I recently discovered Amy Sue Nathan, an author of Women’s Fiction, whose debut novel THE GLASS WIVES will be released on May 14th (that’s tomorrow). I’m relatively new to Women’s Fiction, so when I visited the author’s page (Women’s Fiction Writers), her blog’s tagline sparked my curiosity: “NO HEROES.” I was intrigued but also bewildered. And so I got in touch with the author and asked:
What’s the significance in the absence of a hero?
She sent me a great response. I asked for her permission to share it on my blog, so here it is:
Writing women’s fiction, or book club fiction, to me, means it’s about a strong woman who doesn’t need to be saved by a man, which is traditional in romance novels. In the books I write and like to read, there might be love and a bit of a romantic connection, but it is not central to the story. The protagonist’s goal is to be okay (whatever that means to her) but not to be in a romance. To me, hero=someone who saves a woman. In my books, the main character saves herself! I don’t use the word heroine either, but that’s completely a personal preference. Certainly there are many ways to interpret a hero. There are everyday heroes we see on the news. There are heroes fighting for our freedom overseas. But in terms of fiction, a hero is usually the male character who is the romantic interest of the female main character. It’s very popular, many people read it and write it, it’s just not my forte or interest.
I plan to pick up a copy of THE GLASS WIVES and some other books within this genre (I’m ALWAYS up for book recommendations!). As a matter of fact, I really don’t remember the last time I read a Women’s Fiction… Anyway, as I explore this genre, I want to get a better grasp of how writers of this genre:
Portray STRONG WOMEN
What it means to different writers when a woman doesn’t need to be SAVED by a man. And also, if there are Women’s Fiction writers that do create a woman-saved-by-a-man dynamic, then how the author is able to steer away from perpetuating the damsel-in-distress concept.
How men are portrayed within this genre and how much/or how little room they take up in these books
On a random note, I don’t think the TRC rewrite will fit into the Women’s Fiction genre… But we’ll see. I need a better grasp of this genre before making any further conclusions.
Finally! Today is December 17 (ergg, a day late!) I’ve used the random number generator website to select the two winners for Christensen’s OF MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES. The first winner will receive the signed hard-copy of the book, and the second winner will receive an e-book version!
Archer Hamilton is a collector of rare and beautiful insects. Gina Shaw is a servant in his uncle’s house. Clearly out of place in the position in which she has been discovered, she becomes a source of fascination . . . and curiosity.
A girl with a blighted past and a fortune she deems a curse, Gina has lowered herself in order to find escape from her family and their scheming designs. But when she is found, the stakes suddenly become dire.
All Gina wants is the freedom to live her life as she would wish. All her aunts want is the money that comes with her. But there is more than one way to trap an insect. An arranged marriage might turn out profitable for more parties than one.
Mr. Hamilton is about to make the acquisition of a lifetime. But will the price be worth it? Can a woman captured and acquired learn to love the man who has bought her?
Congratulations to Sapphire (1st winner) and Alex (2nd winner)! The author will email you guys soon to obtain the necessary information to send off the prizes. Happy reading!!!! And for everyone else who entered, thank you SO much. Have a great holiday 🙂
V.R. Christensen has two copies of “OF MOTHS AND BUTTERFLIES” to give-away. Two winners will be randomly selected and announced on DECEMBER 16, 2011. The first winner will receive an autographed hard-cover copy and the second winner will win an e-book version of the book. To enter:
1) Leave a comment & your email address
2) You can also post an entry about this contest on your blog, leave a link to your blog in the comment box here, and you’ll gain two more points. This means you have three times the chances of winning!
3) You can tweet about this interview and earn one extra point, Make sure to add in your tweet #OfMoths #Bluestocking
I have had the privilege of interviewing a very, very special author… V.R. Christensen. She is the editor I constantly mentioned during the time when my manuscript (The Runaway Courtesan) was going through intensive rewrites and when I was querying. She’s the person whose inbox I flooded with emails of writerly frustration – and always, always, she would reply back with words that gave me courage to keep on pursuing my dream. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Seriously. I’ve also had the privilege of following her journey to publication, which is why I’m SO happy that her book has been published to share with everyone. I remember the days when she would send me one chapter (of her earlier manuscript) a week and I’d always look forward to reading it…. Let me tell you, she’s one great writer. But before you read her interview, do have a look at her lovely book trailer.
Can you tell us a bit about your book?
Of Moths & Butterflies is set in 1882 England, just before the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act. It’s the story of a young woman who is suddenly freed from the control of her licentious uncle, but finds herself with the unexpected burden of his fortune. Normally such a thing would be a miraculous blessing, but she knows why it’s been given to her–to make up for the ill use she received at her uncle’s hands. To keep it would be a reminder of all of that, and she wants to escape that past, and, with it, the wrath of her aunts who have been disinherited because of her. They will, of course, endeavour to get at it by whatever means they can. And so she runs away and hires herself out as a maid of all work in a large country house. There, by chance, she becomes acquainted with the nephew of the man she works for. He doesn’t, at first, realise her station. He sees her rather more accurately than she is trying to portray herself. But in her own estimation, she is something quite low and despicable. These are the affects of abuse. In the mean time, her aunts are trying to find her. When at last they do, they see a way to gain by her good fortune. Her eldest aunt, her godmother, marries her off, basically selling her in exchange for a portion of her inheritance. And so, thrust into this marriage, she has to find a way to be happy. Only in order to love another, one must always learn to love themselves first. And so the story, truly, is about overcoming the effects of abuse. That was the main theme I wanted to explore. And secondary to that, how it is our choices, more than anything, more than circumstances even, determine our happiness.
What inspired you to write this story in the first place?
It was a combination of things. Firstly, I had read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and, while I loved the book, it made me so extraordinarily angry. I wanted Tess to have a happy ending. I felt she deserved it. And so I started mulling around in my mind what that would mean. I had written my first book already (yet to be published). It was about an arranged marriage, but one that would end, one way or another, in disaster. It got me thinking about all the arranged marriages that I had read about (and a few I knew of personally) that had turned out well, and so I thought I’d examine the same subject, but from a completely different angle. It was a very difficult book to write, and underwent several rewrites and a couple dozen revisions before I had it quite right. I had to wrestle with some personal demons in order to really address the issues properly, but in the end, I’m glad I did it. I think if ever writing was therapeutic for anyone, Moths was therapeutic for me.
I remember reading the earlier draft of this book a while back (which I adored!) How much as the story changed since?
I think you’ve read a couple different versions, June. The first you read was that which I first put up on Authonomy. I remember being so confident with it. A friend had read it and pointed out a couple of fatal plot flaws, but I didn’t listen at the time. And then a few others read it, a very few read beyond the first few chapters, and I began to see that my friend had a point. The plot was forced. It was a sequence of dramatic events toward which I was pushing my characters. It wasn’t working. And so I rethought it. I began by telling the same story, but by really getting inside the characters’ heads, which I think I was resisting to do before then. The original draft took maybe four or five months to write. The rewrite took ten. I did some really in depth research into the psychological effects of abuse in all its forms, I studied Judith Flanders’ Inside the Victorian Home, which delves far deeper than just how they decorated (which I had already studied at university) but what what went on in those rooms, and how those events translated to the outside world. I studied writings on what it was like to be a servant, and I researched the property and marriage laws, mainly by reading old texts. It was time consuming, often gruelling, it was emotionaly torturous, but I think I really had to do it in order to get it just right. I did, in the process, lose a beloved character, but I think I gained a richness, and a preciseness that I couldn’t have achieved otherwise.
Through this process of rewriting, what kept you motivated?
Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. In part, it was knowing I had people counting on me to finish it, who had invested themselves in it and wanted to see it done perhaps as much as I did. At the same time there were a couple of fellow authors that I really looked up to, and I wanted to put myself on par with them. I’m not sure I achieved that. I hope I did, but it’s useless to compare ourselves to others. Still, I wished to gain their respect, which I recognise now as vanity. If I don’t believe in myself, who will? But I think most of all, I just had a drive to see it finished. I’ve never been a quitter. A project started, for me, must be finished. I really wanted to see it bound and in print. I had to know that this huge thing that I’d begun would result in a finished product.
What was the most difficult experience you had while trying to get published?
Oh, boy. I can’t really go into great detail, but I had someone try to sabotage me. In the end it worked out for the best, but it was a horribly painful experience.
What did you learn on this journey to publication?
You really ask some hard questions, don’t you? I think the lesson I learned the most was to trust in myself and not lean on others for reassurance, and in tandem with that, to know when to listen to criticism and when to trust my own judgement. I think Authonomy taught me that, but it was a difficult lesson to learn, and it took a great deal of experience before I realised that I could very easily listen to everyone with an opinion, and then have a book that wasn’t mine at all. Not all criticism is helpful. Sometimes it isn’t even well-intended or particularly informed. I had to learn how to distinguish between the two. And that is very difficult.
Why did you choose to set your story in the Victorian era? What is it about the past and history that attracts you as a writer?
I think there’s a lot to be learned from the past, actually. At times I feel like I was born in the wrong time. I sincerely wish for a time where gentlemen are still gentlemen. Where women cab expect to be treated with a certain amount of respect. Where ALL can expect a certain amount of respect. Where people are passionate about life, but keep those passions in check. I love that feeling you get about the Victorians that they are straight-laced and proper, yet their passions are pulsing just beneath the surface. The Victorians really believed that a society’s survival hinged on its moral practices. At the same time, I am aware of the hypocrisies and prejudices, and they enrage me. And so it becomes quite natural for me to put myself in that place. To write characters with feelings and desires just like mine, but with tangible barriers that can easily be delineated. I feel that we still have those barriers, but that these days we have placed them there ourselves and they are more psychological than circumstantial. Those that are circumstantial, the economy, for instance, are a result of the past half century’s poor choices. I guess I like to think that we can take the lessons we’ve learned in regard to human empathy, and combine them with a greater sense of responsibility for each other and the world we live in. There is a sense of refinement, too, that comes with the Victorians that I’d like to emulate in my own life. My ideal world would be one that was a hybrid of refinement, responsibility and sensitivity.
What’s one of your favorite quotes from your book?
I get to toot my own horn? Hmmm. It’s difficult to find one that works out of context, but I think this will do, which sort of outlines the title, which is an analogy to one of the key themes in the novel.
“It seems to me,” Archer offered, though cautiously, “that we are all rather a lot like winged insects in various phases of development. In the larval stages it’s impossible to tell which will be moths and which will be butterflies. Even once wings have formed it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other. Some are glorious beings at home in their element, the unwitting target of scores of admirers. Others are merely drab impostors, fluttering and bumping about blindly. How to know which is which, though? And which, by the same token, are we? We all seem to have the common inclination to be drawn to the brightest thing in any room.”
Which actor/actress would you cast for the role of your main male and female character?
At last an easy question! If I were to cast the film, I would choose Hugh Dancy to play Archer Hamilton, (I love Hugh Dancy, especially as Daniel Deronda) and the lovely, lovely, lovely Rose Byrne to play Imogen. And I cannot resist the temptation to add that Tom Hardy is my vision for Roger and the amazing Rosamund Pike was the actress after whom I fashioned Claire. Paul Bettany would play Wyndham. I do find that it helps me to to imagine real people playing the parts. It makes it much easier to vision their mannerisms, etc.
If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be? And why?
Wow. Um…I think I’d like to meet George Eliot. I have a feeling she would not intimidate me as much as some of my other favourite authors might. Dickens, I think, would intimidate me. Perhaps George Meredith, too, though I think he might have been more approachable than Dickens. But George Eliot had so much against her, and yet her novels are filled with so much enlightenment and inspiration and empathy. She was very knowledgeable, had some really fortunate connections that allowed her to write in a remarkably informed manner, and yet she was virtually shunned from Society because she could not marry the man she loved and chose to live with. (Of course he was welcome in Society.) She was a victim of circumstance, I think, an exception to the rule. She lived, in spirit, a highly moral life, though circumstances were against her. I would very much have liked to have known her.
What are the five books that have influenced you most as a writer?
Well, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, of course, which I think gave me the drive to write about injustice. Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which taught me a great deal about plot. C.S. Richardson’s The End of the Alphabet, in which I learned a great deal about conciseness of language, brevity and how to use distance rather than intimacy to engage a reader to the characters. (Louise Galvin does this marvellously, too.) I learned a great deal about dealing with themes and writing in allegory from George Meredith’s The Egoist. All of his books are very deep, though they seem straight forward on the surface. What else? There are so many, really. Daniel Deronda. That was an odd book because I did not love it right away. It was only after I really thought about what it was Eliot was trying to achieve in that book that I realised the genius of it. It’s sort of a Trojan Horse, if you will. She was presenting a rather controversial idea in what seemed like a perfectly acceptable wrapping. She fooled her audience into reading and made a fairly powerful point about social, religious and class prejudice.
If you could give one piece of advice to unpublished writers what would it be?
Oh, man. Just one? Believe in your inherent greatness, but be humble enough to know that greatness requires a LOT of hard work in the achieving. It’s sort of easy now for anyone to publish. I think the work it takes to get published the traditional way needs to be applied to everyone, whether they are published traditionally or independently. Assemble mentors, editors, friends who won’t spare you. Listen to them, and learn how to decipher the good critics and criticisms from the useless. That’s really two, but I think it’s a combination of really knowing the craft, having the necessary team of supporters and assistants, and having the right balance of confidence and humility. Success happens in groups and the proud are the authors of their own downfall.
Now, June, I want to ask a question. When will you be writing again? We want to see your work published, too!
Haha, good question. It’s been a few months since I’ve worked on a manuscript – mainly because I felt like I neglected life too much in order to write last year (from morning till night I wrote, rejecting (almost all) invitations to socialize). I do believe my writing-well has filled up. Hopefully I’ll start writing once winter vacation arrives! I’ll be writing…and I’ll be spending a good chunk of my time reading your book, Ms Christensen. I’ll read it while sipping on hot chocolate and listening to holiday music.Thank you so much for letting me interview you!
I’ve always struggled with the issue of writing love scenes. I remember writing one long ago for a story now abandoned, and found myself feeling mighty uncomfortable, for throughout this process I was asking myself: Is it right or wrong to write love scenes?
I’m an old-fashioned girl. I’m a Victorian lady who reads love-scene-filled-novels [I haven’t come across one novel in my studies of contemporary literature at university that does NOT have love scenes] but felt morally convicted when trying to write one. This is one of the main reasons why I considered writing for the Inspirational market at the suggestion of Agent #1.
O.K. So what exactly is the issue? The issue became quite clear to me when I was reading the reviews for ‘Redeeming Love’ which is a big-time bestselling Inspirational romance that did NOT close the bedroom door. In the 700+ reviews for this novel on Amazon.com there was a debate threading throughout: One side of the argument was that the love scene was appropriate as the hero and heroine were married, and because the love scene was written in a poetical, non-explicit way. The other side of the argument was:
Her Harlequin romance novel style writing is designed to titillate the flesh. I would not consider this book appropriate for unmarried young ladies as intimated in some of the previous reviews. If you are a mom considering this for a teenaged daughter, read the entire book FIRST. Even though the most graphic scenes are between a man and wife, there is far more detail than most young ladies who are desiring to keep their minds as well as their bodies pure before marriage need to know.
So I got no answer while reading through the reviews. I was back at base one: is it right or wrong to write love scenes? I became even more confused when I began reading the works of New York Times Bestselling author, Teresa Medeiros. Her novels had explicit love scenes. What gave me pause was when I learned that she was a Christian, a fact she openly acknowledged in her book. So I wrote her an email asking her about this issue of writing love scenes: What is right, what is wrong? or is it not black and white—is there a grey?
The author replied back with: “…This is such an important question you ask and I answered a very similar one from a Facebook friend just last week” and referred me to the site where she’d answered this question. This answer I read and was totally blown away with:
I GATHER FROM SOME OF YOUR COMMENTS THAT YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN. HAVE YOU EVER FELT ANY CONFLICT BETWEEN WRITING EXPLICIT LOVE SCENES AND YOUR FAITH?
After much study on and struggle with this issue, I came to the conclusion that it’s never a sin for an artist to try to depict life as accurately as possible, and that includes the sexual aspects of life. That would be like saying Michelangelo’s David was “dirty and sinful” just because Michelangelo chose to sculpt the human body in all of its naked glory. Love scenes are no different from family scenes or conflict scenes or battle scenes.
If I’m going to make my readers a part of my characters’ lives, then I don’t feel comfortable showing them all other aspects of that life, then slamming the bedroom door in their faces. Many people who don’t read romances don’t get this, but romances are actually incredibly moral books. The hero and heroine generally have a monogamous relationship that always ends in a lifelong commitment, usually marriage. I’ve probably become a MORE moral person by reading and writing romance. I also don’t feel like art is required to depict a perfect life. Every plot may not lend itself to marrying off the hero and heroine before they do the deed, but you’ll usually find that while they’re still basking in the afterglow, my heroes are already thinking, “Hey! I need to marry me that woman!”
I believe God gave me my talent and I believe he wants me to use it for good. When I recently received a letter from a woman who had just undergone a hysterectomy and was afraid she’d never again feel sexual desire for her husband again…until she read CHARMING THE PRINCE, it simply validated that belief. I will always respect the beliefs of fellow Christians who aren’t comfortable reading or writing explicit love scenes, but I believe romances are beautiful and spiritual books that celebrate the best of what love has to offer and mirrors the love that God has for His children.
In the author’s email to me, she also wrote:
If you should decide you’re not comfortable writing explicit love scenes, there are always other paths like Inspirational romance, women’s fiction, etc. I do know that when I re-read my old books, I’ve never found one that I was ashamed of in retrospect. They seemed just as filled with hope, innocence and love as they did when I wrote them.
I’m still uncertain–I don’t know on what ground I stand on. I find myself leaning towards the grey zone. I’m thinking that if I must write love scenes, I’ll write a subtle, poetical one. A scene so watered down you wouldn’t even know it was there. Like Mary Balogh, her love scenes are pretty nuanced.
So, dear readers, what’s your take on this issue of writing love scenes? And have you ever struggled writing one yourself?
People are all like old TV antennas picking up different signals. Sound waves, smells waves, emotional waves, etc. Most people generally pick up these typical signals and that’s it. Let’s call these signals part of the “analog” frequency.
Writers and other artists, on the other hand, are like satellite dishes. We get ALL the channels. Some channels seem completely useless and absurd, some are plain brilliant, others are as boring as the one’s everyone else has seen. I’m not sure what it is, it’s like we’re tuned into something different. It’s like those whistle’s that make a sound only dogs can hear. Sort of like that. Let’s call this the “digital” frequency.
I don’t think only artists can be dishes, however. Some inspired scientists, engineers and mathematician’s can get the frequency too. In fact I think everyone can tap into this frequency. All you need is to nurture and attain an overdeveloped sense of mind play.
Anyways, I digress. The point of this post is about ideas and, since we writers are satellite dishes, how do we manage that constant inflow of random ideas? How do we sort through all of it and throw out what’s trash and what’s gold? How do we zero in on the channel that will serve us well creatively (and hopefully financially as well.)
People have asked me how I come up with my ideas, so here are my personal rules for finding that right idea. It’s important, especially when writing a novel, because as we said, it’s going to be a long engagement. The idea has got to be worth it. I am not offering this advice because it’s helped me get published and sell a bunch of copies of my book, no, obviously that hasn’t happened yet. (Still writing it. Present tense.) I’m offering this advice because these steps have gotten me writing again, they have gotten me focused on one particular book and determined to finish. That’s a big deal for a writer, so I really hope this helps you to at least get focused on ironing out your most marvelous ideas.
1. Wait for it
Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait… Yup. Sadly, writing, unlike most careers, requires a whole lot of patience and waiting, even at the very beginning. And no type of waiting is more excruciating than waiting for the right idea to come along. But I think it’s an important step. Because of lack patience, I used to move forward on mediocre or average ideas. Eventually, I’d find myself lacking in inspiration half way through and I would have to give up and start the waiting game again. So this step is a big time saver even though at first it seems impractical.
2. Pick What Persists
Ok. You got a lot of good ideas. Or at least a ton of them that seem like good ideas. You don’t want to throw out any of them, so you keep them all together in a document on your mac or pc, or in a notepad in you drawer, or a journal on your dresser. But the question is: Which one should I work on first? If I go with one, won’t the other one’s rot and die? Or become (gasp!) outdated and thus, unusable.
Well, I got a rule about this. Generally there’s a high when you get a new idea, but it’s a high that is not discriminatory. Which means at first, any new wild idea seems like gold. Don’t act on it right away. Let it sit. Put the new idea away by writing it down and putting it in a drawer. Don’t look at the notes you wrote down for awhile. If during the week, the idea pops back in your head go back to your notes and keep adding to it. By all means DON’T STOP inspiration if it comes.
HOWEVER if after several weeks, and then after several months, the idea does not jump back in your mind, please go back to your notes and trash it. That’s right. Trash the idea. It’s not the right idea for you. Don’t keep it around. It will distract you from your “one and only.”
“But it’s still good” you say, “It may not be my masterpiece but it is one of those gimmicks that do well in the mainstream. Or maybe I can sell the idea to someone else? Because if I don’t do something with the idea it will be lost forever!”
No it won’t. The idea is in you. That’s where it came from and that’s where it will stay if it’s meant to be. If it’s meant to be, it will keep coming back and it will not go away. It will grow inside of you. (I know, sounds gross. But it’s true)
Someone else will pick up the idea you threw away, don’t worry. Remember, you’re not the only dish picking up the frequency.
3. It’s Your One and Only
So the idea keeps bugging you. But it isn’t yours until you accept. So go ahead, accept it. If it’s been persisting for more than a couple of weeks, for more than a couple of months, if it’s been with you for two years for god sakes marry it! I’m sure this persistent idea has everything you ever wanted in it. The right characters, the right story, it’s in the right form or in the right genre (or its genre-less), it’s got the right themes and metaphors, it utilizes what you already know, it allows you to say something you always wanted to say but didn’t know how to. Don’t doubt it anymore! The idea is your one and only. If you haven’t put it to paper yet, start writing immediately and don’t stop!
4. You Are It’s One and Only
So if your idea has passed the first three steps you’re in a great place. You can even stop there if you want to and go ahead with the writing and not worry about step 4. But there is one more step if you want to be totally sure, and this one is simply for practically reasons. It’s sort of like a ring on the finger. A constant sign or proof that the idea is truly yours and that the both of you are going to be together forever.
So, drumroll, please...
Number 4: It’s the right idea if you are the only one who can bring the idea to life. The only one. As in, the way in which you life has turned out has somehow made it possible for you to write this particular story. No, not like a serendipity fate thing. (Although if you want to see it like that, you’re welcome to.) But really, I think it’s more of this: your specific life circumstances and experiences have made you specifically capable of writing this very specific novel, that others, who do not have that same specific background, would find it impossible to write.
If your idea passes all four tests, then: congratulations! You may kiss the bride or groom. If your beloved passes all four steps, then you are more likely to stay committed to it and not give up on it half-way through, or divorce it if you ever lose your job, or if your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, or if the sky should fall. The key is consistency. You got to be able to wake up in the middle of the night and talk about nothing in particular with your idea to pass the time, and still love it’s company.
So now that you got your one and only and it’s got you, you have to remember: it’s only the beginning of the relationship. Now let’s see how the marriage turns out.
Thank you so much, Ollin, for sharing this article with us! You are always a source of inspiration and motivation!
Ollin Morales is a young writer who’s in the middle of writing his first novel. He’s always in need of a little encouragement and support, so why don’t you drop by and say “Keep at it!”? Visit him at: http://ollinmorales.wordpress.com