A writer since childhood, Diane Ingram Fromme's experience spans her Stanford University communication degree, training and facilitation work, articles and essays. A native New Yorker, Diane now writes from her cozy home in Colorado, where she lives with her husband, teen daughter, and a spunky canine. Diane is fortunate to see and keep in touch with her adult stepchildren. Join the private Facebook community to discuss real joys and challenges we have when supporting grieving children:
Stepparenting the Grieving Child
Writing: it's in our weave
I believe that writing has always been part of the fiber of my makeup. This weave started with the blessing of very early reading ability, and growing passion for reading. I carted around my own copy of Alice in Wonderland by age six, a coveted gift from my parents so that they didn't have to run me back to the library yet again to renew the book.
In our educational system, real creative writing doesn't begin until about third grade. Mrs. Arnold represented a chain of teachers who recognized my reading and writing abilities and believed in me. Somewhere I may still have a copy of my essay, "The Rose," its lined paper stamped by Mrs. Arnold with the honorable version of a large red "A."
My sixth-grade teacher, Miss Mill, pushed me to read and analyze Lord of the Flies for the class instead of the regular sixth-grade fare. With its graphic depictions of chaos and cruelty among its young male characters, what a terrifying yet addicting exposure that book was to the craft of writing. In contrast to this study of the consequences of anarchy, I also fell in love with The Phantom Tollbooth, a whimsical, fantasy adventure that provides a creative cloak for the importance of education and appreciation for everyday life.
In high school, English teacher Mr. Frisch spurred community among his readers and writers by organizing social events to discuss our work outside of the classroom. This symbolized my first exposure to the idea of a critique group, or what today’s high school students would call "peer feedback." Fast forward to the last decade: When I began writing Stepparenting the Grieving Child, Fort Collins author and writing coach Teresa Funke suggested I form a critique group with several other relatively new writers. Our group of four, now expanded to eight, just celebrated our 11th anniversary of giving each other positive yet productive feedback on all types of writing.
Our Broad Horizons writers group has been fundamental in providing thoughtful commentary along with the encouragement to carry on with an important work. While feedback can sometimes be paralyzing, I learned to express some boundaries to my fellow writers. For example, I would specify when I wanted them to identify a defensive tone, but I wouldn't always accept recommendations to change content. I also learned that I didn't need to incorporate every single comment into my manuscript in order to move forward. Your regional writers’ associations, such as Northern Colorado Writers in Fort Collins, CO, have the ability to connect you with other writers in critique groups and I highly recommend joining one.
Early in the process of writing the book, I submitted a personal essay for the anthology Pulse of the River (Johnson Books 2006). The essay illuminated how my visits to the Poudre River in northern Colorado helped me cope with the ebbs and flows of stepfamily life. “The Mirror in the River” was accepted with some help from author Laura Pritchett, and represented my first published work, literally getting my feet wet in the publishing industry. By the way, I would not have known about this opportunity were it not for networking with other writers and writing coaches in my area.
Publishing my first piece provided a magical momentum for my writing and publishing, and while plugging away at compiling Stepparenting the Grieving Child, I continued to submit and publish other personal essays and articles in local, regional, and international publications. I also continued to read, with a focus on memoir, spiritual nonfiction, and historical fiction and nonfiction. Notable adult reads include everything by Anne Lamott and Amy Tan, as well as Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, the equally gripping Climb, by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt, and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The first two authors I mentioned would be my top picks for seeing speak in person, because I’ve followed their writings almost as closely as if their characters were my own family. They write about real people and their imperfect worlds and emotions, which has been a comfort to me in my stepfamily living. One of my wishes is about to come true: Anne Lamott is speaking in my hometown in April!
While I easily doubled the average amount of years to write my first book, clocking in at about twelve years, I have no regrets. The memoir portions of the book reflect personal experience with supporting grieving children, which is delicate subject matter that benefited from occasional time on the shelf. Shelf time equaled time for me to mature in my perspectives, and time for the fabric of the book to lay just right. My writing weave compels me forward to think about new interview-based material that will continue to support grieving children and stepfamilies.
Stepparenting the Grieving Child
In Stepparenting the Grieving Child, Diane Ingram Fromme shares the assumptions and presumptions, steps and missteps that occurred within her own stepfamily. Diane faced the key challenges any new stepparent to grieving children experiences, including helplessness to know how and when to offer comfort, awkwardness to identify the times and ways to memorialize the lost parent, and outsider blues--not only feeling uncomfortable in her own home but also in her own skin.
With personal examples, insights from other stepfamilies, and knowledge gained through experience and research, Diane provides information relevant to anyone who supports grieving children. Diane's straightforward approach will help you:
Facebook author page: Diane Ingram Fromme
Facebook community group: Stepparenting the Grieving Child
Twitter Profile: https://twitter.com/Diane_Fromme
Where to Buy Stepparenting the Grieving Child
When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with a visual impairment that would require surgery and massive doses of oral steroids to save my eyesight. Legally blind, I was suddenly unable to participate in PE (depth perception is sort of important, especially in sports). The result: I weighed 100 pounds by the time I was in third grade.
From that time to this, I’ve struggled with my weight. I remember feeling downright cute in high school when I’d managed to get down to a size 18. My choir uniform never did fit quite right. And back then, finding a “plus size” prom gown in a small town was next to impossible.
As an added complication, I developed a pretty formidable case of generalized anxiety and I love me some comfort food. New Mexico born and raised (and with a Mexican grandmother who made the best enchiladas on earth – as well as everything else), I crave beans and rice and chips and tortillas. Yum. As you may have guessed, none of these foods figures very heavily into a low-carb, low-calorie diet.
When you’re overweight, you sometimes feel like you have to hide. You hide behind baggy clothes, mistakenly thinking they make you look slimmer. You stay out of public places, or you put yourself in a corner, trying to stay mostly invisible. It can be a lonely life. Luckily for me, I’m an extrovert and I love people. It’s hard to become a recluse under those conditions. But I’m definitely human and I’ve had my feelings hurt by strangers and loved ones alike. Being told I have a great personality and then having a loved one explain to me that that’s the kind of compliment people get when they’re fat. (Yep, that happened).
It wasn’t until last year, really, that I finally came to a place in my life where I decided that I was ready to get healthy. Not thin, mind you, just healthy. I have kids and I want to grow old with them. Now, in some cases, it takes a health crisis to prompt this kind of decision. Not so in my case. I’ve always been pretty healthy, except the vision problems of course. And I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to make progress. But losing weight, for me, has been all about attitude.
It hasn’t been easy. Some days I look in the mirror, and I feel GOOD. Some days, I retreat to my office with a box of cookies (that I know I shouldn’t have bought and definitely shouldn’t have with me, alone, in my office). Sometimes I am strong, reaching for a bowl of fruit instead of a bag of chips. But sometimes I falter, and in pretty spectacular fashion.
I had a conversation yesterday that put me on the defensive and made me feel bad about myself. Today, I’m making a choice. Two choices, actually. First, I will accept myself just as I am. I may never be thin. But I can be healthy and happy. If thin happens, great. If not, I think I’m pretty stinking awesome (yay for self-affirmations!). Second, I’m redoubling my efforts to be mindful of the words I speak. It’s so easy to say something that is unintentionally hurtful or demoralizing and, quite frankly, we get enough of that crap. I don’t need to add to the pot. Who’s with me?
Sarah Reichert (S. E. Reichert) is a writer, novelist, poet, and blogger. She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers, Wyoming Writers, Inc., and a member of The Romance Writers of America. She is the author of Fixing Destiny, Finding Destiny, and Fighting Destiny a series of paranormal romances set in Maine. Her work has been featured in The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Haunted Waters Press, Tuliptree Publishing’s 100-Word Dash, and Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology. She has blogged for The Writing Bug and the Be True Be Love website. She plans to debut her own blog this summer tentatively titled “The Beautiful Stuff”. Reichert lives in Fort Collins with her family.
We all begin somewhere, usually not having a clue where we will go or what will become of the quick flash of light that is our human existence.
When I began writing, some time in the fifth grade, I didn’t understand what I was doing. I only knew that ideas were in me and they needed to get out. Post-it notes, notebooks, floppy disks full of ideas and characters, poetry, essays, thoughts that occurred to me randomly or stewed in my brain for months, all cumulated into boxes and files of thought.
Still, I never considered myself a writer.
I just had ‘stories’. I only ‘dabbled’. I was a girl who tended towards depressive thought and knew I felt better when I wrote. I daydreamed about different lives, different people, and how they would move through the world. They were only stories, nothing fantastical or significant.
When I moved from Wyoming to Oregon, to California, and finally to Colorado, my words moved with me. I would occasionally pull out each page like a handmade ornament, re-reading and losing myself in my words. I remembered what was happening in my life at the time I wrote them, then I’d carefully put them back.
After the birth of my first daughter, and deciding that even though it was a financial hit, I’d much rather spend my days with my greatest creation than putting up with cranky adults, I found a different kind rhythm to life. I gained moments in the day that I could explore my writing.
I started to write more in depth and longer stories as the characters in my life fleshed out from my own experiences and failures. My writing became more interesting; it became more complex as my life did. It evolved.
Soon, I was cramming in word counts during nap times and typing madly away in the car during preschool, until, little by little, paragraph at a time, I had a book. A book I’d written. A beginning, a middle, and an end, filled with characters that I loved and cared about.
Only then did I wonder: Could it be that I was a writer? Is that what it meant? That my “stories” were actually part of my identity? That maybe I could pull out the boxes of secret thoughts and see that I had always been a writer?
Being self aware as a writer didn’t happen over night for me. Most artists understand who they are early on, but I never thought enough of myself to believe I possessed any kind of mad-genius creativity. I only knew the words burned inside and I wasn’t happy until I pulled them out.
Along my journey, inspirations came from all over. The books and writers I loved (Jane Austen, Emily Dickenson, Lord Byron, Shelly, Whitman, Charlotte Bronte, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Preston Child, Paulo Coelho, Jean M. Auel, Anne Rice, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Neil Giaman), quirky stories and complex characters pulled from my own life, from movies, books, and even the news, all gave me fodder for creating my own worlds. Where one thought travels, more tag along behind.
Writing is a tough journey. It is wrought with tears and missteps. I’ve failed spectacularly on the page more times than I care to admit. There are times when I look at my laptop or tattered composition notebooks and physically feel the frump of not wanting to write. Many times, I feel I don’t have anything left to give the page.
But that’s never true.
It’s inside, and more often than not, festering to be let out.
What keeps me going back, is not that its always fun or easy, but that the work I put in, (the hard hours of editing or writing pages that will never come to anything themselves) has cemented in my head, where it matters most, that I am a writer. My writing isn’t insignificant, its integral to who I am.
One book led to two, which led to three and now soon to be six.
I didn’t know when I sat in the rocking chair in a state of nursing exhaustion, and thought about a girl and a ghost that it would be a bellwether to my writing career. A brilliant, burning light that led me through the darkness and inspired me to tell her story. (Fixing Destiny, Finding Destiny, Fighting Destiny)
I didn’t know it would instill in me the courage to tell all of my characters’ stories, because they matter. All stories matter. Getting them out of your head and onto a page matters. To you, to your health, to your mental well-being. To your journey.
We can only move forward if we honor what burns inside of us.
I’ve learned in whatever state I am, in whatever moment of life, in whatever hardship I’m shouldering, that writing is my tool. It helps me work through my depression and anxiety. It helps me regroup.
I’ve learned that not all of my writing is meant for everyone. And even the writing I do make public will not affect everyone the way that it has me. I’ve learned, most importantly, that that’s okay. Our jobs as writers are not to please everyone, or sell a million copies. Our job is to write.
Bring what burns inside of you out and light the world.
You can follow her recent releases and news about her writing on her Facebook page:
Sarah's novels can be found on Amazon:
Andrene’s graduation piece for a presentation skills course she took for work was entitled, Breeding before Forty and garnered enough laughs that she was persuaded (some might say coerced) into taking part in a rookies’ night at an Auckland comedy club. The club asked her back and she stayed on the professional stand-up circuit for three years, before retiring to concentrate on her long-form writing. Her novels are irreverent, edgy and very funny.
I’ve been hooked on writing, ever since getting my first favourable review, aged 9. It wasn’t 5 stars; it was an A on a writing exercise in English Class. I’m still not sure what our teacher was thinking, getting 9 year olds to write a story about a real-life Welsh mining disaster where a school-full of kids was buried by a collapsing slag heap. I had nightmares for weeks.
There was then a hiatus until my writing got a kick start courtesy of having to pen my own speech for a presentation skills course for work. I wasn’t able to help myself. There was going to be no dull, boring speech for me. I had to slip in a few laughs. And then a few more. One thing led to another and next thing I know I’m writing my own routines for stand-up.
I stayed on the professional circuit for three years in a constant haze of writing, pure unadulterated fear (that was the performing part), tweaking the jokes to make them work better and then trying them out again. It taught me about writing to a deadline and taking feedback constructively, even if it hurt at the time. Drunk people can be incredibly cruel.
It was around this time I decided to try my hand at writing something longer. Something that could be understood by people who weren’t half, or in some cases, fully cut. I dutifully crafted a synopsis and a few chapters and sent them off to an agent to get myself signed up. Boom! Blown out of the water. Ever so nicely, I have to say. Such a newbie mistake to make, looking back. If memory serves me correctly, I burned the returned submission, whilst dancing naked around the fire and cursing the agent’s name to the heavens.
But it was this very kick up the bum that set me on the path to being a published author. I took courses, so many courses. All of them useful, but none of them really giving me the key I was looking for. I was then very fortunate to be accepted into a six month creative writing course. The course itself was average, what was brilliant about it was my being assigned a mentor for the final month.
I didn’t just get any mentor, I got assigned a mentor who’d had a book on the New York Times Best Sellers List, who’d taught creative writing at university level and who believed in called a spade a $#@*$ shovel! Let’s put it this way, when submitting work to her I NEVER made the same mistake twice. The woman’s lessons stuck like %$#@ to a blanket. I’m paraphrasing here.
Because of her input and my hard work, when I submitted my novel, This Girl’s Abroad, to my preferred publisher, it was accepted straight off. I think I might have cried. Okay, I did cry. And danced. No fire this time. Since then I’ve gone on to publish Mounted and Hung and Screwed for Money. These three titles make up my Excess Baggage Series which is set in the fabulous seventies. A time when life was simple, pants were wide, heels high and hair as close to Farah as you could get without asphyxiating yourself. The series is a little like That '70s Show, but with an R Rating.
I’m currently working on DietVale, a comic horror set on a fat farm on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. It follows one woman’s journey from lard arse to kick arse, all while on a steady diet of B-List Celebs.
And if that wasn’t enough, I’m also writing a series of novelettes that sit alongside the Excess Baggage Series. These are only available to my subscribers, although after I’ve finished all five or six of them, I might publish them as a collection. The first, Smashed Nuts, is available now.
My motivations are definitely being able to write as well as my heroes Anne Rice, Marian Keyes and Janet Evanovich, to have people love my books and to know I’ve brought laughter into their lives. There are a lot of very serious books out there and sometimes, if you’ve had a rough day, that’s not what you need. Listen to me, I sound like Freud!
One writer I would love to meet is Bill Bryon. I adore the man’s ability to describe a place in a few well-chosen words that somehow have me laughing until my sides hurt. It’s a skill I’d like to emulate one day.
Most Recent Work
SCREWED FOR MONEY – Book 3, Excess Baggage Series
Brenda hasn’t had a money worry since puberty hit, because she’s always been well cared for by the elderly gents she’s latched onto. There’s none so generous as an older chap who’s allowed to get his wrinkled mitts on a pair of boobs not in danger of being tucked into a waistband.
She’s therefore gutted when her very healthy nest egg courtesy of one of them is scrambled through no fault of hers. On the bones of her arse, her choices are going back to a love live littered with dodgy prostates and bouts of emergency CPR, or getting a job.
But Brenda has issues with the old nine-to-five, preferring nine-ty-five-and-loaded and so the plan to teach others the art of relieving rich old gents of their spare change is one borne of desperation. She’ll be golden, so long as she can avoid being arrested.
You can follow Andrene online at:
Where to Buy Screwed for Money
#WhatsYourStory is a weekly guest column at AmyRivers.com. The focus is on our writing lives and the risks we've taken to achieve our writing dreams. Please share these stories and help support a talented group of authors.
Welcome to March, dear readers! I am so honored to have Laurie Notaro as my guest blogger today and the first in my #WhatsYourStory series, featuring established and aspiring authors who will share their experiences in this writing life. You can find Laurie's books on the shelves of your favorite bookstores. In addition to her writing work, Laurie recently launched Laurie Notaro Creative, offering structural, line, and copy editing services and consultations to creative and academic writers at every level. Here's what Laurie had to say:
Very clearly, I remember the first morning I came home after my first book tour. It was already a scorching Arizona day at 8 a.m., but when I opened the back door to let my dog out, I smiled when my face was instantly warmed by the sunshine.
"This morning will be the morning for the rest of my life," I thought, then poured my coffee and sat down at my desk to work on my second book.
That was sixteen years ago. In the course of that time, I've written and published fourteen books of humor, women's fiction and historical fiction. Some did very well; others did not. But every day since then, including this morning, I got my coffee, let the dog out, and went to work at my desk.
Today will mark the last morning I move in that routine, my last morning of that life. I, like many, many other authors I know, cannot make a living solely by writing books anymore. It's time for me to get a day job and return to the workforce, and instead of sitting down at my own desk to write, I will be sitting down at another desk across town to give my time and effort to something that does not have my name on it.
Believe me, I am grateful that I even have the opportunity and skills to return to the workforce. Before I became an author, I was a reporter and columnist for a large metro daily newspaper; before that, I was an editor at a beautiful city monthly magazine; before that, I was the public relations person for a non-profit. Before that, I started an alternative magazine with my friends straight out of college. I made $800 a month and still had to ask my parents for money. Before that, I spent my college years not in class but working at the university newspaper, often times at the office until at three in the morning literally putting the newspaper together. I graduated with an unimpressive GPA, but with a firm foundation of writing, publishing and knowing what it was like to get paid shit for what you love to do.
When my first book came out and made it to the New York Times bestseller list, I hoped I would have a tenure of some sort to stay in the business. I did not know then how difficult it would be to repeat that success, and that in the book publishing world, there is no such thing as tenure. Your record is not in your work, it is not in your effort, it is not in what you put down on the page. It is a numbers game only. I was naive enough to believe that if people wanted better sales, they should write a better book. It was more than naive. It was baseline stupid.
The New York Times reported earlier this year that over 80% of the revenue that used to funnel toward newspapers and book publishing now goes to Google and Facebook. That is daunting news for writers who want to make their living doing something that they are the most skilled at. As a result, I am not the only New York Times bestselling author I know of who has gone back to work and will have to write books "on the side," or as a labor of love. For many of us, this is a reality now. Full-time writers have taken an 80% pay cut since 2002.
Should this be daunting to new writers? It's not good news, but it should not curb hard work and your passion for telling a story. Without stories, our cultural fabric loosens, it frays, it falls apart. If there is a book in you, a tale, a narrative, you carve out time to put those words down, whether it is at night, early in the morning, or in whatever spare time you can scratch out. I still have stories I want to tell. I still have books I want to write. It will take me longer, certainly, but the need for it does not leave me. I have the knowledge of being in the publishing industry for a very long time; the good news is that new writers are getting published every week. With a strong query letter and solid work, the opportunity to publish has really not diminished. I am a huge supporter of helping new writers navigate the channels of publishing protocol. I will always encourage writers to write; without our words, our society dries up and becomes static. Without new perspectives, we turn to stone. Find the time, tell your story. People need to hear it.
My last book was the best thing I've ever written, but it got lost in the frenzy of the election and an uncertain future for our country. It was the real story of three women who were determined to see their goals come to fruition as all of them attempted to make the transatlantic crossing before Amelia Earhart did in 1928. It took me five years of research to write that book, and it was the experience of my lifetime. But the sales numbers were terrible. My publisher turned down my next book proposal, saying verbatim, "Laurie is costing us money."
Those were hard words to hear. They were hard words to write.
The words that will not be hard to write will be the chapters of the next book, which I have not stopped working on. I believe in telling that story, and whether it is in the dark hours of early morning or late night, in the time that I may have gone to see a movie or on my lunch hour, I will write it.
You have my word.
Laurie Notaro was born in Brooklyn, New York, then spent the remainder of her formative years in Phoenix, AZ, where she created something of a checkered past. She is the New York Times best-selling author of the humor memoirs The Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club, Autobiography of a Fat Bride, I Love Everybody and Housebroken, along with numerous others; two humor novels; and Crossing the Horizon, a novel of historical fiction that tells the true story of once famous and now forgotten aviatrices prior to Amelia Earhart that vied to become the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic. She resides in Eugene, Oregon, has a cute dog, a nice husband and misses Mexican food like it was her youth.
In February, Laurie launched Laurie Notaro Creative. Visit her website to learn more.
...channeling West Side Story...OK, moving on.
It seems like every day of this new year brings some sort of change for me. I've got projects coming out my nose (really, it's very painful) and am traveling a lot (next week, Tucson Festival of Books). There's the usual insanity of parenthood, marriage and friendship. And although I admit, there are times when I start feeling a little bit overwhelmed, it's hard not to smile. Life is good.
When I named this blog "Kissing Authors & Astronauts," I was thinking about risk taking and facing the challenges that come in life. For me, an opportunity to produce an online news site in my hometown put me in contact with some amazing people, and yes, there was kissing involved. It started with Michael McGarrity. Michael is a very talented and charming author based out of Santa Fe. He's a big supporter of libraries, and I worked with him on several programs for our local library. I also went to Santa Fe to interview him about the first book in his upcoming series.
During that time, I created programs about literacy, history and culture. I met authors, astronauts and artists, got in free to cover concerts at a beautiful mountain venue and explored local politics during a mayoral election. Sometimes I look back on those days and think: What if I'd said no? What if I'd decided not to take that chance? It was hard work and balancing the news site with the full-time work of my marketing firm was often a juggling act. But I did things that I never would have imagined doing. I was bold. I was brazen. I was persistent. I was unstoppable!
Being a writer is also about taking risks. Sure, there are those enviable stories about authors who were discovered and became NYT Bestsellers on their debut novel! Yay! But most of us have to work long and hard to make progress in an industry that can easily be soul-sucking and cruel. We face lots of rejection, some of which is kind. Some, not so much. We get excited when someone loves something we've written, and then we agonize over how to translate that into a viable income base. We love to write, but for many of us, we're also trying to make a living and it's not an easy field to be in.
So why are so many of us doing it? And what are the stories of those writers out there in the trenches who didn't find overnight success but persevered?
Starting in March, I hope to explore those things on this blog by inviting guest posts from authors who are living the dream (and trudging along). These are funny, smart, creative, hard-working men and women who've decided that being a writer is their passion and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Some are full-time writers. Some have day jobs. We'll get to hear a little bit about how they got their starts, the challenges they've faced and where they are in their writing careers. Most of all, we'll be introduced to current authors and writers who are out there creating, and dreaming, every day.
Please share these posts with your friends and family. Maybe you'll find your new favorite author right here :)
Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Is the day of love one of your favorites or do you run and hide? Do you celebrate a day early with your girlfriends? Whatever your particular feelings about the BIG DAY, there are two things that I'm quite certain of: 1) there's no better way to celebrate ANY OCCASION than with a book, and 2) winning prizes is also super amazing!!!
So, this year, celebrate Galentine's Day AND Valentine's Day with some #ChickLitLove! Join the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/648488038691371/. Then, on February 13th and 14th, hop to each authors page for chances to win great prizes.
I'm on team Valentine's Day and my assigned time slot is 12PM EST BUT you can visit my Facebook page anytime on the 14th for a chance to win a gorgeous hand-crafted necklace by Kell's Creations! It'd make a great gift for a wife, girlfriend, sister, cousin, daughter, BFF or even for yourself!
Check out the list below for some of the other amazing authors participating in the hop. See you there!
#ChickLitLove Hop Teams
As a former marketer, I understand the need to find a company’s target audience by identifying its niche, its market and by putting it into a category that addresses the needs of that market. So companies in the larger real estate market might be further identified as luxury, or commercial, or residential. You get the idea, right? As a marketer, I learned to embrace this concept.
As a writer, I want to scream when it comes to categorization. When people ask what kind of books I write, I automatically wish it was as simple as saying “I write romance” or “science fiction.” The genre writers have all the luck (at least the ones who are comfortably seated in their genre and happily identify with it). For me, it’s complicated.
My first run-in as a writer with categorization came about six months after finishing my first novel. I entered the manuscript in a contest, if for no other reason than to get it out there and have another set of eyes on it. When the feedback form arrived a few months later, I was annoyed. Not because I didn’t win (winning wasn’t really my intention and the guy who did win was so out-of-this-world talented that I’m glad he beat me), but because the critic called my work “women’s fiction.”
Now, let me first say that I love love love me some women’s fiction. I studied psychology in grad school because I adore delving into people’s emotional journeys. And, I’m a hopeless romantic, so I’m also an avid reader of chick-lit and even some genre romance. Though up until the point when my book was called “women’s fiction,” I can’t say that I ever consciously gave much thought to these distinctions. I love reading characters I can get to know and relate to, whether they’re detectives in police procedurals or heroines in steamy romances. I’m non-discriminating. As long as there’s someone I can root for, I’m happy.
So, why was I so irritated by this categorization, you ask? Mostly, I couldn’t really figure out what “women’s fiction” actually was. At the time, it sounded like books that only women would read and, being a woman who reads all kinds of books, that didn’t resonate with me. Further exploration led me to the definition “layered stories that are driven by the main character’s emotional journey.” OK. Maybe my book did fit this genre. After all, the book is all about my main character’s emotional journey as she navigates romance, takes risks in her professional life and comes to terms with truths about her family. But why is this type of story only for women? That was the thing that continued to bother me. The idea that a tale of emotional journey would be marketed as “women’s” fiction seemed terribly unfair to men who might also enjoy that sort of depth.
The marketer in me knew that I’d have to embrace some of these categories. So I did. I thought about all the types of readers I wanted to reach, and looked for pathways to those readers. When readers described the book as chick-lit, I started participating in chick-lit-oriented events. Same with women's fiction. I marketed my book in general fiction arenas as well, but the field is so broad and the competition so fierce that the idea of categorizing my book to reach a more targeted audience started to make more sense and felt less objectionable.
Until the day when it was suggested that my second book might not meet the criteria for women’s fiction (and that my first book probably didn’t either—too much romance). WTF? I mean, seriously!?! If not women’s fiction, then what? In the past two years, I’ve been told that my book has too much romance for women’s fiction, is too commercial for literary fiction, is too heavy for chick-lit, and is too clean for genre romance. Where in the world do I fit in?
It was at the peak of this crisis that I finally had a long talk with myself and reached this conclusion: I just want readers to read my book and form their own opinions. Really. I love that some people read Wallflower Blooming as a light romance and loved it. I love that some people really identified with Val and could apply some of the lessons she learned to their own lives. I even loved the 1-star review on Amazon that lambasted me for pushing my political agenda in my book. My response: “whoa, really? I thought the book was a little fluffy to elicit such venom.” I love that people felt something when they read it, and, of course, I’m glad that most people liked it. Whether they found comfort in the pages or simply a fun escape from the pace of everyday life, it’s really gratifying to have people read a story that you wrote and to feel something for your characters.
So, what have I learned from this whole categorization debacle? To keep writing and to stay true to myself. Do I believe that chick-lit readers will love my book? Sure. At least some will. And some readers of women’s fiction will love it. And some will think there’s too much romance. Will romance fans dig it? Yep. And some will say there’s not enough sex. And that’s the beauty of books. We bring as much to each book we read as we find in the pages. It’s a truly unique experience for each and every reader.
As a writer, there’s no way to avoid categorization. Just try entering a writing contest or submitting to an agent or shopping for a publisher. Categorization helps narrow down the field and allows our manuscripts to get into the right hands (in theory). It can also be a huge pain in the arse. I imagine that my love-hate relationship with categorization will continue. But what I hope most is that readers will take a chance on my books and form their own opinions. I hope they’ll open the pages and see what speaks to them.
Thanks for reading!
Having grown up in New Mexico, there are certain traditions that simply scream Christmas. Luminarias. Tamales. Posole. I come from a big Hispanic family and a lot of our traditions take place around the kitchen table. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother would make a big pot of posole for our annual open house. The whole house smelled like red chile and cumin. That's the smell of Christmas to me.
I've lived in many places since my childhood and have tried to recreate some of these traditions to the best of my ability (it can be tricky to make a big pot of green chile stew using 4 oz. cans of Ortega green chiles). And lining the slippery walkways in Seattle with paper bags full of sand and candles doesn't always work very well. But the one thing that has remained a constant in my life is music.
My parents are folk musicians and I grew up in a home filled with music. I'd open my eyes each morning to the sounds of my dad playing his guitar in the living room. My mother's singing will always be a source of comfort and happiness for me. Christmas was no exception. Some of favorite Christmas carols are originals written through the years. School holiday programs. Christmas concerts. Endless hours of carols on the car radio.
Some of my favorite musical memories stem from caroling excursions. We'd bundle up and walk around various neighborhoods singing traditional Christmas songs. Some singers were better than others, but as a whole, there was nothing sweeter than the sound of our voices together. We cuddled. We laughed. It was a magical time.
It's November 30 and I'll admit that I've already listened to my favorite Christmas album twice and watched three holiday movies. So, let me say goodbye today by sharing one of my fav's and wishing everyone happy holidays with love, family and lots of great food and music.
Happy holidays readers! I'm participating in the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop, a Facebook event spanning December 5-16 where you'll have the chance to get to know some great new authors and books, as well as getting the chance to win some great books and other prizes. My "hop" day is Saturday, December 10 so drop by my Facebook page and find out how to win one of two Kindle Fires! Don't forget to share with your friends and to check out the authors parirticapitng in the hop. Links to their Facebook pages are listed below along with the schedule. Enjoy folks!
Make the holiday season even merrier by discovering new reads from some of today's best chick lit and romantic comedy authors during the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop on Facebook.
Here's how it works: every day from Monday, December 5 through Friday, December 16, readers are invited to hop around to more than 60 authors' Facebook pages (with about five stops each day) to receive gifts and enter to win prizes.
Here is the schedule, which includes the list of authors posting each day and links to their Facebook pages in case you'd like to give them a "like" and follow along:
MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16
Happy Holidays to all and to all some fabulous reading!
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
#WhatsYourStory? Are you an author? I'd love to hear your story and so would my readers. Email me for more information.