NYT Best-Selling Author Susan Wiggs Shares Her Writing Journey With Women’s Fiction Writers

My Writing Journey

by Susan Wiggs

Although I’ve been a published writer for 25 years, I’ve been a WRITER for twice as long. Storytelling is somehow embedded in my DNA, and I’ve got the evidence to back it up. My very earliest writings were preserved by a doting grandmother, and survive to this day. I was just three years old when I learned to make recognizable marks on paper and call it writing. Something else I used to do, perhaps channeling writers who dictated their stories to secretaries, like Barbara Cartland and Sidney Shelton, was dictate stories to my long-suffering mother, who wrote them down while I illustrated them.

At the age of eight, I met my first writing mentor–Mrs. Marge Green at School 11, my third grade teacher. Like most writers, I was an advanced reader, so while she worked with other students, I was left to my own devices. She told me if I fancied myself a writer, then that’s what I should be doing–writing. I took her advice and self-published a book, which can be seen here.

Throughout my childhood, I read books all day every day. I told stories to my friends. I lied to my parents, invented stories for show-and-tell, and even fabricated outlandish “sins” to relate to Father Campbell in the confessional. For me, making things up was as natural as breathing.

In 7th grade, I rewrote the ending of OF MICE AND MEN because I was easily able to figure out a way to save Lenny in the end. (Side note: My chihuahua was rescued from a shelter in Salinas, and yes, his name is Lenny.) In high school and college, I was that annoying student who would request extra blue exam booklets for essay tests, because I had a knack for filling them at an alarming rate.

As a graduate student, I worked with a critique group for the first time, and I loved the process. A piece of bad writing could be transformed by this magical concept known as Rewriting. Who knew?

While in graduate school, I wrote my first full-length novel, a romantic historical saga about (I kid you not) the Dutch Revolt. Convinced I was on to something, I wrote its sequel. Eventually, I came to understand that storytelling is a lot more fun when READERS are involved, so I looked around at what readers were devouring at the time (1987). Big sexy western historical romances were the order of the day. And they just happened to be my favorites.

I wrote all 600 pages of TEXAS WILDFLOWER on a typewriter. In about three months. Shiloh Mulvane and Justin McCord consumed me every night. Why at night? Well, because in addition to writing, I was a full-time teacher, a full-time mom of a toddler, a wife, a homeowner, a dog owner. So if you want to write but are waiting until you can “find the time,” forget about it. You HAVE the time. You just have to decide what to do with it.

I sold the book to Wendy McCurdy, then an editor at Kensington, in 1987. Since then, I’ve published a book every year or so, honing my craft and learning the business along the way.

RETURN TO WILLOW LAKE, just published, was written by an older, wiser and much more skilled writer than the one who pouded out Texas Wildflower. My process is pretty much the same as the way I wrote at the age of 3. I make marks on paper, and call it writing.

How about you? What does your writer’s journey look like?

Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She’s been featured in the national media, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and is a popular speaker locally and nationally.

From the very start, her writings have illuminated the everyday dramas of ordinary people. At the age of eight, she self-published her first novel, entitled “A Book About Some Bad Kids.”

Today, she is an international best-selling, award-winning author, with millions of copies of her books in print in numerous countries. Her recent novel, Marrying Daisy Bellamy, took the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List, and The Lakeshore Chronicles have won readers’ hearts around the globe. Her books celebrate the power of love, the timeless bonds of family and the fascinating nuances of human nature.

She lives with her husband and family at the water’s edge on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where she divides her time between sleeping and waking.

Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/susanwiggs

Twitter- https://twitter.com/susanwiggs

Website- http://www.susanwiggs.com

Pinterest- http://pinterest.com/beachwriter1/

Author Erica Bauermeister Wrote Her First Novel When The Characters Talked To Her. Don’t Laugh, Writers. You’ve Been There!

Sit down and hold onto your keyboards for this one! Erica Bauermeister’s novel, JOY FOR BEGINNERS, has SEVEN pivotal characters. Ok, you can breathe again.  This is a intricately woven tale of thwarting fears and taking chances — and how seven women, separately as much as together, agree to take on a challenge.  For me it was a beautifully written, evocative and enjoyable book — because it’s always fun to see other “people” doing things I don’t!  

Another JOY of fiction!

Please welcome Erica Bauermeister to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Erica Bauermeister Wrote Her First Novel When The Characters Talked To Her.  Don’t Laugh, Writers. You’ve Been There!

Amy: In JOY FOR BEGINNERS, which was recently released in paperback with this gorgeous cover, you share the story of a group of women each facing a challenge set upon them by the others. What fascinated me was how this novel was both their collective and their individual stories. Why did you decide to write it that way — and how did you set out to face your own challenges of telling separate stories that were also one?

Erica: JOY FOR BEGINNERS is almost more interconnected short stories than it is a novel. This type of novel has fascinated me for a long time — I love the feeling of digging deep into individual characters and seeing the connections between them. To me, interconnected short stories are a great deal like life; we get these brief, intimate insights into other people’s lives, like opening the windows of an Advent calendar, but we can never really see the whole person. I wanted to create a book that took those brief glimpses and made a coherent, artistic whole.

Amy: How did you get the idea for JOY? And, do you find that once you have an idea for a novel it sticks, or does it evolve with time?

Erica: Seven years ago, I was talked into rafting down the Grand Canyon. One of the great things about being a writer is that all the scary/embarrassing/frustrating/humiliating experiences in your life are grist for the writing mill. Even as you are plowing through a rapid that is dumping thousands of pounds of water on your head, you find yourself thinking “I’m so going to use this someday.” I didn’t know how I would use it for several years. But as a generally scared person, the idea of fear is a fascinating one to me, as was the opportunity to think about what scares different people. I wanted to look at a variety of fears, the ones that are so intertwined into us that they have become invisible, as well as the big, obvious, adrenaline-producing ones. Having seven very different female characters gave me the chance to examine fear in many different kinds of light, and my understanding of both fear and friendship deepened a great deal during the process.

Amy: Do you have a writing schedule or writing rituals that help you achieve your goal of “finished novel”?

Erica: I wish I had a schedule, but alas, no. I could blame my poor habits on all those years of being a mother, but the reality is that I’m just not wired to write at a consistent time. I grab moments when I can, and when inspiration hits. As I write books that are largely character-driven, this works out well for me – there are many times when my character needs to come to a realization and I honestly don’t yet know what it is. For me, it works best to take a break and let the idea come to me rather than chasing it down. But when it does come, I can write for hours and hours.

One of the things that helps give me structure in this rather free-form approach to writing is my writing group. There’s nothing more motivating than knowing there are three other writers waiting for your pages. And their critiques are energizing – I always leave feeling inspired about how to make my work better.

Amy: JOY FOR BEGINNERS is your second novel (though not your second book), THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS being the first. Are you working on another novel now and is there anything you can share with us about it, or your process for writing it?

Erica: I’m just finishing my third novel, THE LOST ART OF MIXING, which should be coming out late January 2013. It picks up four of the characters from THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS and adds another four into the mix (as it were). It’s structured around four pairs of characters, each pair in midst of a misunderstanding, and takes you into each of their viewpoints. It was an exciting challenge to dive deep into characters who could be in direct opposition to each other, but in the end, I found myself falling in love with each of them. In these days of divisiveness I think that’s an important mental exercise.

Amy: How would you define women’s fiction — and do you have an issue labeling your books as such (or maybe you don’t!).

Erica: I think both writers and readers would be well-served if we got rid of literary categories that are based on gender. No matter how we recast and redefine and empower those labels, they will always be limiting. They encourage stereotypes, when I think the whole point of literature is to open our minds to new ways of seeing.

On the other hand, I understand the need for a short-hand language to help us sort through the hundreds of thousands of books that we have to choose from – I’d just opt for categories that are based on the books themselves, rather than the gender of the writer or reader. Why not focus on the author’s choice of focus (character-oriented versus plot-driven) or the style of the book (lyrical/direct/conversational, etc) or the point of view of the narrator (first person/multiple points of views/omniscient, etc)? None of those categories are dictated by the gender of the writer or reader and I bet that they would be far more helpful in helping us find books we will love.

Amy: What’s your best advice specifically for aspiring authors — and soon to be published authors — of women’s fiction?

Erica: When I was 43, I made one of the best decisions in my life. I had been writing for hire; the pay was almost nothing and the work was uninspiring. At the same time I was renovating our house, essentially for free. I realized that writing what other people wanted me to write was killing any talent I might have had, so I switched the equation. I became a real estate agent and made my living through my knowledge of houses, and wrote a book that I believed in, just for me. It was the book I liked to think about at two in the morning when I couldn’t sleep, the book whose characters came and talked to me. I loved that book and it loved me. Ironically, or not, that book (THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS) was the one that sold and allowed me to quit real estate and write full time.

So my advice would be — find the book you need to write, the one you love with your heart and soul. The one you can’t not write. Then write that. All the rest follows, one way or another.

Erica Bauermeister is the best-selling author of two novels, THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS and JOY FOR BEGINNERS, as well as a new novel, THE LOST ART OF MIXING, due out in winter 2013. She lives in Seattle and Port Townsend and spends a lot of time writing while riding on ferry boats.

You can find out more about Erica and her books at: http://www.ericabauermeister.com, and you can “like” Erica on Facebook.

Women’s Fiction Author Brenda Janowitz Says: Use Editing As Your Path To An Elegant Story

We’re only half way through 2012 and I keep meeting other author publishing in 2013!  Today’s Women’s Fiction Writers author is Brenda Janowitz, who’s my St. Martin’s publishing cousin.  Brenda’s third novel comes out next year and it was fun to talk to her about the changes in publishing, her life, and her writing.  (I’m always in awe of multi-published authors…because of course, I want to be one!)

I hope Brenda will join us again when it’s time to launch Recipe For A Happy Life, but in the meantime she’s sharing great insights and advice.  Please welcome her to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Women’s Fiction Author Brenda Janowitz Says: Use Editing As Your Path To An Elegant Story

Amy: In 2013, Recipe For A Happy Life, will be published. In 2007 and 2008, Scot On The Rocks and Jack With A Twist were published.  Can you take us on a brief journey of your road to publication — the first time around and now?

Brenda: The publishing industry has changed so much since my first novel!  It all started when I was invited to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding.  My real life started to resemble some of my favorite books, and I said to myself: I’ve gotta write this stuff down.  My friends signed me up for a writing class for my birthday, and the rest, as they say, is history.  I had no idea how to get a novel published.  I just figured that if I wrote one, I’d just get an agent and publishers would be knocking down my door.  Ha!  If I knew then what I know now…  But I didn’t, so I wrote the novel in the tiny pockets of spare time that I had when I wasn’t practicing law and then edited until I had the whole book practically memorized.  I sent it out to agents, and there was a lot of rejection.  It was the first time I said to myself: Hey! Publishing a book might not be as easy as I initially thought!  But then, luckily, my amazing agent, Mollie Glick, rescued me from the slush pile.  She was able to sell it to Red Dress Ink in a two book deal and that was it– I was officially a published author!

For my third novel, I was hoping to write my “big” novel.  Something a little different from what I’d done before, something more sophisticated.  It took me years to write RECIPE–I was trying to write a more ambitious book, and it took me longer to really figure out what I was trying to say with it.  Once I (finally!) finished it, Mollie sold it to St. Martin’s in a two book deal.  Everything about this experience is different.  New publishing house, new editor, and I’ve been having a wonderful time.  The book will come out next spring, and I can barely wait!

Amy: Is RECIPE similar to your first two books? And, can you tell us a little bit about RFAHL and where you got your inspiration? 

Brenda: RECIPE isn’t at all like my first two novels!  I’d like to say that it’s a bit more grown up than my first two novels, more sophisticated.  But the readers will be the judge of that!

The book is about three generations of women and the grand dame who rules over them from her Hamptons estate.  I was inspired by so many things!  My grandmothers, my mother, becoming a mom myself– that’s all in there.

Amy: When it comes to the actually writing of the story — are you a plotter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?  Do you have any writing rituals?  

Brenda: I don’t have any rituals.  I just write when I can, for as long as I can.  With two small children, I don’t have the luxury of a schedule.  And I wrote my first novel when I was practicing law full time, so I guess I never did!

As for whether I plot or write by the seat of my pants, I usually do a little of both. For RECIPE, I did a lot of free writing, where I just sort of wrote and wrote and wrote, only editing after I’d written around 100 pages.  But I also did a lot of outlining– figuring out how to make my story flow and fall into a three act, eight sequence structure.

Amy: What was your biggest obstacle, either internal or external, in writing this novel?  

Brenda: Life!  Over the course of writing this novel, I got married, moved out to the burbs, and had two kids.  So, I’ve been a little busy.  But I think that the themes I was working with (life, death, family, who we are and what we really want) also really challenged me and forced me to think through what I was trying to say with this novel in a way I never had before.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction? Does the label bother you? 

Brenda: I think women’s fiction is all about smart stories that women can relate to.  It’s the stuff I love to read, and the stuff that my friends read, too.  I don’t mind any label that helps readers find great books.  It can be disappointing when people take the label and use it to make negative assumptions about you and your work, but I choose to look at the positive in everything, so I like that readers have a way to find the books they love reading.

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

Brenda: Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.

Edit! Editing your work is almost as important as the writing itself. Sure, you’re telling your story, but it’s also important to consider the way that you tell it. You want your writing to be tight, elegant and polished. It can only get to be that way through careful and thorough editing.

Develop a very thick skin. You’re putting yourself out there when you write and not everyone is going to love what you do. But that’s okay! You’re not writing to please everyone out there. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. So start getting used to criticism and then see tip #1—keep writing!

A native New Yorker, Brenda Janowitz has had a flair for all things dramatic since she played the title role in her third grade production of Really Rosie. When asked by her grandmother if the experience made her want to be an actress when she grew up, Brenda responded, “An actress? No. A writer, maybe.”

Brenda attended Cornell University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Human Service Studies, with a Concentration in Race and Discrimination. After graduating from Cornell, she attended Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review and won the Law Review Writing Competition. Upon graduation from Hofstra, she went to work for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, where she was an associate in the Intellectual Property group, handling cases in the areas of trademark, anti-trust, internet, and false advertising. Brenda later left Kaye Scholer to pursue a federal clerkship with the Honorable Marilyn Dolan Go, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Brenda is the author of JACK WITH A TWIST and SCOT ON THE ROCKS. Her third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin’s in 2013. Her work has also appeared in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Post.

You can find Brenda at her website, on Twitter @BrendaJanowitz, and on Facebook.

Debut Author Nichole Bernier Dares Us To Write Nuanced, Unlikeable Characters Who Capture Readers’ Imagination And Attention

I’m so excited (ok, I know I say that all the time, what can I say, this is an exciting gig!) to have Nichole Bernier on the blog today.  Not only was her debut novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. one of the most anticipated of the summer, but she’s the founder of the amazing website, Beyond The Margins, so most of us already feel like we know her.  I think Nichole has some really special insights to offer us at Women’s Fiction Writers — and to many of us who are parents.  I hope you’ll agree.  I’m also thrilled that Nichole is having a book signing and reading in Chicago area in July, so I’ll be able to stalk meet her, and then share photos and stories with you later this summer!

Please welcome Nichole to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Debut Author Nichole Bernier Dares Us To Write Nuanced, Unlikeable Characters Who Capture Readers’ Imagination And Attention

Amy: Well, hello published author of a novel!! (I loved your FB updates! Last Wednesday as an unpublished author, last rainstorm as an unpublished author…) We know that books take a long time to get from idea to bookshelf.  What has your publishing journey been like?  And please, feel free to share any horror stories.  They’re comforting!  😉

Nichole: I’d been a magazine writer for a decade, and though I love reading fiction, I’d never had an urge to write it. But after I lost a friend in the September 11th terrorist attacks, there were things I couldn’t work through in my regular ways of writing. One day in early 2005, shortly after the birth of my third child, I wrote a dream sequence about a woman imagining her friend’s last moments. It didn’t occur to me that that would be anything more than a bit in my journal, but that sequence became the beginning of chapter three, and it’s never changed.

I wrote nights and weekends, and when it was clear this odd bit of writing wasn’t going away, I started siphoning off hours from my babysitter time meant to be used for my contracted magazine writing. As I got close to finishing the first draft, I found I really loved studying the business side of fiction and querying, which I found fascinating and altogether different than magazines.

But my big rookie error was in querying immediately after I finished the first draft. My mental timeline was still that of a magazine freelancer: finish, publish, paycheck. I wasn’t used improving something slowly and tortuously with no one in the world even waiting for it. We’d just moved to Boston and I was expecting my fourth child, and eager to cross “Get Agent” off my to-do list. There were some requests for partials and fulls, all leading to rejections in the end.

For the first time in two years I put the manuscript aside and fell into the rhythm of life with a newborn, not quite knowing what to do next. I had no writing community, no friends who wrote fiction, no mentors. A few months passed. Then I received a very personal rejection letter from a well-known agent, thoughtful reflection on what she saw I had envisioned and nearly achieved, but not quite. Even as a rookie I recognized this as more of a blessing than a rejection, and I threw myself into revisions. I developed a writing community. I revised for over a year. When I felt ready to query again, I received three offers of representation, for which I was endlessly appreciative. I felt it was important to meet the agents face to face, but by this time I was hugely pregnant with my fifth child (are we sensing a theme about landmark moments on the publishing timetime?) So I made a whirlwind trip to New York, and felt a strong connection to agent Julie Barer.

Julie worked with me for a year, urging me to streamline my story and weave more closely the timelines of my two main characters. After she sold it to Crown, the trajectory of the process suddenly made sense, all the necessary steps and hard work.

Amy: I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this: YOU HAVE FIVE CHILDREN!  And then to ask this: How on earth did you find time and energy to write a novel? (Please say chocolate had something to do with it.)  

Nichole: Would you believe me if I say I outsourced chapters to my older children? No?

Okay, the truth is I became both obsessed and streamlined. Before I started my novel I was a fairly multifaceted person: running, photography, cooking, skiing, golf. When I became serious about the novel most of my hobbies went down the tubes, and now I don’t watch a single tv show. I don’t say that with any particular pride, and in fact it’s a little embarrassing to be that out of touch with popular culture. But it’s amazing how being a busy parent has the laser-like ability to triage what’s really important to you.

I have an unscientific theory that if you are an involved parent, regardless of how many children you have, you get about three things to call your own. And the only other things that have remained for me are being involved in my kids’ schools, and a base level of exercise, which changed from running (reluctant, frenetic) to yoga (strengthening and calming). More than anything else, though, it was critical to have a supportive spouse who’d give me the hours and sometimes days away to really immerse myself in tough sections of writing and revision.

Amy: What’s your definition of women’s fiction? There’s so much controversy over even labeling books as such, does having your book fall under that category (as so many books do) bother you?

Nichole: I don’t know how or why that labeling got started, but I think it’s divisive and limiting. My best guess is that it was an easy way for marketing folks to throw a spotlight on books their likeliest target audience would enjoy, and to try to tap into the lucrative book-club market, which is primarily women. I think it does men a disservice, too, because it suggests that books aren’t really for them unless they have espionage, battle scenes or deer hunting. One of my most thoughtful Amazon Vines reviews came from a man who admitted he didn’t usually read books like mine, but went on to analyze very insightfully its elements of parenthood, marriage, and facades, and drew parallels to Sylvia Plath. So now I make no assumptions about the target audience for a book.

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

Nichole: Dare to write nuanced and nearly unlikeable characters. The world of so-called women’s fiction needs them. Trust that readers want to be challenged by what they read, are willing to go along with characters who might rub them the wrong way but still find them, their voice and their issues and circumstances, fascinating.

Unlikeable characters can be a hot button in the book world; for some they are riveting in a train-wreck way that grabs your attention but also makes you invested in them enough to care about their outcome. But some readers can be turned off if they cannot identify with a character. It’s a bit of an excursion and an education, writing beyond your comfort zone, teaching yourself to create characters who make questionable choices, but yet with the humanity to make readers care about them. 

Nichole Bernier is author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at @nicholebernier.


Writers: Get Inspired And Motivated By The Classics

Look to the Books

By Karen Wojcik Berner

Sentences not flowing the way you’d like? Consult your bookshelf.

Problems with your plot? Ask “What would Shakespeare do?”

Dickens. Woolf. Austen. Thackeray. Joyce.

Shakespeare. Ibsen. Wilde. Homer.

Poe. Shelley. Keats. Milton.

Having inspired readers for hundreds of years, the classics often reveal universal truths of human nature, truths that do not change from decade to decade, from century to century. Each time I sit down with one of these beloved novels, plays or poems, I discover something else I had not noticed before. Now that is great writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love contemporary fiction, but there is just something about revisiting a classic. Maybe it harkens back to my English major days, blissfully discussing narrative voice in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, trying to keep track of all the characters in Bleak House, or focusing on dialogue in Pride and Prejudice. Back when reading was fun and not something you try to squeeze in while waiting to pick the kids up from school, or on the train to and from work if you could ever get caught up on emails.

Here is your assignment. Pick out a classic. Lovingly caress the cover and spine. Oh, wait, a minute, that’s what I always do. Just get a classic and join me at the next sentence. Pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger), and snuggle into your favorite comfy chair. Begin reading through writer’s eyes.

Notice the sentence structure and dialogue. Chart the plot. Revisit vocabulary you haven’t heard in awhile. Track down the allusions to Greek, Roman and other mythologies. How does your novel embody the manners of the day?

All of these can be applied to our writing. For example, Virginia Woolf is a great illustration of how beautiful the English language can be. I’m not saying to write early-twentieth-century sentences whose word counts would equate to at least two paragraphs nowadays, but rather to pay attention to how Woolf uses her words and compare it with our own styles. How can we mix our sentence structure up a bit?

Check out one of the epic tales, stories that, although large in scope, still manage to connect to us on an individual basis. Melville’s Moby Dick comes to mind here, as well as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Talk about some crazy plots! What can we learn from them? Go big—don’t hold back.

No one blends a powerhouse storyline with gorgeous prose better than William Shakespeare. One day, awhile back, I could not get my main character from Point A to Point B. As You Like It was sitting open on my desk because one of my characters has a bit part in a Shakespeare in the Park production. I started reading and became enthralled again. Witty. Hilarious. And no one can deliver an insult like the Bard!

I began fooling around with some Shakespearean-style insults, hoping the wordplay would unclog my mired mind. Very therapeutic. Afterward, I was able to write a full chapter in one sitting, free from whatever was bogging my brain down. Who knew playing around with Shakespearean insults would function as a mental plunger?

After graduating from Dominican University with degrees in English with a writing concentration and communications, Karen Wojcik Berner worked as a magazine editor, public relations coordinator and freelance writer. A two-time Folio Magazine Ozzie Award for Excellence in Magazine Editorial and Design winner, her work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines. She is the author of The Bibliophiles series, about a fictional suburban classics book club. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family.

To learn more about Karen, please visit her website, www.karenberner.com

So, WFW friends, which classics have inspired or assisted your writing? I’m going to think on this — and chime in with a comment of my own!  Many thanks to Karen for reminding us that something new can be driven by something not-so-new! (Being not-so-new myself, I do appreciate this very much!)

Amy xo



Author Kim Izzo’s Best Advice To Writers: Finish Your Book!

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big Jane Austen fan — and also a fan of Austen-inpired novels like The Jane Austen Marriage Manual.  I’m so happy to welcome the book’s debut author, Kim Izzo, to Women’s Fiction Writers today. Below, Kim reminds us what’s most important when we’re writing — as well as offers tips for achieving the ever-elusive balance. 

Please give Kim a big WFW welcome!

Amy xo

Author Kim Izzo’s Best Advice To Writers: Finish Your Book!

Amy: Since journalism and non-fiction are true stories, how did your background as an accidental journalist (I read your website!) and your best selling series of non-fiction books The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum, and the sequel, The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Grace Under Pressure lead you to write your debut novel, The Jane Austen Marriage Manual?

Kim: My goal was always to write fiction and I went to film school and studied screenplays, so the fact that I have written so much non-fiction is perhaps the more odd thing to me. Indeed, I often think I was afraid to write fiction, that I was worried I couldn’t do it or that it would be too hard to deal with the constant rejection that I put it off and fell into non-fiction. But having had the success with the non-fiction books and as a journalist (hey, someone is paying me to write!) gave me the confidence to try a novel.

Amy: Can you tell us a little bit about your novel? (but of course, no spoilers!!)

Kim: It’s a coming of middle-age story! LOL! The leading lady, Kate is about to turn 40 and isn’t where she thought she’d be at this point in her life. She’s without a job, single and virtually homeless and her savings nearly wiped out in the recession – and as a lifelong Jane Austen fan she decides that perhaps her solution is the same as an Austen heroine: make a good marriage. But is it too late if you’re not one-and-twenty to find an “eligible man?” She embarks on the jet-set journey to find Mr Rich and hopes he’s also Mr Right.

Amy: Did you approach the novel differently than a non-fiction project? We’re always talking about being a plotter or pantser (writing by the seat of one’s pants) — which one are you?

Kim: I’m a plotter! My education in screenwriting structure and form (not to mention a starter marriage to a screenwriter) drilled into me the importance of outlines and plotting. This doesn’t work for everyone but I need a story structure!

Amy: Obviously you were doing many things (like most of us) while writing, submitting, editing and publicizing your novel. How did you organize and balance your time and commitments? Any helpful hints you’d like to share?

Kim: Ah, life balance! Such a mystery! LOL. I write early in the morning, like 6-8am before I head downtown to the office. I write all day Sunday. But I never turn on my computer on Saturday. I need a full day off. I also used every vacation day to write this book. My ex-husband, that screenwriter, gave me the best piece of advice: even if you write only one hour a day, do it, it adds up. He was right.

Amy: What’s the biggest difference now that you’re a debut fiction author?

Kim: Not sure what you mean by difference? I feel very happy that I achieved this thing, publishing a novel, went I so long wanted to do it. It feels nice to say I’m a novelist and I feel I’ve joined this secret club.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Kim: Loosely, I’d describe women’s fiction as stories about women that women can relate to. I don’t believe that men can’t write women’s fiction, they do. However, there is the ongoing debate about the notion of women’s fiction being marginalized. I do think that is true.

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

Kim: My best advice would be 1) finish the book. This may seem obvious but loads of people start but never finish. Get to the end even if what you write is total drivel. You will fix it in editing. Don’t get stuck perfecting one line or paragraph or even chapter. Just get to the end! 2) Hire an editor. There are loads of freelance editors out there who have the expertise to guide you from draft to draft until it’s ready for a publisher to see it. I did this. Just make sure your editor has appropriate credentials. 3) Let people read it. I had several early readers who were just bookish friends. They gave me great feedback and weren’t just saying “It’s good.”

Thank you Amy for the opportunity!

KIM IZZO is a journalist and deputy editor of Zoomer magazine. She is also the co-author of the international best-selling book The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum and its sequel The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Grace Under Pressure. Her advice and opinions have appeared in the pages of The New York Times Sunday Style section, New York Daily News, The New Yorker, InStyle, and Vogue (UK), among others. She lives in Canada.

You can visit Kim on her website, on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Author Sandra Kring Says Put Away All Your Anxieties And Write Your Story

WFW friends, prepare to be wowed. Sandra Kring is honest and inspiring and humble — even after writing and publishing five novels.  It’s my honor to share this interview with all of you. 

Amy xo

“My mother often told me, ‘You’re so bullheaded, you won’t listen to anybody!’ So I didn’t. I didn’t listen to myself, when my negativity said I’d never fulfill my writing dream because the odds were too stacked against me, and I didn’t listen to her when she said I would never amount to anything. And to think: Once I believed she’d never given me even one positive message!” ~ Sandra Kring

Author Sandra Kring Says Put Away All Your Anxieties And Write Your Story

Amy: A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is your fifth novel! Can you share with us a little (or a lot) of your personal author history? We’d love to know how you started writing novels and — and how you’ve continued to come up with your own “bright ideas”.

Sandra: I sold my first novel, Carry Me Home in ’03.  I wrote the book in six weeks, found an agent two weeks after I started looking, and got my first contract from Random House two months after that.  Sounds like a writer’s dream come true, right? Well, it was—eventually. But as you all know, over-night successes don’t happen overnight.

I grew up in a violent home and had dumb and worthless literally pounded into my head by my mentally ill mother. I had no books growing up (but wanted them), barely got through high school, and married at seventeen and hurried to have babies.  Growing up, I believed that all the good things in life were reserved for those more deserving than I, and I might never have picked up a book if my 18-year-old husband hadn’t been addicted to the news.  He’d started college and couldn’t afford to buy newspapers, so we started hiking to the library every day so he could read them.  I don’t know how many days I sat there staring into the silence before he mentioned that I was going to get awfully bored if I didn’t find something to read. So I got my first library card and started in the fiction section.  In no time at all, I was reading 4-6 novels per week.

Years later, with two of my children grown, and the third not all that far behind, I realized that my marriage was in trouble, and so was I. I’d been through years of therapy and had my PTSD under control, but my role as full-time mother and wife were coming to an end, and I felt old and worn and useless.  Also, around this time, I was watching my depressed father suffer a slow death. He had eyes just like mine, and in them, I saw my future if I didn’t find a way to make the second half of my life more joyful than the first half of my life had been. But I had no idea how to turn things around.  That is, until I came across a quote by psychologist James Hillman that turned my life around: To heal the person, we must first heal the story they imagine themselves to be in. 

So I looked at my life as if it were a novel, and I, the protagonist.  And I asked myself, If I were the author, what could I make happen in this story to give it a satisfying ending? Suddenly, the answer became clear. The protagonist would take the best of what a bad beginning had taught her—tenacity, a sense of humor, an in-depth understanding of human nature, a knack for noticing detail, a curiosity about how stories will end—and she would apply these attributes to her love of fiction, and become a novelist!  And through her writing, she would find her voice and be set free from the tragic script her mother had written for her. She would make a new role for herself, so that when her last child left home and her marriage ended, she’d have a means to support herself and a new, exciting beginning already underway.

So that’s what I set out to do.  But first, I had to learn how to write.

I used novels as my textbooks, and identified the facets of writing I needed to learn. Then I worked on those things systematically, writing pages of dialogue, description, metaphors and similes, and 3-dimensional characters.  Only when I felt I’d aptly learned the basics skills, did I attempt my first novel.  My characters were rich, the writing mediocre, and the story itself, only slightly better than pitiful.  But I was hooked!  I went back to the drawing board for more practice, and some months later, woke at 5:00 a.m. armed with a single question—I wonder what it’s like to send a loved one off to war, and have them come back broken? All I knew when I sat down at my computer, was that the story would have a mother, a father, a hero son, and his sibling as the narrator. Five minutes later, the voice of Earwig appeared to answer my question.  And one paragraph into the story, I thought, This is it—this is the book I’m going to sell! 

And I did.

For me, learning to write was the easy part. The hard part was holding onto the belief that I could make my writing dream come true.  I think that’s every writer’s challenge, no matter where we come from.  For what aspiring writer wouldn’t be willing to work as hard and long as she needed to, if only she knew for certain that in the end she’d get published?  But there are no guarantees in this business.  In my case, ignorance was bliss. I had no idea that the stats that said it was far more likely I’d fail, than succeed.  I simply decided that getting published couldn’t really be any different than setting a grueling goal like walking across the country from the east coast to the west.  Without a map to guide me, I might zigzag, walk in circles, or need to pause and rest at times, but if I kept my putting one foot in front of the other, I’d eventually have to reach my destination, wouldn’t I?

Amy: A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is a sequel to THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS. Did you know while you were writing the first book that the story wouldn’t really before with The End?

Sandra: I knew that ending The Book of Bright Ideas with little Button and Winnalee being separated would sadden readers, yet there was no other way to end the story—it’s what would have happened. But at the same time, I didn’t want readers to feel worse when they closed the book, than they did before they opened it.  So I let the story end with Button’s hope that she’d find Winnalee one day.

Amy: What about the characters made you want to get to know them in their future — and in yours?

Sandra: I knew that if I wrote a sequel, Button and Winnalee would be older. Mainly, because I’d said all I had to say about them at the tender age of nine. Yet in growing them up, I faced a challenge:  How to mature these characters, yet keep the essence of who they were as children intact.  Making them eighteen seemed like the perfect option, since at eighteen we’re still wobbling between childhood and womanhood.

As for why I finally chose to write the sequel, the answer is simple. Five years after the release of The Book of Bright Ideas, readers were still writing to ask me, Where did Freeda and Winnalee go? Did Freeda ever straighten her life out? Did the girls ever reunite? I found it endearing that they asked as though Button, Winnalee, Aunt Verdella and the others were living, breathing relatives or friends of mine, rather than fictitious characters crafted for the purpose of telling a story. Eventually, I decided it was time to fulfill my readers’ wishes for a sequel. And I’m really glad I did, because I had a blast revisiting these characters.

Amy: Obviously, with five novels notched into your desk, you have found a way of writing that works for you, your publisher(s) and your readers. Do you outline and plan or sit down and see where the wind takes your story?

Sandra: When I sat down to write Carry Me Home, the opening poured out, and with it, a clear image of the final scene—even the last line.  But I had no idea what would happen in between.  I thought I’d always write with the same freedom, but after getting my editor’s comment back on my sophomore novel, I realized that my free-writing method hadn’t worked out as well the second time around.

With Carry Me Home, history itself dictated my plot, and all I needed to do was to have my characters react to those events.  But I was on my own with The Book of Bright Ideas. My editor pointed out that all the events were crammed into the last two-thirds of the book.  She suggested I create a graph and break the story into thirds, listing the events within each.  In doing this, she claimed, I would not only see how sparse the events were in the first third, but I could more easily see how I might redistribute them. She was right.

Through trial and error, I have learned that if I dive into a book with no idea of where the story is going, I end up with a bunch of characters meandering around the first few chapters like actors waiting for a script.  Yet on the other hand, if I construct a rigid outline, I end up feeling like I’m writing out thank-you notes, using a prearranged message. So I had to find a happy medium. Today, I write out a vague synopsis that includes the key events, and then let spontaneity fill in the spaces between them.  Now my characters can move with purpose from the first page onward, yet they have enough wiggle room to create the surprises I seem to need in order to keep the writing process fun.

Amy: What have you learned about readers of women’s fiction over the course of your career? We know publishing has changed. Have readers?

Sandra: I don’t think readers of women’s fiction have changed (they still want characters they can relate to and care about, and engaging plots. They still want to be prompted to think, and more so to feel), but I do believe that their buying habits have altered.  Not only are readers busier than ever, but they also have less money than they had before. So they pick and choose what they’ll give their time and money to more carefully. And with an ever-growing array of books to choose from via e-readers (many books free, or at far lower costs than paper books), they have more reading options than ever. With so many options, and less time to browse book stores, many readers seem to be doing what publishers themselves are doing—giving their attention to the blockbusting novels.

Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?

Sandra: I define women’s fiction as stories that deal mostly with themes that are exclusive to being female. You know, the topics that, when you bring them up to men, cause their eyes to glaze over.

Amy: As someone about to embark on the whole “published author” experience, I have to ask: what is your best advice for debut authors of women’s fiction in today’s publishing and reading climate? Also, what’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Sandra: Whether you’re an aspiring writer, a debut author, or a seasoned novelist, the publishing end of a writer’s life is stressful.  If you’re an aspiring author, you worry about creating a story and query that will wow prospective agents.  If you’re a debut novelist, you agonize over how best to promote your book, and you worry that no one past family and friends will buy it. And when you’re a seasoned writer, you fret over if you’ll be able to keep your stories new enough, yet familiar enough to appease your readers, your agent, your editor, and your publisher.  Yet at any stage of the writer’s journey, you must learn how to keep these anxieties from crawling onto your lap when you sit down to write. That is, if you want to keep your sanity intact and your creativity flowing.  If you don’t, you’ll be observing everything you write through the eyes of would-be readers, and putting a choke-hold on your writer’s voice.  How long, then, before writing feels like a daunting chore?

So deal with your anxieties the best you can during your non-writing hours. If you’re an aspiring author, work on your writing skills until you master them, and research how to write an irresistible query. If you’re a debut author, rely on seasoned authors to tell you what marketing methods worked best for them, and which ones they believe were time-wasters. If you’re a seasoned writer, listen closely to your fans so you’ll know what elements of your writing appealed to them, and find creative ways to deliver them more of what they want, but in stories that are fresh and exciting. But when you sit down to write, forget about everything but your story. See it, breathe it, believe it, and love the story you’re in, so that readers will do the same.  Yes, the choices we make on the publishing end matter, but when all is said and done, it’s the stories themselves that will matter most.

Speaking of stories, I’ll end my time here as a guest blogger for WFW with a true story for those of you still dreaming of living the published author’s life:

One January morning, after a string of miserable circumstances that had me convinced that I was a fool to believe that anything good could ever happen to me, much less my biggest dream, I woke to a blizzard raging outside. Unable to face the day, I told my husband and son to eat left-overs, and crawled back into bed with a bag of Oreo cookies, a jug of diet soda, a pack of cigarettes, and a stack of library books.  I chose to start with Tawni O’Dell’s debut novel, Back Roads, for one reason, and one reason only—I thought reading a bleaker story than the one I was living might remind me that things could be worse.

Imagine how surreal it would have been, had someone stepped into my room on that hopeless Sunday back in 2000 and told me that in two years’ time, the very author whose book I was holding in my hands would be blurbing my first novel.  I hope you’ll remember this story on your stormiest days.

My thanks to WFW for including me on your wonderful blog.  I wish you all a productive and fun writing day.  May you all write a successful publishing story for yourselves.

~ Sandra Kring

Sandra Kring lives in central Wisconsin.  Her debut novel, Carry Me Home, was a Book Sense Notable Pick and a 2005 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award nominee.  The Book of Bright Ideas was Target’s Bookmarked pick for the summer of ’06, and named to the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list as a cross-over book in 2007. Thank You for All Things was All You magazine’s first book club selection.  How High the Moon, was a Midwest Booksellers Association’s Connections Pick, and a Target Breakout Book. Kring’s latest book, A Life of Bright Ideas, was released this past February and featured in Target’s Emerging Author’s section.

In Writing And In Life, You Have To Be Able To Bend

For the first time in over a year, today’s author interview did not work out as planned.  [Collective Gasp!] A jumble of small miscommunications, perhaps.  Or maybe one big snafu.  Anyway, I was knocked off kilter by the whole thing. I was disappointed more by the fact that the schedule was interrupted (I am a crazy creature of habit) and that the continuity and consistency of Women’s Fiction Writers would be compromised, than that this new-to-me author didn’t answer my interview questions and kept me hanging until, oh, 7pm Wednesday night.

And then I realized that this was just another one of those things. Life is full of them.  As is writing.   And so my advice to myself was simply: bend.

Bending doesn’t imply weakness, it implies flexibility.  I can pop right back to where I started or take on a whole new shape.  And this makes me think about my book, THE GLASS WIVES (which had a different title until this perfect one hit me last summer) and how I resisted certain suggestions by my agent Jason Yarn when we’d just stepped off the curb into our agent/author relationship.  I soon realized that making those changes didn’t even mean those changes had to stick (but of course they did). I saved all my deleted parts and if version 1 was better than version 7 (which face it, it never is, but work with me here, it’s an example) then it’s my decision which version anyone ever gets to read, especially in those very early stages. What I realized back then with Jason, was that listening — really listening — employed my deepest personal resolve.  I had to trust myself enough to let go a little. I had to be flexible enough within the confines of my own personal character — to take suggestions on something as personal as my writing.

I’ve since grown accustom to bending, to shaping and reshaping my manuscript with suggestions from my rock-star, rock-solid editor, Brenda Copeland, even if a few of those suggestions made me think of things I hadn’t before.  I resisted the temptation to scream (in my head) ENOUGH!!!! because  I knew enough to bend with all my might. I knew full well that the choice was mine.  And that’s empowering.

When writing, the suggestion to bend and change our work somewhat may come from outside — but the real work and the real words come from inside.   And just like with other things in life, no one really knows how far they can go unless they try.  Look at me, I’m writing a blog post at 8pm on a Wednesday night.  For little-miss-obsessive-planner over here, this is very bendy. But, I figured that bendability (which doesn’t seem to be a real word — until NOW) has to apply to writing blog posts as well as novels. As well as life in general.

Amy xo

P.S. I do realize I was actually ditched by this author, but we’re not going there.  Instead…if you didn’t catch my post on Writer Unboxed on Monday about the great debut author group, Book Pregnant, bend your little finger right here and click! 

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 kimberlybrockbooks.com

Debut Author Lynda Rutledge Lets Ideas Simmer And Says A Good One Is Worth The Wait

My online friend Lynda Rutledge’s debut novel FAITH BASS DARLING’S LAST GARAGE SALE launches today and she’s here with us to celebrate — and wouldn’t you know — it’s her book’s birthday and she’s the one giving away virtual goody bags filled with amazing insights on writing and tidbits of her (and Faith’s) story.  I just love the cover – don’t you?

Please pass me a party hat and welcome Lynda to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo (Hey, it’s the 120th WFW post. Something else to celebrate!)

Debut Author Lynda Rutledge Lets Ideas Simmer And Says A Good One Is Worth The Wait

Amy: Happy Book Birthday, Lynda! Today is the day Faith Darling is born — or more precisely — today is the day FAITH BASS DARLING’S LAST GARAGE SALE — your debut novel is born! Can you give us a peek into the premise of the book?  

Lynda: I would LOVE to (Clearing throat…): On millennium New Year’s Eve, the reclusive richest old lady in tiny Bass, Texas—Faith Bass Darling—hears the voice of God tell her to have a garage sale of all her mansion’s incredibly expensive worldly possessions, because she believes it to be the last day of her life.  As the townspeople grab up the family’s heirlooms for pennies and those close to Faith hustle to try to stop it, chaos ensues, of course.  And the antiques of five generations of Faith’s founding family—a Civil War dragoon, a wedding ring, a French relic clock, a family bible, a roll-top desk, among others—begin to reveal their own roles in the family saga. Before Y2k midnight fireworks, almost everybody will be forced to think about some of life’s deepest questions, such as: Do our possessions possess us?  Who are we without our memories?  Is there life after death or second chances on earth? And, most important of all, is Faith Bass Darling REALLY selling an authentic Louis Comfort Tiffany Lamp for a $1?

Amy: Faith Bass Darling has a revelation from God ,and then has a yard sale.  Did Faith and Bass, Texas come to you in a revelation? How did this story and its characters evolve?

Lynda: I wish it were as simple as a revelation. I often say that a writer doesn’t have an idea, an idea has the writer. It’s all rather mystical, if you ask me, but therein lies the allure, right?  But this one’s been poking around in my head for years.   I think the germ came from what you’d expect—a garage sale. My mom, who lived in a rambling old two-story house busting with stuff that five kids left behind, started having garage sales a few years after the last of us finished college. I found this out, living thousands of miles away by that time in Chicago, when she called to tell me she’d sold my well-thumbed stash of Superman comic books I left in the back of one of the house’s closets.  (My dad owned a drugstore so I had hundreds.) She told me she’s sold them for a dime apiece, and asked if I wanted the money. “No, no, keep it, Mom,” I told her, but I remember feeling weirdly sad. I hadn’t thought about those comics in years, and now I felt sad? I laughed at myself. Why was I so attached to those old things? I didn’t quite know. (Of course, I soon heard about the first Superman comic book selling for a million dollars, and I was REALLY sad!) Then, about the same time, I began watching PBS’ Antiques Roadshow and after hearing dozens of spotlight stories of garage sale-found treasures, and I began to think not just of their value, but of their history and the meaning we imbue them with. And the ah-ha bolt of lightning struck: What if our antiques could talk? What if a town’s citizens were offered antiques for garage sale prices?  What would make something like that happen?   And that led to thoughts of what we can’t take with us, and what we truly want to leave behind. And I was suddenly off and writing.

Amy: What was the idea process like for you? Do you plan and outline or just wing it?  

Lynda: Both. I know that sounds all mystical again, but it’s the truth: The idea itself sort of simmers, and I let it decide if it’s a keeper by whether it sticks around, that is whether my mind wanders back to it.  I notice it will pop to the front of my mind during those times I need something to think about in order not to go nuts, such as waiting in line at the DMV or stuck in traffic.  When that happens, my mind plays around with creating a world for the idea to live in.  And if that lasts, this being all very passive (I try to get out of my own way), then I notice that characters emerge and begin to talk to each other, and that’s when I find a napkin or paper scrap to write down something/anything.

Then, if I feel my napkin scribbles are keepers, I open a file and put a heading at the top (i.e. Garage Sale Idea), and then begin to write down what these characters are saying to each other capturing characterization a little.   If I like their conversations even a little bit, then I begin to think about a possible opening.  And then I begin to think about a possible ending.  And if both of those come together, that’s when I get a little creative thrill. Because I realize that if I have a beginning and an ending then the middle will come, being aware that everything will probably change. It’s all just a way to start.  So, see?  I wing it, until the idea sprouts legs and decides to walk around. Whew, is that a right brain answer or what?

Amy: I know your journey to publication has been long — but HERE YOU ARE!!! Can you share a little with us about your road to today?

Lynda: Oh, geez, it will only depress you…or maybe it will inspire you. So let’s try it:  I just wrote a guest article for another writer friend for her blog “1st Books” entitled “The Time I Broke Up with Fiction” that explains this painful but all-too-typical writer’s experience in detail.  Here is the short and less lyrical version:  I was a fulltime freelance journalist, writing nonfiction, but I harbored literary pretensions. (I blame that undergrad literature degree.)  So while I wrote nonfiction mostly for money, I wrote what ultimately were “practice” novels for love. The flirtation went on and on, residencies and awards kept my heart a’flutter.  Until one day I’d had it.  Into a drawer the last one went. A decade later, though, I began to re-imagine that last idea, or, rather, that idea began to stalk me. It would not let me go. It was an idea about a garage sale.  And I began to ask more than just a good time from it; I began to see it as a conceit that could be used to tell a meaningful tale. And all that practicing finally paid off. Those pesky literary pretensions seduced me once again, and voila!  Of course, as your writer readers may have heard, it’s not over when it’s sold.  There are revisions, and then months of editing and copywriting and blurb-soliciting, and even when it’s all finished, it is then positioned for publication which may be months more waiting—all, of course, for the novel’s good.  From manuscript to acceptance, my wait was about 20 months.  A bookseller I know who meets writers regularly said the wait’s usually even longer from what she’s been told. But like all good relationships, all that waiting is easily forgiven once the fun begins.

Amy: Your novel deals with serious subjects, yet does so with humor. I love that in a book because it strikes a balance for me.  How did you balance those elements of your storytelling?

Lynda: I don’t think I quite meant to; it’s just the way I view and cope with life. Early on, I found that dealing with life is easier with a sense of the absurd than without one. So the balance is really in my worldview.   And that has played out in my fiction, but it may have also held it back too, honestly. For a very, very long time, I could not resist a good one-liner, and if one is good, surely a dozen are even better. That often doesn’t work on the page (unless, of course, you’re writing sitcom scripts). So I learned to reign it in for my fiction, to make humor be in the service of the truth, since I now, more than not, seem to stray into the land of deep meaning.  This confuses some people, but it’s usually people who aren’t quite in touch with that same life-coping mechanism. But I believe seeing the absurd in the world and being able to laugh about it even as we want to cry about it is what keeps me sane and healthy through whatever life throws at me next.

But, you may ask, why not just stay with humor for publication and ditch the deep meaning?  While I’m not sure I agree with the famous quote by Socrates about the unexamined life not being worth living (after all, my dog seems to enjoy his life very much and he’s never given a second to the meaning of life), I do believe that a bit of examining helps us understand our place in the world, and offers us something in the examining.  Same goes for humor.  A little bit goes a long way in quality fiction. I find that if you make someone laugh, whatever you say next is probably going to be taken more seriously (which sounds like an oxymoron, but why else do speakers start off with a joke?)  I often quip that Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale is about death, God, and antiques, and not necessary in that order. It’s meant to be a joke but also mean to say, hey trust me, let’s tiptoe through some of life’s biggest mine fields together.

Amy: Your novel has male and female main characters and deals with universal issues — who do you see as your  main audience?  

Lynda: Well, I don’t really ask that question since the novel can be read on many levels.  After all, I read every type of writing myself and I can empathize with both male and female characters in all of them.  That, to me, is the mark of quality fiction. Amy Einhorn, my publisher/editor is known for choosing books that, as she puts it, are in the sweet spot between commercial and literary.  I think that is true for Faith Bass Darling’s Last Sale.  When it comes to characters and issues, as a teacher of writing I say never forget your audience, but don’t limit yourself, either.  My novel is heavy with women, all sorts of women, and I mean ALL sorts. (After all, we are at a garage sale) But it also offers strong and weak men who are hugely important in the plot’s development, and they are deeply three-dimensional, I hope, because we live in a world that’s made up of both sexes. And we live in a world that is made up of universal issues that affect us all, no matter what sex we are. We are swimming in them all, always. Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale is about both relationships and ideas, so in that sense it speaks broadly to any human who has both…and that’s all of us, right? So my main audience is anyone wanting a good read that makes them laugh, maybe cry, but more than anything think, long after the book’s ended–hopefully with a satisfied, knowing smile on his/her face.

Amy: I know the moniker “women’s fiction” is shunned by some, but to me, the label has breadth and depth and is really only the tip of a literary iceberg.  What is your definition of women’s fiction?

Lynda: If I understand the “labels,” correctly, there’s a certain type of book, slanted solely to women, focusing on relationships or problems, that might be called women’s fiction with the expectation that men won’t like it, although how do they really know? I am a deeply eclectic reader. I might read a book on mountain climbing by Jon Krakeuer, which seems very male, so who’s to say there isn’t a man out there somewhere reading something that seems very male?  But if I happened to love that certain type of writing and reading tagged “women’s fiction” above all others, then I’d say it loud and say it proud—as you just did. So, back to the original question: My personal definition of women’s fiction is anything that appeals to a woman just as my personal definition of men’s fiction is anything that appeals to men. But I’d much prefer if we’d all just decide on our own.  Pick up any book anywhere. Read the first page.  Does it hook you?  Well, then read on before someone mentions its “category.”

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

Lynda: Write what’s in your heart and your ear, but think broadly about your audience.  And then get prepared to change it all.  It’s called revision, and the truth is, learning to love revision is what separates the wannabes from the on-my-way-to-beings. Be prepared to put some years into honing your craft.  Watch yourself mature as a writer and a thinker, and let yourself do both. Write your practice novels. Don’t rush to publish.  Oh, and don’t foist your work on friends (unless they own publishing companies or literary agencies).  They love you; you want them to continue to love you.  A person can only be a “first reader” once, so save that moment for when it truly counts.  Do send out your work to agents in batches of 5 or so for feedback which you’ll take and use to revise…and grow. After that?  Consider it all a journey; like any good trip you will learn along the way, especially if you try new routes.  And if anybody had told me all that when I first began messing with words as a kid, I’d have taken that job at Burger King and forgotten the whole thing, being the impatient thing I am.  But my stubborn side won out over that impatient young writer who wanted it all and wanted it now.  And I’m so glad it did.   I hope yours does, too.

Lynda Rutledge has petted baby rhinos, snorkeled with endangered turtles, and dodged hurricanes as a freelance journalist, while wiinng award for her fiction.  She and her husband live outside Austin.  This is her debut novel.