It wasn’t too long ago that my IRL BFF listed her girl crushes on Facebook. I don’t remember who they were but the likes of Penelope Cruz and Angelina Jolie were on the list, along with funny girls like Kathy Griffin and Tina Fey.
When someone poses the question “if you could have dinner with anyone in the world, living or dead” I’m ashamed that people like Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King don’t pop to mind.
I am an author groupie, my girl crushes are on women’s fiction authors. I dream about book signings and having a favorite author follow me on Twitter — or — take a deep breath — find this blog. Last spring I
dragged asked three of my closest friends to accompany me to a book signing an hour from our little town. On a weeknight. During the school year. Being the amazing friends they are, they not only went with me, but they scored me a seat near the front by rearranging the furniture sheer luck. After the reading and Q&A, they waited in line with me for an hour and a half. I’ll let that sink in for a few seconds. One, two… An hour and a half. And then I got up to the table and was tongue-tied. Me, who is rarely at a loss for the spoken or written word, was star struck.
This author was Jennifer Lancaster. And while Jen’s books to date are memoir, they’re written in a women’s fiction tone and her first novel (not fiction novel, just novel) comes out this spring. By reading Jen’s books I learned/was reminded that poignancy and eloquence can go hand in hand with humor and snark.
And if that’s not awesomesauce, I don’t know what is.
If I could pick one person to have dinner with living or dead…I’d pick Jennifer Lancaster. But I will tell you that it would be a really boring meal because I probably wouldn’t talk.
Did I mention that she lives near me? (Yes, an hour and a half qualifies as “near.”)
My author-on-a-pedestal is Jennifer Weiner. And that’s pronounced like “whiner” not like “hot dog.” I didn’t know that for a long time, which is why I feel it’s ok to correct anyone who says it wrong. I would most likely giggle incessantly if I met Jennifer Weiner. Why? Her first book, Good In Bed, knocked me on my derriere. I was so blown away by a plot twist mid-book that I knew I had to revise my entire book (maybe it was the second draft?) so that I could elicit that type of reaction from readers. I’m grateful – even beholden. Reading Good in Bed showed me how fabulous it is to drop a reader right into the action – no backstory, little lead-up. This was published in 2001, but I didn’t read it until 2007. At which time it led to me making the middle of my book the beginning, the end became the middle and the beginning became a fond memory of what I used to think of as good story-telling.
Although I consider myself well-read, my writer-friend Janna recently introduced me to Elizabeth Berg. I couldn’t believe I considered myself a women’s fiction author and had never read Elizabeth Berg. She lives near me too. If I had to pick two words to describe Berg’s books? Followable complexity. (I think I made up one of those words, but this is about fiction, so, fine.)
Another friend introduced me to Cathy Lamb. (Hello? Where have you been all my life?) I am reading my fifth Cathy Lamb book and am duly annoyed I have to wait until summer for the next one. What fascinates me about the Cathy Lamb books is how she writes extremely quirky characters whose underpinnings are incredibly normal. She is also a master, in my opinion, of writing a fully developed cast of characters using first person. I was struck by this first in Henry’s Sisters and it inspired me to try my latest WIP in first person. There are many romantic undertones and a smidgen of church in Cathy Lamb’s books, so I wondered if they were 1) romance or 2) Christian fiction. Then I remembered that these books are all about a woman’s journey of self — the details are specific to Lamb, and give the characters heartbeats. It’s good ol’ women’s fiction.
Yes, it’s true, I am now a Cathy Lamb junkie seeking rehab. But just until August.
I don’t mean for this blog or this post to be about an author popularity contest. These are my go-to writer-gals because I want my books to be like their books — in quality, in story, in tone. I admire many writers, male and female. I read many books — not all women’s fiction. I read a lot of literary fiction and some historical fiction and all good books are teaching tools for aspiring and published authors. I also know a lot of aspiring authors. I’ve read a lot of great drafts of one-day-to-be-published books. I didn’t write this to leave out anyone, but simply to highlight these four authors, for now.
We take away from our best teaching books what we need for our own growth as story sculptors. That is the gift of one writer to another – the lesson not in the story, but in how the story is told, how the words are used, how the sentences are constructed, how the cadence is artfully managed. These writerly lessons are like the french fries left at the bottom of the bag after you’ve finished your entire shouldn’t-really-be-eating-this-junk-food lunch. Something you didn’t expect to find — but are really, really glad you did.
Who are your favorite women’s fiction authors and why? (We can talk about authors of other genres another time…and how those authors help us with our specific genre and craft.)