don’t change.

I started writing fantasy because most fantasy protagonists are alpha males like Conan. Women were fought over, and protected. Sure there were a few exceptions.  And I wanted a main character I could identify with. Women role models in fantasy were few and far between.

So, I write stories about strange universes and kick-butt main characters. My fantasy protagonists find the idea of a metal bikini instead of plate armor ridiculous. After all, what warrior would go to battle so ill protected?  They are guardians, spies and psychic detectives.  They are women.  And to me, I write women’s fiction.

WEB_N Greene-1Nancy’s novel, Paths Less Traveled: Strange universes. Kick-butt heroines. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Musa Publishing.

You can find Nancy at her blog, web site, Facebook and Twitter.

Guest Post: Author Rita Plush Shares Her Twelve-Year Journey To Publication

Rita Plush is here with us on Women’s Fiction Writers today to share her story of writing, querying, and publication. You’re sure to be inspired by Rita and her determination to see LILY STEPS OUT in print. I know I am!

Please welcome Rita to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Lily Steps Out…Finally: My Journey To Publication

By Rita Plush

ImageBack in the 70’s and early 80’s, with college-aged children of my own, I was a student, plugging away over an eleven-year period to earn degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing. But it was only when I tried to get my first novel published, that I came to understand the true meaning of commitment and patience.

Originating as a short story, “Lily Steps Out,” is a middle-age coming-of-age novel about a married woman who ‘steps out’ of her domestic life into the business world after her husband retires. This is an interesting couple, I thought, and continued writing about them.

I brought my efforts to my writers’ group and listened to their input and critiques. I worked on the characters, dialogue and plot line. After a time, the pages became chapters. Eventually, I had the first draft of a book which I painstakingly edited and brought back to my group. More recommendations, more character development, till the moment came—five years from that first chapter—when I decided this is a book, and tried to find an agent.

The dozens query letters I sent out brought in almost as many rejections—some agents didn’t respond at all—and I began to realize that finding an agent might take almost as much time and effort as writing the book itself. I labored on, and then months later, voila!  An agent who liked what she saw—characters alive and vivid with real lives and real problems. Bidding wars and movie deals danced in my head, but alas, though publishers thought the writing “energetic and entertaining” and “were drawn to the characters,” they didn’t take my book.

My book. My book was about a woman with spirit and drive, a homemaker who’d spent her life caring for her family and then wanted more out of life than making beds and cooking dinners. Did Lily sit back because things didn’t go her way, or did she risk everything she had to get the life she wanted? And so I took a lesson from Lily. If my agent couldn’t find me a publisher, I’d find one on my own, and offered Lily to the handful of publishers who accepted non-agented fiction.

To my disappointment, my efforts fared no better than those of my agent, and something began to nag at me. Was I objective about the book? Or had I developed such a crush on Lily and my other characters that I couldn’t see what was right about them and what was not? Maybe I needed some of that proverbial space between me and them, and so I set the book aside and began another novel.

Years passed. Self-publishing had become the route for many authors who couldn’t otherwise get their books into print. Lily called to me.

But first, I dug deep, looking for the gold in Lily Gold. I tightened the prose, eliminated every non-essential scene and bit of dialogue that didn’t reveal a character’s personality or move the story forward, updating the social references along the way. I hired a professional editor to proof-read and fine-tune the whole business, and signed up a graphic artist to design the cover.

I was so close to self-publishing, I’d already chosen the company and sent them the cover on approval. Then one day I slipped my hand into a coat pocket and out came a scrap of paper with Penumbra Publishing written in my own handwriting. What’s this? I said to myself.

This, it turned out, was my prayed-for-dreamed-of-I-don’t-pay-to-get-published-publisher, who found my novel, “…engaging, with unique characters that gave the tale a certain refreshing charm.”

The rest, as they say is history, Lily’s history, and the twelve years from start to finish, when I began the book to the day it was accepted. Was it worth all the time and effort? Yes indeed! Keep at it, don’t give up.

Image 1Rita Plush is an author, teacher, interior designer, and Coordinator of the Interior Design & Decorating Certificate at Queensborough Community College; there she teaches several courses in the program. Rita has also lectured on the decorative arts at libraries throughout Long Island, and at Hofstra University and CW Post-Hutton House.

Her writing practice includes fiction and non-fiction and her stories and essays have appeared in many literary journals including The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iconoclast, The MacGuffin, Passager, and most recently http://www.persimmontree.org.  “Lily Steps Out” is her first novel (Penumbra Publishing, May 2012), and she is at work on a second novel that follows some of the characters in “Lily.” She is also putting the finishing touches on a collection of short stories called “Step into My Heart, the Door is Round and Wide.” Rita is a member of LIAG, Long Island Authors’ Group.

Newsday’s Act II, July 19, 2012, featured Rita as “published and proud,and Times Ledger—August 23-29—headed their feature, “Rita Steps Out.”

  “Lily Steps Out” is available through www.amazon.comin both ebook and trade paperback, and from www.barnesandnoble.com in ebook format.

Visit her website www.ritaplush.com for more information about Rita and Lily.

Seré Prince Halverson Talks About Book Clubs, Book Covers, And Books That Make Her Feel Less Alone

I met Seré Prince Halverson almost a year ago because we are both members of the debut authors group, Book Pregnant.  Right away Seré captured my attention with her kindness and charm, and that was even before I knew much about her book, THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY.  

Today marks the paperback launch of “Joy.”  Same book, new cover, and hopefully many new, enthusiastic readers.  

When you’re finished reading the interview and getting to know Seré, treat yourself to excerpt of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY (published by Dutton) by clicking here

But first, welcome Seré to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Seré Prince Halverson Talks About Book Clubs, Book Covers, And Books That Make Her Feel Less Alone

Amy: Seré, congratulations! Today is the paperback release of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY!  What’s it like to be re-introducing your book to new readers?

Seré: Thank you, Amy! It feels different than when the hardcover came out because it’s not quite such a huge unknown. I’m excited, but I’m happy to say that I’m also sleeping at night, which was something I could not say when the hardcover came out. I had serious Debut Author Insomnia.

I’ve discovered that I really enjoy talking to book clubs and have been blown away by their insightful discussions. A lot of those I’ve visited have had a picnic theme to tie in with the Life’s a Picnic store in the book. So, to celebrate the paperback release, I’m having a Win a Picnic Basket for your Book Club drawing. I thought it would be fun to deliver Sonoma County goodies and wine right to their doorstep! And planning a picnic is much more pleasant than Debut Author Insomnia. Details are here.

Amy: Without giving anything away, can you tell us a little bit about the story and how you came up with the idea?

Seré: A woman walks into a market…That woman was me. I walked out with a bag of groceries, and a vision of an Italian American family. That vision collided with some other visions I’d been having of a young woman, curled up in bed in despair. She had once everything she ever wanted and now had lost it all. But I didn’t know her story yet. And those visions collided with my fear of sleeper waves, my love for Sonoma County, my contemplations of mother/stepmother relationships and how harshly society judges mothers who leave their children, without knowing the circumstances behind that decision. (Yes, it was a rather big collision of visions.)

Amy: Oftentimes paperback editions have a brand new book cover — and that’s the case for TUOJ.  How was the process of having a new “look” for your book?

Seré: First, let me say that I was very attached to the first cover. I loved the beautiful simplicity of it. My paperback publisher, Plume, always creates a new cover, but I was a bit skeptical. Until I laid eyes on it. Very different from the first, but I fell in love all over again, this time with the vertical treatment of the horizontal photograph, the water reflection, the little girl—together, they capture important elements of the story.

Amy: Do you have something you’d like readers to take away from your book? 

Seré: My favorite books pull me in and make me feel like I’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, whether they’re Birkenstocks or Manolo Blahniks or old holey Keds with a flappy right sole. The best books also make me feel less alone–even if the characters’ lives are completely different from mine. And I love books that challenge and move me. Those are the kinds of things I hope readers feel when they read The Underside of Joy.

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

Seré: Such a hot topic these days. Definitions are sometimes necessary, especially for marketing, but they’re also limiting. I like to think the definitions are evolving. The Underside of Joy is a story about motherhood but also about family, war, food, love, death, grief, joy, resilience—lots of things that involve women and men. The book had a pink flower on the cover and now the paperback has a little girl on the beach—clearly marketed as women’s fiction, right? Right. And yet, I’ve received such thoughtful e-mails from a number of male readers, ranging in ages from 25 to 89.

So I’m going to say I see women’s fiction as an extremely broad category of fiction, which is marketed toward women but can usually be read and enjoyed by both women and men. (Men who aren’t scared off by feminine-looking covers, that is.)

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

Seré: My advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction is the same as my advice for aspiring authors of any fiction, in fact it’s the same for aspiring anyones—anyone who is working at something they’re passionate about. Writers love this one because we need it in the face of all that rejection: It’s the Winston Churchill quote—a favorite of my dear friend and writing sister, Elle Newmark: “Never, never, never, never give up.” Just don’t. Keep going. That doesn’t mean you can’t break away for periods of time if you need to, but keep rolling your work-in-progress around in your head, and always come back to it.

It took me hundreds of rejections and three completed novels before The Underside of Joy was published. Even if it hadn’t been published, I wouldn’t regret the years I’ve spent writing and learning my craft. Passion is a good thing. Elle also said, “Passion is our consolation for mortality.” She died last year, after a life of writing and living passionately—a life very well-lived. I learned a lot from her and am learning from her still.

Thanks so much for these great questions, Amy! I’m looking so forward to reading The Glass Wives!

Oh, thank you, Seré, all of that means so much to me!

Seré Prince Halverson worked as a freelance copywriter and creative director for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband live in Northern California and have four (almost) grown children. The Underside of Joy is her debut novel. Published by Dutton in January 2012, it will be translated into 18 languages.

You can find Seré on her website, blog, and on Facebook.

Don’t forget to read the excerpt of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY by clicking here