Author Interview: Advice From New York Times Bestselling Author Patti Callahan Henry: “Understand Why You Are Telling This Story”

Idea of Love_COVER (1)Did you ever come across someone and there are just so many coincidences you can’t help but acknowledge and celebrate them?

Not only was I a reader of Patti Callahan Henry’s books, but then I found out we had the same publisher. And the same editor. And that she was born in Philadelphia, like me.

So, how could I resist another opportunity to share Patti with all of you, to celebrate her eleventh novel (ELEVENTH NOVEL OMG OMG OMG), THE IDEA OF LOVE.

Today, Patti shares her insight and expertise on finding your story and giving it life, and how she approaches novel-writing.

I can’t write a book or a story or an essay without understanding WHY it’s a story I don’t want to tell, but need to tell. At some point my characters take over, it’s their story after all, but hearing this from Patti re-emphasizes that women’s fiction (at least the kind I want to write) comes from a well, and it’s our to reach inside and bring out whatever is there. 

Please welcome Patti Callahan Henry back to WFW! 

Amy xo


Idea of Love_COVER (1)Amy: Yo, Patti! Congratulations to my Philly-St. Martin’s-editor-sister on your newest novel, THE IDEA OF LOVE! In your book, Ella’s husband dies in a sailing accident (this is not a spoiler, folks) while trying to save her, or so she’ll have everyone believe. So, what sparked the idea for the story? Do you remember the moment the idea came to you? 

Patti: Hi AMY! My Philly sister. So glad to be here again. I do remember when the seed of the story was planted. But it took me a while to realize it was a story. On book tour, I often hear this, “I have such a great story. Will you write it?” And I often joke that I don’t want to steal their story. But then I started to think, can you really steal a story? What would that mean and what would that look like? I imagined a desperate screenwriter trying to do just that. And then the characters started coming alive, like they tend to do. I added a little twist (not telling) and let it go from there.

Amy: If I counted right (which is math, so there’s always “if”) you’ve had eleven novels and one short story published. What comes first to you? The premise, the characters, or something else? Has that changed with different books?

Patti: What usually comes to me is a “what if” wrapped around a character. So I’d say they are inextricably tied together — the idea and the character. It really hasn’t changed since my first novel. I imagine the story, but I imagine it about someone, not as an abstract idea.

Amy: What’s your work style? Do you plot and plan and theorize, and then write? Or do you sit down and write and see where the story and characters take you? 

Patti: Oh, Amy. I’d love to be a plot, outline, notecard kind of writer. I’d also like to have my spices organized alphabetically and my clothes by color and use. But that’s not how I roll. I sit down and wonder the same thing that I hope you wonder, “What will happen next?” Of course it’s not as free-for-all as that, but mostly it is. I do know what it is about. And I spend a long time thinking and free writing about who the characters are and what they want before I start Chapter One.

Amy: In THE IDEA OF LOVE, Ella and Hunter get caught up in a tangle of lies. I’m always fascinated (and often write) about secrets and lies and how people deal with the repercussions. What did you intend for the reader to take away from this part of the story? Or what was your hope? What, if anything, did you learn from writing this (I always learn things from my characters, they’re way more insightful than I). 

Patti: Oh, I never have a goal for my readers to “take away.” I believe in the power of story so that they will take away what they want and need. Or at least that is my hope. And you are so right — my characters always teach me things. A couple in this book: People connect through the power of story. Even if those stories aren’t fully true. A connection is forged and empathy is found through the telling of the stories. And also there is power in re-telling the narrative of your life, in maybe even telling how you want it to be instead of how it is. And then there is the story of friendship and how someone can show up in your life in the most unexpected ways and if you remain open and curious, you just might find a new friend.

Amy: It’s true, looks aren’t everything, but look at that book cover! It’s beautiful. As the author, what does it say to you about the book? And did you have a “cover vision” in your head? 

Patti: Oh thank you so much! I didn’t have much at all to do with the cover except saying, “OH I love that.” I didn’t have a cover vision in my head. Eleven books later, I’ve learned not to do that very thing because what I see and what the art department sees rarely converge. As the author, this cover seems to say, “What is that dress for? Why is love involved at all?” And as a reader I would want to find out.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction? (Because really, that’s what they’re here for, in addition to adding to their TBR piles.) 

Patti: I am so remiss to give out advice because part of the writing process is about finding our own way. Yet, I also believe in the power of a community like this where we can share our stories and then find out what works for us as individuals. So in that light, I’d say, make sure you understand why you are telling this story. What does the character want? Why can’t they get it? How will they get it or something better in the end? Our minds feel comfortable in a narrative arc. We can tolerate discomfort and anxiety in a story when we know that there will be resolution. For me, the heart is the first target.

Patti Callahan Henry Author Portrait

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including The Stories We TellAnd Then I Found You, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.






Guest Post: How One Single Mom Claimed Her Own Writing Space

If you know me at all, you know why this author’s guest post spoke to me. Both THE GLASS WIVES and THE GOOD NEIGHBOR feature single mom main characters who, amidst unique and universal struggles, have heart and moxie. Just like the very real author, Tracey Scott-Townsend. 

If you think you can’t find the time or space to write, read Tracey’s guest post again. Then stop kvetching and get back to work.

I did.

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Andrea Lochen Has A New Baby AND A New Novel

IMAGINARY THINGS.9.28.14I started writing fiction when my kids were junior high and high school, therefore I marvel at the moms who write books with small kids under foot—sometimes literally. And then there’s author Andrea Lochen — who was getting ready to launch her second novel, IMAGINARY THINGS, while waiting for her first baby (I know! I know! How productive can one woman be?). 

Below, Andrea shares with us three important points to remember when you’re expecting a book baby–or honestly, this is good advice at any stage of the writing life.

I have to pay much closer attention to #2, celebrating the small moments. I don’t do it often enough. 

What about you? Share your thoughts in the comments, and please welcome Andrea Lochen to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Kathryn Craft Asks “Are Likable Characters Important In Women’s Fiction?”

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Today on WFW, my friend, author Kathryn Craft, poses a question that has attracted a lot of attention in recent writerly media. IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE LIKABLE CHARACTERS? Even moreso, in women’s fiction (because that’s why we’re here) is it important for you to wish you could be friends with the characters in the book? This is a question I know the answer to for me. It’s not imperative — but my favorite books always end up being the ones I wish I could step inside, that I wish didn’t end, and the ones where I wish I could have coffee with the main character. That doesn’t mean the book has to be always happy or offer an HEA ending, it just means I have to like the main character and wish I could know her better. I also have loved some books where this isn’t the case, but when I think back on old and new favorites, that’s the prevalent theme. I’ll share some of my personal list in the comments. 

Below, you’ll learn Kathryn thoughts on the subject (a little different from my own), as well as about her new, compelling book, THE FAR END OF HAPPY, which was inspired by real-life events. Kathryn is a brave and talented author. And a real advocate for her author friends (I should know). 

Please welcome Kathryn Craft to WFW—and share your thoughts and favorite women’s fiction books in the comments!

Amy xo

Do You Seek Friends in Women’s Fiction?

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Guest Post: Author Lindsey J. Palmer Writes About Living In New York City And Major Life Milestones In Her New Novel

If We Lived HereToday, author Lindsey J. Palmer poses a foreboding question: how do we—and our characters—handle major life changes? How about those milestone birthdays? (You know the ones.)In Lindsey’s newest novel, IF WE LIVED HERE, the main character, Emma, is on the cusp of turning thirty. How does Emma cope? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I have to admit that what impressed me even more than the premise (and I love books set in NYC because I love NYC) was the fact that Lindsey was writing her second published novel before she turned thirty. 

My debut was published in 2013 when I was forty-nine. When I was thirty I had a two-year-old and lived in an early nineteen-twenties Cape Cod in New Jersey. I had the picket fence, both literally and figuratively. Times have changed. 

And I think that’s what IF WE LIVED HERE is about. Changing times. Adapting. Figuring things out along the way. Making it work. Living life. 

I can totally relate. Even if when I was thirty, there was no computer in my house, telephones were attached to walls, stamps cost twenty-nine cents—and people still used stamps.

Please welcome Lindsey J. Palmer back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Susan Örnbratt Asks: “What is a lucky writer?”

Cover for websiteHere is a lovely reminder from author Susan Örnbratt that we should find inspiration in the everyday as well as in the extraordinary. And, that sometimes things happen just when they should. Even if it’s ten years later. Please welcome Susan to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

How a Grandmother’s Secret Words Became a Granddaughter’s Treasure 

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Author Interview: Author Holly Robinson Talks About Emotion, Mystery, and Names—Oh My!

Haven Lake_FCSometimes you just click with someone, and that’s how it was for me and my friend, author Holly Robinson. I’m not sure even how or when we first connected, likely due to her first novel with NAL, The Wishing Hill, which was published around the same time as The Glass Wives. TODAY, Holly is launching her third novel with NAL, HAVEN LAKE (and has another coming out in the Fall, OMG). The best part of interviewing an author-friend is learning new things about her, her writing, her stories. They’re not usually the kinds of things that come up in casual phone conversations, but they’re the things I want to know and the kinds of interviews I want to share here.

Actually, that’s the best part of interviewing anyone—quenching my own curiosity by getting the answers to MY questions and knowing what, how, and why those answers would be of interest to others. (Hello, Journalism Degree!!)

Holly’s novels are family dramas strewn with emotion and mystery. Family secrets are woven through each one, as well as vivid settings, and character voices that ring clear and true. You’ll see what I mean when you read the interview! 

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Please welcome Holly Robinson back to WFW!

Amy xo

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