Author Sally Koslow Says Men Appreciate Her Novels, But She Doesn’t Spit On The Concept Of Women’s Fiction

The-Widow-Waltz-by-Sally-Koslow-334x500I connected with author Sally Koslow when I interviewed her about her third novel, With Friends Like These in 2011. Now, with the publication of Sally’s fourth novel, THE WIDOW WALTZ, Sally joins us again at Women’s Fiction Writers with her insights about writing fiction and non-fiction, exploring the threads of reinvention and widowhood and secrets, and digging into writing that is meaningful to us to make our own writing more meaningful. 

Both THE WIDOW WALTZ and THE GLASS WIVES were listed in Lilith Magazine’s Summer Suggestions! I was thrilled to be paired with Sally, who is a generous and compassionate writer friend and mentor. 

Please welcome Sally Koslow back to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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

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

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

Amy xo

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

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

Friend: What kind of book is it?

Me: It’s a love story.

Friend: Oh, it’s a romance novel?

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

Friend: So, it’s a romance novel.

Me: No, it breaks too many romance rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debut Author Kimberly Brocks Says Trust Your Personal Writing Process And Expect It To Make You (A Little) Crazy

I feel like I’ve know author Kimberly Brock forevah and I feel like we’ve been waiting just about that long for her to be featured here at Women’s Fiction Writers.  Kimberly’s debut novel is THE RIVER WITCH, and if the title and cover don’t pique your interest (as if!) then reading this interview is certain to do so.  Kimberly is funny and insightful — and her answers exceeded this author/interviewer’s dreams.  I have enjoyed all the interviews I’ve conducted — but I’ll admit this is now one of my all-time favorites. I bet it will be one of yours too.

Please FINALLY welcome Kimberly Brock to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Debut Author Kimberly Brocks Says Trust Your Personal Writing Process And Expect It To Make You (A Little) Crazy

Amy: Kimberly, I’m so glad to have you here on Women’s Fiction Writers, I feel like we’ve been waiting forever to do this interview!!  So, let’s get down to business.  Can you give us the gist of THE RIVER WITCH and tell us where or when or how you got the idea?

Kimberly: Amy, thank you so much for having me! I feel like we’ve been waiting a long time, too, but I’m so thrilled to be here! I love reading your blog and I’ve been itching to talk to you about THE RIVER WITCH and this whole Women’s Fiction business!

Getting the idea for the book was, like everything else in writing, a long, drawn-out, teeth-gnashing, crazy-making process. I was completely in love with the idea as it revealed itself to me, and lolling around my bedroom floor listening to Richard Marx, sobbing because I couldn’t get it to commit. (If you don’t know who Richard Marx is, you really need to read this book and then call me. We’ll talk.)

*No, Richard Marx is not actually in this book. That was a metaphor. I’m southern. We do that a lot.

Now, in all literary seriousness, I read this article about a couple of women who decided to open a pumpkin farm. They were holding a weekend celebration for the harvest. The pictures were gorgeous, with this long table laden with food. And everywhere, there was this beautiful, round, sumptuous fruit; these gourds and pumpkins, round and full and smooth. All these warm colors. I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures. I pulled the article out of the magazine and kept it, going back to it often. I couldn’t stop thinking how much I wanted to be there with those women. I could hear the music from the fiddle and the open-throat sound of the singers in the photographs. I could taste the fried chicken and grilled corn on the table. And it was all wrapped up in the shapes of their harvest, such a compelling illustration of the feminine divine, of sensuality and fertility and sustenance. I knew that I was going to tell a story about it somehow. In my mind, it was set in a very isolated place, a mountain or an island. I knew there was a river. I started looking into all of that and researching, learning what it takes to grow those monster pumpkins, and sketching scenes with a woman longing for her childhood home and sacred traditions wrapped up in music and stories and a bountiful table. This was Roslyn. But I couldn’t bring the ideas together cohesively.

(Yes, I did get pregnant with my third child right about then. Probably just from looking at these pictures.)

Then one day, about a year later, I saw another report. This time they were showing people floating down a river inside giant pumpkins that had been rigged up as boats. I got excited. I saw the element of water, the continuity of cycles and the ecology of a Sea Island with its rivers and marshes and the hold-outs from a disappearing culture. What would it be like to crawl inside one of those giant pumpkins on the river? Would I feel free or like I was losing everything? And then I thought, if I felt the way I felt when I looked at the women in the magazine with all their pumpkins, what would I see if I was a little girl without a mother – or a mother without a child? And then, Damascus started talking to me.

What evolved was a story about surrender. Roslyn Byrne loses a life and a gift that was sort of bestowed upon her, a sacred sort of existence that has been miserable. She is set free from her stifling career as a celebrated ballerina and loses a pregnancy that terrified her. But once she’s free from all that expectation, she realizes that she has no identity of her own. In fact, she’s afraid and unable to reconcile with herself. She goes to Manny Island, Georgia, to hide and heal and try to figure what to do with herself. She’s haunted by her grandmother, a woman who was very firmly rooted in her community and self – all things that are foreign to Roslyn. What she never expects is ten-year-old, motherless, wise, neglected and determined Damascus Trezevant, waiting for her there, ready to get all in Roslyn’s business. Their friendship will force Roslyn to grow into her full womanhood.

Amy: THE RIVER WITCH is set on Manny’s Island, Georgia — a barrier island.  Have you always lived in the South? What prompted this setting and made it special for you and your characters? (When my son was little he watched a show called Gullah Gullah Island. I think it was supposed to be set on one of those islands.)

Kimberly: Yes, Gullah Gullah Island is exactly, right. Except the Gullah people live predominantly on the South Carolina Sea Islands. Along Georgia’s coast, they call themselves Sea Island Geechee. They are an ancient, evolving and fascinating culture, and a disappearing one, which you’ll find is a thread throughout the book for both the families and environment. La tee dah. Call me BARBARA KINGSOLVER. (Kimberly’s wildest dreams)

I grew up in the north Georgia foothills and lived there most of my life, with several years spent north of Seattle, Washington, and near Raleigh, North Carolina. But there’s no mistaking I’m a southern girl. If you could hear me speak, you’d hear the Tennessee hill country in my accent. I spent years in the theater trying to get rid of it, but no dice. I’ve learned to embrace it and gotten used to the fact that I typically have to prove my I.Q. is higher than a coon dog’s once people hear me speak. But they’re also charmed by the accent, I think. And we southerners know how to play that card, you sweet thing. (YouTube yourself some LEE SMITH and pretend you’re listening to me and that I have any business even saying her glorious name.)

As for the setting, I’ll show ya’ll what I mean about proving my literary brilliance right here.

I knew Roslyn’s story would end up on the island – I knew she would go into a kind of exile and I’ve always loved the Georgia coast and its history. I imagined Roslyn’s need for that kind of isolation, and her need for great beauty. And I wanted it to be a place that would keep her off balance so she’d have to struggle to understand it and meet its demands. Her memories of the Appalachian Mountains and her grandmother are her touchstone, but she feels she can’t return to that place and the loss of her grandmother is very fresh. I needed a place that Roslyn believed was a complete departure. What she discovers on the island is that the people and even the land itself are dealing with the same issues.

I’d always been fascinated by the idea that the Sea Islands shift and change, the idea of the alligators roaring season, the romance of the great live oaks, and then there was the element of superstition that lent itself to Roslyn’s haunting. The island was like going back to the mire from which we all emerge. I chose the island setting so she could fight her way back from her loss, physically and psychologically. That’s what Roslyn’s character ultimately faced – having to come out of a tragedy, transformed.

Manny’s Island is actually loosely based on an island where a friend has a beach house. There are no cars on the island and you get there by boat and yes, there is a shell ring. That was where the story of Damascus and the Trezevant family were always set in my mind. I’d written a good part of the first draft before Roslyn’s memories in Glenmary, Tennessee, began to surface. Then I understood, as with everything else in the novel, that the two seemingly contradictory environments and cultures would serve as mirrors for one another – just as the characters tend to hold up mirrors to one another. Some of this was written intentionally, but a great deal of it evolved with the story.

On a personal (and pathetic and morbid) note, I was a teenager vacationing on Jekyll Island, Georgia, the summer I learned I had severe scoliosis. I was a dancer and thought I would make a career teaching one day, but my disease changed some things and altered my journey. (It’s all good!) But maybe I chose those islands for that reason, too. Before you start feeling all sorry for me, let me add a little bit more of a cerebral explanation, because it makes me seem really smart for a southern girl.

Throughout history there have been tales of women who turned into mermaids or serpents or sirens. Roslyn’s character seemed to me this kind of woman – someone very sensual and visceral, someone who mesmerized and lured and led people without trying, and was feared and criticized for it. So I saw her as a kind of displaced, exiled mermaid and she needed the sea to heal her. Kind of corny, right? Oh, but wait and listen to this.

I’d incorporated some seriously long-standing mythology into my contemporary work. In particular, after the book was finished, I discovered shocking similarities between The River Witch and the enduring myth of MELUSINE (And doesn’t that just sound like a southern name?), a cursed maiden living on a lost island who took the shape of a serpent when bathing. This dual feminine nature – the idea of a beautiful woman with a terrible secret, an unfortunate lover, a woman with a wailing song, one who bridges the gap between known and unknown realms, who has lost her children and wanders in exile because her darker nature has been revealed – applies not only to the main character, Roslyn, but to all the women in the novel in various ways. Inadvertently, I crafted the same old myth, incorporating my own culture and environment of the Appalachian foothills and the Georgia coast. I love that! I think it stands as proof that our stories are timeless.

Or maybe the scoliosis just left me twisted and I’d had too much Starbucks (Melusine is the split-tailed gal on their logo) and needed a beach vacation. That is, after all, my natural state. See, you should have asked, “Do I see myself in any of my charcters?”

No, I did not bury my baby or anybody else’s baby with a garden spade. No, I am not a witch. Yes, I did spend my childhood with kittens popping out of the kitchen cabinets. Call me later. We’ll talk.

Amy: Your publisher is Belle Bridge Books. I’ve read quite a few of Belle Bridge authors. Can you tell us how you came to work with them and what the experience has been like with a small(er) publisher?

Kimberly: Bell Bridge is a phenomenal advocate for authors and I couldn’t have been luckier than to sell The River Witch to them. The work was submitted to all the major NYC houses and while it was received well enough, and often I got requests to see it again if I would revise, but over time and many revisions, I began to feel the story was losing its integrity. I couldn’t bring myself to change it anymore. I knew I either had to sell it or shelve it and I couldn’t stand to put Damascus in a drawer. So, I left my agent, who wasn’t yet open to submitting to a small press – which nearly put me in an early grave, I was so terrified. And I sent it to Bell Bridge because of their reputation and the growing respect for their small press in the publishing community. During the time I waited to hear back from them, I worked on a new project and queried other agents with my work in progress. It was truly a writer’s dream when I got the offer to publish The River Witch and began working with my current agent within the same week.

My experience with Bell Bridge has been one of mutual respect and such authentic enthusiasm for my work. I am very sure that I made the right decision for this book and I enjoy a candid relationship with my publisher that I’ll always treasure. I have another short piece due out in an anthology with them in late Spring 2012.

Amy: We talk a lot on this blog about the big umbrella of women’s fiction and obviously much of what’s deemed “Southern Fiction” falls under that realm.  What’s your definition of women’s fiction in general?  And another question, what’s the special ingredient that makes it Southern fiction? Is it just the setting or is there more? 

Kimberly: The label or genre of Women’s Fiction is such a hot button right now in certain circles, with people being offended left and right. Writers are in two camps on this one. In the one camp, you’re up on a soap box about equality and women getting a fair shake, which is very relevant. These writers are embracing the genre of women’s fiction as a statement and a fact. Because, wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where all folks just said, “Oh, women’s fiction! That’s wonderful! That’s important and necessary, wise and intellectual, and tells the beautiful stories of our mothers and daughters!” Boy, do I agree.

In the other camp you have writers who get prickly and defensive because they’re writing books that are tagged as women’s fiction instead of literary or general fiction, like that’s limiting, or worse, degrading. Like being a female writing about feminine issues is going to cost you your literary prowess. I’m with you fellers and fully annoyed by this mindset. And offended that because something is quintessentially feminine that it must be less than. It’s a gravely naïve perspective and sadly offensive.

Between you and me, my nine times great grandmother was a celebrated Cherokee Indian named NANCY WARD (Look her up. Trust me.) who picked up her husband’s weapon when he fell in battle and went to war alongside the men in her tribe. People are always so affected by that story and generally say in wonder, “What a woman!” I always thought that was strange because it seems to me every woman I know is doing that same thing in one way or another, every day. What I’m saying is, it’s not a new battle, girls.

The sad fact is, writers who tackle work that is based in women’s themes are irrevocably stuck in the middle of the debate. Maybe one day the writers and stories will be valued simply because they were written, and not because of the way they were marketed.

Personally, I never set out to write any one genre, I just wanted to tell a story that gave voice to the experiences of these characters, which in my opinion, is what all writers set out to do regardless of their sex. I am a woman and I write fiction. Plenty of men write fiction from a woman’s point of view. Does it make it less than? Would my work be more influential if it were written from the perspective of a male character? I don’t think so. This book definitely and intentionally addresses women’s lives – their journeys and traditions and myths – but the novel also looks at family and broader ideas such as culture and divinity and losing the land. All human experiences. I don’t think that’s limiting at all. I think it’s powerful. If that’s women’s fiction, sign me up.

As for what makes a work southern fiction? It’s kind of a mystery, isn’t it? I think maybe it’s the accent. Oh, and bacon grease. (Girls, I tried to leave some obvious examples of true southern literary WOMEN’S FICTION genius, because ya’ll know you shouldn’t be listening to me.)

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

Kimberly: Trusting the process. That’s kind of like trying to convince a woman she doesn’t really want an epidural because the natural process of labor is beautiful and rewarding, but seriously, it’s true. I keep trying to read something or watch some presentation that will give me the secret, but that’s just stupid. No one writer’s process is the same just like no two books are the same. There’s no use rushing it. And I think especially with stories about women’s experiences you’re going to be going in circles. The journey is cyclical, dizzying, and often feels like you as the author are backtracking. It’s easy to lose perspective. For me, I’m a global thinker and I always begin with this broad idea, a kind of amorphous vision of a work and I want to get to the finished piece in this neat, controlled way that just never happens. How could it? That’s just not the nature of a woman. I have to force myself to relax in the bog of my imagination until something floats to the top that I can latch on to. And all that time, I’m convincing myself I’m not crazy and secretly want to just call up KAYE GIBBONS (look her up, too, ya’ll) and beg her to go on and write the book for me overnight, because it will be that easy for her. I have to know that I’m going to come full circle, and that I am an idiot kind of writer who is going to do it all the hard way. And then I have to hope I’m eventually going to be smart enough to write the book of my dreams, because when I’m writing I always know I’m not smart enough. I have to let the book teach me something first. So my advice is: 1) Trust the process 2) Expect it to make you crazy 3) Emerge with the wisdom of your heart as the power in your story.

Writing the book will make in you the wisdom to write the book.

Until, of course, you get the idea for the next one. Then it’s just you and Richard Marx all over again, Sugar. I suggest some Starbucks and a beach vacation. Email me. I’m there.

Kimberly Brock is a former actor, special needs educator, and native to the north Georgia foothills. Her debut novel, The River Witch, is a southern mystical work set against the backdrop of Appalachia and the Sea Islands. Her work has appeared in the anthologies “Summer in Mossy Creek” and the forthcoming, “Sweeter Than Tea”. She spends her non-writing time enjoying her husband and three children, and encouraging storytelling in all its many forms. Kimberly lives north of Atlanta, where she’s made her home for the last eight years. To learn more, visit her website at

Author Valerie Frankel Shares Where Her Book Ideas Come From And What Happens When You’re Lukewarm About Your Own Story

Whenever I find a new-to-me author who’s not really new — I am happy as well as a little embarrassed. I mean, really. How could I have missed Valerie Frankel? She now has sixteen novels to her name — she writes memoir, women’s fiction, chick-lit, YA and she’s a ghost writer for some really high profile celebrities. I’m not sure how she does it all, I can barely edit, write and get the dishwasher emptied on the same day.  Did I just write that and hit publish? Yes, yes I did. (My goal, as always, is to make you all feel incredibly capable in the face of your own writerly adversity!) 

Please welcome the busy, funny, talented, Valerie Frankel to Women’s Fiction Writers! 

Author Valerie Frankel Shares Where Her Book Ideas Come From And What Happens When You’re Lukewarm About Your Own Story

Amy: FOUR OF A KIND (FOAK) is your latest novel.  Before we get into any more details about that — it is your 15th novel. Sweet!  And impressive. (I need to breathe, I’m just editing my first!) Can you share a little about FOAK and where the idea came from?

Valerie: Thanks, and congrats on your novel!

FOAK started with the idea of unexpected friendship. Friendship is something I think about a lot, in particular, how women with busy lives, family, jobs, can make new friends. It seems nearly impossible. But, since we do what they can for our kids, I thought harried Moms would carve out some time to attend a Diversity Committee meeting to support a good cause at their kids’ school. That got my characters—four completely different women—in the same room. Then I needed a way to get them to open up about their personal lives with complete strangers. That’s when the idea of having them play poker for secrets instead of money came in. It’s always easier to talk when your hands are busy. Cooking, quilting, whatever. As soon as the characters started shuffling, dealing, and sharing secrets, the plot just spooled out.

Amy: Now down to the the nitty gritty. How do you come up with ideas for so many books?  Is it a character that sparks you? A plot? A dream? Inquiring minds of aspiring authors want to know!

Valerie: Sometimes, it starts with an idea, like unexpected friendship. Othert times, a concept. The Girlfriend Curse came from the concept of being the last girlfriend, or the woman men date immediately before they marry. My teen series, Fringe Girl, came purely from the desire to write stories that my own daughters could read (my other books are too racy). In The Accidental Virgin, it began with a character who was so busy, she forgot to have sex for a year. When you get fixed on an idea, relationship, character or concept, and find that a plot start to unfold, run with it.

Amy: What tells you if the idea is a keeper?  

Valerie: Ha! Good question. I have four half-written novels on my computer that seemed like great ideas at the time, but always felt forced. I’ve had light bulb moments walking down the street and thought I’ve come up with a genius idea, only to realize that it’s just a scene in book, or a single line. What’s worth continuing (“keeper” as something you can keep writing until it’s done), is a story that holds my own interest and stays fun and surprising. If I’m lukewarm about writing it, who the hell is going to want to read it?

Amy: On your website I read that you are also a ghostwriter. Do you live in an alternate universe where there are more than 24 hours in a day?  Can I come in?  Seriously, do you have a set routine for writing different kinds of books or working on different projects? 

Valerie: I do a lot of ghostwriting—fiction and nonfiction—and love it. It’s a welcome break from being inside my own head and telling my own stories. It’s almost like journalism, which is how I got my start in publishing. I do different kinds of writing (memoirs, magazine articles, novels and ghostwriting) because they all inform and inspire each other. Magazine essays turn into chapters in memoirs. Memoirs reveal insights that I can use and play with in novels. Ghostwriting novels is a place to put all the lines and jokes that I couldn’t work into my own books. I have a short attention span, too. I’m amazed when people spend ten years writing one book. I’d get tired of it.

As far as scheduling goes, I like to alternate nonfiction and  fiction to stay limber. Ghostwriting projects are usually on very tight deadline, so I work on that that exclusively until it’s done. The timing can be fortuitous. My summer job for the last two years was writing beach novels for Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, literally, at the beach.

Amy: When it comes to fiction are you a plotter or do you just let your muse have her way with you? 

Valerie: Both. Depends on the book. That said, I think you have to have some idea where you want to go, even if you don’t know how you’ll get there.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?  Do you feel pigeonholed? And if so, does that bother you?

Valerie: Women’s fiction just means stories that women want to read. I place no value judgment on that. I love Christopher Moore. I’m a woman. That would make his stuff women’s fiction. Publishers have to categorize because booksellers need to put the product on a shelf, and marketers have to figure out a way to sell it. I’ve never felt pigeonholed, even when I wrote chick lit. Readers don’t care. Why should I? If I ever find myself placed in the category of Writers Who Suck, I’ll care.

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

Valerie: Get a cat. Don’t smoke. Invest in a quality trench coat. Call your mother. Have your taxes prepared by a professional. And be nice to people, unless they don’t deserve it. In that case, feel free to be a raging bitch.

VALERIE FRANKEL received critical acclaim for her bestselling memoir, Thin is the New Happy. She was Joan River’s co-writer on Men Are Stupid…and They Like Big Boobs and she collaborated with Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi on the New York Times bestselling novel A Shore Thing. Val is the author of fifteen novels, including The Accidental Virgin, and is a journalist much in demand. Her writing has appeared in O Magazine, Allure, Self, and The New York Times, among other publications. Her Q&A Love column in Mademoiselle was a popular favorite for many readers. She lives in Brooklyn Heights with her two daughters and husband, opera singer Stephen Quint.

You can visit Valerie’s website here.

Woo Hoo! 46 Women’s Fiction Writers Giveaway Winners Announced!

That’s right — 46 winners!!  I used ‘’ to generate these names.  If your name is below please email me your snail mail address at with Giveaway Winner in the subject line. I’m going to copy/paste the address from the emails, so please send it to me the way it needs to appear on a mailing label. If I don’t hear from you by Monday, April 9, 2012, an alternate winner will be randomly chosen.

The books/gifts will also be randomly tucked into envelopes and then labels applied.  Some of you will receive e-gifts, also randomly chosen.  Books will come from me or from the author directly — whether in the mail or email.

If you do not receive your prize/book by April 21, 2012, please email me and let me know.

CONGRATULATIONS to these friends of Women’s Fiction Writers!

This is the order in which the names were plucked from the virtual hat.  My intention was to email everyone directly, but generating random numbers, matching them to corresponding comments, and listing the names here, has taken four cups of coffee — so in the interest of the rest of my day and the health of my innards, here you go: