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 Claire Dyer On Managing Multiple Points Of View In Your Novel

TPA ebookI’m a one POV writer. At least so far. I love multi-POV novels but it’s not something I’ve tackled in my own book-writing journey. Today, author Claire Dyer shares with us some thoughts on writing a novel with multiple points of view. What are your thoughts? How do you do it? Do you stay far away from it? In the past, I’ve used short stories to experiment with POV and different literary devices and techniques. When I was reading Claire’s post I remembered I’d had a short story published that used two points of view…and I went back and read it. It was published a year before The Glass Wives (May 2013) — and I’ll be honest, it took me about a year and a half to find it a home! (So yes, I’ve always been persistent) ;-) Here’s a link if you want to read Minding Joe

But first — share your many thoughts on managing multiple points of view in the comments. 

And please welcome Claire Dyer 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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Author Interiew: Barbara Claypole White Shares Writing Advice She Wishes She’d Gotten

White-ThePerfectSon-21053-CV-FT-v4jpgNo one has more insight into the fictional world of a dysfunctional family than my friend, Barbara Claypole White. Her third novel, THE PERFECT SON, like her other novels, explores the impact of mental illness on family dynanics and she does this from the inside out, allowing readers unprecedented access to her characters and their lives.

But today I wanted to talk to Barbara about writing and publishing! So we did! Her road has been long and winding — and look where she is now. THE PERFECT SON already has 500 reviews on Amazon and it launched YESTERDAY! 

Please welcome Barbara Claypole White to WFW!

Amy xo

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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

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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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