This week on the Ball we’re talking Friends. Yesterday Deb Joanne rounded up some of her favorite imaginary friends so today I thought I’d share my thoughts on writing friends in our novels.
(Hint: It’s not as easy as it seems.)
But it should be! I mean, we all know how to be a friend, right? We all know why we have the friends we do and what we love about them.
But writing a friend—especially a BEST friend—for your lead character can be oh-so tricky.
For starters, don’t even think of the word “sidekick.” You don’t want your BFF to be a cardboard wing man/woman, only there to make your lead look funnier, sexier, prettier, richer, you get my drift. Your BFF should have her own well-rounded life, her own quirks, her own wants and needs.
BUT! That said, you don’t want your character’s BFF to be so much fun that your reader would sooner spend the story with her than your main character. (Writers: how many times has this happened to you? You write a BFF only to find she’s much more interesting than your lead? Whoops.)
So what makes a good pair of friends on paper (er, or e-book)?
When I write in a friend for a character, I think the key is balance. Like romantic partners, good friends should balance each other. Just look at Anne Shirley and Diana Barry: There’s no question that the two “bosom friends” liked many of the same things (and fellas: We’re lookin’—and swoonin’—at you, Gilbert Blythe!) but their differences were clear and yet, they balanced one another. Diana was not nearly as daring and outspoken as Anne (who could be?!) but her often shy and tentative demeanor made her Anne’s perfect mate.
Or who can forget Cee Cee Bloom and Bertie Barron, the polar opposite besties in Iris Rainer Dart’s tear-jerking Beaches? Night and day don’t even begin to describe these two women and yet their friendships preserves through crushing life challenges.
And of course, no post of mine on BFFs would be complete without a toast to Miles and Jack from Sideways. Miles is as wound up and nervous as Jack is carefree and reckless; but as different as they are, they combine to make for a very believable pair of friends. And when it comes right down to it, the most important rule of writing best friends is to make them believable, and show how they connect, conflict after conflict, page after page.
So who are some of your favorite literary besties?
This week’s theme here at The Debutante Ball is friends. Of course, Deb Rachel is our resident expert on the subject, but we can still all talk about friends because it’s one of those subjects that we’re all familiar with. I’ve made a lot of friends thanks to my publishing journey and am still making even more, which is one of the great side-effects of building a new career. I’m broadening my circle through networking and social media and am constantly interacting with others, either online or through bookstore and other events. Somehow, I’ve become a social butterfly, something I never really imagined for myself*.
For an introvert like me (yes, I realize I’m beating a dead horse, talking about being an introvert, but bear with me) this can be exhausting. And that’s when I turn to my imaginary friends.
Because sometimes to recharge, I need to be alone, but at the same time, don’t necessarily want to be alone. If you’re a book lover, you know exactly what I mean—I need my book friends. My book friends are very accommodating and never demanding. They’re there when I need them or will sit patiently on a bedside table until I’m ready for them. They can make me laugh or cry or teach me lessons about life without having to leave the comfort of my living room.
Anne & Joanne = Kindred Spirits
And my book friends are as diverse (actually, even more so) than my real friends. I have Anne Shirley, who never knew a flush toilet or saw the inside of an IKEA, but who can make me laugh and want to just hang out and talk all day, like best friends do. Judy Blume’s Margaret who went through everything I did as a tween. Min Dobbs from Jenny Crusie’s BET ME, who shares my love for excellent food (and its unfortunate consequences). Then there’s the fun Bridgertons (from Julia Quinn’s series that starts with THE DUKE AND I), who all manage to find romance in their 19th century Britain. I would love to hang out at one of their family dinners. Then there’s Sookie Stackhouse, Deb Linda’s plucky Ciel or Deb Erika’s fiery Dahlia…oh, I could go on and on about the friends I’ve met through reading. And the next one is as close as the TBR pile beside me.
But as an author, I need to think critically about book friends, because I want to write the kinds of characters that other people want as friends. And this really hit home for me this week, when I was at a teen book club this past Wednesday as their author guest of honor (wow, right?) and amid all the wonderful and really smart discussions about SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, one of the questions asked was, “Would you like to be friends with Lilah?”
And as I held my breath, every person said yes. Each person went on to explain why, and as I sat there, fascinated by this very surreal author moment, they said things like “Lilah is fun.” “She’s loyal and stands up to bullies and would be a good friend.” “She’s a regular girl going through regular girl problems.” “She’s funny and sweet.” In other words, she’s someone who would make an excellent friend in real life.
Wow. It’s amazing to get that kind of validation–that the imaginary friend I made up and put in a book has become someone else’s book friend. I can’t think of a higher honor.
So tell me – who are your imaginary book friends?
*also in the irony department, this childless-by-choice author makes it into the August edition of Today’s Parent. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be buying a parenting magazine, but last week found me plunking down my money for a mag that has features articles like “How to deal with playdate drama” and “When your toddler won’t stop screaming.” Oy.
Deb Joanne had a great time this week chatting with the Teen Book Club at the Guelph Chapters (see picture) and wants to thank Danielle for inviting me. Also, in very exciting news, !SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE has gone back to print! I know some people were having trouble finding it on store shelves, but I got word that it’s in many Barnes & Noble locations now, in addition to the many wonderful Indie Stores that have stocked it. Thank you, booksellers!
Deb Erika was so thrilled to read that Deb Friend Kathy (aka Bermuda Onion!) has bought her ticket to Deb Erika’s upcoming Book Your Lunch at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, in October!
Deb Linda was totally stunned–and absolutely thrilled–when her editor emailed her from RWA to tell her In a Fix was a Top Pick in the latest issue of RT Book Reviews, with 4 1/2 stars, their highest rating. Add to that her son-in-law returning from his deployment in the Middle East, and a visit from said son-in-law and daughter, and Linda couldn’t be happier!
Past Deb News
Founding Deb Eileen Cook is excited that her book, USED TO BE is now available for your summer reading pleasure! For the price of one book, $9.99, you get two of her novels, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood and The Education of Hailey Kendrick.
Meet the Debutante Ball Class of 2013!
They’re here! They’re here! Well, almost. The class of 2012 will be sticking around for a few more weeks and during that time we’ll be celebrating Deb Linda’s launch of IN A FIX, so be sure to come back and party with us the week of August 20th!
But in the midst of all our celebrating, we’ve also been hard at work selecting next year’s class of debut authors, who will take over at the end of August. So don your tiara and welcome our 2013 Debutantes to the Ball…
After eight years of living in Washington, DC, Philly-native Dana Bate recently moved back to the Philadelphia area, where she writes about food and whips up recipes from her extensive cookbook collection. Her first novel, THE MISFIT’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS, will be published by Hyperion in February 2013.
Amy Sue Nathan is an East Coast ex-pat who lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. THE GLASS WIVES will be published by St. Martin’s Press in Spring 2013.
A transplanted Canadian, Kerry Schafer lives in Washington state where she works by day as a mental health counselor; her debut urban fantasy novel, BETWEEN, will be released through Berkley Books in February 2013.
Publishing attorney Susan Spann lives in California with her husband, son, and an aquarium full of seahorses; CLAWS OF THE CAT, the debut novel in her Shinobi Mystery series, will be published by St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books in July 2013.
A former literary agent and editor, Kelly Harms Wimmer is the author of THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS OF SHIPWRECK LANE, coming in the summer of 2013 from Thomas Dunne Books. She now lives with her hubby, cat, and young son in Madison, Wisconsin.
Congratulations to our next year’s class! Stay tuned for more news about our upcoming Debs in the days to come!
Kate Burak grew up in the middle of coal-mining country, in the center of Pennsylvania. She started out as an Art major in college but switched to English when she noticed that her sketchbooks had more poems and stories than pictures. Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things was inspired during the years she lived across the street from Emily Dickinson’s grave, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She teaches writing at Boston University.
Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things is a story about a girl who looks for hope in the most unlikely place: a dead poet’s house. As I was writing the book, the main character kept surprising me by doing unexpected things. It was like she had a life of her own and was whispering in my ear.
Sounds very intriguing, Kate! And now for the interview:
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I have developed a fear of drawbridges. I regularly have to drive over a giant drawbridge that lets big ships get into the shipyard for repair, and every time I do, my overactive imagination develops some pretty scary scenes involving me dangling from the bridge after I squeeze out the car window somehow, my Subaru precariously tipped off the edge.
Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
Here’s a really big secret: When I sold my novel, there was a vampire subplot. The main character was writing a story about how Emily Dickinson was a vampire—that would explain why Emily Dickinson never aged (there is only one photo of her at age 17, so who knows if she ever got older?), never went out in daylight (she was reclusive and used to drop cookies to children from her bedroom window), and wouldn’t meet visitors face-to-face (she would speak with people from another room, with a wall separating them). The subplot was cut, but I offer glimpses of that story on my website. My main character Claire is going to finish that story someday soon.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
McSweeny’s website always makes me laugh. What I like most is that they don’t need pictures or lots of words to get the really funny stuff across. It’s instant.
What’s your next big thing?
My new project is a YA novel about a girl who is a filmmaker and possible arsonist. The reader has to figure out if she’s telling the truth.
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
I always tell people that I sometimes use real people as “models” for my characters, particularly my students or my children’s friends. There is one character in Emily’s Dress who is based on a real person—hint: I thank this person in the acknowledgments—but I probably shouldn’t say any more about this! I did have a novelist friend who used my husband’s name and my names for the couple in his book. He says he just used our names, but you always wonder when you have writer friends.
Thanks very much, Kate!
To find more about Kate and her book, check her out online at:
And for one of our lucky commenters, Kate has offered up a pre-order of Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things (U.S. Only, please). To be entered, just leave a comment telling us about one of YOUR quirks.
No, not that way. Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean, honestly, who needs a middle-aged hooker? Especially one who won’t wear spike heels. Trust me, you’d have a lot more fun with my book.
But you know what? Authors do have to sell themselves. From the time you decide you want to be published (and, really, what’s the point of writing a book if you don’t want to share it with readers?), you have to put yourself out there and show agents, editors, and future readers that you’re someone they want to invest both time and money in.
I know! And here you thought it was all about your book.
You can imagine how difficult it’s been for a shy, retiring soul like myself (stop laughing—it’s true! well, sort of) to pull herself out of the shadows and connect with people she (gasp!) doesn’t even know in person.
The first thing I did when I set out to find an agent was start a blog. I wanted it to reflect the humor and general smartassery of my books, so I, yannoh, went with being myself as much as possible. *grin* Fortunately, the whole smartass thing isn’t *cough* much of a stretch for me.
After I found my wonderful agent and she sold my book to my fantastic editor (um…that may not accurately reflect the time involved for this step of the publishing process, but that’s a whole ‘nother post), I shared the news with my blog readers in what I hoped was an eye-catching way—by following the precedent set by my agent’s previous clients when their books sold: I dyed a colored stripe in my hair.
I chose fuchsia*, because it showed up really well against my light hair:
When strangers started commenting on the stripe, I took the opportunity to tell them it was in honor of selling my book. I even had some business cards made with the book cover on the front, and book info on the back, so I could hand one to anyone who asked about my hair.
See? The whole hair stripe thing turned out to be kind of a “stealth marketing” campaign. Plus, it was just plain fun.
Eventually, I had some bookmarks designed (by the very talented Jeff Fielder), and started handing them out to anyone who expressed an interest in my writing.
No, I do not not force them on people. Much. But if you tell me you’ve pre-ordered In a Fix, and email me your address at linda(dot)grimes(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll send you a signed one.
(Oops. There I go with that sneaky marketing again.) (What? I’m just trying to be nice.)
Of course, it’s not all me doing the selling. Tor is doing their part for marketing In a Fix, too. They’ve sent out tons of advance reader copies to reviewers and book bloggers, they’re giving away ten copies for FREE on GoodReads (oops! did I do it again? sorry!), have set up blog interviews and guest spots for me, and a real live in-person book-signing event at Barnes & Noble (um *cough* yeah, apparently I have no shame). They’re even doing a book trailer.
Will all of this translate into book sales? Who knows? But what the heck. I figure it can’t hurt.
*It took me three times to spell “fuchsia” correctly. Seriously, I should have just said “pink.” But I’m stubborn.
So, what color stripe should I put in my hair when Michelle sells my next book? (Please go with something easier to spell.)
If you’ve been keeping up with the Debs this week, you know that everyone’s marketing plan is a bit different. We share elements–Facebook and Twitter and blogs, oh my!–but everyone emphasizes different aspects of the promotional plan, and that largely has to do with the content of the stories. For example, since my publication, I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and Skyping with book clubs. For MWF, it made good sense, since the book is targeted at adult women and deals with an issue (friendship) that adult women like to discuss. A lot. For someone like Deb Joanne, that strategy might be less effective since Small Medium at Large is a middle grade novel. For her, targeting school librarians makes a lot of sense. For me, less so.
So I’m not going to tell you all the ways you can and should go about marketing your book when the time comes. My fellow Debs have already shed light on some options, and I don’t have all that much to add. But I do think it’s worth revisiting, and reiterating, Deb Erika’s Do Something post.
When I was first offered a book contract, I remember talking with my editor and telling her I was willing to do whatever the marketing team wanted from me. I also remember hearing the relief and surprise in her voice. Because there are still authors out there who think that writing the book is the whole job.
For some authors (JK Rowling? James Patterson?) maybe that’s true. If you are a enough of a rock star, you can probably turn in material and have a marketing force do the promotional work for you. But even Ms. Rowling has to do an interview or an appearance every now and then. And most big-name authors agree to do the interviews that are asked of them, because that’s how one sells books.
The idea of sitting in a quiet room and writing in solitude is the dream for some authors. I’m pretty sure Jonathan Franzen exists sans Internet for years at a time while he’s crafting a novel. But for those of us regular folk who still engage in celebrity gossip or the occasional Tweet, it’s necessary to remember one thing: The book world is a business. At the end of the day, books need to sell to succeed. And if you want to write for a living, part of your job is to market your book. However you can. It’s rare that any job comes along where you can do only the parts you like and skip the parts you hate. And being an author is no different. (Though I should point out, I’m one of the lucky ones who actually enjoys the marketing aspect of the gig.)
Of all the marketing I did–maintaining my blog, setting up book readings, creating book club discussion guides–my favorite piece might be the book trailer. Keep in mind as you watch this that it was put together quickly, by my brother. Which is to say you can do a book trailer for cheap!
So, moral of today’s story: Remember that marketing is part of the job, not an extra to-do if you’re willing. And always include a slow-motion run in an any and all self-produced videos.
Chime in! Does marketing a book sound exciting to you? Or dreadful?
When I wrote the first draft of The Princesses of Iowa, I knew one other writer. We would meet at the Flying Star Café once a week, chat briefly about what we were working on that day, and then get to work. Instead of a critique group, I had friends who didn’t mind when I emailed them new chapters. Instead of industry knowledge, I had a friend that said, “You should get an agent, I think.” When I asked how I might do that, he shrugged. “Google it?”
In the five years since I moved to Chicago, I’ve gone from having one writer friend to being a part of a large network of writers across the country, many of whom have become close friends. I definitely prefer the latter to the former (no offense to my former writing buddy) – having a whole community of writers means having feedback, support, advice, and the occasional shoulder to cry on as you make your way through the writing and publishing world — not to mention a huge group of people to help promote your book once it comes out!
So how do you build that community?
Take a Writing Class
Within weeks of moving to Chicago, I’d enrolled myself in the Advanced Fiction Workshop at StoryStudio Chicago. In addition to helping me improve as a writer, the class introduced me to a whole group of people who cared about questions of voice and POV, who understood the joys and challenges of the writing and revision process. After class, we’d head to a local bar to continue the conversation.
Attend a Writing Retreat or Residency
Writing retreats come in all flavors, from totally unscheduled to highly structured. I met some great writing friends at Ragdale, but the potential for new writing pals doesn’t end with residency – I’ve also met writers at Ragdale events and by sending facebook messages that say, basically, “You went to Ragdale? I went to Ragdale! Don’t you love it? Let’s be best friends!”
Go To (or Participate In) Local Readings
What better way to find writers than to attend local readings? They’re a great way to hear from other writers and learn who’s out there. Even better: be a part of a local reading, and get your own name out there!
Everyone talks about social media in boring, self-promotional ways – use it to build your platform! Use it to push your events! Use it to promote your author brand! – but look, the best part of sites like Twitter and Facebook are the ways they allow you to goof off with other readers and writers, sharing jokes, gossip, interesting links, and (of course) pictures of cute animals. Stop thinking about the internet as a way to promote yourself, and instead consider it a place to meet new, interesting people (who might just happen to be interested in you, too). Start by following your local bookstores ( @bookcellar, @unabridgedbooks,@WC1stBooks), libraries (@chipublib), the authors you love (@rberch, @erikamarksauthr, @joannelevy, @linda_grimes), and literary organizations (@NPRbooks,@PublishersWkly, @The_Rumpus).
Build Your Non-Writers Network
Most of the non-writers in your life will be just as — if not more — excited for you when your book eventually comes out, and they’ll be eager to help you get the word out. Remember that some of the things that seem obvious to you — support your local bookstore! Write nice reviews of the book on websites! — might not be obvious to them. Social media is a great way to keep the people in your life up to date about your book, your events, and your news, but you might also want to send out an email to family and friends with suggestions of ways they can support you. And if, for instance, your book ends up as a finalist on a list of NPR’s Best-Ever Teen Novels, your writing friends might be too busy trying to get their own votes to hustle for you, while your non-writing friends are happy to vote (and encourage all their facebook friends to vote as well!).
Do Unto Others…
When thinking about building your writing network, worry less about what other people can offer you, and more about what you can offer them. How can you support other writers? Can you go to their readings, write good reviews of their books, organize a critique group, promote their work on your blog or facebook page, or offer advice about local events or classes? Work to generate good writer karma by helping others, and you’ll find that most people will be happy to help you in return!
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