Archive for the ‘women’s fiction’ Category

Photographer: Catherine Pelura

I first connected with Erika Robuck on Twitter because we both spelled our names with a K. True story!

Turns out, we had a lot more in common than just that. Erika is not only an incredibly lovely and gracious woman, she’s also a talented writer whose novel HEMINGWAY’S GIRL I had the pleasure of reading before it launches in five days on September 4th  so I was thrilled that Erika agreed to come visit the blog and answer a few questions about her book.

But first, a bit about HEMINGWAY’S GIRL:

Key West, 1935. Mariella Bennet has just lost her father and now must temper her dreams of starting a charting fishing boat business with the new responsibilities of caring for her ailing sister and her emotionally-crippled mother. When a chance encounter with Key West’s most famous resident Ernest Hemingway offers her a chance to work in the writer’s house, Mariella can no more deny the opportunity to offer financial security to her grieving family than she can deny her attraction to her employer—an attraction that is quickly complicated by the entrance of a new suitor, and Hemingway’s suspicious wife.

As Mariella tries to balance her feelings for both men with her devotion to her family, a storm of another kind brews in the distance; a hurricane that threatens to devastate an already struggling coastal town—and bring about the collision of many hearts when it finally comes ashore.

Romantic and beautifully-rendered, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL shines its expert lens on a rich slice of history—and a man we all imagine we know. Mariella is a deeply satisfying character. Torn by her growing affections for both Hemingway and Gavin, she remains fierce but tender, driven but loyal. Erika has deftly housed her wonderful and diverse cast in settings that reveal incredible period detail, then she lets them fill the pages.  

Without further ado, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome Erika Robuck to the blog!

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EM: Erika, my first question is a two-parter: It goes without saying that Hemingway is an iconic, larger-than-life character. But like so many historic figures, we as readers can all-too-often imagine we “know” that person and bring to the table our fixed notions of who they are. In HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, you have done a remarkable job of drawing Hemingway as a unique character, so well-rounded and genuine. Firstly, did you find that a daunting prospect as a writer, to know you might be challenging a reader’s fixed ideas? And secondly, how did you find ways to bring out the uniqueness in a character that came with so much baggage? Was it hard to know which parts of his personality to keep and which parts to accentuate or even play down?

ER: When I first realized I would write about Hemingway, I was worried that both his legions of fans and critics would search for their versions of Hemingway in my work, and make noise if they didn’t find it. Because of this, I spent as much time as possible with not only biographers’ versions of the famous writer, but with his own writings—from fiction, to essays, to letters. After reading thousands of pages of text, I felt like I had a firm grasp of the kind of man Hemingway was, and I think I have portrayed him fairly. I am prepared that I will stir up some backlash from those with strong opinions on Hemingway, but that is part of the risk I am willing to take to represent this time in his life and hopefully, to inspire people to go back and read his work.

EM: One of the many things that struck me as I read HEMINGWAY’S GIRL was the incredible attention to detail you showed in setting your historical scenes. That must have taken such thorough research! I know personally I can get so overwhelmed by collecting period details and am never sure how much/how little to insert to set the scene. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Such as, how did you choose what to include and if you have a system to organize so much information as you go?

ER: Thank you, Erika! Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process and why I love historical fiction. There are so many undiscovered corners of the past that want to be known. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was one of those forgotten events I found while researching the novel. Hemingway wrote an op-ed piece for a communist paper expressing his outrage over the deaths of the WWI veterans building the Overseas Highway in the Keys from that hurricane. Once I knew the novel would build to that event, I was able to focus the very broad research I’d already done on that time in 1935. I then made very detailed timelines of the months of 1935 with regard to Hemingway’s life events, what was going on in the Keys, and what was going on in the country. Then I imagined my characters and placed them in the events to give readers an emotional connection to the past.

EM: Mariella’s relationships with the two men in her life, the tempestuous Hemingway and the tender boxer Gavin are both so rich and diverse–yet the reader always feels there is a remarkable sort of balance in her affection for both men throughout the novel, even as she is exploring her feelings for each. Was it hard as a writer to maintain that for her? Were there points in the story where you felt as conflicted as she did and possibly wanted her to make different choices in a scene?

ER: Oh, yes. I struggled with my feelings about what my protagonist would do as much as she did. Both men represented lifestyle choices or aspects of Mariella’s character that would greatly influence her future. Both men had appealing sides and not so appealing sides, but I loved both of them dearly. I think we all have these dark and light aspects of our inner selves, and we surround ourselves with people that fuel our needs at certain times. The greatest challenge for me was building up the more positive aspects of Hemingway’s personality in light of all of the popular views of the writer. His loyalty, his understanding of social strata, and believe it or not, his capacity for sensitivity to others came through in his letters and in his fictional characters, and I hope I did him justice.

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My warmest thanks to you for sharing your thoughts, Erika!

Friends, you can learn more about Erika and her novel HEMINGWAY’S GIRL at her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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How great is she?

My mother found her in a seaside shop in coastal Maine and couldn’t resist her. (Who could?) As her gold loop reveals, she’s an ornament, and she’s exactly what I imagine Tess would have sitting in her bathroom cup holder in THE MERMAID COLLECTOR.

Like so many residents of Cradle Harbor, twenty-five year-old Tess lives for the magic of the town’s annual Mermaid Festival, eeking out a living as a woodcarver and searching for a love as mystical as the sea. But on the eve of this year’s celebration, mystery and romance will enter her life in an unexpected way. She will collide—body and heart—with a quiet teacher named Tom Grace, a man who has lost all belief in life’s magic—until he happens upon Tess working in her studio.

THE MERMAID COLLECTOR is a story of the power of legends to shape our worlds, and the power of love to see the truths we don’t always want to see in our own hearts.

Do you believe in magic?

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With book 2 simmering on its digital back-burner, I’m looking to my next project, and it’s shaping up to be yummy. Lots of emotional umph. A bit of mystery. A lot of romance.  Even an exotic locale or two. The only thing I’m a wee bit torn about is my lead character.

He’s a, well…a HE. 

Don’t misunderstand–he’s a great character, I can tell that already. But as someone who writes women’s fiction, am I breaking some kind of rule by having my main character be a  man? 

I don’t know that I am. I can think of plenty of novels where the lead was a man–Prince of Tides, comes to mind at once–that were every bit as compelling and emotionally-rich and, even more importantly, relevant to women. Admittedly, Prince of Tides would not be categorized as women’s fiction, but the point is that plenty of women read it and loved it.

Then why the hesitation on my part?  

Okay, help me out here, friends. How much does the gender of the lead affect your reading choices? Some, none, all? Do you feel that genres must stick to certain structural codes in order to be relevant–or is that all hogwash?

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Trust is hard. Trust is scary.

I should know–I’m nearing the end of edits for LITTLE GALE GUMBO and soon the book will be out in the world AS IS, without any more chances for me to polish, tweak, cut or add. Yikes.

This means I have to trust that the reader will understand what it is that I’m saying, what I’ve been trying to say in the two years I’ve been working on this story. I think this is what they mean when they say this is where the rubber meets the road.

But back to trust.

How can we be sure our readers will understand what we’re saying?

One all-too popular option: exposition.

I’ll give you an example:

Halfway through the climactic scene in my novel where sisters Josie and Dahlia Bergeron finally face off about their conflicting affections for their childhood friend Matthew, I develop cold feet. I worry–panic!–that my reader still isn’t 100% clear (at page 345, by the way) that Josie has always loved Matthew and Matthew has always loved Dahlia and Dahlia has always loved Jack.

So I think, maybe, just to be really, really, really sure, that I should gently toss in a few lines of dialog so there’s absolutely no chance at confusion.

It could go something like this:

Josie: “I just knew you’d say that, Dahlia Rose! Because ever since we arrived here on Little Gale Island twenty-five years ago from New Orleans where we fled from our abusive musician father with our Creole mother who’d eventually open the Little Gale Gumbo Cafe and charm the guarded islanders with her authentic Creole dishes, ever since then you always toyed with Matthew’s heart because it was so clear that he loved you, even though you  knew I loved him and you didn’t, because you were too busy loving Jack who you kept pushing away because of that time when we were teenagers on the porch of our old house and I was holding our neighbor’s baby boy and you said you’d never let any man own your heart the way Momma let Daddy own hers!”

Yikes. Subtle, huh?

It goes without saying that if by page 345 your reader doesn’t know the basic background of a character (that includes historical AND emotional information, by the way), then there’s a good chance your reader won’t have reached page 345 because they will have long since decided they don’t know enough about your characters to care about them and if they don’t care, they don’t read on. And who can blame them?

So how to know when you’ve committed exposition-icide? A simple test: Ask yourself if your characters already know what it is you have them say? If yes, then you’re guilty as charged. Clearly the sisters already know all this about themselves–they were there, remember? This is clearly a technique to remind the reader, and make no mistake, the reader knows this. Your reader is smart. Your book is not a study guide (presumably)–unnecessary exposition makes your reader feel as if they are either being subjected to a review of what’s on Friday’s test, or, worse, that you the writer don’t:

a) trust the ability of your reader to understand your writing

(b) trust the strength of your writing to convey what it needs to convey, or

(c) both.

So what’s the fearful writer to do?

Work on his or her craft, introduce important information in a smooth and patient way, and, then, TRUST. Make absolutely sure that you’ve shaped a cozy, cocoon of a world where your readers know where they, how they got there and who they’re spending their time with.

We’ve all been there. And sometimes the temptation is still strong (Is there an exposition patch on the market yet, or what??).

Take comfort–it’s just the distrust talking. Don’t listen.

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I suspect we all do it. It’s too tempting not to. When building our stories, we sometimes cast well-known actors and actresses, and maybe even our friends, family members, or people we see in line at the grocery store.

For me, the real casting call usually comes early in a novel when I’m stuck on a particular character’s physical form. I have a good sense of his or her personality and quirks, but they haven’t yet taken shape in my mind clearly enough.

Now casting your novel may not always be to replicate an actor or a role. Most of the times, the character I’m trying to cast could never be confused with the actor/role I’ve based him or her on. They’re never that close. It’s merely a way to solidify a character in my mind and move forward, a reference I can always draw from when I feel him or her slipping from “view,” or simply not clicking into place, or a way to distinguish characters that begin to feel too similar.

On the whole, I am of the less-is-more school when it comes to a character’s physical description. I will offer the basics to get a reader started but I’d rather they draw a full picture of a character as it suits them, and not always be restricted by my image. (Let’s not forget that we cast as readers too. Probably even more so.)

Still, it certainly is fun to do.

So what about you all? Any famous folks in your stories? Or would you rather not say…

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Or so I have to believe.

Twenty years and possibly fourteen manuscripts after submitting my first novel at nineteen–that opened with a Pascal quote, no less, (I know, it makes me cringe even now) on a dot-matrix print-out (cringe number two) Penguin NAL has bought two of my books and will release the first, LITTLE GALE GUMBO, in 2011.

So it seemed only fitting that on the heels of my news I enter the blogging world and join the party. (I’ll even bring the wine and the homebrew. Glasses are optional.)

So to all of you who have been doing this much longer than I have, thanks in advance for checking in on a newbie and please feel free to come around often and we’ll see what we can cook up together.

I’m looking forward to it.

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