Having Advocates (and snacks) Within the Women’s Fiction Community

Friday night I took my almost sixteen year old daughter to GLEE Live (I’ll spare you the 96 pictures).  She screamed. I screamed. She jumped. I jumped.  She fist pumped. I fist pumped.  Our ears were ringing at midnight when our heads hit our respective pillows.

I couldn’t think of anything more amazing.

But, then I went to the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago. To the Ladies of the Write panel. Now that, my friends, was like writer’s crack. Beat GLEE by a mile.  And, there was no screaming.  A double-bonus.

I went with my in-real-life, good friend Pamela Toler, a non-fiction and fiction author is an all-around awesome sport.  She knows I am not only a reader and writer but a total author fan.  So when Kristina Riggle, Cavanaugh Lee, Beverly Jenkins and Meg Waite Clayton were a few feet in front of us in a classroom, Pamela just let me revel in their awesome authorness.  She may have told me to close my gaping mouth, I don’t remember. If she did, I’m sure it reopened and hit the floor when Meg mentioned that Eleanor Brown was also in the audience.  Pamela and I had just finished talking about Eleanor’s book, The Weird Sisters, about a minute before. (No fear, Eleanor is scheduled to be on the blog soon!)

For about thirty minutes the women on the panel bantered on the definition of women’s fiction, V.S. Naipaul, their writing process, where they get their ideas, how they find their voices when writing from multiple points of view and they gave great advice to any aspiring authors about persistence and perseverance.  They shared the metaphorical stage with generosity, grace and humor.  I doubt Naipaul would have handled himself with nearly as much, if any, class. Nor would he have rocked the awesome accessories and jewelry with such flair.

Frankly, these women were so funny they could take their show on the road.

But within the boundaries of the advice and hilarity, I realized that these articulate women not only wrote books for us to read with characters we could relate to, but as writers of women’s fiction — or however you want to describe their books — they are our advocates.  Of course their books are read by men too — but in having female protagonists in fiction they showcase the breadth of life experience women have, the intensity of emotion, the unequivocal joie de vivre and propensity for action.  They have proven it can be done.  These books sell.  These women (and male authors who write female protags), by writing the books they do, have become advocates for those of us who want to do the same thing.

And in life, we all need advocates.

A close friend reminded me recently that we all really need advocates in our careers — a person who knows you and your abilities, someone who sees your strengths and understands your weaknesses and will not only encourage and push you, but go to bat for you.  That really made sense to me.  So I thought about it.

How do we find an advocate in the women’s fiction community?

Of course, an agent and/or an editor is your advocate. 100%!  But what about an advocate within the writer and author realm? Writers need other writers, right?

I believe in order to have an advocate, you must first be one — without an agenda, without a motive other than to help.  Clichés might not belong in fiction, but on the blog, they’re fine and dandy. 😉  You get what you give. What goes around comes around.  Don’t blog because you want readers, blog because you have something to say. Don’t critique a manuscript because you want to be critiqued, do it because you want to help someone be a better writer.  Don’t push someone to help you, help someone else and when you least expect it, someone will be there to help you. And don’t put the cart before the horse.  Pay it forward.

Generosity of spirit breeds generosity of spirit.

Forget about yourself sometimes.  That makes people remember you.

For example, Meg was kind enough to mention the blog and her interview here, and also that the interview is going to be included in the paperback edition of The Four Ms. Bradwells, which I knew and am over-the-moon about.  I also feel lucky that Pamela and I got to hang out with Meg and Eleanor after the panel (Kris headed home :-().  If you have never been to Panera Bread with one of your favorite friends and two of your favorite authors, I highly recommend it.

What struck me as we sat and chatted and other authors came by, sat a spell and left, is that these folks have each other’s backs and read each other’s books.  They certainly work their tushes off on their own books and promotion but when surrounded by their colleagues and peers it was all about the other person.  No one was the better-selling author.  In a small group, there was little distinction between published and not-yet published for most of us.  Experiences and comments and questions were equal.

As authors steps ahead of me, they have paved the way.  They are my advocates simply by doing what they do and by being generous with their time and energy and insights on this blog.  And you know what?  We are their advocates by reading and buying and talking about their books.

Of course, Pamela, who allowed me to stand next to both Eleanor and Meg in the photos, and to giggle (without admonishing me) as she took my arm and led across a busy street and to the train, clearly wins the prize.

Pamela Toler, Me, Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters and The Language of Light

Pamela Toler, Me, Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters