Category Archives: Women’s Fiction

Author Samantha Wilde Talks Writing, Parenting, and Putting It All in Perspective

Standard

Today’s post features an interview with women’s fiction writer Samantha Wilde, whose latest novel, I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS, just released from Random House. Publishers Weekly praises its “wit, compassion, and keen ear for dialogue,” and RT Reviews calls it “a gem of a read.” Welcome, Sam—it’s such a treat to have you!SamanthaWilde

About Samantha:

Samantha Wilde actually wrote I’ll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home by eating chocolate. Sometimes her three children, six, four and two, find her in a heap of chocolate and complain that she doesn’t share (she doesn’t!). She’s a graduate of Concord Academy, Smith College, Yale Divinity School, The New Seminary and the Kripalu School of Yoga and an ordained minister. She’s taught yoga for more than a decade and still holds a weekly class in Western Massachusetts where she lives with her children and husband, a professor of chemical engineering. If she could do anything, she would probably sleep. Read more at samanthawilde.com.

AM: Your novels address the joysand trialsof balancing family life with one’s career. How have you managed to find that balance as an author? Any advice for new mothers and fathers who write?

SW: I don’t know if “balance” is the right word for what I do! My scales tip quite dramatically in the direction of my children and family. For a few years after I got my two-book contract, I had childcare help for about 3-5 hours a week, while giving birth to child number two and then child number three. The rest of the time, I have used nap-times and night times to write. That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite the fact that I have written and published these two novels during my tenure as a new mother, I still consider myself a stay-at-home mother. Which means I probably have at least one piece of advice: get clear on your identity. It really helps to know what your personal focus is right now (and that it can change). For some, having the identity as a writer or novelist takes precedence over all else; it motivates, inspires and helps one rise to the occasion when things get hard. Take that on if you haven’t already if you think it will help with the balance. What we do and who we are aren’t necessarily the same!

In my work as a mother who writes, I have absolutely had to relinquish all my old myths about what it means to be a writer, how much time it takes or how much focus or concentration I need or the importance of an individual line of text. I write interrupted, I write in fragments, I write when I’m tired, I write with my mantra: “Go, go, go.” Life requires that we readjust our expectations. You as a writer don’t need to look like any other writer. Here’s what makes someone a writer: they write!

You’re also a yoga instructor and a minister. That’s a fabulously full plate! How does each piece of your life’s work connect with the others?Ill_Take_What_She_Has

People often ask me how I can be a novelist, minister and yoga teacher—and my answer is I don’t know how not to be. I became a yoga teacher before I became a minister and I did both before I published my first novel, although I have written since childhood (and wrote a few unpublished novels along the way). These different pieces work in me like different instruments in a band; it’s the song I make. The yoga and spiritual practice give the harmony. Without them, I don’t know where I would be. Writing and the journey of publication can be stressful, lonely, frustrating and disheartening. Yoga is an oasis. I always say if I had to choose only one job (besides motherhood), I would choose teaching yoga. To me ministry is a way of seeing the world—a commitment to seeing the good in the world—so I take that with me everywhere and apply it to everything I do. When I write, I always draw on these different aspects—and when I live! Some people are specialists (really good and focused at one thing) some are generalists. I have always been a bit of a generalist, loving to write, speak, teach, and also dance (though no one has ever paid me for it!).

You write about characters who are also stay-at-home moms with echoes of your background and interests. How much of your real life goes into your stories, and how do you decide where to draw lines between fact and fiction?

In both of my novels, I feel like the emotions represent a truth about my experience as a mother, the plot lines, not so much! With This Little Mommy Stayed Home, people often asked if it was autobiographical. For I’ll Take What She Has, friends have asked “Which character are you?” I was conscious, while writing the novel, that I wanted each character (including the much envied Cynthia) to represent some part of myself. In that way, they are all me. Or I can say, more accurately, I have, at one point or another, felt exactly as they have. I don’t write autobiographically. I appreciate the distinction and freedom fiction allows to say something true about the life I know without writing anything about myself!

It seems writing is in your bloodyour mother is bestselling women’s fiction author Nancy Thayer (her most recent novel, ISLAND GIRLS, releases in June from Ballantine). What’s that like, having a parent in the business?

It’s like growing up on TV dinners!! My mother possesses a tremendous drive as a writer. She has influenced me in countless ways; sometimes I can’t parse out the particulars. Now that I have published, I turn to her constantly for advice. She always serves as my first reader for my novels. She’s an excellent editor for me. We don’t write with the same voice and we don’t experience writing in exactly the same way, but nothing can compare with what I learned as a child growing up in a house of books with a mother who could make books out of the thoughts in her head! I aspire to her tremendous level of success, but I’ll tell you the real truth. My mother loves what she does. She always wanted to write—she only wanted to write. To be able to witness a person living out their calling and dream with such joy and satisfaction probably counts as her greatest gift to me—and all who know her.This_Little_Mommy

Reviewers and fans often praise the wonderful combination of humor and poignancy in your books. Are there other writers who have inspired you? Who else should we read?

I always say it’s hard to write a funny novel. It’s much easier to kill your characters! I have a voracious appetite for novels and read widely in the comic genre. I adore Elinor Lipman. She’s a bit of a modern day Oscar Wilde, writing hilarious comedies of manner. (Of course Oscar Wilde is a must!) Maria Semple’s latest, Where’d You Go Bernadette? has everything I love in a smart, funny book. I like Carol Snow and Claire Cook and Katherine Center. I enjoy comic memoirs: It’s Hard Not To Hate You by Val Frankel, everything by Jen Lancaster, Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Bossypants by Tina Fey, I Hate Everyone by Joan Rivers, to name a mere few. I find a great deal of inspiration reading naturally humorous writers. When I find a good, funny, intelligent, sharp, true novel, I feel like the happiest person around. I like to laugh, and in the context of a rich, redemptive, meaningful and brave book, there couldn’t be anything better than humor (no, not even death!).

Thanks so much, Samantha! You’ve been wonderful.

– –

About I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS:

Perfect for fans of Marisa de los Santos and Allison Winn Scotch, Samantha Wilde’s new novel is a funny and heartfelt look at friendship, marriage, and the dynamics of modern motherhood.

Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them—until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus.

Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat. Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet.

Author Marilyn Brant on Traditional vs. Self-Publishing, Critique Groups, and the Eternal Jane Austen

Standard

For this month’s author interview, I’m thrilled to introduce the wonderful Marilyn Brant, whom I first met at a writers convention in New York several years ago. It has been great fun following her career since then. Welcome, Marilyn!

About Marilyn:Marilyn Brant--GR1

Marilyn Brant is the award-winning women’s fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE, FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE and A SUMMER IN EUROPE, all from Kensington Books. She’s also a #1 Kindle bestseller and has written a series of fun and flirty contemporary romantic comedies, available exclusively as original ebooks. She’s worked as a classroom teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer. She now lives with her family in the northern Chicago suburbs, writing her next novel and hanging out with her friends at coffee shops whenever possible. Visit her website: http://www.marilynbrant.com.

AM: You’ve had extensive experience with both traditional and self-publishing. What are some pros and cons of each that authors should consider? Is there an “ideal” path an author should take in the changing world of publishing?

MB: First of all, thank you so much for inviting me here today, Anita! I love your new blog and am thrilled to be one of your guests : ).

As for an ideal path, I really don’t think there is any one “right” way. Publishing has never been a one size fits all kind of profession—and I feel that’s even less the case these days. I do believe, however, that traditional publishing is the preferred option for some authors and/or some book projects, while self-publishing lends itself better to the writing and marketing style of other authors and certain literary genres (i.e., mystery, thriller/suspense, romance and erotica tend to do well in the indie arena). I’ve personally enjoyed getting to be a “hybrid” author, who interacts within both worlds…even if saying that makes me sound a bit like a shapeshifter on some sci-fi show, LOL.

The pros offered by traditional publishing include things like professional editing, an expert cover designer assigned to create the image for your novel, a marketing department working to get your book distributed across the country (or the world), publicists who get your novel out to reviewers in a timely manner, and a team of people who take care of the formatting of your manuscript—uploading it to digital sites or having it printed, stored and shipped to retailers. When you self-publish, you need to wear all of those hats yourself and/or hire specialists to edit, design, format, market, etc. for you. Self-publishing takes a lot of work!Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match - medium

On the other hand, self-publishing offers quite a bit of freedom in exchange for all of the responsibility. The authors themselves have veto power over any cover image they don’t like. With traditional publishing, one can’t always alter design details, even with an agent’s help. The authors choose their own release dates—something else that most writers would have almost no control over in a traditional publishing setting. The authors can change book prices or create a sale whenever they’d like. For example, my romantic comedy, On Any Given Sundae, will be on sale next week as part of a special promotion, and I get to decide when it starts, when it ends, what the price will be, and so on.

The financial outlay to self-publish a novel can vary greatly, depending on how many skills the author can handle on his/her own but, typically, most writers will need to hire a good editor, hire a talented cover artist (unless they have a design background) and either learn the skills for formatting/uploading books or hire someone to do that, too. In some cases, authors might also choose to work with their agents to get formatting and marketing help. However, once these costs are taken into account or payments for specific services are made, the vast majority of the profits belong to the author, and royalty rates are significantly higher when self-publishing on Amazon or B&N, for example, than they are in a traditional publisher’s contract.

Of course, regardless of which path is taken, there’s still a LOT expected from the author as far as advertising the new book. Authors everywhere are encouraged to take an active role on social media sites—doing blog tours, giveaways and promotions or tweeting/FB chatting. Unless an author is a bestseller at his or her publishing house, getting these activities lined up and paying for the ads will still generally fall to the author. So, in that area, both traditional and self-publishing have a great deal in common.

Your latest book is called Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match, which has been an Amazon Top 100 Bestseller in Humor and Single Women’s Fiction and a “Nook Feature” at the B&N General Fiction Book Club—congratulations! You have a long-standing love of Jane Austen. Why do you think there has been such a resurgence in reader interest for Austen’s writing, characters, and themes of late?

MB: I credit Colin Firth and his famous jump into that lake in the 1995 BBC “Pride and Prejudice” film adaptation. (Just kidding…well, not entirely! : )accordingtojane_300x500

Austen’s novels are, in my opinion, universal and timeless. They can be easily adapted across cultures (take the Bollywood “Bride and Prejudice,” for example) or modernized (think “Clueless”) or filmed again in various decades (see Mr. Darcy played by Lawrence Olivier, David Rintoul, Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, and several other actors) and, still, the stories never grow old.

I’m a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), which I joined before I’d even sold my debut, According to Jane—a novel about a woman who has the ghost of Austen in her head, giving her dating advice. That novel and Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match are the only two books (out of the seven) I’ve published that give such an obvious nod to my literary idol, and both have easily been my strongest sellers in the digital market. There is definitely a readership out there that loves Austen as much as I do!

Jane Austen’s brilliant way of seeing characters strongly influenced me as a writer. To my eye, she was a genius at depicting human behavior, and she created several flawed but very lovable protagonists, as well as some of the most memorable villains in literature. These characters have been portrayed by famous movie stars from Jonny Lee Miller to Hugh Grant to Jeremy Northam…and from Emma Thompson to Gwyneth Paltrow to Kate Winslet. And now, with the popularity of “Downton Abbey,” there is even more of an interest in grand British houses, courtship rituals and the social interactions of a tightly knit group.

But I think at the center of the Austen resurgence is the joy of reading a love story that’s so masterfully told. Every heroine in each of Austen’s six novels gets her well-deserved happily ever after ending and, deep down, many readers—like me—are true romantics at heart.

You and I have talked about the value of critique groups for writers at all stages of their careers. What are the main benefits you have gained from being in a critique group, and what should writers look for when they decide to join one?

MB: I found my critique group through my wonderful local Romance Writers of America chapter, Chicago-North RWA, which is known for its strong critiquing, so I’m very fortunate to live where I do! As a professional writing chapter, we encourage critiques of members’ work at every meeting (twice per month) and, from that large group, I became good friends with a handful of writers, and we’ve been critiquing manuscripts for each other for over 10 years. In fact, two of Nelson Literary Agency’s clients—Simone Elkeles and Lisa Laing—are members of my personal critique circle. I’d be lost without their brainstorming help, story feedback and thoughtful input at every stage of writing and publishing process.

As for what writers should look for in a critique group, I think it depends on what your own strengths are as a writer. If you tend to be the one to pick up on every missed comma in a manuscript or have a great eye for continuity details, you’re most likely going to need critique partners who’ll bring different skills to the table—i.e., someone who might challenge your plot logic or someone who has an unerring ability to tell if character dialogue rings true or not or someone with a deep knowledge of story structure who can point out where, precisely, the conflict lags.

I think we ought to be in a critiquing environment where everyone contributes equitably and where every member respects and appreciates each others’ storytelling abilities. There are definitely times when helping a less experienced writer is rewarding or getting a detailed critique from a master-level author is truly enlightening but, day to day, for a close-knit critique group, I feel the strongest, longest-lasting partnerships come when we grow, share and learn with others who are at a similar place to us in our writing journeys. It also helps being around people we can have fun with, genuinely like talking to and really trust!

Thank you for your wonderful insight! One more question: what’s up next for you?

MB: I’m working on a story that will be a companion to Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match. I’d gotten so many reader requests for a sequel to that book, using two of the secondary characters as the leads, that I found myself writing it!

I also have a couple of different women’s fiction projects in the works. One is finished and will hopefully find a perfect home soon. The other is plotted and almost half written. And, one of my already published Kensington novels, A Summer in Europe, is being translated into Polish for release in July/August. I’m looking forward to getting to hold in my hands that first foreign edition of the book this summer.

And, just between all of us, I’d love to come up with a story idea that takes place in exotic Tahiti or tropical St. Lucia, so I’ll have an excellent reason to visit there for “research” in the near future!!

Cheers to that! Marilyn, thank you once again for sharing your amazing in-depth advice and experience with me and readers. Best wishes for those current and future projects!