First, you’ll need two packages of the best napkins on the planet.
Then, you’ll want to find a wonderful friend and host.
Slowly add her homemade tea cup candles to the table-scape.
Then, add one BFF who flew in from 800 miles away.
Mix in one critique partner you met online, but now count on in real life.
Stir in a huge stack of books to sign. Approximately thirty, or to taste.
Sprinkle with great friends and one amazing daughter.
Top with wine and food (and rugelach favors tied with a bow) and enjoy!
Six years ago on a dark and stormy night, I started writing a dark and stormy memoir.
Can you believe it? What was I, meshuganah?
Do you know when you write one of those you have to write about other people, not just yourself? And when you write about yourself and those other people you can’t pick and choose what you share? And you have to 100% honest? Well, it’s true (just ask James Frey). So, since I wasn’t willing to do that in that way, the memoir idea tanked and the pages of my 72K word manuscript called Every Other Weekend went into the never-to-be-seen file.
What did I learn from abandoning that project? That I liked writing long form. I was a journalist, PR writer, columnist and essayist. And now I wanted to write something with — you guessed it – chapters! A few brave writer-friends suggested I try fiction. I laughed. I slapped my thigh. I couldn’t even make up bedtime stories when my kids were little. I fancied myself without much imagination. But, I wanted to write so I clicked on my discarded manuscript and changed the names. Not enough. I refocused the plot. There ya go, fiction! Ok, it was roman à clef, or, thinly veiled fiction. I figured if The Devil Wears Prada was a smash and no one was sued, I’d just call mine The Devil Wore Spandex and we’d be in business. No such luck. I was so caught up in matching up people and things and actions and reactions from the fiction back to reality that it made me feel like I was in a Chinese restaurant choosing dinner components from Column A and Column B.
Slowly I abandoned 99% of the traces of truth from the manuscript as I had best writer epiphany of my life: Just make it all up.
And so I did.
In the interim, as I deleted, revised and rewrote, the middle of the book became the beginning and the beginning became a memory. The end of the book became the middle which left me without a middle or an end. It also left me without a title, with characters who didn’t fit their names and plot points that made no sense.
Making things up is good. Making no sense is bad.
When I finally typed The End on a real live, women’s fiction manuscript it was called Starting From Scratch and the main character’s name was Tracy and she opened a bakery as a way to start a new life (get it? from scratch? ha!). She was pretty much a goody-two-shoes with a spatula.
Gag. Me. Now. (And use the spatula.)
Then, the cliché police knocked on my door. The reality-check police were close behind.
I rewrote the novel. Tracy became Evie (I pronounce it Eh-vie, short e.) Her best friend Bev became Beth because face it, you can’t have an Ev and a Bev. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. Evie became a math teacher instead of a cupcake baker although she does bake cookies for her kids (I have sweet tooth, what can I say?) I can’t do math or bake so they were both fun characteristics to write (also Evie no longer teaches math). The main character’s motives for change became a little more self-centered, realistic, palpable. I typed The End a few more times before I queried and once more before I found my agent. Then I typed it again and again. And again. The story which started as a memoir and evolved into full-blown fiction bears very little resemblance to the book I started about six years ago or the one I finished two years after that. It was always a matter of making the book as good as it could be.
Why am I reminiscing on the origin of the novel that became THE GLASS WIVES? That same debut novel that was published on Tuesday by St. Martin’s Griffin and can be found everywhere books are sold? Because I’m working on a new novel. One I feel is solid as is and has potential to be even better. One that I want to also find its way to bookstore ereader shelves. I want to remember the trajectory of the first journey—take the lessons I’ve learned and impart them to myself so no one else has to do it for me.
What have I learned from the journey of my women’s fiction manuscript to published debut novel? That I can’t reluctant to write the story I have in me right now at this minute and then allow it to change. Or, make it change. Make it different. Make it up. Don’t play it safe. Change names, arcs, plots and titles until it fits and flows. To be stubborn and persistent. To reach high — women’s fiction readers deserve books that read true.
I deserve it too—all of it. That’s another lesson I’ve learned. All because of a misbegotten memoir, a little Spandex (don’t ask), and a lot of hard work.
What was the path of your latest book or work-in-progress? Was it stormy or smooth?
This is the cover for THE GLASS WIVES:
And now, look at the original cover for THE GLASS WIVES:
Do you see the difference?
Most people say that the cups are turned differently. They’re not. It’s simply that now the cup on the right is blue, not pink. What happened? The powers that be, and are, decided that the cups were not representative of the different women in THE GLASS WIVES. The women are different, so the cups should be different. This sent me into a minor tizzy at first, but that’s because I’m a literal gal. I did not believe that my main character, Evie, would have more than one set of china cups! How could that be? Oh, right. It’s not literal. Then, along with Facebook friends and fans and the readers of my personal blog, Women’s Fiction Writers, we had to decide which cup was going to change to blue. There was a poll, there was banter, there was a lot of eye rolling. In the end, people I trust and my own esthetic sense, and gut, opted for the blue cup on the right. And now the pink/pink cover looks, well, just too darn pink!
What do you think? Do you like literal covers or something more artistic/representative of the book in some way?
I’m working a new novel and it was inspired by a movie I watched about five years ago (but was made many years ago). But, because we’re all such impressionable creatures, I’ve decided not to tell anyone (else) what movie that was. Why? Because it creates expectations. Readers, friends, editors, even agents, connect the dots and reveal a picture that is not what I intend, but what they imagine. And while books belong to the people who read them—that’s not true AS the book is being written. That’s when it only belongs to the writer (which would be me).
But something that’s not a secret, is what that book is about. It’s about Izzy Lane, a divorced mom who’s about to turn forty, who conjures up a love life to 1) rattle her ex-husband, and 2) energize her blog posts. What she didn’t expect was that her ex wouldn’t care, but her readers would. Blog traffic soars. She’s getting a lot of attention online. And just when the lies she’s telling online are forcing her and her conscience to come clean to her best friends, she’s offered a job as a relationship and dating blogger for Philadelphia’s hottest pop culture website.
And she takes it.
Not only is Izzy going to keep her identity a secret, she’s going to continue the life of her faux boyfriend, at least for the time being. Or until someone else figures out what she’s doing and threatens to take her job, tell her friends, and ruin her life. During this time, Izzy also gets so wrapped up in her life online that she neglects her real life.
What I keep in mind as I’m writing this book, currently titled, FALLING INTO PLACE, is what makes people keep big secrets? What entices people to tell, not white lies, but life lies? In Izzy’s case it’s not a matter of being sneaky or mean. So what is it? Insecurity? Privacy? Fun? Maybe it’s an escape? A game? Maybe it’s a means to an end. When Izzy proliferates her lies and secrets by accepting the job—she needs to supplement her income. So she justifies her actions with regards to her needs.
Whom of us haven’t done that?
I’m hoping that through Izzy’s own secrets, and the ones she discovers others are keeping, remind us all that we’re not alone in wanting things to be a certain way. We’re not alone in wanting to be a certain way ourselves and to build a facade for our lives or create a mirage for a minute, hour or day. What I know is that from keeping secrets and telling lies, Izzy learns how to tell the truth.
Can’t really ask for more than that.
P.S. In the book, Izzy is a brunette with very short hair, she doesn’t look like the woman in the photo!
P.P.S. If you guess the movie that inspired FALLING INTO PLACE, let me know!
Last week was not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last, where situations beyond my control (oh how I love control of situations) wreaked havoc with my writing. I’m not “write to cope” person. I don’t pontificate the awful or ponder the horrid. I don’t write an essay or a story about agony or sadness. Those are not things I enjoy and I enjoy writing.
During the tragic situation in Boston, I stopped writing because I thought it was the least I could do. I figured that the people who were hurt and dead and in the midst of the mess (and I have a number of friends in Boston) deserved my full attention. I didn’t FB or Tweet or do it on behalf of others. But then, when my basement flooded and it took five days to dry it out, leaving thousands of dollars of damage and an icky smell, I tried my darnedest to keep it all in perspective. No one was hurt, there was food on the table, and at some point in the next month or so, all repairs would be made. It was my own mini-tragedy, okay, more just a pain in the ass, but still. I kept it in perspective, staved off the headache and the woe-is-me. For the most part.
But last week, aside from an interview or blog post or four, I didn’t write. But I try to keep that in perspective as well. Because the feeling and act of putting things in their proper place and order (a basement flood does not equate to a bombing in Boston, even though it’s my feet that are wet, my walls that are damaged) is something I can come back to another time, and use for my writing. Will my character have a flooded basement? Probably not. But will she perhaps realize that what could be seen as awful, truly isn’t? Might she encounter a situation where she has to remind herself that it could be worse and maybe talk herself out of a headache? Will she have to deal with people who forget that she’s having a hard time because they’re busy with their own schtick? Probably.
That’s what I call the blessing in the bull$hit. Stepping away from something awful and bringing it back in a way that works for me, for writing a story.
And the fact that I write stories is a blessing all its own.
Today, due to all the flooding in Chicago, my best advice for anything would be: Buy galoshes.
But, if we’re talking about writing, and we are, my best advice is short and sweet and stemmed from a conversation with author Therese Walsh, co-founder of Writer Unboxed and author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and the forthcoming The Moon Sisters. I’d told Therese that as I started writing my new novel and was really allowing myself to be distracted by the business of publishing. I kept wondering what would sell, what readers would like, how to incorporate new depths and layers to the story, how to capture the flag in the game of “Breaking Out.” And you know what Therese said?
“Separate the business from the craft.”
She was right.
I was melding the two. Not that I don’t want my new novel to end up on bookstore shelves one day—I do, I do, I do! But, in order to write it, I have to forget about that part. I can only write the story I was meant to write, rewrite it, polish it, rewrite it some more, and then…only then…can I worry about the business end of things. Where would it be placed in a store or an online site? I can’t pop in a vampire or a love story or a long lost sibling just because that’s what’s flying off the shelves today. I can’t write to the market, yet the market was seeping (oh so much like the water into my basement—nope, that was gushing) into my psyche. If ghosts or magic or a historical bent were natural to my story, or to me, it wouldn’t be a problem, it would be a challenge and I’d be up for it. But none of those things are what I write, it’s not how I think, it’s not how my stories flow (the water puns are unending).
So I wrote Therese’s advice on a sticky note or six and I put them everywhere. And then I just wrote my story and got back to my roots. Like I say in the subhead of my own writing blog: no heroes, no vampires, no high heels.
Well, maybe high heels. Nobody’s perfect.
Years ago (but not so much recently) I left feedback on a particular writing site — where writers posted their work soley for the purpose of getting feedback.
They only posted short excerpts, so this was merely an exercise in “are you hooked?” and “would you keep reading?”
Now granted, I tend not to grant a lot of leeway. Even in published work I question what I consider to be glitches and mediocre starts. So what am I to think if someone posts something for feedback and I have ample questions and would not keep reading if it were indeed in my slush pile or on my bedside table. But this exercise was for helping writers – if I wasn’t hooked it was my job to say why so perhaps a writer would see his or her work from a new perspective. Comments included all kinds of lengthy suggestions — wording, phrasing, pace and language. For one particular entry I commented on some wording that evoked an odd image in my mind. To me it did not work. TO ME. The words did not make sense. TO ME. And that’s what I said. That the noun and verb jumped out at me as ones that did not go together.
I, in no way, ordered the writer to change them. I’m not a publishing professional and cannot determine what will and will not be published. I am an editor, and if this was my client I would question this choice of words and ask for clarification. I’d suggest trying something else.
I did not leave that feedback so that the writer would send me an email (and I had no idea what it was about, or who this person was, until I realized the odd combo of words) to declare that while this person had a lot to learn about writing — he or she knew everything about that topic and NOUNS VERB.
I deleted the email, feeling sorry for the writer.
Nothing personal, writer. It was my opinion. I’m a smart cookie and chances are if it didn’t make sense to me there might be someone else who doesn’t get it. Just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it is the right choice of words. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong – except for me. It was a virtual ‘no they don’t – oh yes they do’ that I was not/am not willing to get into.
I don’t know this person – don’t care if he or she changes the words, writes or publishes. I had nothing vested. I offered feedback to strangers on websites as a way to hone my own skills and maybe help someone along the way. I’ve edited a lot of stories and essays and novel excerpts — so I hoped I could be helpful.
I assume this was a novice writer who just took it too personally. This might be the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel and it might be that I was way off base and that NOUNS do indeed VERB. But to me, it’s an image that doesn’t work — and that won’t change.
It was my opinion.
Nothing personal – except to me.