I have a WFW confession. Melissa Senate is a new-to-me author. You know, the one you find out about, read and then see she has been an author for ages. When that happens I feel lucky and annoyed at the same time. Lucky that I have another author to read, admire, interview and get to know – and annoyed that my reading journey did not lead me to her earlier. Live, learn and eat chocolate, as they say (they being me, of course).
Melissa’s insights have really given me a lot to think about. My suggestion is to read slowly – and share your own thoughts in the comments. While you do that — I’m off to write a short synopsis of my WIP!
Please welcome Melissa Senate to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Interview with author Melissa Senate
MS: My first book, See Jane Date was classic chick lit, written specifically for the market. I heard the words Sex in the City meets Ally McBeal, and my heart pinged with joy. (Which, now that I think about it, is the opposite of writing to market—I was just lucky that what made me joyful, what spoke to my heart, is what was Hot at the time). That novel started my career, and I wrote 6 very chick lit novels. The market began changing a few years into my career, but I was too. I was single and living in a New York City 4th floor dingy walkup studio apartment when I wrote my first book. When I wrote my second, I had a newborn and a real bedroom. As my life changed, my writing changed with it. We both matured together (I hope). I think my last two novels, The Secret of Joy and The Love Goddess’ Cooking School are a hybrid of chick lit and women’s fiction.
ASN: The publishing journey – or process – is different from the writing process. What’s your writing process?We talk about that a lot on the blog — obviously whatever you do REALLY works for you!
MS: My last job as an editor (before I became a full-time writer/freelancer), at a very creative YA book packager, required me to create plot arcs and synopses for popular ongoing series, like the Sweet Valley universe. I learned so much at that job (such as how to write a synopsis in the voice of the main character(s), how to structure a book on plot points/highs and lows, story-wise and emotionally, etc. Because of that wonderful training, I’ve become a big believer in The Synopsis. When I get an idea that really “sticks,” I let it gel in my mind for a while and then wait for it to “synopsize” while I’m sleeping, in the shower, out walking, etc. (Best ideas happen when I’m not trying to think.) Once I get a sense of the overall story, I like to write a mini synopsis of the entire book, hitting the major plot developments, major emotional developments so that I completely understand what I’m doing, where I’m headed and why. A lot changes in the actual writing of the manuscript, but I need that blueprint to start writing even the first paragraph. I think that makes me the opposite of a pantser.
ASN: Your latest book, The Love Goddess’s Cooking School, has a lot of delicious food in it. One of the reviewers says not to read hungry (which I found so funny!). Are you a cook or a foodie? Both? Neither?
MS: I’ve always wanted to be both a cook and a foodie, but am neither, even after spending all that time in the kitchen writing Love Goddess. I’ve always envied foodies their incredible appreciation, and cooks their talent. I want to believe you can follow a recipe and it’ll come out magically like Marcella Hazan’s or Julia Child’s, but cooking, being a good cook, is such a true talent. For my main character, Holly, I think that talent lay dormant since she was very young and gave up cooking. So when she got back in the kitchen, when she had to, her talents emerged to make magic. I can make some passable dishes (I do make great omelets, and I did master the few dishes I focused on for recipes in Love Goddess, but a great cook I am not. I do love to eat, though!
ASN: Can you share with us what you’re working on now?
MS: I’m just finishing up a novel that will be published in 2012 but can’t talk details yet. (It is women’s fiction, though!)
ASN: How do you define women’s fiction?
MS: Sometimes I think The Genre, in terms of a marketing label, is chick lit grown up. Chick lit’s older sister who’s learned what’s important to her and is now dealing with life’s issues from a more mature outlook. But umbrella-y, the term encompasses so much, and it’s impossible to pinpoint. Marketing-wise, I think women’s fiction is a specific genre. But so much is called chick lit or women’s fiction that has no bearing on what’s inside the book. A book with a woman at the center? It’s called chick lit. Women’s fiction. But to me, true chick lit, true women’s fiction, is something much more specific. If I had to pinpoint, for me, what defines women’s fiction, it’s a particular kind of heart at the center of the novel. I know it when I read it!
ASN: What’s your best advice to aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
MS: Two things: 1) Read widely. Note what you love and why, and note what you don’t love about what you put down after 30 pages. What’s resonating, what’s not. Why? Examination! 2) Write about what you care about. That’s key.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog today. I’m such a fan of this site!
Thank you, Melissa! I’m so glad you wanted to be part of WFW!
Melissa Senate is the author of 10 novels, including her debut, See Jane Date, which was made into a very cute TV movie, two YAs, and her latest, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, an Indie Next Pick that Publishers Weekly said “reinvents comfort food.” A former editor and current freelancer, Melissa writes full-time from her little house on the coast of Maine, where she lives with her son. She’s working on her next novel.