Renee Swindle on Letting Go of the Rules + GIVEAWAY of A Pinch of Ooh La La!

In looking back at our launches this week, many of us have also looked ahead to Book 2. Our guest today, Renee Swindle, recently launched A Pinch of Ooh La La—not her first or second book, but her third—so of course, we were thrilled to get her perspective on what she’s learned along the way.

1524613_672925089426550_1193509661_nA Pinch of Ooh La La is the story of baker Abbey Ross, who is known for her visually stunning wedding cakes but finds her own love life has become stale. When she’s pushed by her best friend Bendrix to step out of her comfort zone, Abbey finds herself matched up with a man who appears to be everything she’s dreamed of: handsome, successful, and looking to raise a family. But a creamy icing might be needed to hide a problem or two. When Samuel complains about disrespect for the institution of marriage, Abbey’s reminded of her nontraditional family, with thirteen children from various mothers. And when Samuel rails about kids having kids, Abbey thinks of her twenty-year-old sister who’s recently revealed her pregnancy.

Soon Abbey is facing one disaster after another and struggling to make sense of it all. Her search for love has led her down a bitter path, but with the help of her unique family and unwavering friends, she just might find the ooh la la that makes life sweet.

Julie Kibler, author of Calling Me Home, says, “I dare you to read Renee Swindle’s delicious new novel, A Pinch of Ooh La La, without pulling out mixing bowls and scanning your music collection for the perfect, jazz-fueled accompaniment. Swindle hits all the right notes with this unique and satisfying tale of love, friendship, and family.”

Renee has offered to send a copy of A Pinch of Ooh La La to one lucky commenter—details at the end of this post!

Drop The Rules, Honey, and Have Some Fun

I was once a woman who had a hard time following her gut. I’m by no means perfect now, but I’m much better. In the past I almost always made decisions based on shoulds and should nots. Say for instance if I was dating someone and we weren’t quite a match, instead of breaking up, I’d give myself a litany of reasons why I should stay with the guy–like, he’s nice, or he has a job, or my favorite, If I break up with him, I’ll hurt his feelings. I had arbitrary rules for almost every situation; and as a novice author I was queen of writing by the rules—my gut, my inner voice, be damned.

It was after I wrote two–yes, two–unsuccessful novels that I finally started to see the damage that living by strict rules can cause. After my first published novel, Please Please Please, came out, I told myself that since it was commercial (the horror!), I should write something “literary” and “sophisticated.” For two and a half years I wrote and rewrote my literary novel with the idea that I needed long narrative passages and not much dialogue. The book was boring as hell and didn’t sell.

After that disaster, I read what felt like every how-to book on the market. I wrote my next novel keeping in mind rules about chapter length and three-part structure and showdowns and outlines. If I felt bored with a scene, I ignored my feelings and stuck with what I believed I should write.

Now it’s easy to see how often I’d shut down my gut each time it said a scene was too long or a chapter wasn’t working. Instead of following my heart, I’d explain my true feelings away; I’d convince myself that the so-so chapter was actually quite good. I thought feeling bored and only mildly engaged was how I was supposed to feel. I thought I was supposed to follow the rules.

By the time I started my second published novel, Shake Down The Stars, I was so fed up with rules I gave up the fight. Frankly, I was too broken to talk myself out of my true feelings. I finally began giving my characters room to be who they were, and I stuck with my own voice and style. Over time, I learned that my gut doesn’t repeat itself all that much and speaks in a whisper. My ego, on the other hand, is often chatty and rarely shuts up.

Did I still write crappy drafts while working on Shake Down The Stars? Of course! But I was so much more relaxed, and I no longer dreaded having to write every day. I suppose I’m learning that if we take a look at how we write, we might learn something about the way we live. How does that voice in your head that tells you you’re not talented keep you from writing more days than not? Does this nasty voice follow you around in other areas of you life?

As for me, I still haven’t met a guy, but I’ve stopped staying in relationships past their expiration date, and I no longer date based on shoulds or shouldn’ts. Yes, I have fewer dates, but I’m certain learning to listen to my inner voice is adding years to my life, and I’m also having much more fun, even when writing.

Readers, what are some ways you’ve let go of the shoulds and shouldn’ts?

GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, August 22nd, to enter to win a copy of A Pinch of Ooh La La. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!

IMG_4827About Renee Swindle:

Renee Swindle’s first novel, Please Please Please, was an Essence Magazine/Blackboard Bestseller. Her second novel, Shake Down The Star,s was published August, 2013 by NAL/Penguin. Her latest novel is A Pinch of Ooh La La (NAL/Penguin).  Renee earned her MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. An admitted tea snob and owner of three rescue dogs, she lives in Oakland, California. Visit her online at her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

This article has 11 Comments

  1. Hi Renee! Thanks so much for visiting us today! Your post was inspiring — I have many “rules” voices in my head — from every agent, editor, instructor I ever listened to. So annoying! 🙂

  2. I love the cover ! I really liked the interview. As I’ve grown older I’ve stopped caring about what people say and I’ve just gone with my gut and what makes me happy .

  3. Well. I should’ve remained as excited about exercise as I had been all my life. However, for a time, I put it on the back burner. Now, I’ve embraced health and exercise again and am slowly working my way back!

  4. Congratulations and best wishes on Ooh La La which sounds captivating and wonderful. Your post was thought provoking and wise. I love tea as well although letting go of the should’s and should not’s has been a lifelong struggle since our upbringing and values influence us so greatly. Best wishes for happiness, enjoyment and success.

  5. Your book looks like such a fun read. Love your post. And it’s perfect timing because I’m doing exactly what you wrote about and I’m loving every minute of writing now. Best of luck with your new novel.

  6. There are so many rules (some of which conflict with others 🙂 ), but nobody ever wrote a great novel by making a list of rules and following them.

    I think people get undone by trying to figure out what will sell at any given moment, and that’s no way to achieve either quality or success. I always use the example of Harry Potter. Was that following any formula for success when Rowling started? No, but then it became a model that a lot of other people tried to follow (imitate 🙂 )

    I think, as you say, that it really limits the characters. You can come up with a good plot by using formulas, but characters have to be free to go where they want to, or they’ll just be little robots with human faces.

  7. Delish, delectable and oh so wonderful. What a book, what a cover and something sweet to cheer me up. Your talent and creativity is wonderful and admirable. Your success and book makes me happy and brightens my day. Congratulations.

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