Writing For Real

I had a different blog post planned for today about book covers – but it can wait. We can talk about book covers any time. And we will!

I have written and published a number of essays since 2006.  By essays I mean creative non-fiction.  The truth.  I did not start writing fiction until sometime around 2007 or 2008.  Last week I decided to reestablish my connection with the Huffington Post. I blogged a bit for them back in 2008-2009 when they first launched a Chicago site.  I emailed and asked for a new password, and figured this would be a good way to start, once again, writing about things other than writing. Writing some essays.  Other venues popped to mind, but HuffPost would be first on my list.

So I pulled out an old essay and dusted it off. It had homes on old blogs of mine, but never garnered very much attention and those blogs are long gone.  I sent it to the powers that be at HuffPost who say yes or no and decide when and where something is posted.  And my story was posted on the front page of the Huffington Post Divorce Section.  Seems like a funny thing to kvell over, doesn’t it?

Well, the funny part is, that AOL also picked it up and ran it on their front page. I started getting emails and texts from people who still use AOL and it’s actual website.  And I started receiving emails from people I didn’t know.  And notes on my author page on Facebook.  People who were being kind and supportive and people who were saying they’d love to read my book when it comes out.  At the time I’m typing this there are over 1200 comments on that HuffPost piece.  I have only read a handful of them because it’s good practice for not reading book reviews.  I would never, ever engage with commenters on a big site like Huff Post. I’m not there to argue about what happened to me almost ten years ago.  Every word I wrote is true but not every bit of truth of my entire life is in one little essay.

So my thought went to momentarily feeling bad that I’d been so honest. Icky things make people uncomfortable or angry or sad.  Should I be stirring up emotions in strangers? Who did I think I was? While the story was mine, did that mean I had the right to share it?

I then remembered this:

And then I got a grip on reality.

I have a book coming out this Spring – and although it’s fiction – the seedling of the story was born in truth. I am not my main character nor do I have her problems – but it’s still honest in the sense that emotional truths come through in a happy scene or sad scene because an author can remember feeling or seeing something happy or sad.  Or something sickening or startling or funny or poignant.

And, I am thrilled to say, since my book will be available everywhere books are sold, this “having everyone able to see what the hell I’ve written” is probably something I should get used to.

I remembered today — if we are ones meant to write our stories — the real ones or the make believe ones — we must write them loud and real. Write them big and full and explosive and relentless. Write them sad and scratchy and smelly and bleeding.  Write the truth for yourself or the truth for your characters.

You owe it to your readers — and yourself.

Amy xo

If you want to read my story on Huffington Post, you can find it here.

Author Grace Wen Talks About Novellas and Women’s Fiction

Today I’m happy to share the WFW stage with author Grace Wen.  I was so intrigued by the idea of learning more about novellas — which I guess are simply — short books by today’s traditional standards.  Do you think you’d read a novella? Write one? Let us know in the comments.  And like Grace says below — she didn’t choose the novella format, it chose her.  So I guess you just never know!

Please welcome Grace Wen to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo 

Author Grace Wen Talks About Novellas and Women’s Fiction

Amy: Grace, I’m so excited to learn more about novellas!  Can you tell us the length of a typical novella and how it differs from a short story and from a novel?

Grace: There’s no hard and fast definition for a novella, but I use the Romance Writers of America definition as a guide: they define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words, which translates to between roughly 80 and 160 pages. There’s certainly wiggle room on either end, but this range covers most of the bases.

Amy: We’d love to know about your novellas that are women’s fiction — what can you tell us without giving us any spoilers?

Grace: I have two novellas out right now that are women’s fiction. AN IMPERFECT WIFE is about a woman who moves away from her hometown to support her ambitious husband’s career. Unfortunately, his new job takes all of his time, and she can’t find a job of her own to fill the hours. She eventually finds a shoulder to cry on — but it belongs to her husband’s boss. NEVER LET GO is about a driven young woman who believes she can have anything she wants if she works hard enough for it. When her dream man dumps her, she embarks on a campaign to prove her devotion to him. Her devotion soon crosses the line into stalking, yet even after her ex moves on to a new girlfriend, she refuses to let him go.

As you might have noticed, I’m drawn to drama and misbehaving characters like a suicidal moth.

Amy: Why did you choose to write novellas as opposed to full novels?

Grace: I think novellas chose me! I must admit that when I started writing fiction, novels terrified me, so I dipped my toe into the water with shorter work. My first writing credits were short stories for pulp confession magazines. I thought AN IMPERFECT WIFE would be yet another short story, but it completely got away from me as I was writing it. As the pages piled up, I found I liked the freedom the longer format provided.

Since I’m a relatively new fiction writer, I’m still learning how to tackle novels. I have one novel draft under my belt and am working on another right now. Writing novellas gave me the confidence to play with character, plot, and my process without thinking, “OMG, how am I ever going to finish this?” Now that I know I can start and finish multiple projects, novels are much less scary. I will always write, read, and love novellas, though. As a writer, they allow me to explore ideas that might not have enough scope to fill a novel, and as a reader, they deliver complex stories with an intense punch.

Amy: How did you connect with your publisher and how has that process been?

Grace: I met Celina Summers, the managing editor for Musa Publishing, on the Absolute Write forum six years ago. A group of us became fast friends because we were all at similar places in our writing journey. We were, and still are, each other’s beta readers and cheerleaders. When she announced Musa’s launch last year, I asked her if she would consider my women’s fiction novellas; I was afraid they’d be a hard sell because they were an odd pulp confession/women’s fiction hybrid. Luckily for me, she bought them.

Working with Musa has been a delightful experience. I enjoyed the editing process in particular because it was so demanding. Erica Mills, my editor, was like my own personal trainer because she kept pushing me to think harder, write stronger, and demand more from myself. I definitely grew from the experience.

Amy: What’s the reception been like for the idea of women’s fiction in a novella format?

GraceIt’s been quite positive. A few readers let me know they enjoyed being able to finish my stories in one evening. I’m thrilled that novellas are becoming more popular as more readers embrace e-books.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Grace: Hm, that’s a tough question, especially with the controversy over whether women’s fiction should be defined as a separate genre at all. I think “women’s fiction” is simply a marketing category identifying stories that women are more likely to enjoy than men. Other than that, I don’t attach much significance to the label. As Jennifer Weiner and others have noted, contemporary stories about families, relationships, and feelings written by men are considered simply “fiction” while such stories written by women are tagged “women’s fiction,” “chick lit,” or “romance.” To me, a good story is a good story, no matter who writes it or what label is attached to it. If the “women’s fiction” label makes it easier for readers to find what they want to read, that’s great.

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

Grace: Don’t be afraid to write a horrible, awful, no good, very bad first draft. This is still the toughest advice for me to follow, but it’s the most valuable. Every time I write a first draft, I’m convinced it’s the WORST STORY EVER. Every. Single. Time. But I force myself to keep pushing forward until I hit “The End.” And wouldn’t you know it, when I start revising, the draft is never as awful as I thought. Every single time. The draft is rough, of course, but it’s fixable, and that’s the most important part — I have something to fix. All the writing craft advice is useless if you don’t have a draft to revise in the first place. Nora Roberts wisely said, “You can fix a bad page. You can’t fix a blank one.” So keep writing those bad pages so you can later turn them into great ones!

Grace Wen writes women’s fiction and romance. She finds people fascinating and loves to ask her characters nosy questions to avoid being a real-life busybody. An Imperfect Wife, her debut women’s fiction novella, won the runner-up spot for Love Romances Cafe’s 2011 Best Contemporary Book. Grace lives in southeastern Michigan with two neurotic but cute cats. When she’s not writing, she’s usually reading, cooking, or training for her next half marathon.

Twitter: @GraceWen

Blog: http://www.grace-wen.com

FB: http://www.facebook.com/GraceWenAuthor

What Happens When Authors Attempt A Vlog? Bloopers!

Remember Samantha Hoffman and her book WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR?  Well, when it gets a little closer to her August 7th publication date, I’ll post a vlog — a video blog — with me and Sam talking about her book and publishing.  As you will be able to tell, we worked very hard on the video.  A vlog is serious business, folks.  No, really.  Serious business that required dinner and two glasses of wine at its completion.

So, to whet your appetite, here’s a minute of the best outtakes.  Sam and I have been laughing over these for a few days, so we thought it was time to share.  No one ever told me bloopers were part of publishing a book, but apparently, they are!  Lucky us!

To read my review of Sam’s book, click here. But don’t just take my word for it!

“Everything old is new again – especially in matters of the heart. Samantha Hoffman vividly renders a tale of angst, terror and triumph inherent in the process of finding true love, no matter the age. Hoffman reminds us all that it’s as hard to let go of love as it is to put down this rich gem of a modern-day Cinderella tale.” –Cathie Beck, author of Cheap Cabernet

“What More Could You Wish For is a book you won’t want to put down. It is heart-felt, funny, sad and poignant – a delightful tale. Highly recommended.” –Marilyn Heyman, Romance Reviews Today

To pre-order WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR, click here.

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: http://www.ericabauermeister.com, and you can “like” Erica on Facebook.

What More Could You Wish For Than An Author-Friend Who Wrote Fabulous Women’s Fiction? Irony And A Book Review!

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One of the best parts of being an author is knowing, and in some cases being friends with, the people who are actually writing books that are being published.  I would also say that one of the strangest things about being an author is knowing, and sometimes being friends with, the people who are actually writing books that are being published.

I can go crazy trying to decide which books to read.  While I make it a point to read my closest author-friend’s books, I can’t read every book of every author I’ve connected with or even know in real life.  I do buy most of the books, and share the information I know, and add each one to my growing TBR list and pile.

But when your friend sends you an ARC (Advance Reading Copy, sometimes known as a Galley), and you know you’re going to feature her on Women’s Fiction Writers on her launch day (August 7th) — you cross your fingers while you crack the spine and simply pray you like it.

And my prayers were answered when I read WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR by Samantha Hoffman — fellow Chicagoan, St. Martin’s author, and Brenda Copeland-ite.

I met Samantha Hoffman because we share a publisher and an editor and then learned also share a love of Chicago, good wine, and good food (do not take these similarities for granted).  And lucky for me – and everyone else – these are some of the things showcased in her soon-to-be-released novel. And while I’m not in the habit of reviewing books per se, I just couldn’t wait to type the praises of Samantha’s book.

I didn’t know what to expect.  When I get a book – and I apologize to everyone who has ever written jacket or backcover copy (eh hem, me, and my editor, last week, eh hem) I rarely read it.  I pick up a book or I download the sample and I dive in. I usually have no clue what it’s about and have taken the word of a friend or been lured by delicate, whimsical or striking cover art.  Crafy titles can grab me as well.  And WMCYWF has it all.

I’d say that Sam’s book falls neatly into a category I made up myself. (Ah, the wonders of having your own blog, y’know?)  It’s women’s fiction with heart, soul, and a romantic tint.  Romantic? Absolutely. More than a romance? Absolutely!  Get ready for eloquent turns of phrase.  Well-crafted insights.  Laugher. Tears. Resolution.  Wonder. I related to and adored Libby Carson, the main character, even though she spends a modicum of time and energy choosing between two men.  Sometimes that would make me roll my eyes.  Ok, most of the time. But Samantha tells this intricate love story with such deference to the realities of Libby’s life — which isn’t all fabulous — that I was empathetic toward Libby immediately, and felt she was very relatable.

Before I read the book I told Sam I thought the cover represented an important birthday – I had read Sam’s back cover and knew that her protagonist, Libby, turned 50 at the beginning of the story. Halle-freaking-luyah!  Nothing against the 30-something or even the 40-something crowds but being closer to 50 than I am to any age other than 49, I do enjoy a book about someone who is already checking off a new box on surveys and getting obviously misdirected AARP mail – as am I.

I don’t read a book based on any age-bias – but this just made the book different from many I’ve read.  And just as I relate wholely to many books with protags of all ages, you needn’t be anywhere near 50 — above or below — to enjoy this book.

And when I finished the book (in less than two days) I knew exactly what the cover meant. It meant that Libby’s life was overloaded.  That she was overwhelmed.  Thinking too much.  Doing too much.  And just like a cupcake loaded with burning candles – if something isn’t done about that soon, whether it’s blowing them out and eating the cupcake or dousing the whole thing and throwing it into the garbage (what a waste) – there needs to be action or there is going to be a big metaphorical fire.

Hmmm.  Feel the tension?  Me too!!

And, how many of us haven’t felt overwhelmed or overcooked or under appreciated?

WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR is the perfect book to take on a trip (take Kleenex too) because 1) time will fly and 2) you’ll accomplish reading the whole thing, and 3) it’s a feel-good book.  It’s also a smart book with a protagonist making difficult choices in both common and uncommon situations – and I’m partial to books like that because they make me think.  What would I do?

When I finished the book I pre-ordered three copies to give as gifts – and because I’ll see Samantha, I’ll have them signed.  Another perk of having author friends, indeed.

I’m only sorry you have to wait until August 7th to read WMCYWF but Samantha will be back to talk about her experience writing her novel and having it published (wait until you hear that story!) and talk about (or maybe even show us) the sights around Chicago featured in her book.  For me, that may include walking shoes and a cab ride or two – for you, that is sure to include amazing insights and fun and more about Samantha Hoffman’s book.

Truly, what more could you wish for?

Amy xo

To learn more about Sam and her book, check out her website by clicking here.

To pre-order a copy, which is a fabulous way to know you’ll have the book asap: check out your favorite independent bookseller, BN, or Amazon.

Guest Post: The Importance Of Place In Women’s Fiction by Kathy Lynn Harris

If we’ve ever chatted about social media, you know I have always have two words of advice: GOOD CONTENT.  And while I’m steeped in the world of traditional publishing, I’d be foolish to ignore wonderful insights from a smart, self-published author with a great voice, and I’d be foolish not to share it all here.  And if I know one thing — I know I’m no fool!  

Please welcome Kathy Lynn Harris to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Where You Plop Those Characters Down Can Kick Your Work Into High Metaphoric Gear

Or, the Importance of Place in Women’s Fiction

By Kathy Lynn Harris

It’s no secret that women’s fiction is largely character-driven; our main characters and supporting casts are often richly drawn women (and men) who experience the full range of emotions. That’s no accident, of course; we writers spend hours and days and weeks and months and even years perfecting those characters to become ones readers truly care about.

And then we plop those characters down in an interesting setting that hopefully evokes a mood and grounds our characters in a time and place. Maybe it’s where we’ve grown up or somewhere we’ve visited often—because we’ve been told it’s good to write what we know. Or maybe it’s an exotic location (South Africa, anyone?) or a hip location (I’m looking at you, New York and the Outer Banks) that can add a little extra oomph to the plot.

Or maybe, just maybe, we think a little bit deeper about our setting in the early stages of the manuscript—making it just as critical as (gasp!) character and plot.

After all, women’s fiction characters are usually asked to overcome some pretty hefty adversities (bless their imaginary hearts). They could feasibly overcome those troubles anywhere. But I’m here to pimp out (too much?) the intrinsic value of setting, and this is my plea: A well-chosen setting can serve to intensify a character’s reactions to those bad times, and to the delight of every college freshman who has to write a critical essay about it, even become a metaphor for the entire theme of the book.

In my women’s fiction, Blue Straggler, the story begins in South Texas and moves on to a high mountain town in Colorado. Both of the settings provide emotional landscapes for the main character, Bailey, who is on a roller-coaster-like journey of self-discovery. For me, it was important that readers really feel how Bailey was feeling, and setting was a really good way to pull that off. South Texas is flat and hot and sticky and so humid it can be hard to breathe at times. It can feel claustrophobic. And it represents how Bailey is feeling about this place she’s called home, even if she can’t verbalize it at the time. In contrast, when she arrives in the Colorado mountains, her life slowly becomes wide open and large, full of possibilities, yet constantly presenting challenges she never anticipated. She’s on an upward trajectory. Just like those high peaks around her.

Of course, don’t just take it from little ol’ me. Think about the strength of purpose of the setting in The Help by Kathryn Stockett, where place is as much a character as the characters themselves. Think of Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier works, where rural Kentucky is an unmistakable metaphor for isolation and lack of hope.

The bottom line is that setting can be a surface-level attribute to a lovely story, or it can be this awesome, so-deep-you’ll-need-another-glass-of-wine-to-think-about-it thing that takes both character and place to a whole new level. (Okay, the wine reference may just be me, but you get the point.)

I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on this, so spill in the comments section below, pretty please!

P.S. Thanks so much, Amy, for having me on your fantastic blog! I’m so honored to be a guest here. I know you typically focus on traditionally published authors, so I’m especially jazzed to be representing the indie world.

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Kathy grew up in rural Texas — and comes from people who work hard, love the land and know how to have a good time on a Saturday night. She’s published poetry, short stories, essays, children’s books and magazine articles. Blue Straggler is her debut novel, published in March by 30 Day Books. Kathy’s blog focuses on place, too: You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas, but, and it can be found at: http://kathylynnharris.com/blog/

Other ways to catch up with Kathy:

Twitter – @KathyLynnHarris

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/BlueStragglerFiction

Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5137823.Kathy_Lynn_Harris

Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/kathylynnharris/

What Happened When My Daughter Read My Novel

My final edits for The Glass Wives were accepted – which means the manuscript goes into queue for copyediting, and for all intents and purposes, big changes have been completed.  Cue ominous music. Then, when my editor sent me the finished, digital document, I had an instantaneous flash of an idea – the kind that comes from nowhere and then seems obvious – almost like I’d been daft not to think of it before.

“Do you want to read the book?” I asked my 16-year-old daughter.

Her eyes widened – and if you know Chloe, this is quite a sight.  Eyes big and round and bright blue, accented by immaculately plucked eyebrows, lined most days into a modified Cleopatra, with sometimes delicate, yet always deliberate, swipes of not-tested-on-animals mascara. Or false lashes, depending on the occasion.

She nodded and smiled wide.

As I emailed the word doc to her hand-me-down Kindle, I had two thoughts. First, coupled with her mama-love bias would be her AP English analytical skills. Second, with the springboard for the novel being an event in our real lives, I wanted to know if she had any misgivings about the plot or characters.

“Let me know if anything bothers you,” I said. “I’m not changing it, but I still want to know.”

She just rolled her eyes and chuckled, as if none of that surprised her.  Humor and robust candor are the cornerstones of our relationship. I reminded her it’s not her usual reading fare, and she understood.  When she’s not entrenched in her normal school year, she reads a book or more per week, but she’s not reading book club books, or up-market women’s fiction. She’s reading epic YA, sweet romances and classics.  But she was game.  Then I told her the most important part.

“There’s no sex in it.”

Her shoulders relaxed.  She was visibly relieved. My friends are usually visibly disappointed.

Chloe decided to read The Glass Wives on her daily trek to the gym.  Now I don’t want to include any spoilers, but she texted me in dismay and delight over the story every day for over a week as she read.  And I caught her reading at home as well.  She told me what she liked, where and she was annoyed with the characters, when the happenings and twists made her sad, glad, happy, heart-warmed and relieved.   Her favorite parts are my favorite parts.  They’re my editor’s favorite parts.  They are some of my critique partners’ favorite parts.  Chloe said it was believable – and best of all she laughed when I asked if saw how it was fiction.

“Well it’s obvious where you got the idea,” she said, almost gloating, like she was part of a big secret that isn’t one.  It’s not a secret that my kids’ dad died in 2004.  It’s not a secret that The Glass Wives is about a woman whose ex-husband dies suddenly. “But other than that,” Chloe said.  And again, more eye-rolling.

She did call me on something she did once that I attributed to my main character’s ten-year-old daughter, but it was more like Chloe was honored to be sprinkled into fiction than anything else. She laughed with me about all the people who will be sorely disappointed not to find themselves within the pages, what the characters look like to her, what the house looks like, what she thinks happened after The End.

Speaking of The End – she was satisfied. It’s not tied neatly with a bow and she appreciated that the reader is left to discern what’s next.  Chloe liked that there was ample resolution, and that throughout the book things weren’t always what they seemed, but by the end, all fit together and made perfect sense.

And as she well knows, that only happens in fiction.

Amy xo

And yes, I have two kids.  My son, Zachary, is 20 and not a reader of fiction, he’s a reader of sports. He’s a writer too, about sports.  He was pleased Chloe read it, and more pleased I didn’t expect him to do the same. 

If you want to see a compilation of photos I attribute to The Glass Wives, check out my Pinterest board by clicking here

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.

In Writing And In Life, You Have To Be Able To Bend

For the first time in over a year, today’s author interview did not work out as planned.  [Collective Gasp!] A jumble of small miscommunications, perhaps.  Or maybe one big snafu.  Anyway, I was knocked off kilter by the whole thing. I was disappointed more by the fact that the schedule was interrupted (I am a crazy creature of habit) and that the continuity and consistency of Women’s Fiction Writers would be compromised, than that this new-to-me author didn’t answer my interview questions and kept me hanging until, oh, 7pm Wednesday night.

And then I realized that this was just another one of those things. Life is full of them.  As is writing.   And so my advice to myself was simply: bend.

Bending doesn’t imply weakness, it implies flexibility.  I can pop right back to where I started or take on a whole new shape.  And this makes me think about my book, THE GLASS WIVES (which had a different title until this perfect one hit me last summer) and how I resisted certain suggestions by my agent Jason Yarn when we’d just stepped off the curb into our agent/author relationship.  I soon realized that making those changes didn’t even mean those changes had to stick (but of course they did). I saved all my deleted parts and if version 1 was better than version 7 (which face it, it never is, but work with me here, it’s an example) then it’s my decision which version anyone ever gets to read, especially in those very early stages. What I realized back then with Jason, was that listening — really listening — employed my deepest personal resolve.  I had to trust myself enough to let go a little. I had to be flexible enough within the confines of my own personal character — to take suggestions on something as personal as my writing.

I’ve since grown accustom to bending, to shaping and reshaping my manuscript with suggestions from my rock-star, rock-solid editor, Brenda Copeland, even if a few of those suggestions made me think of things I hadn’t before.  I resisted the temptation to scream (in my head) ENOUGH!!!! because  I knew enough to bend with all my might. I knew full well that the choice was mine.  And that’s empowering.

When writing, the suggestion to bend and change our work somewhat may come from outside — but the real work and the real words come from inside.   And just like with other things in life, no one really knows how far they can go unless they try.  Look at me, I’m writing a blog post at 8pm on a Wednesday night.  For little-miss-obsessive-planner over here, this is very bendy. But, I figured that bendability (which doesn’t seem to be a real word — until NOW) has to apply to writing blog posts as well as novels. As well as life in general.

Amy xo

P.S. I do realize I was actually ditched by this author, but we’re not going there.  Instead…if you didn’t catch my post on Writer Unboxed on Monday about the great debut author group, Book Pregnant, bend your little finger right here and click!