Tag Archives: literary fiction

Sandi Ward—women’s fiction author who writes humanity-embracing stories from the unique perspective of cats

 

I met Sandi on Twitter. She is super friendly and supportive of other writers. If you’re a fan of Hallmark, love heartwarming stories, and appreciate learning about other humans through reading, her novels are for you. Oh, you must also love cats! Here’s my review on her second novel Something Worth Saving.

 

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, and inspirations tangible and abstract—what’s in your office?

Because I work full-time (I’m a medical copywriter at an ad agency), I write my fiction sporadically, whenever I can grab a few minutes here and there. My MacBook Air is always with me, and it essentially is my office-to-go! I’ll write in the early morning, on my lunch hour, late at night, or whenever else I can grab a few minutes.

I prefer to write with a hot cup of coffee nearby. My primary requirement is quiet. I can’t write with music or other background noise going on.

I don’t outline my story arc on a line chart, or put plot points on post-it notes, or anything like that. I’m completely what some people call a “pantser,” making it up as I go along (flying by the seat of my pants). I re-read written chapters and then add a new one, going back constantly to edit in new ideas. My goal is to write stories that are unexpected, and not formulaic. I let the characters surprise me, in the hopes that they will also surprise the reader.

Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product: publishing team, timeline, and expectations of you as the author, especially toward marketing and publicity.

Kensington gives me a year to write a novel, during which time their art department starts to design a cover and their marketing team writes potential cover copy (once I can supply a synopsis). Once the draft is done, it goes to my agent and editor, and we do a round of changes before moving on to copy editing, and finally page proofs. This stage also takes about a year, from final first draft to published book.

On the one hand, this process is slow. By the time of book launch, it has been over a year since I wrote the story. But I’m happy to be writing general fiction, where I get the time I need to devote to writing a first draft. Other writers, in genres like romance and mystery, are sometimes under pressure to write much faster, and that would be tough for me. I’m always promoting books at the same time I’m writing new stories, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. Right now I’m finishing up the first draft of my third novel, What Holds Us Together.

My publicists and the social media team at Kensington decide where and how to promote the book, for example via print or online advertising, but I also do as much as I can! I maintain my website and social media accounts, and reach out to other authors, readers and book bloggers who might be able to share news and reviews of the book.

Winnie, the cat

Describe your support system online and IRL—who are your biggest cheerleaders?

My literary agent, Stacy Testa at Writers House, is my #1 go-to person for all of the questions I have about writing and promotion. She’s amazing and I’m very lucky to be working with her!

Other authors have also been incredibly supportive. The online writing and reading community is great about sharing information and helpful tips. I belong to a number of writing-based Facebook groups where I learn new things every day, and try to share some of my own knowledge.

At home, it helps that my husband and teens are all writers. My husband is also in advertising, my son is a journalism major in college, and my daughter is a student filmmaker. They can relate when I need to disappear into my laptop for a while.

Your unusual protagonists are cats; I suspect you’re a huge animal lover, and I’m curious how you determined to write cat main characters. How does your life influence your writing and vice versa?

I do love animals! I have both a cat and a dog.

When people ask me what inspired me to write from a cat’s point of view, the truth is, I don’t remember exactly how I got started with it. Essentially, I wanted to experiment and try writing from the viewpoint of an unconventional narrator. I love books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which are written from unexpected points of view, where the reader realizes that more is going on than the narrator fully understands.

A main theme that runs throughout all of my books is how hard it is to be a parent—especially of teenagers. Real life absolutely influences my characters and stories. I don’t usually talk about my personal life too much, but if you read my books, you’ll quickly figure out where I stand on many issues.

When I wrote Something Worth Saving, I was feeling pessimistic about how divisive society has become. I don’t have all the answers. I think it’s okay to disagree with others, but it’s also important to be respectful and not make anyone feel unsafe. My character Charlie (my narrator Lily’s favorite human) should not have to feel threatened when he wants to express himself—not at school, not at home, not anywhere. For me, writing a novel is a better way to try and convince someone to take another look at an issue, rather than shouting on Twitter about it.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I enjoy getting really enthusiastic about ideas, words and images. This is true at my job at the ad agency as well as when I’m writing fiction. Great ideas should get the creator fired up, and want to share those thoughts with the world. I believe you have to write for yourself first, and then you can try to get everyone else on board.

Connect with Sandi:

website

Goodreads

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon

Pinterest

Instagram

Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri

Kate chose a lifemate over a soulmate. Her marriage comes to a crossroads in her mind, and she is given a literal chance for a do-over, a gift of time shifting via the Devil’s Triangle. She must choose between her soulmate and her wrecked life as a disillusioned wife and mother. Impellizzeri brilliantly portrays a woman who inadvertently contributes to the misery in her own life by refusing to let the past be and give herself fully to her present. She learns that no matter what choices are made, and invested in, some things cannot be controlled. There are so many layers to this story, including the parallels of the legendary tale told by the ship’s captain to Kate’s life and the tricky ending to her circular thinking, both impossible to escape from…or not. That ending, circling back to the beginning, is so clever. Fans of time travel, star-crossed love, and characters whose hearts grow three sizes will love this story.

The Secrets Between Us by Thritty Umrigar

Bhima recovers and moves on after her friend Sera’s betrayal, though she cannot think evil of her, even if her granddaughter Maya holds Sera in contempt. The sequel to The Space Between Us follows Bhima in her struggle to keep her emotions and memories from derailing her plans to put Maya through college. Her new jobs open up opportunities for both of them, and expose Bhima to a new Mumbai. She ends up with partners in a new venture. Bhima is always evolving and accepting new paradigms in her desire to remain relevant in her granddaughters’ world. Umrigar brilliantly represents a woman who holds herself above the slum in which she lives, who believes if she hasn’t dignity, she has nothing, that circumstances do not define her. This next chapter in the life of an Indian woman whose life has unraveled delves deeply into the cultural mores of socioeconomic levels and the caste system, and the slowly shifting philosophies of those mores that question the caste system. Secrets come to light and Bhima goes with the flow. She truly is an extraordinary character, and a continuation of her story would be a joy. A trilogy would perfectly round it out (hint, hint Thritty). Readers of Lisa See, Isabel Allende, and Louise Farmer Smith will appreciate Umrigar’s work.

Time and Regret by M.K. Tod

In a post-divorce cleansing, Grace Hansen finds a tackle box her grandpa asked her to keep. Inside she finds mementos from his WWI experience and a letter with a puzzle for her to solve for his redemption. She travels to France to walk through the same towns he did according to the diaries he kept during the war. Her life is in danger as she is stalked and burgled, deepening her grandpa’s mystery, fervently urging her toward resolution. Of course there is a French love interest, an unlikely but not impossible coincidence making the world smaller. Tod’s writing flows so well it seems the reader is walking with Grace through small French towns in her grandpa’s shoes. Fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Diane Chamberlain, and lovers of history, art, and culture will appreciate this novel. Follow Tod’s forays into her own grandfather’s war experience on her blog https://awriterofhistory.com//.

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Leiyin learns she has three souls upon her death, souls who explain they are trapped with her ghost until she atones for some egregious transgression in her mortal life. They witness her, through memories, rebel against the patriarchal traditions of her father, suffer the consequences, and live with regrets for her naivety. In the early 20th century, Leiyin controls little about her life, and this during a civil war and Japanese aggression. Epiphanies hit her hard and fast reliving her memories. She must communicate with mortals to appease the gods by rescuing the fates of her loved ones in order to ascend to the afterlife with her souls. Chang’s blending and bending of Chinese culture and history create a compelling narrative of inadvertent espionage and acceptance of one’s place in society. The speculative elements placing Leiyin outside her own story fascinate the reader as they astonish Leiyin. Chang’s novels are educational in many ways, to the anticipated appreciation of readers of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Laura Spinella.

Fromage a Trois by Victoria Brownlee—pub date October 9

After eight years in a monogamous relationship, Ella expected a proposal at their favorite restaurant. That’s not what she got. So she runs away to Paris to rediscover herself as the adventurer she was before the relationship. Yearning for the most Parisian experience, she falls into a bet to taste all 365 varietals of French cheese, becoming an Instagram sensation. However, she still chooses glamour over substance in men; though the romance is inevitable, it’s still fun to watch Ella grow and evolve. Brownlee creates a character as enchanting and quirky as Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Becky. But she goes beyond Ella’s endearing personality to educate readers on French cheeses, with delectable descriptions and fascinating anecdotes and history, even referencing Napoleon. Fans of Kinsella, foodies, Francophiles, and romantics will appreciate this lovely story that I was fortunate to receive from Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.

Diane Chamberlain—New York Times, USA Today, and Sunday Times Bestselling Author

I met Diane in person at a book signing in Topsail Beach at Quarter Moon Books. In my overzealous fangirling, I crashed a book club photo and had to be gently shooed away. I’ve been her most awkward fan since, and she’s been the most gracious literary star. I show up for each new book’s signing / reading like a middle-aged stalker who looks so innocent (muahaha), and Diane keeps smiling and signing my new books. If only she could write super fast; I know I will love each new story. I was fortunate to receive an early copy of The Dream Daughtermy review—coming out October 2.

Tell me about your writing process—any tricks / nuances to keep you on track, inspirations material or abstract, where you write (Topsail!) and when.

I usually write either in my Raleigh area sunroom or at my condo on Topsail Island. I generally have a year to write a book. The first few months, I think about my idea and start doing research, often visiting the area where the story takes place. I begin picturing scenes and putting them on post it notes that I move around on a big presentation board until I like the arc of the story, thus creating an outline. At the same time, I think about my characters, specifically what type of person will have the hardest time dealing with whatever dilemma I’ve come up with for the story. If there is no personal struggle, there is no story. I think about which characters will have a point of view in the story and will they have a first person or third person point of view and will I write the story in present or past tense. I sometimes look on the internet for pictures of people who make me think of my characters. I find this a huge help in creating characters who feel very real to me and hopefully to my readers. These are all decisions I make before I start writing.

Finally, I start writing about 6 months before my deadline. I usually listen to movie soundtracks as I write because I like the emotional ups and downs of the music. I’m always doing research as I write. Also, I listen to my characters because they frequently go astray from my outline and I’ve learned to pay attention to them. I write three to five drafts. Finally, often a bit late, I turn in the book. That’s where my dynamite editor comes in. She reads the book, looking at the big picture. What works and what doesn’t? She makes many suggestions, sometimes requiring a big change in the book. I’ve learned to listen to her, and I rewrite. And perhaps rewrite yet again.

Lead me through your publishing process, as in who does what when, and your marketing responsibilities (book tours! What else?).

Here’s how it works. First I write a book. Then I have an agent who is responsible for finding the publisher she thinks will do the best job with that book. She is also responsible for negotiating the contract with that publisher. You can see in my answer above some of the work the editor does with regard to my book. The publisher then, of course, publishes the book. If the publisher feels strongly that they can make the book a bestseller, they will give it a lot of advertising and other support before and during publication. My publisher for the last six books, St. Martins Press, does a great deal of promotion for me. I try to hold up my end by keeping up with social media (which I enjoy), giving interviews, touring to speak to groups and do book signings, where I get to meet my readers, the best part of the process!

Before the Storm series

Describe your support system: groups online and IRL (MKA, another favorite author of mine)—your biggest cheerleaders…

My biggest supporter is my significant other, John. He’s a photographer and understands the creative process and doesn’t complain that once a year, as deadline nears, I disappear from real life into my imagination, 24/7. Aside from him, I have many local writer friends who I get together with often. And then I have my “official group.” We call ourselves The Weymouth Seven because we originally met up at the Weymouth mansion in Southern Pines, NC, where authors are invited to work for up to two weeks each year. Now we usually meet up on Topsail Island. You’re right that Mary Kay Andrews is a big part of our group. She’s our ringleader, the one who keeps us on track during the week that we meet. Other members are mystery writer Margaret Maron, historical mystery writer, Sarah Shaber, horror and thriller writer Alexandra Sokoloff, and mystery writers, Brenda Witchger and Katy Munger. We have fun but we work hard at the same time.

Keeper of the Light series

You’ve always had touches of history in your novels. Recently, you’ve opened up to historical fiction, and now sci-fi / fantasy with your latest book about time travel. How did this come about; in what ways do your life and work influence each other, and how did your previous profession prepare you for fiction writing? Also talk about secrets, their importance to you and your work, and what kind of secrets you like best to weave into your stories.

When I heard about the eugenics (forced sterilization) program in North Carolina, I knew I had to write about it. That meant setting the story during the years of the program, so I selected 1960 and thus wrote my first novel (Necessary Lies) with a totally historical setting and I found I really enjoyed it. Two books later, I decided I wanted to write about the 1944 polio outbreak in Hickory, NC during which the town built a functioning polio hospital in 54 hours (The Stolen Marriage). So I would say, if the idea that comes to me is historical, I will happily write it, but I am still perfectly happy writing contemporary books as well.

When it comes to The Dream Daughter, that is a whole different subject! For years, I had the idea that’s central in The Dream Daughter: a woman is told that her unborn baby will die, but she learns that if she’s willing to take a huge risk and travel to the future, her baby could very well live. I put this idea off for years because it is so unlike my other books, but finally, I talked to my editor and she gave me the go-ahead. The book was tremendous fun to write and the early reviews have been amazing. I’m grateful to readers who dislike time travel for giving this book a try because it’s still “vintage Diane Chamberlain” and people seem to be loving it.

I think your question about my previous profession (clinical social work) and secrets actually go together. I worked in hospitals and then in a private psychotherapy practice with adolescents and their families, and one thing I learned is how destructive secrets can be in a family. I was fascinated by that topic, so it often appears in my stories.

 

 

What do you love most about your creativity?

I’m very grateful for my imagination. It got me into tons of trouble as a kid, but now pays off. I might be stopped at a traffic light and see a woman pushing a baby carriage across the street and within 30 seconds, I imagine a car hitting them, and the police discover it was on purpose and there was a connection between the woman and the driver, or maybe even between the baby and the driver . . . it’s exhausting having a brain like this, but it often pays off in the end if it means I can entertain my readers.

 

 

Connect with Diane:

Website

Amazon

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

Book series in order of publication

Wikipedia

Bill Roorbach—Award-winning Author, Educator, Musician, Father, and Naturalist

I met Bill on Facebook. He’s unique, pragmatic, wryly funny, and shares lots of mushroom pics amongst his politics. Oh yeah, he’s also a pretty talented writer. He’s always surprising me, in his books, online, and here in his interview. Read about his process and creativity; then read his books. You’re welcome.

 

Tell me about your writing process—schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, inspirations material and abstract—and if this process differs based on genre / format (I know you write fiction and non-fiction, novels and short stories, essays and memoirs). Also, I think you’re a pantser, yes?

My process shifts from project to project and even within projects. Right now I’m working on a new novel and just finding small blocks of time to operate in, sometimes five or six a day, at any time, like waiting for my daughter at ballet class, just out in the car with the laptop tapping away. I do have a studio and when things get serious I sit out there with the skunks. I do a lot of daydreaming and side reading and more and more social media, unfortunately, or fortunately, I’m not sure which. Politics has clouded my brain, as well, but we can’t sit idly by. I had to look up pantser. I am not a pantser, but draft multiply and give myself all the time in the world.

 

Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product, including who does what, how it differs for fiction and non-fiction, and what marketing you are expected to do as the author.

I hand in the draft, then start something new or return to something else in progress. Meanwhile, whatever editor reads it, usually too slowly for my taste, and comes back with notes. I attend to the notes fairly quickly when possible, send the pages back in and return to the new project. Usually at that point the old project is accepted. Next come copyedits, possibly a legal reading, then first-pass galleys, second-pass galleys, all while a cover is being designed at the publisher’s, and jacket copy being written, a publicity campaign designed, book tour scheduled, all that stuff, which I have little to do with except approval or disapproval. The book comes out, the tour starts, I go on TV and radio, all the while finding those little blocks of time to work on the new project.

 

Describe your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?

I don’t know if I have such a support system. I use social media to announce a new book. That helps. But the publicity department at publisher or magazine has the job of cheerleading, though I do wave my pom-poms.

 

 

I too have an interesting background of employment (including llama care) giving me insight for specific storylines. How has your background prepared you for your writing career, and how does your life influence your art and vice versa?

Experience is probably nine-tenths of the game when it comes to fiction. Nonfiction is the experience. I remember consciously living an interesting life back there in my twenties, and forgiving myself all sorts of wasted hours. I find I still want my life to be my art, and vice versa. But so much of life is sleeping, and so much more doing stuff you’d rather not.

What do you love most about your creativity?

It’s nice to be able to do things, from building my houses to collecting mushrooms to napping properly. I want to be able to do everything I do reasonably well. This had led to a lot of hobbies, and as I get older, less and less time to pursue them. But in the end I’m hoping it all adds up to one big art project, my life.

Connect with Bill:

Website

Blog

Amazon

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Instagram

 

What Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Gilly has “visions” that she can’t control and often only frustrate her with their lack of useful details. Jake pushes her to help him find his daughter Zoe who’s been kidnapped, because he doesn’t understand how Gilly’s visions work. Both of their pasts come creeping in to haunt them, endangering Gilly as well. Sissell writes compelling characters with complex backgrounds, which are shared with beautiful and timely exposition, exploring how far-reaching the consequences of poor judgment and denial. The ending’s revelation is astonishing, and heartening, in its humanity. Fans of Diane Chamberlain and Kristin Hannah will appreciate Sissel’s work. It’s a definite must-read!

I Wish You Happy by Kerry Anne King

Rae’s a screwup—according to Rae. To her family and friends, she spreads herself too thin and holds unrealistic expectations for herself. When you don’t even fit into your own family, it’s hard to feel at home anywhere. Plus, peopling is hard; animals are easier. Then a woman jerks her bike in front of Rae’s car—the thump and bump of driving over a human drives Rae to feel responsible for her, though eyewitnesses say she couldn’t have avoided hitting her. The mysteriously damaged woman and a houseful of pre-weaned kittens overwhelms Rae. The romantic interest introduces her to his new-agey gran, who explains Rae to herself, guiding her onto a healthier path. This is a wonderful story of the complexities of life, the importance of connecting with others, and how everyone must find their own way, not to mention that communication is key. King’s writing draws you in and wraps you in a big, fluffy blanket of ambiguities, yet dear reader leaves her work somehow better equipped to traverse these gray areas. King’s talent makes the words disappear as the story flows through the reader, while letting us know that often others see us more clearly than we can see ourselves. Highly recommended!

My joy was in receiving this ebook in a giveaway. Check out King’s work on her website, where you can find links to purchase her books: https://www.kerryanneking.com/