This Is My Brain On Index Cards

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I could not remember the dead friend’s last name.

I realize this is a problem likely reserved for novelists, because if I had a dead friend, I’d probably recall her last name.

At that point I hadn’t written many pages of my third novel yet, but I had an outline and a short synopsis for my agent, and ideas jotted down on paper just for me. I rifled through all of it.

Cooper.

The last name was Cooper.

I intentionally choose simple last names but obviously THAT memory trick didn’t work this time. I was going to have to figure out something so that this story, the new one, didn’t have me scrolling through pages to remember every name and every eye color.

So you know what this meant. A trip to the corner Walgreens.

There is not a plethora of index cards in Walgreens, but when I’m on a writing roll I am not prone to a shopping trip. So I worked with what I had. I chose the large, white cards because in a moment of stark realism, I know the small ones would not give me enough space because my ideas come out sideways and in large loopy letters, not neatly, and not on little blue lines.

I must say I was disappointed with the quality of the cards. They were more like paper than cards, but I was determined. I wrote each character’s name at the top, and anything I knew about him or her. Boys in blue. Girls in pink. I didn’t have check list or a method, I just jotted down what I knew about the character, mostly things like all their names (middle, maiden, nick—you get the idea), eye color, hair color and style, short or tall, thin or fat, and maybe his or her relationship to another character. I wrote the things that needed to remain consistent through the story, the things that wouldn’t change. Maybe for this novel’s first draft I wouldn’t have to type “find out what color Celia’s eyes were” on page 86, because I’d have a card that told me what i needed to know. I would limit my scrolling backwards and increase my moving forward. And in story writing, that is a good thing.

But I had more cards. What to do?

I don’t use the common novel-writing lingo because it doesn’t work for me. I’m a rebel that way. I find the words CONFLICT and TENSION empty. I look at them and think HUH? But, I do understand WORRY and ANGRY and SCARED and WONDER and SECRET and WANT and NEED.  So I wrote those out on cards for each character. Not in any order. Not the same for each one. Just what I knew to be important. Just what I knew at that time. That’s the great thing about index cards. There are always more.

I also put the major story points on cards. And—I wrote words you’re not supposed to write. AND THEN. That works for me. I wrote each major and minor event (you say plot point, I say event) on an index card followed by the words AND THEN…. This allowed me to consider the flow, and what was happening when and to move things around without major cutting and pasting in my Word doc.

I also wrote themes of the story on cards, and I’ll likely transfer those to—you guessed it—Post It Notes, when it’s time for me to revise. Those will stick all over my computer reminding me of what needs to float beneath the story to give it buoyancy.

For a few weeks I had each stack neatly paper-clipped together and tucked into an adorable little case I could carry around and look all writerly. Then one day I was chatting with my lovely agent and she asked, “What’s the last name of the dead friend again?” (No joke, she really did. She was writing up little blurb for the new book.)

“Oh my god,” I said. “I forget.”

“Well, call me when you remember.”

And then I did remember.

“I have index cards!”

And yes, the last name was still Cooper.

That’s when I realized index cards do not belong in pretty pouches. I wanted the cards out and around me whether I’m on the sofa or in bed (rules out the desk, but I don’t write there anyway).

The cards are like a little pat on the back to myself. I’ve thought it through, I have a plan, there is sense and order where I often feel there’s none. Even on days I get no writing done, I can read a card or two and have a good sense of story, remember something old, think of something new, and add a card to the pile.

I had no roadmap at all for The Glass Wives. When I wrote my debut novel I outlined the Chapter 3 when I finished Chapter 2. Yep, that book took four years to write. Not happening again. Ever. When I wrote The Good Neighbor I started with a (take a deep breath) twenty page synopsis. That synopsis served only as a loose tether to the story, because 1) stories always change as you write them, and 2) who is going through twenty pages to remember what’s just happened, what’s happening now, and what happens next? Not me.

The index cards are manageable size bites of the story and the characters, They’re snippets of time and place, fragments of intention and emotion. And on those days all writers have when the gifts of the writing life are elusive, when the rewards seem improbable and the words are fuzzy, these index cards are tangible rectangular reminders that many thoughts have been already been thought, and much of the work has already been done.

Cooper.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Multi-Published Author Cathy Lamb’s Publishing Advice for Aspiring Authors

Grab a cuppa and settle in. Today, multi-published women’s fiction author, Cathy Lamb, shares her personal publishing story as well as some unconventional advice for aspiring authors.

Cathy Lamb is the author of nine novels. NINE! (And she’s working on number ten! Yay!) She has been one of my favorite authors since the day a friend handed me Henry’s Sisters. I was hooked. I’ve read all of Cathy’s books and recently finished What I Remember Most, a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resilience, friendship, and love. I adore Cathy’s characters, they—even with their many flaws and sometimes gut-wrenching backstories—are people I wish I knew. I want to step inside the story and be part of it.

One of the best perks of being an author is making author friends. Cathy and I have become friends through various writer groups.  I’m thrilled to say she recently read The Glass Wives. Can you imagine? Her work has inspired me and she has read MY book. You can poke around on Facebook and see more about that here.

But first, read the post, and welcome Cathy Lamb to Women’s Fiction Writers.

And if you haven’t read any of Cathy’s books, why not start today? I recommend her first book, mentioned below, Julia’s Chocolates. I was hooked with the first line: “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.” Aren’t you?

Share your rocky road to publishing in the comments! Or ask a question!

Amy xo

The Rocky Road To Publishing

by Cathy Lamb

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I am asked all the time how one should go about getting traditionally published.

I will assume that you want to know how to do this without losing your mind.

Here is my answer.

You need to write something good. Really good.  You need to write something that a publishing house believes will sell.

So work, work, work on that story of yours.

Write when you’re crying. Write when you’re daydreaming. Write when you’re hopeless. Write when you’re exhausted and miss your hippie days.  Write when grief is overwhelming you, write after you kick your husband out, write after a weekend with your sisters where you laughed so hard you wet your pants.

Write when all is well, write when all seems black.

Study writing. Go to writing classes. Study your favorite books and ask yourself why you like them. If you read a dull book, ask yourself, “Why did this not work for me?” Make sure you don’t replicate those problems.

Read fiction, non fiction, memoirs, thrillers, biographies, etc. Read all over.

Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. On Writing by Stephen King. Writing Out The Storm by Jessica Morrell.  And read Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing for advice and inspiration.

Study more. Write more. Read more. Begin again. Edit, edit, edit. Use that delete button.

When you’re ready to submit your work, you need to get  yourself an agent. (Remember, this article is not addressing self publishing or publishing with Amazon. That is a whole other massive and mind numbing article with conflicting opinions.)

Should you finish writing your book before you try to get an agent?

Probably anyone else, in any magazine article or speech about “how – to – publish,” here or on Jupiter, will tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent for her review with the hopes that she’ll love it and ask for the full manuscript.

This is enormously good advice in many ways. Writing a full book before sending it to an agent makes you nail down those characters. It forces you into the writing process.

You learn about pacing, character arcs, character development, word choice, descriptions, dialogue, narration, setting, voice, and a hundred other things, including whether or not you are capable of sitting your butt down and finishing a book. All excellent points.

I, however, will not tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent to review.

Why? Because of my own personal and miserable publishing history which involves piles of rejection slips from rejected, full manuscripts.

Let me share my literary misery.

(Skip this part if you can’t stand to listen to people whine. I’ll understand, I will.)

After years spending time writing full manuscripts, as a certain category romance publishing house kept asking for more, they would be rejected. Repeatedly.

I wanted to bash my head through a wall. All those months of work…trashed. For nothing.

Looking back, the writing was bad. The idea was bad. The characters were bad.  The organization and dialogue and narration were bad. Bad, bad, bad. I’m surprised I got as far as I did.

On my LAST attempt at writing a book, when I completely changed genres to women’s fiction from romance, I wrote the first 40 -ish pages of my book, Julia’s Chocolates, no more. I sent it to four agents and a famous editor. The famous editor never responded. All the agents, based on those first forty pages, requested the full manuscript.

I waited until my favorite agent – the one I have now – asked for the full manuscript. I lied and told him I needed to do “a little editing,” and worked my butt off for about four months, writing from ten o’clock at night until two in the morning, while taking care of three young kids, a house, and working a freelance writing job for our state’s newspaper.

I used to edit Julia’s Chocolates while my kids were playing at Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds. I lost a lot of that fake money to the games.

Anyhow, I sent the full manuscript to my favorite agent, blurry eyed and exhausted. He loved it and I signed with him in a couple of weeks. A few weeks after that he sold Julia’s Chocolates  as part of a two – book deal to the publishing house I’m with now.  I was ecstatic and I still love both my agent and my editor.

So my advice is to write a bang up 20 pages. Yes, I did say twenty.

But why write only 20 pages? Because then you won’t waste your time. If the subject matter/characters of your book are not appealing, if it is not going to sell, you have not wasted a year, or many endless years, of your life writing a book that no publishing house wants. With twenty pages you have limited your loss of time and effort and, unfortunately, tears.

The brutal truth is – and here I will say something that will be offensive so put on your tough alligator skin – what you’re writing may not be anything anyone wants. It could be the topic. Could be the market. Could be the wildly insane competition out there.

It could well be the writing. It’s just not good/intriguing/gripping/fun enough.

So write twenty pages.

When the twenty pages are perfect and wildly wonderful, write a short cover letter to the agents describing the plot in the first two paragraphs, the ending paragraph should be about you, your writing history, etc.

Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.

Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten.

Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.

Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.

Want more mean truths?  An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.

He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.

You will probably be surprised at how fast the rejections come back. It is disheartening, I know it. I lived it. Bang my brain against the keyboard, this part is not fun, and I so feel for you.

But buck up on the rejections or get out of writing. Rejections are a part of being a writer. Even multi published, successful authors still get rejections. Cry. Throw a fit. Take thirty minutes then get over yourself and your pride and your belief that your book should be Number One on the NY Times bestseller list by Tuesday.

If your book keeps getting rejected, analyze it without emotion and figure out what’s wrong with it. You must put your ego aside. Do not give it to your mother or wife to analyze it, they are too close to you and probably won’t be honest.

Hire a reputable editor. (Like Amy) An editor does not like or love you, which is how it should be. You are paying her to be honest and to help you improve. Do not hire an editor if you are afraid your feelings will be hurt. Listen to what she tells you, be open to the criticisms and suggestions.

(Side note: Do not hire an editor if you want her to flatter you and tell you that your book is perfect. A good editor is blunt and honest and knows her stuff. Most of the time she is polite, but not always.   Only hire her if you want to hear the truth, you won’t get defensive, you want her criticisms, you’re okay with her shredding your prose, and you are mature enough and smart enough to turn around and use the criticisms to write a better book.)

You may have to eventually change genres, like I did, from romance to women’s fiction, which worked splendidly, and I am now writing my tenth novel.  I wish I had changed genres years before I did. I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and heartache.  I would encourage you to do the same after repeated rejections in one genre.

But, lickety split, let’s go back to agent talk.

If an agent likes those twenty pages, he will ask you for the full manuscript. This is where you write your heart out, like I did, above.  Make it the best writing of your life. Give up sleep. Get up early, go to bed late, write during the weekend.

You may have to edit that sucker four or ten times. I edit all my books eight times before I send it the first time to my agent and editor, and I have been writing for years. Address the stuff I mentioned above about compelling characters and believable character arcs, word choice, description, setting and PACING.  Pacing is key. Too slow and you’ll put people to sleep.

Many people will say that this approach, where only 20 – ish pages are actually done when you first send it to an agent,  will result in a rushed, poor manuscript if it’s requested by an agent.

Here’s the key:  Don’t send in a rushed, poor manuscript. Duh. Send in an excellent manuscript. The very best you can do.

Yes, your manuscript arrives later than the agent wanted but, trust me on this one: If it’s a heckuva manuscript, he won’t give a rip. He’ll lean back in his chair, throw up his arms, look to the ceiling as if in “Hallelujah,” and try to sell your manuscript for as much as he can get.

If you get ONE reputable agent who is interested in your work, you should click your heels together in joy. I have heard unpublished authors fret,  hands wringing, all uptight, “What would I do if I send my manuscript to more than one agent at a time and they all  want it?”

This happens so rarely, stop your worrying.

If you are very fortunate and two agents or more ask for the full manuscript, send it to your favorite agent first, wait a month, send an email to see if they’re interested, and if they don’t respond in a timely manner, send the full to the second agent. Or, send it to both agents at the same time, (this is what I would do) and let them know another agent is looking at it, too.

If the agent likes your manuscript and thinks he can sell it, he will call or email  you. It is unlikely that he will send a smoke signal.

If you still like that agent after that conversation, you will sign a contract with that agent.  This means he will represent your book to the publishing houses, which basically means he will contact the editors he knows, either at lunch or a cocktail party or a meeting or a bar, and talk your book up. He will contact editors in houses who sell your type of genre.

Hopefully an editor is interested. If he is, the agent will send the editor your manuscript. If the editor believes his house can sell it and make loads of money off it, he will then buy the book. This involves more contracts. All the contracts are in legalese and are quite long and detailed. They will bore you silly. Get an attorney to review it.

The contracts from the editor/publishing house will go through your agent. You will sign the contracts if you agree to the upfront money the publishing house is offering, and the royalties they offer after the book sells and your upfront money is paid off.

Please people. The number of writers who get upfront six figures – plus is tiny. Miniscule. Do not expect anywhere near this, especially for your first book.  I know writers who get all the money they can upfront, because they know they will earn no royalties.  Be aware that the vast majority of people who call themselves writers (probably 97%) cannot make a living writing, that’s why they keep their day jobs.

Remember, you will also give a portion of your earnings to your agent (15%)  once you are under contract with a publishing house. All monies go from the publishing house, to the agent, then to you. Royalties are paid twice a year.

Once the contract is signed, you’ve sold your book. It is now time to skip and cheer so the aliens on Jupiter can hear you.

There is a WHOLE TON of stuff that you need to do at that time, social media, etc. but that is another article and I do not want to make you cry.

Hopefully there will be more contracts to come and you’ll be on your merry, lovely way. I wish that for you, I truly do.

In the meantime, always remember….

You must keep writing all the time if you want to publish.

You must keep reading excellent books, and learning from them, if you want to publish. I am still learning. Still studying. Still critically analyzing my work and doing the same to other authors’ work whose skills I admire.

Don’t you dare ever read crappy books. It will affect your writing.

Understand that this is an incredibly competitive industry. There are so many freakishly talented authors out there it is head spinning. You are competing against them. Never forget it. Bring your best to the table.

You must live a full life if you want to publish. Love. Laugh. Be with family and friends. Dance. Sing. Go have adventures. For heaven’s sakes, travel. Listen to people. Think new thoughts. Open your brain up to new ideas.  Read the newspaper. Take an art class. Try photography. Go to the mountains. Play in the waves. Make new friends. Be interested in others. Be interesting yourself. Be compassionate and kind. All this will fuel the writer in you.

Good luck. I mean that.

Cathy Lamb

***** A little more on agents, even though you are probably sick of this topic…

Do you need an agent?   Unless you are writing category romance, like Silhouette or Harlequin, or you’re self – publishing, you need an agent. An agent acts as a screener. If you cannot get an agent to represent you, the general rule is that the publishing house won’t look at your work. In other words, if an agent didn’t like it, they won’t either.

How do you contact an agent in the first place? If you’re in writers’ groups, agents’ names will start floating around. Pay attention to those names.   You might also meet agents at writing conferences or workshops.  Your best friend’s brother’s half sister may be an agent.

Or, pick up this book, 2015 Writer’s Market  and find an agent in there under your genre. If you’re writing romance, look for romance book agents, writing thrillers, go for agents representing thriller writers

Make sure you are sending your work to good, honest agents. Go to this website http://pred-ed.com/ to check. Reputable agents NEVER ask for upfront money or reader’s fees. If yours does, drop him and move on.

 

 

 

How to Write When You Don’t Have Time (or have had too much egg nog—or Hanukkah gelt)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? It’s cold, wet, gets dark at 4:30, and most of us have no time or energy to write.

Let me explain. We’re entranced during this season. I don’t even celebrate Christmas, and Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah is technically classified as a festival, and while important, it does not, in any way, have the heft of, let’s say, Passover or Yom Kippur, yet it gets all the good press. I digress. There are lights, food, and happy faces. People want to chat. They want to know your plans, about your kids, about your life (which has given way to those Xmas letters). What’s not to feel good about? Don’t forget Christmas decorations. Because lights. Need I say more?

What’s not to feel good about is falling behind on a deadline or a work-in-progress. It’s not bad to take a break. At one point while writing The Glass Wives (which seems like a lifetime ago) I stopped for six months for some life-tending. But if you don’t want to take a break, but feel like it’s time to spend your time on other things, remember that you can’t really write without living your life.

So go live it!

When people would ask me if the characters in The Glass Wives were based on real people, I answered honestly. Yes and no. Did I know people exactly like the characters? No. But were they snippets or truth stirred with pure imagination? Yes. But one of my favorite stories to tell is how one day I was waiting for my daughter to come out of junior high (she’s a college sophomore now) and I saw another pick-up lane mom get out of her car. She was dressed just the way I’d imagined my character, Laney, to dress. So I watched her. I watched the way she walked in her books and the way her coat swayed. I watched her push her long curly hair off her shoulders then scoop it back again. And, creepy as it may sound, every time I wrote about Laney I thought of this woman, this scene. But at that moment, I wasn’t writing a thing. Nor did I take a note, or record a voice memo. I simply had the experience and used it later.

You know, in my writing.

Nowadays I’m working part-time at a friend’s restaurant. Every day I talk to a hundred people if not more. Most are friendly, some are not. A few are rude. Some are in clothes that tell me what their jobs are, like a policeman or road worker (it’s the fluorescent vest that gives it away). Some are in clothes that tell me nothing except that the person cares about style, or doesn’t. I also know that I don’t know much about any of them but that it doesn’t matter because I write fiction. And when it’s time for me to write about something icky — I’ll likely remember the guy who handed me his credit card after holding it in his mouth.

When I want to write about confusion I’ll write about people who don’t leave a tip (I don’t waitress, but please, if someone is cooking your food, delivering it to you, and cleaning it up, leave a dollar on the table).

When I want to write about entitlement I’ll likely try to channel the woman who is never satisfied, never has enough crackers, or pickles, or mustard, and always wants something free to make up for it.

Maybe if I want a little angst, I’ll write about the bathroom lock that gets stuck every time I’m in there.

Perhaps one of my characters will wear a lovely hat with a purple flower, like a woman I met yesterday. Or maybe I’ll describe the reaction to someone having matzah ball soup for the first time. Or kreplach.

So, in the season of parties and shopping and family gatherings lies your opportunity to gather up all of the goodness and save it for a time when you do have time to write. When you have a character who requires a joyous demeanor, or an overstuffed belly, or even a Grinchy mood. Or a fancy hat. Or food on his face.

The best part is, no one knows what you’re doing. And you won’t be writing about these people, just your experience of them.

Don’t forget about the feeling you get when you wait in line for an hour, or get caught in a two-for-one sweater frenzy. Don’t forget the excitement of seeing someone you haven’t seen all year—or maybe that’s worry.

Whoever you see and whatever you do, if you need to, just pack away the pen and the smart phone and enjoy the season. Take it all in, but don’t take notes.  It will all be there when you need it, ready to be retrieved, and when your belly is filled with food, your calendar is filled with plans, your closets are filled with hidden gifts—hopefully your head will be filling with ideas!

 

 

 

Ten Things I Love About Living And Writing In My Empty Nest

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Stork atop empty nest. Not-so-subtle subtext intended.

My kids just went back to college after their Thanksgiving breaks and they’ll both be home in two-and-a-half weeks for a month or more. Their presence will refill the house with food and friends and football and ample noise, all of which I will enjoy. But, it will also mess with the empty nest mojo I’ve collected, stored and learned to love over the past few months.

Yes, you read that right. Learned To Love. (C’mon, what choice did I have?)

I did not like living alone (no offense to the dogs, they are great company) for the first two months. I thought the house was too big, too quiet, and the whole “higher education” and “college experience” thing had been grossly overrated.  More specifically, I “Hated it!” (Yes, I said that like the Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather characters from In Living Color, thereby showing my 1) age, 2) great taste in TV shows. Click here if you have no idea to what I’m referring!)

So, during those two months, I wondered: How do people do this? How do they live without anyone else in the house? Who do they talk to? (I have always talked to myself, so I’m not sure why this was a question for me.)

And now I wonder—how do they live with people around all the time? Take note, I never lived alone. I commuted to college and lived in the house where I grew up, with my brother and parents, and lived there until I got married. Not something I’d recommend, but something for which do-overs are not available. The truth is, I didn’t want to move out and live alone.

And now? I’ve gone over to the other side. Let’s choose a cliché, shall we?  I got into a groove, found my mojo, came to grips, saw the light. Whatever you call it, it was painful at first and then it felt fine. Even good.

It’s not that I don’t miss the not-so-little darlings. I do. But not the way I thought I would.

Here’s why:

  1. I can go to bed at nine and no one says, “Are you kidding?”  I always say I’m getting into bed to read but this is secret-mom-code for snoring within six minutes, do not dare wake me.
  2. I watch much less TV. I think I enjoy watching TV with my kids and therefore the litany of shows don’t get watched. Unless of course it’s General Hospital or a Hallmark Christmas movie.  Do. Not. Judge.
  3. I eat dinner for lunch and popcorn for dinner. There is no guilt in messing with a family meal when the family in question is moi! I will cook for myself, but often midday as a break from writing and editing. That’s when I’ll turn on the TV (yep, there’s one in the kitchen) and putter a bit. By nighttime I want my hair in a clip and something in a bowl I can likely eat with my fingers. Dry Cheerios work too.
  4. I can read my work aloud without someone asking who I’m talking to, and then saying, “Oh right.” I can also flail around a bit more figuring out how to write certain character movements and actions. I call that Method Writing.
  5. I make my own schedule. College kids don’t require a schedule but when there are other people around there are accommodations made for them, and in return. If someone is sleeping, we’re quiet. I don’t cook food if the smell is offensive to someone else (daughter doesn’t like curry, or fish). We remove other’s clothing from the dryer. We see if someone needs something from the store. Not Any More! Not that I mind—ever—but it’s kind of liberating to go to Walgreens and NOT wonder if someone else needs deodorant.
  6. I realized that my primary designation as Mom (or Momma, as my daughter calls me) hasn’t changed a bit. I’m still a mom first. To them and to me. That’s who I am. I just don’t have to do mom things first all the time anymore. This was a big revelation for me because all I ever wanted to be was a mom and a writer.
  7. Sushi is affordable when ordering for one.  ‘Nuff said.
  8. Inherent privacy.  There is little privacy for a single mom with two kids and two dogs. Once the kids were old enough to not want to know every time I went to the bathroom, the dogs figured out the tile floor was the coldest in the house. I couldn’t go anywhere alone. Now, everywhere in the house I am alone.  I don’t have to go in another room to have a private telephone conversation or talk to a client. I can use speaker phone. This is huge.
  9. I worry less. Before my son went away to college my cousin told me that if I don’t hear from the university, the police, or the hospital, then he’s fine. I took that advice to heart. I sleep like a rock when my kids are away, and when they’re home I wonder where they are and what they’re doing and when they’re coming home. I also wake up throughout the night.  Luckily they are amazingly tolerant and touch base with me when they’re out, and when they get home.
  10. When my kids come home, I think they are much more awesome than when they left. Even if it was just weeks before. Cheesy, but true. I mean, c’mon. Look what they did for me. Even if someone finished the stuffing or and put a paper plate in the sink or or came home at three in the morning, there is no way around how awesome this is. (When I hit them up in a decade to do it again, I’ll let you know how it goes.)

hanukah throwback 2013

Check out my new freelance editing site!

EDITOR AMY

Making the page a better place—one em dash at a time.

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: Writing, Rejections, and Going for that Overhead Smash by Author Holly Robinson

My friend Holly Robinson’s novel, THE WISHING HILL (and its stunning cover) will be published by Penguin in Summer 2013. Oh, and she’ll have another novel published in 2014!  So I’m going to make sure she comes back to talk more about all that crazy awesomeness! But today, Holly shares with us why it’s important to just keep on writing, and trying no matter what.  Why? Because you just don’t know the moment that something is just going to go flying over the net. (The tennis pun is weak, I agree, but my intentions were good.) 

Please welcome Holly to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Writing, Rejections, and Going for that Overhead Smash

By Holly Robinson

ImageBy the time my agent was sending out my fifth novel, I figured I’d paid my dues as a writer.  Yes, it’s true that I majored in biology and had never even read James Joyce, but I atoned for that mistake by flinging myself into graduate school to earn an MFA in creative writing.  I even published short stories in literary journals where the payment was two copies.  I collected enough rejection slips that, one Halloween, I dressed as a Rejection Slip, donning a lacy slip with my rejections stapled all over it.

“Are you still writing?” friends and relatives asked, year after year.

“Of course.  And this one is it,” I always answered.

And then came novel #5.  This will be the one, I told myself, just like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate FactoryThis will be my golden ticket!

When the rejections amassed that fifth time, though, I lost faith.  That tiny negative voice in my head, the one that was usually like some bee you can wave off, began to sound like a trumpet in my ear.  The voice blared:  You are not smart enough to be a writer. 

“Let’s try one more editor,” my blessed agent said.

I knew the editor he was sending my fifth novel to, and she is one of the smartest in the business.  As a book doctor and ghost writer for many years, typically on nonfiction health books and celebrity memoirs, I’d had the opportunity to work with her on several books.  I desperately wanted her to love my novel.

I waited three agonizing weeks.  Then the editor’s reply came:  “I’m sorry, but the novel just doesn’t work for us,” she said, adding various detailed observations about where the plot flagged and why the characters didn’t ring true.

“Should I get you some wine?” my husband asked when he found me prone on the sofa, the rejection letter crumpled in one hand and a bouquet of Kleenexes in the other.

“Go get me chocolates.  Good chocolates,” I hissed.  “I’m never writing fiction again.”

I was devastated enough by that one rejection to eat my way through an entire box of dark chocolate truffles, drink half a bottle of Grand Marnier, and watch Nicole Kidman attempt to sing in Moulin Rouge.  By now, that trumpeting voice in my head had turned cocky and mean:  Your sentences are dull and stupid.  Your plot lines are insipid.  Your descriptions are trite.  Your characters are flat and uninteresting.  Who would want to read your writing? 

That was it.  I was done with fiction.

With so much extra time on my hands, I decided to do something entirely unlike me:  I took tennis lessons.

I had never played a sport in my life, and I rapidly discovered that practicing a sport means getting yelled at a lot.  My tennis coach’s nonstop badgering nearly made me quit:  “Get up to net!  Come on, don’t stand around the baseline!  Go for it!  You want that overhead smash!”

My problem was that I was too timid and polite.  I got hit on the head with tennis balls more than once, nearly pummeled to the ground by aggressive women on the other side of the net going for their overhead smashes.

I spent hours and hours on the tennis court.  I joined a travel team and moved up the ranks.  Still, I hung back, always playing it safe, until one day my coach lost her temper.

“You know,” she said, “the only person who really cares about whether you screw up out here is you!  Just get up to net and take the balls in the air!  You might miss.  But you might surprise yourself if you try.”

The metaphor here is obvious, and so were the flaws in my tennis playing.  I had to force myself to net again and again.  Until one day, to my shock, I found myself looking for those overheads and smashing them down at my opponent’s feet.  I missed a lot of balls, but I made some great shots, too.

I became more confident at tennis, and that made me start writing again.  What did I have to lose by trying another novel?  Nobody was going to publish it, probably, but so what?  I love writing fiction.  So I started another book.

This is one of those happy-ending stories, but with a twist.  While I was writing my sixth novel, The Wishing Hill, I also revised and self-published that fifth novel, Sleeping Tigers.  Self publishing wasn’t the way I wanted to go, but going to net in tennis had taught me to gamble.  I revised Sleeping Tigers and published it myself.

Meanwhile, I finished my newest novel, The Wishing Hill.  The same editor at Penguin, the one I had always dreamed about working with on a novel, bought it.  She recently bought the new novel I’m working on, too.  It will be published a year after The Wishing Hill.

What’s the takeaway here?

  1. If you are a writer, you will surely get rejected.  Nobody cares but you.
  2. Writing, like anything else, is all about keeping the ball in play, watching for new opportunities, and not being afraid to go to net.

Want to make it as a writer?  You have to fail first—and sometimes many times.  Get to the net and write another book.  Keep going for that overhead smash, and you might surprise yourself.

Image 1Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. She also works as a ghost writer on celebrity memoirs, education texts, and health books. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was named a Target Breakout Book. Her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, was named a 2011 Book of the Year Finalist by ForeWord Reviews and was more recently listed as a Semifinalist 2012 Best Indie Book by Kindle Book Review. She holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She lives north of Boston with her husband and their five children.

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!