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.

How College Move-In Day Is Like Writing A Novel

A few weeks ago, my son Zachary and I packed up two cars with the necessities and incidentals for his junior year in college.  I stared at the mess cargo while standing in my driveway before we left home, and it hit me how that tightly packed, carefully chosen, absolute catastrophe in the back of my SUV and his compact car somewhat resembled my work-in-progress.

That was not a pleasant revelation, at first.

As for the stuff in the car, why he needed it all – why he needed even half of it — well, I was both intrigued and incensed.  Kind of like the way I felt about my story.  I knew there was a lot of dreck I wouldn’t need, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t end up schlepping it all along for a while, just in case.  Plus, on that early Monday morning in mid-August, there was no time to fuss, I had to get moving. Also the way I felt about my novel-to-be.  Usually when I have no time to write I have the most ideas. And with 3.5 hours to myself, I had plenty of time to think.

Always dangerous.

The way my son  meticulously and sometimes randomly, chose what was accompanying him this year, was not unlike the way I was thinking about my new story.  I had some threads from discarded work, ideas I’d jotted down on napkins, unusual names that piqued my interest, an old storyline I was renovating into something sparkly and new. I’d packed it all into the idea for a new novel, but had yet to unpack it, organize it, rearrange or make it pretty.  I mean handsome.

On the drive through two states for 3.5 hours, as I listened to a book on CD (old-fashioned, I know).  For me, this time seemed to serve as bridge between having Zachary home for three and half months, and going back for another ten months with just me and my daughter, Chloe.  It was also the bridge between me thinking about my new novel and actually writing it.  The metaphors became real as I made that final left turn into his picturesque college town and drove over, you guessed it. A bridge.

At his new house, we unpacked the cars for a very long time, bit by bit, first into the garage, then putting the boxes, bags, crates, and cases in the rooms and onto the floors in which they belonged, or where we thought they belonged.  When I rested on the questionably obtained pleather couch, and I watched Zachary and some his friends do the heavy lifting (ah, male youth) I knew that the  heavy lifting of my novel would also be when I would sort out the bits and pieces I’d compiled and decided where they were supposed to go.

Zachary has to look at something for a while to know where he wants it to be. He has to live with it for a while before finding its place and making it fit.  But when he’s ready, a few days in perhaps, it’s a whirlwind of activity and the results are great.  He’s always had a knack for getting things done right — especially when left to do in his own time, in his own way.

I too, have to look at something to make it make sense — and after a lot of thinking about the work in progress and messy notes and lists and outlines (outlines without Roman numerals that do not look like the outlines I learned to write in elementary school).  But, like with rearranging closets, drawers, furniture, electronics,and food – not to mention the yet to be purchased books — I would also  take everything out and make sense of it, look at it, study it, make it work. And, like Zachary and his four fraternity brother roommates, sometimes things would sometimes go smoothly, sometimes not, sometimes it would be noisy and sometimes it would be quiet.

As I ordered pizzas from right across the street for $6 each to feed the kids (the men) that helped him move in, I knew that he would continue to make changes to his room, to the kitchen to the living room — there would be input from trusted friends, and he’d take some advice and some he would toss with last week’s beer bottles — oh — I mean soda cans.

And then it was even more clear to me.  It’s a process – the book, the move-in, everything. It’s been a while since I’ve started something from scratch that I knew would be a full novel.  It’s been a while since I want things in their place so much that I became impatient with the process — but that won’t get me anywhere. I had to wait. Just like Zachary had to wait for his bed to be delivered the next day, just like he had to wait for the landlord to install — get this — toilet paper holders.  Waiting pays off.  In the end, waiting gives you time to make things the way you want them to be, the way that works for you — an  that is what will help you going forward, whether that’s moving on to a senior year of college or a third novel. Or your second kid going off to college in about a year if anyone is counting.


The next day I left for home, eager for Chloe to start her senior year of high school, and to unpack, organize, rearrange, rethink and remodel my WIP.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the keyboard. With my hands alone I would move into that new story and make it my home.

Even with lots left for him to do, when I drove away after having breakfast with Zachary, I didn’t shed or tear or feel a twang. I knew he too, was in good hands.

His own.

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.

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.





How Author Cynthia Racette Sailed Into Her Career As A Published Author

It seems aspiring authors are spoiled for choice these days. Well, not really, but there are more decisions to make than ever before.  As someone steeped in traditional publishing I’m also interested in the not-as-traditional publishing options.  Cynthia Racette is published by Soul Mate Publishing, an ebook and paperback romance and women’s fiction publisher.  

Please welcome Cynthia Racette to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

How Author Cynthia Racette Sailed Into Her Career As A Published Author

Amy: Can you tell us a little about Windswept and your journey to publication, including how you found Soul Mate Publishing (or how they found you)?

Cynthia: I really do owe the fact that I am published to RWA. I started attending local chapter meetings here in western NY about a year before I sold Windswept and I learned so much about what’s out there, how to hone your writing, etc. at those meetings. I also received support and encouragement from the ladies in the group. At one of the meetings, I found out that Soul Mate was growing and accepting new authors and subbed my mss and heard from them in two weeks that they wanted to publish it. I was astounded!

Windswept is a romantic novel of redemption and family values and fighting for what is important. Sailing Windswept has always been a family affair and many of Caroline and David Hartford’s fondest memories have taken place on Chesapeake Bay sailing in all kinds of conditions and exploring the bay.

When husband David is unfaithful and commits the ultimate betrayal by bringing his mistress aboard Windswept, Caroline’s world is shattered. He leaves her and she is forced to rely solely on herself for the first time in her life. She has to be a single parent to her daughter, Lily, and to decide if she can forgive David for tearing her family apart.

As David and Caroline work to put their marriage back together, events and other people conspire against them, over and over. As their relationship begins to heal, the couple is caught in a horrific storm and waterspout on the bay, heading straight for Windswept. They want a chance to love again but Mother Nature might have other ideas.

Amy: I have to sit by a window when I write (I’m there right now!) Do you have any writing rituals? A talisman? Do you stick to a schedule or write when the mood strikes?

Cynthia: I write when the mood strikes, which is terrible. I know I should write every day and adhere to a schedule but I can’t seem to manage it. I write on my laptop, which is situated on a laptop stand. I would like to type at a desk or table in our study but my husband took it over with his consulting business. (He makes more money than I do so he gets the desk.)

Amy: Do you outline or are you a pantser — meaning that you write by the seat of your pants?

Cynthia: I’m an outliner. I can’t just sit and write and have any of it make sense. I have character studies, a crude outline and a few partially filled out important scenes. I think the character sketch is most important because it gives me a good feel for the characters. Character is the be-all and end-all for all good fiction.

Amy: How did you come up with the idea for Windswept?

Cynthia: My husband and I have been sailboaters for years and I always wanted to write a book about sailing. I adored our 30 ft. sloop and I wanted to write something where the boat itself is nearly a character– kind of like an allegory built around the boat. People have told me I succeeded in that. Readers are the ultimate judges, when you get past the editors…

Amy: What is your definition of women’s fiction and how does it differ from romance?

Cynthia: I think of women’s fiction as romance on steroids. Many books of the genre have an element of romance in them, but women’s fiction also includes very character-driven heroines who have a lot going on in their lives but a hot man with great pecs. Not that there isn’t a lot to be said for that. Ask my daughter. W.F. heroines have families, jobs, relatives, and something happening that has set their entire universes into chaos. That’s where the character comes in. Many of my books start with dependent, sheltered women who learn to become independent and able to set their world aright at the end. The woman at the end of my books is far from the one who started out being blown by the vagaries of life.

Here’s an example from my next book, Inside Out, being subbed to publishers within a week or two. A woman whose husband is suddenly killed in a car accident must learn to deal with a life turned inside out. She’s alone with her teenage daughter who takes her grief out on her mother and a younger son who is convinced his father’s accident is his fault. Throw in a newly divorced detective, his teenage son, a hostage situation downtown, and his determination to help our heroine through her troubles when all she wants is to start doing things herself. Chaos.

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

Cynthia: I think writing women’s fiction is the same as writing anything else except WF authors tend to be more savvy people watchers and is often the person everyone in their lives comes to with their problems. I usually tell new writers, read books about writing and attend seminars about different aspects of it; to read anything you can get your hands on in as many genres as you can, write as much as you can, and become involved with a critique group or RWA.

Cynthia and her husband are newly retired, and have moved to a suburb of Buffalo in order to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Cynthia has been writing most of her life. You can find out more about Cynthia Racette on her website.

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:, and you can “like” Erica on Facebook.

Writers: Get Inspired And Motivated By The Classics

Look to the Books

By Karen Wojcik Berner

Sentences not flowing the way you’d like? Consult your bookshelf.

Problems with your plot? Ask “What would Shakespeare do?”

Dickens. Woolf. Austen. Thackeray. Joyce.

Shakespeare. Ibsen. Wilde. Homer.

Poe. Shelley. Keats. Milton.

Having inspired readers for hundreds of years, the classics often reveal universal truths of human nature, truths that do not change from decade to decade, from century to century. Each time I sit down with one of these beloved novels, plays or poems, I discover something else I had not noticed before. Now that is great writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love contemporary fiction, but there is just something about revisiting a classic. Maybe it harkens back to my English major days, blissfully discussing narrative voice in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, trying to keep track of all the characters in Bleak House, or focusing on dialogue in Pride and Prejudice. Back when reading was fun and not something you try to squeeze in while waiting to pick the kids up from school, or on the train to and from work if you could ever get caught up on emails.

Here is your assignment. Pick out a classic. Lovingly caress the cover and spine. Oh, wait, a minute, that’s what I always do. Just get a classic and join me at the next sentence. Pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger), and snuggle into your favorite comfy chair. Begin reading through writer’s eyes.

Notice the sentence structure and dialogue. Chart the plot. Revisit vocabulary you haven’t heard in awhile. Track down the allusions to Greek, Roman and other mythologies. How does your novel embody the manners of the day?

All of these can be applied to our writing. For example, Virginia Woolf is a great illustration of how beautiful the English language can be. I’m not saying to write early-twentieth-century sentences whose word counts would equate to at least two paragraphs nowadays, but rather to pay attention to how Woolf uses her words and compare it with our own styles. How can we mix our sentence structure up a bit?

Check out one of the epic tales, stories that, although large in scope, still manage to connect to us on an individual basis. Melville’s Moby Dick comes to mind here, as well as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Talk about some crazy plots! What can we learn from them? Go big—don’t hold back.

No one blends a powerhouse storyline with gorgeous prose better than William Shakespeare. One day, awhile back, I could not get my main character from Point A to Point B. As You Like It was sitting open on my desk because one of my characters has a bit part in a Shakespeare in the Park production. I started reading and became enthralled again. Witty. Hilarious. And no one can deliver an insult like the Bard!

I began fooling around with some Shakespearean-style insults, hoping the wordplay would unclog my mired mind. Very therapeutic. Afterward, I was able to write a full chapter in one sitting, free from whatever was bogging my brain down. Who knew playing around with Shakespearean insults would function as a mental plunger?

After graduating from Dominican University with degrees in English with a writing concentration and communications, Karen Wojcik Berner worked as a magazine editor, public relations coordinator and freelance writer. A two-time Folio Magazine Ozzie Award for Excellence in Magazine Editorial and Design winner, her work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines. She is the author of The Bibliophiles series, about a fictional suburban classics book club. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family.

To learn more about Karen, please visit her website,

So, WFW friends, which classics have inspired or assisted your writing? I’m going to think on this — and chime in with a comment of my own!  Many thanks to Karen for reminding us that something new can be driven by something not-so-new! (Being not-so-new myself, I do appreciate this very much!)

Amy xo



Author Jenny Gardiner Talks About Her Publishing Journey and Writing Across Genres

As author Jenny Gardiner mentions below, it seems like we’ve known each other forever, so it’s exciting for me to have Jenny here, sharing her story with all of you.  She does it all, as you’ll see.

Please welcome Jenny to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Jenny Gardiner Talks About Her Publishing Journey and Writing Across Genres

Thanks so Amy much for having me visit today. It seems we’ve known each other from the writing world for such a long time! And certainly there has been a real sea change in publishing since we started out!

So you wanted me to talk a bit about my bad habit of writing across genres ;-). I say bad because nowadays I think it might not be the most beneficial career plan to spread myself so thin. Always my goal has been to “brand” myself, but I saw it as branding my voice, regardless of what type of book I was writing. However with digital publishing, it seems to be more incumbent than ever to build a loyal readership, which seems to work best when you stay in your genre, and better still if you’re writing series books in which you can keep your readers happy with more stories in that setting.

But the thing is I’m a writer as well as a storyteller, and I love to tell stories in whatever I write. Perhaps since I came up as a journalist, I’ve always just written, not considering that I needed to hone in on one thing. And maybe that’s been a good thing, it’s broadened my horizons and given me a wider readership in some ways than I’d have otherwise not had: the more the merrier, right? But the more I study and research what seems to work best for authors, the more I think that perhaps I need to work on continuity and doing so by sticking with one thing.

But darn it, I’m always coming up with ideas, and I hate to table them just to fit a mold, right?! So I suppose the reality is I’ll just keep on writing what I want to write, figuring that I’ll find readers or my readers will find me if I’m lucky!

But I’ll talk a little bit about where I came from and how I found myself where I am right now. As Amy knows my first novel was a finalist in the Dorchester Publishing/Romantic Times American Title III contest, and ultimately won. The prize was a publishing deal. That novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, was really more mainstream commercial women’s fiction, or maybe even chick lit, but ultimately because of the contest was shelved as romance. Part of that was the typical issue with bricks and mortar stores of where to shelve a book. As I was trying to sell other novels to New York houses, I kept pitching a memoir idea I had with my first agent. She never responded to me when I suggested we try to sell it. But my next agent thought it had potential, so she shopped it around. That book (which I originally titled Bite Me!) is Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me (sort of like Marley & Me with a deadly beak), which came out in hardback with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books a couple of years ago.

So after we got fabulous rejections from  rejections from editors for Slim to None, my book seemed doomed to lurk in the deep recesses of my computer for the rest of eternity. But then digital publishing came along, and I decided it made sense to give it a go in what was going to prove to be a new world order. I’d been an early adapter to the Kindle and LOVED mine, so knew that these e-readers would be HUGE, eventually. Once the price came down. When I heard that Apple was planning to launch this new product called an iPad I knew that was going to radically change the world of publishing for good because that would cause a price war, reducing the price of the product, making it available for lots of people, which would be great for authors breaking away from the “old skool” way of publishing books. Plus it led Amazon to want to woo authors into their corner, which led to a whole lot of authors being able to earn an actual living as writers because they actually paid legitimate royalties. Fabulous. And so I then decided to take all of the books that I had in my computer that for whatever reason I wasn’t inclined to pitch to New York houses because they weren’t integral to my branding, and sell themselves direct to my readers. Because I figured my readers would be happy to find more fun books to read. Which brings me back to trying to decide what makes sense these days as an author. And I keep flipflopping. Because I want to write and publish all sorts of things. In fact my next book I’m putting out (hopefully in the next few weeks!) is an anthology of essays, titled Naked Man on Main Street. And I hope readers will seek it out. But I’m giving serious thought to writing some contemporary romance series because it would be fun to write and because it would help bring in a whole new world of readers. And maybe when I do that I’ll contemplate whether to direct the rest of my focus on commercial women’s fiction, or maybe a hint of romance, or humor, or…Stay tuned (would you, please?!)




SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER:  What happens after the happily ever after, when protagonist Claire Doolittle discovers that her Mr. Right has turned into Mr. Always right…

SLIM TO NONE:  New York’s premier food critic Abbie Jennings is outed in a picture on Page Six of the New York Post, meaning she can no longer do her job incognito. This is compounded by the fact that years of fine dining have added a little, shall we say, avoirdupois, which means she’s large enough she can’t go incognito. Her editor gives her six months to lose weight or she’s out of her dream job. All of a sudden Abbie learns she must stop eating in order to continue eating for a living.

ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE:  Photographer Lucy McSweeney has given up on finding the right man and has turned to the turkey baster to give her the baby she’s always wanted. Sparks fly when she has a chance encounter with the man she doesn’t know is her sperm donor. And things get a little crazy when she’s hired to photograph is upcoming society wedding.

COMPROMISING POSITIONS: Mercedes Fortunato gets way more than she bargains for when she lands her dream job on Capitol Hill against the wishes of her boss Mike Garrity, forced to hire her by his boss, a horny US Senator who’s set his sights on Mercedes. Mike grudgingly agrees to work with Mercedes and protect her from the lecherous senator, and things heat up when they realize maybe they aren’t quite the enemies they thought they were. Throw in a little corruption, a protective Italian family, and the FBI and someone’s bound to end up in trouble.

ANYWHERE BUT HERE: Mary Kate Dupree has been spinning her wheels for too long. Trapped in an abusive marriage to an overbearing good ol’ boy, she finally decides to break the cycle when she heads out to pick up her husband’s dry cleaning and instead picks up a handsome hitchhiker. They impulsive set off on a road trip of self-discovery, peeling away layers of their dark pasts en route to Niagara Falls, but once there, will they tape the leap?

WHERE THE HEART IS: Reese Larkin had given up on her ever going home again, until she realizes that home is the only place she’ll ever be able to reclaim what’s most important to her. After a call from a long-lost friend, she decides to embark on a road trip to revisit her past and along the way comes to realize that home really is where the heart is.


I’M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP:  I’m a contributor in this humorous dog anthology, featuring a top-tier list of authors, including a forward by Chelsea Handler’s dog Chunk. 50% of royalties go to the Humane Society of the US.

Author Sandra Kring Says Put Away All Your Anxieties And Write Your Story

WFW friends, prepare to be wowed. Sandra Kring is honest and inspiring and humble — even after writing and publishing five novels.  It’s my honor to share this interview with all of you. 

Amy xo

“My mother often told me, ‘You’re so bullheaded, you won’t listen to anybody!’ So I didn’t. I didn’t listen to myself, when my negativity said I’d never fulfill my writing dream because the odds were too stacked against me, and I didn’t listen to her when she said I would never amount to anything. And to think: Once I believed she’d never given me even one positive message!” ~ Sandra Kring

Author Sandra Kring Says Put Away All Your Anxieties And Write Your Story

Amy: A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is your fifth novel! Can you share with us a little (or a lot) of your personal author history? We’d love to know how you started writing novels and — and how you’ve continued to come up with your own “bright ideas”.

Sandra: I sold my first novel, Carry Me Home in ’03.  I wrote the book in six weeks, found an agent two weeks after I started looking, and got my first contract from Random House two months after that.  Sounds like a writer’s dream come true, right? Well, it was—eventually. But as you all know, over-night successes don’t happen overnight.

I grew up in a violent home and had dumb and worthless literally pounded into my head by my mentally ill mother. I had no books growing up (but wanted them), barely got through high school, and married at seventeen and hurried to have babies.  Growing up, I believed that all the good things in life were reserved for those more deserving than I, and I might never have picked up a book if my 18-year-old husband hadn’t been addicted to the news.  He’d started college and couldn’t afford to buy newspapers, so we started hiking to the library every day so he could read them.  I don’t know how many days I sat there staring into the silence before he mentioned that I was going to get awfully bored if I didn’t find something to read. So I got my first library card and started in the fiction section.  In no time at all, I was reading 4-6 novels per week.

Years later, with two of my children grown, and the third not all that far behind, I realized that my marriage was in trouble, and so was I. I’d been through years of therapy and had my PTSD under control, but my role as full-time mother and wife were coming to an end, and I felt old and worn and useless.  Also, around this time, I was watching my depressed father suffer a slow death. He had eyes just like mine, and in them, I saw my future if I didn’t find a way to make the second half of my life more joyful than the first half of my life had been. But I had no idea how to turn things around.  That is, until I came across a quote by psychologist James Hillman that turned my life around: To heal the person, we must first heal the story they imagine themselves to be in. 

So I looked at my life as if it were a novel, and I, the protagonist.  And I asked myself, If I were the author, what could I make happen in this story to give it a satisfying ending? Suddenly, the answer became clear. The protagonist would take the best of what a bad beginning had taught her—tenacity, a sense of humor, an in-depth understanding of human nature, a knack for noticing detail, a curiosity about how stories will end—and she would apply these attributes to her love of fiction, and become a novelist!  And through her writing, she would find her voice and be set free from the tragic script her mother had written for her. She would make a new role for herself, so that when her last child left home and her marriage ended, she’d have a means to support herself and a new, exciting beginning already underway.

So that’s what I set out to do.  But first, I had to learn how to write.

I used novels as my textbooks, and identified the facets of writing I needed to learn. Then I worked on those things systematically, writing pages of dialogue, description, metaphors and similes, and 3-dimensional characters.  Only when I felt I’d aptly learned the basics skills, did I attempt my first novel.  My characters were rich, the writing mediocre, and the story itself, only slightly better than pitiful.  But I was hooked!  I went back to the drawing board for more practice, and some months later, woke at 5:00 a.m. armed with a single question—I wonder what it’s like to send a loved one off to war, and have them come back broken? All I knew when I sat down at my computer, was that the story would have a mother, a father, a hero son, and his sibling as the narrator. Five minutes later, the voice of Earwig appeared to answer my question.  And one paragraph into the story, I thought, This is it—this is the book I’m going to sell! 

And I did.

For me, learning to write was the easy part. The hard part was holding onto the belief that I could make my writing dream come true.  I think that’s every writer’s challenge, no matter where we come from.  For what aspiring writer wouldn’t be willing to work as hard and long as she needed to, if only she knew for certain that in the end she’d get published?  But there are no guarantees in this business.  In my case, ignorance was bliss. I had no idea that the stats that said it was far more likely I’d fail, than succeed.  I simply decided that getting published couldn’t really be any different than setting a grueling goal like walking across the country from the east coast to the west.  Without a map to guide me, I might zigzag, walk in circles, or need to pause and rest at times, but if I kept my putting one foot in front of the other, I’d eventually have to reach my destination, wouldn’t I?

Amy: A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is a sequel to THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS. Did you know while you were writing the first book that the story wouldn’t really before with The End?

Sandra: I knew that ending The Book of Bright Ideas with little Button and Winnalee being separated would sadden readers, yet there was no other way to end the story—it’s what would have happened. But at the same time, I didn’t want readers to feel worse when they closed the book, than they did before they opened it.  So I let the story end with Button’s hope that she’d find Winnalee one day.

Amy: What about the characters made you want to get to know them in their future — and in yours?

Sandra: I knew that if I wrote a sequel, Button and Winnalee would be older. Mainly, because I’d said all I had to say about them at the tender age of nine. Yet in growing them up, I faced a challenge:  How to mature these characters, yet keep the essence of who they were as children intact.  Making them eighteen seemed like the perfect option, since at eighteen we’re still wobbling between childhood and womanhood.

As for why I finally chose to write the sequel, the answer is simple. Five years after the release of The Book of Bright Ideas, readers were still writing to ask me, Where did Freeda and Winnalee go? Did Freeda ever straighten her life out? Did the girls ever reunite? I found it endearing that they asked as though Button, Winnalee, Aunt Verdella and the others were living, breathing relatives or friends of mine, rather than fictitious characters crafted for the purpose of telling a story. Eventually, I decided it was time to fulfill my readers’ wishes for a sequel. And I’m really glad I did, because I had a blast revisiting these characters.

Amy: Obviously, with five novels notched into your desk, you have found a way of writing that works for you, your publisher(s) and your readers. Do you outline and plan or sit down and see where the wind takes your story?

Sandra: When I sat down to write Carry Me Home, the opening poured out, and with it, a clear image of the final scene—even the last line.  But I had no idea what would happen in between.  I thought I’d always write with the same freedom, but after getting my editor’s comment back on my sophomore novel, I realized that my free-writing method hadn’t worked out as well the second time around.

With Carry Me Home, history itself dictated my plot, and all I needed to do was to have my characters react to those events.  But I was on my own with The Book of Bright Ideas. My editor pointed out that all the events were crammed into the last two-thirds of the book.  She suggested I create a graph and break the story into thirds, listing the events within each.  In doing this, she claimed, I would not only see how sparse the events were in the first third, but I could more easily see how I might redistribute them. She was right.

Through trial and error, I have learned that if I dive into a book with no idea of where the story is going, I end up with a bunch of characters meandering around the first few chapters like actors waiting for a script.  Yet on the other hand, if I construct a rigid outline, I end up feeling like I’m writing out thank-you notes, using a prearranged message. So I had to find a happy medium. Today, I write out a vague synopsis that includes the key events, and then let spontaneity fill in the spaces between them.  Now my characters can move with purpose from the first page onward, yet they have enough wiggle room to create the surprises I seem to need in order to keep the writing process fun.

Amy: What have you learned about readers of women’s fiction over the course of your career? We know publishing has changed. Have readers?

Sandra: I don’t think readers of women’s fiction have changed (they still want characters they can relate to and care about, and engaging plots. They still want to be prompted to think, and more so to feel), but I do believe that their buying habits have altered.  Not only are readers busier than ever, but they also have less money than they had before. So they pick and choose what they’ll give their time and money to more carefully. And with an ever-growing array of books to choose from via e-readers (many books free, or at far lower costs than paper books), they have more reading options than ever. With so many options, and less time to browse book stores, many readers seem to be doing what publishers themselves are doing—giving their attention to the blockbusting novels.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Sandra: I define women’s fiction as stories that deal mostly with themes that are exclusive to being female. You know, the topics that, when you bring them up to men, cause their eyes to glaze over.

Amy: As someone about to embark on the whole “published author” experience, I have to ask: what is your best advice for debut authors of women’s fiction in today’s publishing and reading climate? Also, what’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Sandra: Whether you’re an aspiring writer, a debut author, or a seasoned novelist, the publishing end of a writer’s life is stressful.  If you’re an aspiring author, you worry about creating a story and query that will wow prospective agents.  If you’re a debut novelist, you agonize over how best to promote your book, and you worry that no one past family and friends will buy it. And when you’re a seasoned writer, you fret over if you’ll be able to keep your stories new enough, yet familiar enough to appease your readers, your agent, your editor, and your publisher.  Yet at any stage of the writer’s journey, you must learn how to keep these anxieties from crawling onto your lap when you sit down to write. That is, if you want to keep your sanity intact and your creativity flowing.  If you don’t, you’ll be observing everything you write through the eyes of would-be readers, and putting a choke-hold on your writer’s voice.  How long, then, before writing feels like a daunting chore?

So deal with your anxieties the best you can during your non-writing hours. If you’re an aspiring author, work on your writing skills until you master them, and research how to write an irresistible query. If you’re a debut author, rely on seasoned authors to tell you what marketing methods worked best for them, and which ones they believe were time-wasters. If you’re a seasoned writer, listen closely to your fans so you’ll know what elements of your writing appealed to them, and find creative ways to deliver them more of what they want, but in stories that are fresh and exciting. But when you sit down to write, forget about everything but your story. See it, breathe it, believe it, and love the story you’re in, so that readers will do the same.  Yes, the choices we make on the publishing end matter, but when all is said and done, it’s the stories themselves that will matter most.

Speaking of stories, I’ll end my time here as a guest blogger for WFW with a true story for those of you still dreaming of living the published author’s life:

One January morning, after a string of miserable circumstances that had me convinced that I was a fool to believe that anything good could ever happen to me, much less my biggest dream, I woke to a blizzard raging outside. Unable to face the day, I told my husband and son to eat left-overs, and crawled back into bed with a bag of Oreo cookies, a jug of diet soda, a pack of cigarettes, and a stack of library books.  I chose to start with Tawni O’Dell’s debut novel, Back Roads, for one reason, and one reason only—I thought reading a bleaker story than the one I was living might remind me that things could be worse.

Imagine how surreal it would have been, had someone stepped into my room on that hopeless Sunday back in 2000 and told me that in two years’ time, the very author whose book I was holding in my hands would be blurbing my first novel.  I hope you’ll remember this story on your stormiest days.

My thanks to WFW for including me on your wonderful blog.  I wish you all a productive and fun writing day.  May you all write a successful publishing story for yourselves.

~ Sandra Kring

Sandra Kring lives in central Wisconsin.  Her debut novel, Carry Me Home, was a Book Sense Notable Pick and a 2005 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award nominee.  The Book of Bright Ideas was Target’s Bookmarked pick for the summer of ’06, and named to the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list as a cross-over book in 2007. Thank You for All Things was All You magazine’s first book club selection.  How High the Moon, was a Midwest Booksellers Association’s Connections Pick, and a Target Breakout Book. Kring’s latest book, A Life of Bright Ideas, was released this past February and featured in Target’s Emerging Author’s section.

Melanie Thorne Rewrote Real Life, Yet Her Novel Speaks Undeniable Truths

Today I’m happy to introduce my friend and fellow member of Book Pregnant, debut author, Melanie Thorne.  I was lucky to read an early copy of her novel, Hand Me Down, which Melanie sent to me herself. I was captivated by the voice, overwhelmed by the injustices, enraptured by the hope.  Melanie doesn’t hide the fact that she has taken her life and transformed into fiction.  Below she talks about how that’s possible and why it’s preferable to writing a memoir, for her. 

Please welcome my friend, Melanie Thorne to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

Melanie Thorne Rewrote Real Life, Yet Her Novel Speaks Undeniable Truths

Amy: HAND ME DOWN is a novel based in truth. So, here’s the question. Why write a novel based in truth instead of a memoir or a novel based in no truth? What compelled you to take your personal story and tweak it to be a novel?

Melanie: When I first started writing Hand Me Down, I had this idea that if it was published, it would say “based on a true story” on the cover. There was a part of me that wanted the world to know that the basic outline of events in the book had really happened; the betrayed teenage girl in me still wanted validation for her experience.

But there was a bigger part of me that wanted the freedom to manipulate the truth of what happened in order to tell the truth of the story. In a novel, I could adjust timelines, consolidate characters, change details, invent conversations, exaggerate behaviors—in short, make stuff up—without worrying about the limitations of “what really happened.” While I don’t necessarily believe that non-fiction is any truer than fiction, memoirs bear the responsibility of at least attempting to remain as accurate as the author’s memory allows. Fiction allowed me the freedom to ignore the irrelevant details so I could get at the bigger emotional truths more easily.

If I’m being completely honest, there is also an aspect of protection in writing a novel. Non-fiction bridges the gap between what exists on the page and what exists in the physical world. Real names are used, so the characters are not characters, they are actual breathing people who didn’t ask to be written about. In creating a work of fiction, people who begin as people become characters once they’re on the page. I can shape them as I see fit. I also get to walk the line between me and not me, between my life and Liz’s, and that uncertainty makes me a little less vulnerable than if I’d written a memoir. Fiction provides a bit of shelter.

Amy: There are many important issues addressed in HAND ME DOWN — and since I was lucky enough to read it early — I found the overriding arc to be about the meaning of family and the will of one’s spirit to survive anything. What did you have in mind when writing? What was your goal in telling this story?

Melanie: Your description pretty much nailed it, which makes me happy. It’s so wonderful to hear a smart reader get it. Thank you.

To go a step further, I would also say part of the goal is to illustrate not just the meaning of family, but all the different ways a family can look, the many shapes it can take. Family to me is about love and support. Some blood relatives will give you that, but some won’t, and like Tammy tells Liz in HMD, it’s okay to choose your family, okay not to love someone just because you’re related, or because they’re suddenly married to your parent. Liz does her best to choose her family, but also discovers that blood ties often have a very strong pull, even if we wish they didn’t.

Survival is definitely also a major theme in this book. Each main character has survived a family trauma, and in response to that defining event, developed defense mechanisms that became part of each of their personalities, like we do in real life. I wanted to explore the ways these learned behaviors get passed down through families, and how those shields that we carry as protection can cause their own problems.

But what survival is really about is hope. Hope exists in moments of joy and love and justice, even during the darkest of circumstances, even if those moments are fleeting, and I tried to show those moments in this story, because without them, these characters would have given up. Without hope, we would all give up. Liz’s story is just one example of how strong we can be in the face of hardship. People can survive anything. It’s really amazing.

Amy: HAND ME DOWN is an adult novel with YA crossover potential, big time, in my opinion. Who were you thinking of as the reader when you wrote the book?

Melanie: Since I wrote the first draft of this as my graduate thesis, my first readers were my peers and my professors, adults and talented writers, so the book was aimed at an adult audience from the start. But teens read adult books all the time, and a teenaged me would have loved a book like Hand Me Down, and I’m hoping YA readers will respond in kind.

I do think books aimed at younger readers have a different feel from adult literature, and while I would classify HMD as adult fiction, I truly hope older teens or teens who have had to grow up fast like Liz does will love the story, maybe even find comfort in her journey. Ultimately, a book that speaks to you is a book that speaks to you, regardless of its label. As a teen, I read adult books and as an adult, I still read teen fiction.

Being a teenager is universally relatable—we were all there once, entangled in all the horror and bliss—so I think a young narrator can appeal to readers of all ages. I hope I created a narrator who does just that.

Amy: I considered it fair game for WFW because the issues of women and family are prevalent in HMD — and because WF is, as we’ve mentioned a million times, a genre with a broad umbrella. Are you comfortable with it falling there? There is so much muck about WF these days, I wonder if some authors aren’t turned off by the label. I’m not — but I’m just one person (so I keep being reminded).

Melanie: My only concern about the Women’s Fiction label is the perceived notion of what that means: superficial or insignificant. I’m all for Women’s Fiction as a genre that is written by women and more likely to be loved by women, but dismissing these books as frivolous or unimportant—which does, unfortunately, happen—sells the books short, both literally and figuratively.

Lots of smart, female authors like Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult have already discussed the unfair treatment of women’s fiction from some literary circles, and I’m also frustrated by the double standards applied to fiction written by men vs. fiction written by women, but my instinct isn’t to run away from the label. I say we embrace it. Fiction for women, by women is not a bad thing. Women read more fiction than men, so it sort of makes sense that we needed our own marketing niche. I believe that women are likely to—and have been—respond to my book, so if the label makes my book easier for women to find it and read it, then I’ll take it. I’ve also had some wonderful responses from men, which says that there are men who see past the negative connotations of the genre, so maybe perspectives are already shifting.

Amy: When I started writing THE GLASS WIVES in 2007 (when it had the first of four titles before this one), there was much more me in the characters and much less — character. But over the course of writing it for five years, that changed and the characters emerged as completely independent. How did you separate your truth from your characters’ truths?

Melanie: My process was similar to yours. When I started, I envisioned real people—myself included—very specifically. I even used real names for most of the secondary characters. But through writing and revising, the people became characters who bore resemblance to the originals, but were no longer attempted replicas.

I’m not sure I did in fact separate my truths from Liz, though. Her emotional truth, her emotional journey, is mine. The exact actions, behaviors, and conversations are not all “real” but her feelings: her anger, her pain, her hope all belonged to me. As I mentioned earlier, in choosing to write fiction I gave myself the protection of readers not knowing exactly what is real and what is pure fiction in the book, but Liz’s emotions at least, are incredibly true.

For the other characters, I tried to keep their “real life” truths in perspective, while still allowing the good of the story to take precedence. I did my best to keep my characters flawed and complicated, the way all of us real people are, but I took control of their lives to make the story flow and highlight what I think is the real point of fiction: resonating emotional truth. We read—and write—fiction because it has the power to illuminate truth more clearly and cleanly than the messy randomness of “real life.”

Amy: How would you define women’s fiction?

Melanie: I’ve been thinking about this one since I knew I was going to be a guest here, and it’s too hard! So I think I might just offer a simple answer here, even though that question is anything but simple. It’s such a huge genre, with many sub-genres, but I’ll go with: books written by women that are most likely to be loved by women. My favorite women’s fiction includes strong, smart heroines, complicated relationships, and not necessarily a happy ending.

Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors, especially of women’s fiction, who want to tackle real life tough topics in a fictional setting?

Melanie: Don’t hesitate to sacrifice “what really happened” for the good of the story. So often I’ve heard writers say in response to a workshop critique: “But that’s true. That really happened.” It doesn’t matter. In fiction, the truth you owe your readers is the emotional truth of the scene, not a play-by-play recounting of an event or conversation.

If it’s a deeply personal story, as mine was, I might also suggest trying to look at the topic from multiple perspectives. That might not happen in the first draft, and that’s okay. It’s normal to write your side first. But in revisions, shift your angles of reference, try to see through the eyes of multiple people involved, give those characters reasons for their actions, even if you don’t understand the real life decisions the actions are based on. And don’t be afraid to admit the hardest thing about your characters, particularly if one of them is you. Writing takes a lot of self-reflection, especially if you’re tackling real life tough topics, but writing through the harsh truths makes the best stories.

PS. Thanks, Amy, for having me on your fantastic blog! I’m so honored to be a guest here.

I loved having you here, Melanie! It’s always extra-special when a WFW guest is also a friend!

Melanie Thorne is the author of Hand Me Down, a debut novel. She earned her MA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, where she was awarded the Alva Englund Fellowship and the Maurice Prize in fiction. She was a resident at the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat and her work has appeared in various journals. Her hobbies include reading, writing, watching smart TV, crafting, swimming, gardening, and traveling. She lives in Northern California. She loves to hear from readers! Visit her at

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