Author Interview: Sonja Yoerg Shares Tips For Kicking Out Your Writer Doubt

Middle of Somewhere cover (1)How thrilled I am to bring Sonja Yoerg back to Women’s Fiction Writers! Over the past year I’ve gotten to know Sonja as we’re both members of Tall Poppy Writers (check out Tall Poppy Writer here). Sonja is wicked smart, a devoted friend, and real adventurer! Oh — and how could I forget? She writes a kick ass novel! 

You’ll not only learn about Sonja’s real and writerly journeys below, but get some great tips on kicking writer doubt out of your day!

Please welcome Sonja Yoerg back to WFW!

Amy xo

Sonja Yoerg Shares Tips For Kicking Out Your Writer Doubt

Middle of Somewhere cover (1)Amy: Congratulations on the release of THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, your second novel! Without any spoilers, what was one of your favorite scenes to write, and did it come easily or did you REALLY have to work for it?

Sonja: Thanks, Amy! I’m delighted to be here to chat with you again.

The main character, Liz, has two phone conversations with her absentee father, Russ. During one, she invites him to her wedding. He has another family Liz has never met, and he makes little effort to stay in her life. He’s not sure how old she is and didn’t realize she had finished college. Liz is fiercely independent, tragically so, and is used to her father’s selfishness and disinterest. But being used to something is not the same as being unaffected by it, and although Liz makes quips during the conversation, and takes Russ’s alarming callousness in stride, her frustration and sense of loss is there, underneath her words.

It was a fun scene to write, because Russ is a jerk and Liz is sharp and witty, and an emotional scene, too, because of the undercurrent of pain. Russ and Liz talk on the phone again near the end of the story, so I got to do it again, except, of course, Liz had now changed. If you hadn’t read the whole book, the two conversations might sound the same, even though what’s going on in them is very different. This sort of phenomenon is what fascinates me about writing, and reading.

Amy: How much, if any, of TMOS is based on your own experiences? And if it is, how did you parlay those truths into fiction?

Sonja: The day after our youngest daughter left for college, my husband and I set off on the John Muir Trail, a 220-mile trek through the California Sierra, beginning in Yosemite Valley and ending on the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. What a fantastic time we had! Just the two of us, with everything we needed on our backs, walking through the wilderness for eighteen days. At some point during the hike, I realized what a rich setting the trail would make, and began to develop the basis for the story. The idea for my debut began with a character, but this book began with a place.

My husband and I kept a journal on the trip, taking turns each evening to write about the day’s events. Exhausted from the strenuous hiking, we struggled to stay awake to complete the task! I used details from the journal in the novel and also relied heavily on my husband’s photographs—800 of them—to remind me of the landscape, the weather, the footing, the atmosphere. The story is as true to the actual John Muir Trail as I could manage; no mountains or rivers were relocated for convenience. I’m not sure why I insisted on this; perhaps out of respect for the journey we made.

Most of the John Muir Trail is remote and not heavily travelled. There are strict quotas for the number of hikers. But because the high passes are about a day’s walk apart, hikers tend to congregate at whichever lake is just shy of the pass, with the intention of tackling the climb in the morning when their legs are rested. As a consequence, we encountered the same people again and again, and welcomed their company. But it occurred to me how difficult it would be to get away from someone whose company you did not want. That idea became the main subplot in Middle of Somewhere. The wilderness may be vast but, as one of the characters says, “the trail is just a skinny little thing.” *cue creepy music*

Amy: What’s the hardest part of novel writing for you — and how do you get around it (or knock it down)?

Sonja: The hardest part? Dealing with doubt. There are days I cannot fathom why I ever thought I could write, when I question not only my ability, but my sanity. What was I thinking? The words swim on the page and I cannot make sense of the character, the scene, the plot, the entire first half of the damn book. I cannot make sense of me, because I was the one who thought I could do this. I even signed a contract saying I could, which in those moments feels more like a contract that has been taken out on someone—me.

How do I locate my bootstraps? I read something I’ve written that doesn’t stink. I pick a scene from a brighter day, or from a different work entirely. It doesn’t have to be writing that sold. It can be a favorite blog post, or a random scene scribbled in a notebook. It can be anything, as long as it helps push the monkey off my back. I read it and think, “Hmm. That’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read. Maybe I’ll look at what I wrote yesterday and see how it goes.”

Another trick I have is to play with mechanics. I’ll search for “that,” and see how many I can get rid of, or read a random chapter out loud to catch echoes. In doing this, I end up reading a passage that reads okay but needs tweaking. I’m a writer again.

Amy: Voice is a topic writers love to discuss, and it’s often accompanied by “how do I find mine?” Any tips for writers who are still “finding their voice?”

Sonja: I doubt there are tricks to finding voice. In my view, voice is the by-product of confidence. When I read the first few pages of a book, I either get the feeling I am in very good hands, or I don’t. For some writers, voice comes naturally. For the rest, I suspect that the best way to gain the confidence that engenders strong voice is to write more. Studying voice probably won’t help because it’s not a matter of technique. It’s more a case of getting out of your own way, and examining what you are doing will interfere with that. But, really, I’m just guessing here. I never studied writing so it could just be my bias.

Amy: The more writers I meet, the more I learn how people have different ways of deciding what to write about. How do you decide that a story is worthy of your time and energy?

Sonja: I’d love to hear about how other writers pick their stories, Amy. So far, the idea for the next book gels in my mind around the time I finish the previous one. My ideas are like puzzles to me. How can I make this more interesting for me to write? That’s what keeps me motivated and I hope it’s also what keeps the reader locked into the story. In a way, it’s more of a challenge for me to take a simple idea and build the complexity into it as I go. I suspect most writers work like that. So, I believe my answer is that it’s up to me to make the story worthy of my time and energy; that’s my goal as a writer.

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

Sonja: Read outside your genre. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with women’s fiction—it’s what I write—but there’s much to be learned from reading broadly. Try some science fiction and fantasy, some thrillers and mysteries, biographies and travel writing. Go back and rediscover the stuff you had to read in high school, and a few favorites from your childhood. You don’t have to study other books; reading them will suffice. You’ll absorb the lessons subconsciously and knowledge will appear, without direct invitation, in your writing.

Thanks so much for having me here, Amy. I can’t wait until THE GOOD NEIGHBOR comes out next month. Best of luck with it!

Sonja Yoerg headshot 4Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and published a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Her novels, House Broken (January 2015) and Middle of Somewhere (September 2015) are published by Penguin/NAL. Sonja lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Guest Post: Author Diana Bletter Talks About Making Up Words, Writing What You Know, And Living Your Life

remarkableKindness pbOne of the best parts of being an author is reading other authors’ books before they’re published — and sometimes being asked for an endorsement (a compliment, indeed). Such was the case with Diana Bletter’s A Remarkable Kindness. This story — and Diana’s story — are indeed, remarkable.

Here’s my quote: 

“A REMARKABLE KINDNESS, is a story about the bonds of friendship and family; how they are made, broken, and come full circle. Diana Bletter writes with such lush and insightful prose that a foreign landscape and culture becomes warm and familiar. A REMARKABLE KINDNESS explores the power of friendship, love, and ancient traditions, and Bletter’s characters makes you wonder just how far you would go (literally and figuratively) for the people you love.”

Please welcome Diana to WFW! 

Amy xo

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A WFW Book Review: Sweet Forgiveness by Lori Nelson Spielman

If you’ve read Sweet Forgiveness by Lori Nelson Spielman, it won’t come as a surprise to you that I loved the book. Now, let’s not get all caught up in the fact that Lori and I are friends, because if I didn’t love it I would not, under any circumstance, say that I did. I also wouldn’t have blurbed the book or be writing about it here. I would say nothing at all because that’s how I roll.

Here’s my blurb:

“Filled with warmth and humor, Lori Nelson Spielman’s SWEET FORGIVENESS is a novel about family that will make you rethink everything you know about forgiveness and love. Lori Nelson Spielman is an insightful storyteller who captures your heart and keeps you turning the pages.”

I’m not partial to book reviews that summarize — so I’ll tell you why I loved Sweet Forgiveness and let you read the story yourself.

Sweet Forgiveness introduces us to its main character, Hannah Farr, who’s a talk show host dating the city’s mayor, we think she’s got a pretty good life, until Lori skillfully reveals how perfect isn’t always perfect underneath. And, while I grew sympathetic for Hannah and wanted all things to go right for her, I learned she has secrets, and not very nice ones. So while she sets off on a journey to figure out her past and find forgiveness, as a reader I struggled with the fact that I was rooting for someone who might not be all that likable all the time.

Which means Lori did a great job with Hannah Farr!

Just recently I’ve read a few Facebook posts and threads about unlikable characters, and commented that readers are sometimes surprised that the unlikable factor is INTENTIONAL. That authors want to make their readers bristle sometimes, that we want readers to question the choices and decisions of the characters. That writers don’t just throw down a story, that many of us want to make readers think. Even if just a little bit.

That’s the core of Sweet Forgiveness — yes, there is a great hook with “Forgiveness Stones” that become all the rage. But beyond that is the question of what’s forgivable? Who’s forgivable? And is it more important that someone else forgives you or that you forgive yourself?

And, woven into the seriousness of this tale is a lot of lighthearted and romantic themes as well. I love a story that allows me to breathe. Sometimes at least. Part of Sweet Forgiveness that I enjoyed the most was that I wasn’t always worried about Hannah (I get quite involved with characters and stories), that sometimes I was given the chance to just enjoy her.

On another note, this book is personal for me because years ago, on a girlfriend getaway in Michigan, Lori and I sat in our B&B and late at night, Lori said, “I have this idea for a story about these Forgiveness Stones…”

And now it’s a book. And my friend is a bestselling author. Cool, right? Even cooler because I loved the end result. And get to share it with all of you.

Amy xo

Lori Nelson Spielman is the author of The Life List. A former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, she currently works as a home-bound teacher for inner-city students. Lori enjoys running, traveling, and reading, though writing is her passion. She and her husband live in East Lansing, Michigan.

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All About That Book Cover

paintbrush-red

You might remember the cover story behind The Glass Wives. No? The cover started out with two pink cups. Then we did this. The final cover has one pink cup and one blue/lavender/periwinkle (I was way ahead of the blue/black/gold/white dress curve). It’s one of the favorite stories I tell book clubs and at reader events. It’s that peek behind the publishing curtain that readers (and writers) covet.

So now, I’ll clue you in to the secret behind the cover for The Good Neighbor.

It started out as a red door.

It looked orange to me on my computer monitor, but everyone told me it was red. And I was thrilled! I have always wanted a red front door. It was like the art department at St. Martin’s Press read my book and my mind. While the red door isn’t literal (no red door in The Good Neighbor), it signaled warmth and welcome. And THAT was literal.

But…

Soon someone notice that another book was being published with a very similar red door. And then another. And because the pub date was originally December, we then were concerned The Good Neighbor would scream HOLIDAY STORY, which it’s not.

Back to the coloring board.

I’ll be honest, I am more a blue gal, than a red gal, but I loved that red door. But I took a deep breath and rearranged my thoughts and climbed on board the teal door train.

And now I can’t imagine it any other way. I’m so grateful to the St. Martin’s team who scoped out those similar covers. They want the cover to stand out, not fade in with other covers on the bookshelves and online. I’m very lucky.

But I’ll be honest, I didn’t always feel that way.

When the change came for the cover of The Glass Wives, at first, I was startled and upset. I assured my editor that Evie Glass would NOT have two different cups (since then, I’m not so sure). I persisted. Evie’s cups would match. I was urged to not be so literal, but to think about what the cups represented—and then I understood. The meaning of the cover went beyond the color of the cups to indicate the two different, yet similar, women inside the story.

It was perfect.

The same thing goes for The Good Neighbor. I based the setting on the street I grew up on in Northeast Philadelphia. Our front door were covered by metal screen doors (with screens in the warm weather, glass in the cold). The front doors were somewhat plain. Some had windows, some did not. I remember white doors and wood doors. I might remember a black door. I definitely don’t remember a teal door on my street.

This publishing thing is a learning process, and when I saw the cover I pushed aside my instant reaction that the door was wrong.

No matter the color, the door was right. It matched the tone of the book, the welcoming nature of the characters, and the neighborly sense of story that makes you want to knock a few times, and then step inside.

At least I hope so.

Amy xo

If you haven’t read The Glass Wives, it’s available in every possible way you’d want to read it. Hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audio book on cd or download. Check it out here or here.

Author Linda Pennell Writes History Fiction, Embraces Social Media, And Laughs At Those Who Belittle Women’s Fiction

Confederado-Soulmate 105_105x158As an author of contemporary fiction, I always jump at the chance to ask questions of historical fiction authors. To me, the research process seems laborious and daunting—but to them, it drives the story and fuels their creativity. Today, author Linda Pennell shares with us a little of her inspiration, method, and how she combines her love of the past with the social media frenzy of today. I also love her attitude toward the scuttlebutt surrounding the women’s fiction label. 

Please welcome Linda Pennell to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

 

Author Linda Pennell Writes History Fiction, Embraces Social Media, And Laughs At Those Who Belittle Women’s Fiction

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Guest Post: From Writing Facts To Writing Fiction by Darlene Deluca

I remember trying my typing fingers at fiction in 2007 and wondering how I was going to just make things up. It was foreign to me, this concept. I’d been a journalist, a corporate writer, an essayist, then dabbled in the brand new world of blogging. All true writing, all authentic, all me. Now I had to put the five Ws and and the H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) aside, at least sometimes? 

Indeed!

Today we have a guest post from Darlene Deluca who did the same thing. While I continued writing both fact and fiction, she set aside her corporate life to embark on fiction writing alone. Brave (and lucky) Darlene is joining us to day to share her journey.

Please welcome Darlene Deluca to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Guest Post by Debut Author Lindsey J. Palmer: Why I Set My Novel At A Women’s Magazine (even after The Devil Wears Prada)

pretty-in-inkWhen you’re writing a novel do you choose the setting—or does the setting choose you? When you read about debut author Lindsey J. Palmer’s decision to write about the world of women’s magazines, you’ll see that in her case (and in many) a setting just begs for a story. How can we, as writers, resist?

Please welcome Lindsey J. Palmer to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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