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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Bailey’

~ Interview by Chris Bailey

Before [RWA Chapter] Southern’s Magic’s 2011 Reader’s Luncheon, I asked Birmingham author Teresa Thorne to tell blog readers more about her award-winning novel, Noah’s Wife, named the 2009 Historical Fiction Book of the Year by ForeWord Reviews Magazine.
Our correspondence fell into an unpredictable cyberspace wormhole, but I’m delighted to report that we ultimately managed to connect, and thrilled to bring you the interview.

About the book:

Noah’s Wife is the story of Na’amah, a brilliant young girl with a form of autism we know today as Asperger’s Syndrome. Na’amah desires only to be a shepherdess on her beloved hills in ancient Turkey–a desire shattered by the hatred of her powerful brother, the love of two men, and a disaster only she knows is coming.

Welcome Teresa!

Q. To begin, let me admit: I’m both a writer and a fan, and I’m totally intimidated by your accomplishments. You not only have achieved admirable things in real life–you’ve garnered a novel-of-the-year award and earned a slew of other writing credits. And you’re making your home city a better place. And you have a personal life. How have you managed to ride herd on your competing interests?

A. Thank you for your too kind words, Chris. I guess part of the answer is that I am not good at relaxing. I figured that out one day when I went onto my front porch, which looks down into a beautiful valley, and sat in a rocking chair to “practice” retirement (no book; no laptop; no cell phone). It lasted about 30 seconds before I had to get up and “do” something. On the other hand, I rarely watch TV. (I am socially-challenged if conversations head that way.) And I am a terrible house-keeper. (So fortunate in having a husband who enjoys cooking, does laundry and puts up with me working in seclusion for long periods of time.) Another factor that helps is no (human) children in the house, only four dogs, two cats and two horses.

Q. What was the genesis of Noah’s Wife?

A. A friend of mine wrote a poem called “Noah’s Wife.” She was inspired to write it after learning that in the Bible, Noah’s wife is not even given a name and only allotted one line. I thought that needed to be “fixed.” I wanted to write a story that reflected what might have really happened, the source of the Noah’s ark tale, so I started researching it. To my excitement, I learned about a great flood thousands of years ago that transformed a small fresh water lake into the Black Sea and flooded the plains of Mesopotamia. I researched the time period, placed my character in ancient Turkey, and traveled with her for four years to see what happened. It was a wonderful ride.

Q. What was the earliest answer you remember to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A. An astronaut. I wanted to make “first contact” with cool aliens! Wrote a letter to NASA when I was eleven years old asking what courses I needed to take to be in the space program. Back then, that was impossible for a woman, especially one with bad vision (too many books), so I decided to become a social worker, only a funny thing happened along the way, and I ended up in a 22-year career as a police officer in Birmingham. Go figure. In those days, we always had a partner, and mine usually drove. My job was to look out the window for signs of break-ins or suspicious people. In between bursts of adrenalin, this got boring, and I don’t do boring very well (see above re: rocking chair). So, I would stare out the window, looking alert and daydream about plot and dialogue for a novel. To this day, I do my best “thinking” in a car.

Q. What came first, life experience or the urge to write?

A. My first story came at about age ten, so if you don’t count my first decade as “experience,” the desire to write came first for me.

Q. Among all your projects, do you have a favorite?

A. I can’t pick one, but of my novels, my favorites are Noah’s WifeAngels at the Gate: The Story of Lot’s wife, my forthcoming novel; and a science fiction novel, Snowdancers of Veld. I was also fortunate to have the experience of turning one of my short stories into a screenplay and seeing it made into a film (Six Blocks Wide). That was almost too much fun!

Q. Would you tell us about your adventures in publishing? I ask because I notice that you have had two publishers–Chalet and Blackburn Fork–in a short time. As many of the Romance Magician blog subscribers are also writers, an account of your journey would be enlightening.

A. Sure. “Adventures in publishing” is an apt phrase. The short version of the story is that originally, Noah’s Wife was picked up by Chalet Publishing, a boutique publisher in Arizona, however, they had to close their doors, so I chose to publish Noah’s Wife myself (Blackburn Fork) because people are still asking for it. Meanwhile, I am shopping a home for my next novel, Angels at the Gate. An agent is reading it as we speak. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Q. When you consider how easy it is to email and blog, we may be living in a new golden age of letters. Do you have any advice for writers who aspire to be novelists?

A. My advice is old stuff, but true stuff: Read. Write. Study the craft of writing. Don’t give up. Listen to your characters. Don’t baby your characters; they can’t grow if they don’t experience pain. Put things together that you wouldn’t think would normally go and see what happens. When I “discovered” my character had Aspergers Syndrome (a form of autism), it was a surprise, and my first reaction was, I can’t give Aspergers to Noah’s wife! But my character insisted that was right and I listened to her … and she was right.

Aside from the “Big Six” publishers, there are choices now (small presses, self-publishing, eBooks) that were not available years ago. That is a good thing, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can succeed without the work that needs to be done to be the best writer you can be. The path is a hard one, sometimes bitter, frustrating and even painful. But it is also a path of joy, and I wish every writer the amazing experience of giving birth to a “child” with wings to fly out into the world–apart from you, but always part of you.

Thanks, Teresa, for answering the questions, and best wishes with your agent search!

T.K. Thorne served with the Birmingham, Alabama Police Department for more than 20 years in a variety of positions, including as a detective and precinct commander, retiring with the rank of captain. Today she is the Executive Director of City Action Partnership, a business improvement district in downtown Birmingham. Noah’s Wife is her debut novel. A film from her screenplay, Six Blocks Wide, has shown at film festivals in Alabama and Europe. She lives on a beautiful mountain in north central Alabama with her family of people, dogs, cats and horses.

For more information about T.K. Thorne and her work visit her web site, www.tkthorne.com or her blog, T.K.’s Tales, www.tkthorne.wordpress.com. You can find Teresa on Facebook as Teresa K. Thorne, and also as Noah’s Wife.

~ By Chris Bailey

Critique partners say I write chick lit, and I hope they’re right, because I love romantic comedy. But I read across a wide range of genres, even delving into literature now and then, and it’s through reading promiscuously that I’ve identified favorite elements that cross the boundaries of genre to make novels memorable for me.

1) A protagonist whose yearning drives him beyond reason.

In Ken Follett’s epic historical, Pillars of the Earth, Tom’s longing is a mystery to his wife, Agnes. “Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city’s fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral.”

2) Dialogue—or inner monologue—that’s so honest it’s scary. Or maybe so revealing that it offers healing.

In Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, the main character, a refugee, speaks directly to the reader: “I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying A scar means, I survived.”

3) Characters and situations that make me laugh. Even better, snort.

In this excerpt from Thursday Next: First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde, Jurisfiction Agent Thursday Next is describing the current (future) state of political affairs in Great Britain.

“Instead of drifting from one crisis to the next and appeasing the nation with a steady stream of knee-jerk legislation and headline-grabbing but arguably pointless initiatives, they had been resolutely building a raft of considered long-term plans that concentrated on unity, fairness and tolerance. It was a state of affairs deplored by Mr. Alfredo Trafficcone, leader of the opposition Prevailing Wind Party, who wanted to lead the nation back onto the safer grounds of uninformed stupidity.”

Will the government manage to safely eliminate a dangerous stupidity surplus before something awful happens? Anything by Jasper Fforde makes me interrupt my husband to read aloud, but it’s way funnier if you read the whole thing.

4) The promise of growth and happiness for the characters.

“I think of how each person in a marriage owes it to the other to find individual happiness, even in a shared life,” Tessa declares through internal monologue as The Heart of the Matter winds down to its hopeful conclusion.

5) Moments of recognition that connect fiction and reality.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a mystic tapestry woven with threads of insight. After May’s funeral, Lily remembers the sound of the bees. “That night, in my bed in the honey house, when I closed my eyes, bee hum ran through my body. Ran through the whole earth. It was the oldest sound there was. Souls flying away.”

Oddly enough, the parts I remember pull me out of the story, which is considered a negative. But there’s a difference between a moment of startling clarity and an episode of glaring error.

What makes a story memorable to you?

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

~ By Lois Winston

Having recently judged the Louboutin Award for the Stiletto contest, I was asked by Chris Bailey if I’d blog about “voice.” Chris posed the following three questions.

1. What constitutes a chick lit voice?

For me, a chick lit voice is about attitude. The chick lit voice is when an author imbues her characters with a certain way of looking at life, responding to situations, and interacting with the other characters who populate the book. The main character usually has an edge about her. She’s often snarky and has a habit of speaking her mind, which can even make her somewhat politically incorrect.

This is why you generally see the chick lit voice in books that take place in cosmopolitan settings. Unless the author is writing a “fish out of water” plot, a chick lit voice generally doesn’t work all that well in a small town setting. Let’s face it, unless we’re talking Stephen King type small towns, reader expectation is that the people who populate small towns are generally of a decidedly un-chick lit disposition.

2. I thought it was interesting that you chose a YA finalist. Would you say that a chick lit voice drifts toward YA? Or cozy?

The plot of the book I chose as the winner was such that it lent itself to a chick lit voice. There are YA books where a chick lit voice wouldn’t work at all. The voice an author chooses to write in should correspond to the story she wants to tell. The story and the voice go hand in hand, or they should. It’s kind of the square peg/round hole conundrum. You can’t force a writer’s voice into a story not suited for that voice. It doesn’t work.

The thing about the chick lit voice, though, is that it transcends the stereotypical chick lit plot. A chick lit voice isn’t relegated to stories about a twenty-something in a dead-end job, with a shoe addiction and a string of loser boyfriends. Those plots won’t be coming back to publishing any time soon. So if you have a chick lit voice, you need to find other plots that work with your voice.

Voice is something an author either has or doesn’t have. If you’re lucky, you can developed voice over time, but voice can’t be taught. It’s like me and the violin. I took lessons for years. I could play all the right notes. But no matter how many hours I practiced, I was never going to get to Carnegie Hall other than to sit in the audience.

I can’t give you a list of rules to follow that will develop a voice if you don’t yet have one. No one can. Some authors are lucky enough to be able to write in several different voices, but most only have one voice. To be successful, the author has to tell the type of stories that work for her voice.

Getting back to the Louboutin winner, my choice was not only based on her voice but on the originality of her plot and her skill as a writer.

As for cozies, I don’t think a chick lit voice would ever work well in the traditional cozy mystery. A true cozy takes place in a small town or village and never uses foul language. Think Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher. Would readers want either of them to have a chick lit voice? No. Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a cozy mystery, and a chick lit voice isn’t one of those expectations.

Where the chick lit voice does work, though, is in the amateur sleuth mystery, and that’s what I write. Even though my publisher categorizes the books as cozies (explaining to me that cozy is becoming more of an umbrella term,) my books really aren’t cozies. For one thing, my characters use language appropriate to who they are. The loan shark in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun isn’t going to say, “Oh gosh darn!” He’s Mafia; he’s going to drop the occasional F-bomb.

3. How did you know when you’d found your voice?

I started out writing angst-ridden romantic suspense. When I discovered chick lit, I decided to try writing one. The voice that emerged was completely different from the voice I’d been writing in for my romantic suspense books. It felt more natural to me, much more comfortable. I also discovered that I enjoyed writing in first person, something I never would have tried in a romantic suspense.

When, at my agent’s urging, I tried my hand at writing a mystery, this new voice I’d discovered I had meshed perfectly with the amateur sleuth mystery I chose to write. In this case, though, my protagonist is forty-two years old, so the book contains more of a mom lit/hen lit voice than a chick lit voice. But you know what they say: forty is the new twenty, and fifty is the new thirty. Besides, chick lit is all about attitude, not age.

Lois Winston is both an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency and the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Visit Lois at her website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Lois is currently on a month-long blog tour where she’s giving away five signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll. To enter the drawing, post a comment to this blog or any of the others on the tour. You can find the complete schedule at her website and Anastasia’s blog. In addition, she’s giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/15173-death-by-killer-mop-doll

~ By Chris Bailey

Because writing is the method that orders my thoughts—my form of quiet meditation—I’m thankful for this opportunity to post. Because back-to-back major holidays demand a little time apart. A little reflection. A little time to ponder the big questions. A little list of reasons to be thankful for all this, despite the stress.

I’m thankful for the gift of writing. Because addressing my own goals, motivations and conflicts (sometimes) prevents me from blurting out random thoughts without regard for the consequences.

I’m thankful that my characters can play out dramatic scenes, heedless of the potential impact of their words.

I’m thankful for friends and family and this season set aside for gathering. Because it’s their anxieties and antics that provide an unlimited supply of plots and characters for the rest of the year!

I’m thankful for Chick Lit Writers of the World and RWA. Because it’s my fellow writers who understand that writing is not a self-indulgent hobby. It’s a gift, a calling and a terminal condition. I’ve tried to quit a half dozen times, but without the prop of written words I fail to maintain a sense of balance.

Happy Holidays, y’all! Shop, light candles and gather together! Make merry! And make a bit of quiet time to write.

~ Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

I like my writing lessons suited to my attention span.

Short.

Creating a memorable character whose heartache a reader can share is a real challenge. While on my porch near one version of Margaritaville, drinking same, I realized Jimmy Buffett offers us a clear pattern.

In the first refrain of his hit, Margaritaville, he sings, “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s nobody’s fault.”

After the second verse, he wavers. “It could be my fault.”

And by the final chorus, he admits the truth. “It’s my own damn fault.”

I’ve started work on a new novel, and I’m working hard to discover the character arcs–that is, how the experiences through the course of the story cause the character to grow. Thanks, Jimmy Buffett, for a simple model in three acts.

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

~ Interview by Chris Bailey

Days before the June 28 release of the paperback edition of New York Times bestseller The One That I Want, author Allison Winn Scotch is traveling cross country–and making time to answer questions about her novels and her writing process for Chick Lit writers and fans.

Before turning her talents to full-time writing, Allison dabbled in PR, marketing and the Internet. As a free-lance writer, she was a frequent contributor to national magazines, including Glamour, Self, Shape and Redbook. And then she broke into fiction in a big way with the 2007 publication of The Department of Lost and Found.

In Allison’s third novel, The One That I Want (2010), 32-year-old Tilly Farmer has the perfect life she always dreamed of: married to her high school sweetheart, working as a school guidance counselor, trying for a baby. Perfect.

But one sweltering afternoon at the local fair, everything changes. Tilly wanders into a fortune teller’s tent and meets an old childhood friend, who offers her more than just a reading. “I’m giving you the gift of clarity,” her friend says. “It’s what I always thought you needed.” And soon enough, Tilly starts seeing things: her alcoholic father relapsing, staggering out of a bar with his car keys in hand; her husband uprooting their happy, stable life, a packed U-Haul in their driveway. And even more disturbing, these visions start coming true. Suddenly Tilly’s perfect life, so meticulously mapped out, seems to be crumbling around her. And as she furiously races to keep up with–and hopefully change –her destiny, she faces the question: Which life does she want? The one she’s carefully nursed for decades, or the one she never considered possible?

Q. How is a paperback release different from the original hardback release?

A. Well, hopefully, there’s a familiarity among readers, but with the hardback, you get reviews and have a better chance at third-party promotion. With the paperback, it’s all on you! So there’s both more pressure and less: you know that you can do what you can do, and after that, you just hope that the book connects. Also, there’s a much bigger reach with book clubs, so you extend yourself as far as possible with those readers.

Q. Publishers Weekly writes that, “Scotch answers hard questions about the nature of personal identity and overwhelming loss with a wise, absorbing narrative.” What was the hardest of those hard questions for you to answer, and why?

A. Great question! I definitely really struggled to answer the question of why someone would stay in a life that she’s unhappy with (even if she doesn’t realize the depths of her unhappiness), and it took me a long time to understand my main character, Tilly, because of this. It wasn’t until I stepped back and realize that we all make small concessions every day and that sometimes, they can snowball into something much bigger that is much harder to dig out of, that I think I really “got” both Tilly and the book. It’s a tough (and big) question to ask: what happens when you wake up and find that your life isn’t the one you wanted? What then? Do you try to fix it or do you flee because in some ways, fleeing might be the easier choice?

Q. When you write, what role do you play? Do you envision yourself inside the character, or are you an audience member witnessing the character’s trials?

A. I am totally inside my character’s head. In fact, I often find myself talking aloud as my character, trying to really envision (or fully envisioning) how she would behave, think and speak. Prior to finding my voice as a writer, I dabbled my toe in acting, and I’ve found that the two aren’t that dissimilar, at least for me. In order for a character to really work, to really jump off the page, I have to be 100% inside of her head, or else it comes off as an author working to put words and thoughts into a two-dimensional creation.

Q. Before The One That I Want, with its protagonists’ visions of an unwelcome future, you created a main character with breast cancer and one with a chance for a seven-year do-over. Next up, plane crash survivor with amnesia. Would you say that your fiction is transitioning from realism into magical realism?

A. Actually, just the reverse! : ) Yes, my first book [The Department of Lost and Found] dealt with cancer, but from there, I really leapt into the world of magical realism [Time of My Life and The One That I Want], and I loved every second of it. But when it came time to write my next book, I very purposefully moved away from the suspensions of disbelief. I felt like I’d taken that device as far as I wanted, and I wanted to ground the next book in reality. Though the description of my next book, The Song Remains the Same, might sound like it’s in fantasy-land, it’s really a pretty dark view at what happens when someone has to start her life over entirely, from a blank slate. I suppose it gets back to the question I often explore in my books: are you living the most fulfilled life that you want to be? But in this book, I don’t use fantastical elements to force my character into her decisions.

Q. You offer to join book club discussions by phone. What have you learned from your readers’ questions?

A. That no matter our place and state in life, we all struggle with the same questions and same problems and same joys. From women my mom’s age to my younger peers: we’re all just in this together, mucking our way through. And also: just because someone picked your book for a book club, doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily enjoy it. : ) And she won’t hesitate to let you know!

Q. Do you have much input into your reading group guides?

A. Yes. In fact, I’m usually asked to draft most of the questions. Then someone at my publisher finesses them and adds in a few of her own.

Q. What pros and cons would you offer for the unpublished writer regarding traditional vs. e-publishing?

A. Well, e-publishing is obviously exploding right now, but I’d caution someone about just throwing his or her book up on the web and expecting it to have a major impact on his/her career. What people don’t realize until they’re on the other side is that the marketing aspect of this industry is BRUTAL–you are literally competing with thousands of other books, many of which have publishing houses behind them and they STILL don’t get bought. While it’s wonderful to have your e-published book out there to be read, I think you have to consider your goals: is it to share your work with friends/family/a few readers who may buy it or do you want to hold off to see if you can land a bigger fish? And look, I’m not trying to be discouraging at all. If you read my blog, you know that I am so supportive of aspiring writers. But it’s all about the end result: simply “publishing” your book may not change much in the course of your career. And if you’re okay with that (and I mean that 100 percent genuinely), then go for it. Otherwise, until things have shifted even more, I probably wouldn’t recommend it.

Q. Any words of wisdom on the chick-lit-is-dead debate?

A. I find the whole debate so inane. Seriously. I don’t get it at all. “Chick lit” is a title that was given to books a decade ago because someone, somewhere needed to have a neat little category for a type of book that was being written at the time. I don’t think it has much to do with anything that is being written now. All I know is that I have dozens of female writer friends who write kick-ass, amazing work, and I don’t give a flying fig whether they’re called “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” or “commercial fiction.” What I do care about is that they explore real issues and real problems and offer compelling, moving characters and stories. If someone wants to call that chick lit, then it’s a compliment. If someone wants to be small minded and ignore a book because it’s written by someone with boobs, well, then, I’m probably not going to like him or her so much in the first place.

Q. Any late-breaking news you’d like to share?

A. Hmmm…I’m writing this from 36,000 feet? No, that’s probably not what you were thinking of. How about this: I get asked a lot about the Time of My Life movie adaptation, and I expect and hope to have some fun news about it after the summer ends!

Allison is currently in the midst of a summer reads book giveaway on her Allison Winn Scotch author facebook page. For more about Allison and her books, go to allisonwinn.com or follow her on Twitter at @aswinn.

Allison, thanks so much for being a guest on our blog. Our best chick lit wishes are with you.

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

~ By Chris Bailey

During the school year, I tutor one afternoon a week with a program called Start the Adventure in Reading (STAIR) that targets at-risk second graders. It’s totally selfish. We must teach children to read so that one day, they will buy our books.

As is always the case with trying to give back, I learn a lot more than I teach. One lesson I never thought much about is homonyms. You remember- words that sound alike, but have different meanings and spellings. With my STAIR student, I read stories and search for words like sea and see; tale and tail; blue and blew; to, too and two.

In the past couple of months, I’ve noticed quite a few misrepresented nouns and verbs in published works-a few of them in paperbacks and blog posts, but most between hard covers. I know even high-end hardback books can’t be perfect, and that a few mistakes among 100,000 words doesn’t destroy a good story. But I thought I’d share what I’ve seen because. . .well, because there’s no excuse for it. And I’m a curmudgeon.

Shears/Sheers

Shears hanging in the window of a hair salon would make a creative statement. But the picture window in the elderly widow’s home probably has translucent fabric panels called sheers.

Teaming/Teaming

People who join a team may be the teaming type, but I suspect that the mention of a “teaming crowd” was not supposed to evoke the image of people joining together in cooperative groups. I suspect the author meant to use the word “teeming,” or numerous, as in the sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on a plaque inside the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Flare/Flair

Someone with a flair for style may be bright, but wouldn’t light the sky the way a flare does.

Sight/Site

When a character sets her sights on visiting a “grave sight,” she could have meant a specter or ghost, or even a place where she might view something somber. But given the context, the author probably meant “a grave site,” a particular location within a cemetery.

Phased/Fazed

One hero was notably unphased by a bomb. I think the author meant “unfazed,” or heroically undaunted, rather than unsynchronized.

All through school, English classes address common homonyms, but no handy “i before e” rule applies. Spell checkers rarely help. You have to learn the words. And the only way to do that is to read lists of homonyms to raise awareness. Here’s a link to Alan Cooper’s exhaustive online list: http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym.html

He welcomes additions to the list!

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

~ By Chris Bailey

The first feedback I received in a novel writing course was, “clearly publishable,” but “too reportorial.”After years of attempting to eliminate all traces of the objective style drilled into me by journalism professors, I’ve finally discovered that I don’t have to discard all the old rules to pursue of creative writing.

For example: Don’t bury your lead.

In journalism’s inverted pyramid structure, the lead is supposed to provide the five Ws, and an H as well, if you can fit all that information into 36 words or fewer. The point is to convey the most important facts in the beginning, so that if the newspaper runs out of space and only the first paragraph of your masterpiece fits into the available newshole, the public still gets the gist of the story. This seems contradictory to the idea of slowly revealing a story over 325 or more pages.

But look at what a lead can do. The top story in The Birmingham (Ala.) News March 13 packed who, what, when, where, why and a hint of how in 35 words.

Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified Sunday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns and more than 170,000 people evacuated the quake- and tsunami-savaged northeastern coast where fears spread over possible radioactive contamination.

The lead offers presents the latest development in a heartbreaking disaster and serves as a dramatic hook that draws you in to the full story.

If the story began instead with the fact that Japan is an island nation that lies on a major fault line, you might not continue reading long enough to learn that a natural disaster had occurred.

The important thing is to keep people reading. When I advise volunteer or not-for-profit PR writers, I find that they—like freshman journalism students—almost always begin their stories with a justification for their important causes. Around the third paragraph, they’ll announce that because of the great need previously described, they’re having a fund-raising event.

No matter how worthy, the cause isn’t news. It’s a pile of backstory, and it won’t pull readers far enough into the story to find the buried lead.

Agents and editors are quick to make a similar distinction. Unless we keep them reading, they’ll never find out how lovable our characters are. In fiction, we call it in medias res—but it works for me to remember not to bury the lead. Someone—heroine or villain or nature—has already acted. The heroine must react, and it’s in the reactions of the cast of characters that the story unfolds.

Tell me—is there a rule you learned in another occupation that benefits your fiction writing? I’d love to know!

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

A Writerly Review

~ By Chris Bailey

I am now officially an Emily Giffin fan. Not like Giffin needs me, a contrarian who willfully bypassed her early New York Times bestsellers: Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Baby Proof and Love the One You’re With. I started with Heart of the Matter, released in May, 2010.

The title neatly captures the central plot question. When hearts face the ultimate test, what will matter most?

Tessa, thirty-something, has given up a professorship to devote her attention to her family: two perfect children and a handsome cosmetic surgeon husband.

Valerie, a single mom who put herself through law school after her son’s birth in order to offer him a better-than-average life, faces serious challenges when her son falls into a campfire and suffers third-degree burns.

Nick, a compassionate surgeon who specializes in treating pediatric burn patients, is not only Tessa’s husband and the father of her children, but Valerie’s hope for her son’s recovery.

Who’s not to love?

Tessa and her friends have discussed what they might do if one of their husbands cheated on them. As is the way in fiction, the question morphs from hypothetical to real, throwing Tessa into a tailspin.

Giffin alternates first-person point of view storytelling between the wronged wife and the other woman, so you know from the first tense meeting at the hospital that Nick and Valerie are attracted to each other, and that Tessa’s awful discovery is coming.

There were times when I had to put the book down because I was emotionally drained. But I had to pick it up again to find out who got what in the end.

A writer’s perspective

Giffin takes the love triangle, a soap opera staple, and delivers a thoughtful read. It would have been easy to follow a trite and predictable path; easy to wallow in sentimentality; easy to lay all the blame on any one of the three lovers and end the story there.

Instead, Giffin clarifies the characters’ yearnings so that I’m able to feel sympathy for the wronged wife, the other woman, and even the cheating man. She draws us out with the lovers onto their emotional ledges—and talks us all down from the edge of despair.

I didn’t believe that she could possibly deliver a happily-ever-after ending for Tessa, Valerie, and Nick, but she does. (And no, it’s not an erotic threesome.)

But is HOTM chick lit?

Shoe shopping only gets a single mention, so HOTM definitely doesn’t qualify by that chick lit yardstick. Nor is it a lighter-than-air read about ditzy young women.

It is a novel about two realistic women in a situation that forces them to examine their deepest desires and come up with their own resolutions. Despite the heart-wrenching calamity, each of the three lovers comes to terms with a happily-ever-after that suits their characters.

The book’s cover, a not-pastel-but-still-feminine purple, may be an indication that it’s something of a transitional novel—and the transition may be in the chick lit subgenre. Giffin isn’t the only novelist made famous by chick lit tales who has turned to more serious subject matter. And yet, in the end, there’s happily-ever-after potential, which prevents the book from falling into the literary range on my personal dismal-o-meter.

Heart of the Matter is available new and used, in hardback, paperback, Kindle and audio versions. There’s even a discussion guide for your book club.

Ooh—it’s been nearly a year since Heart of the Matter came out! A quick look at Giffin’s web site and facebook fan page reveals that her next novel, SOBO, will be coming out May 6. What does SOBO stand for? No idea. I’ll find out later this year.

In the meantime, I hope Giffin enjoys her writing career and keeps the exploratory reads coming.

What’s your opinion?

Bonus – Hear what Emily Giffin herself has to say about her book:

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

~ By Chris Bailey

In our last post, Karin Wilson, president of Page and Palette, a three-generation independent bookstore in Fairhope, Ala., reassured us that Chick Lit is not dead in her market. She also shared some excellent ideas about how authors and booksellers can work together for mutual benefit.

Q. We’ve heard reports of the death of independent booksellers. How has Page and Palette managed to thrive?

A. It’s getting tougher and tougher for sure! We are an events-driven store so we bring in really great authors to the store about three times a week. We are well diversified too. Books are the heart of our business but we have a coffee shop, art supplies, gifts, greeting cards and a strong children’s department. Independents will thrive when communities understand the impact we have on the local economy and many ways these hubs enrich our communities.

Q. Self-publishing is seen as one way to break into today’s competitive marketplace. What’s your experience with self-published authors and their books?

A. There have been authors that have really stood out in self-publishing. I believe this is a great tool for authors to publish their book, make it successful in their own right. Many of these go onto getting their books published with big publishers. The downside of course is it’s hard to distinguish the gems in the vast amount of self-published books.

Q. Another route to publication is through e-books. What’s your take on the e-book market?

A. I think ebooks are here to stay but they will never replace books. People like: their libraries, the feel of books, being able to reference them with their dog-eared pages, sharing them with friends, buying used and antiquarian books, and their coffee table, cookbooks, picture books…don’t think this is going away.

Q. Based on your lifetime of experience, what career advice would you offer writers?

A. Read lots of great books! Great readers make great writers. Support your independent booksellers. We are the ones really who break out unknown authors. IndieBound bestsellers is a great example of this.

Q. Besides buying books, how can writers support independent booksellers?

A. Lots of things. On their website they can list IndieBound bookstores instead of (or in addition to) Amazon. I’m amazed at the number of authors who don’t do this. They can choose to tour their books with independent bookstores exclusively. Based on my experience, independents do a better job promoting and getting their books out…we actually read them! They can also spread the word about all the reasons to support the indies.

Thanks, Karin, for sharing your expertise with Chick Lit writers and readers. In all our corners of the world, we hope to foster relationships with independent booksellers.

~ Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.