Today I’m happy to share the WFW stage with author Grace Wen. I was so intrigued by the idea of learning more about novellas — which I guess are simply — short books by today’s traditional standards. Do you think you’d read a novella? Write one? Let us know in the comments. And like Grace says below — she didn’t choose the novella format, it chose her. So I guess you just never know!
Please welcome Grace Wen to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Grace Wen Talks About Novellas and Women’s Fiction
Grace: There’s no hard and fast definition for a novella, but I use the Romance Writers of America definition as a guide: they define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words, which translates to between roughly 80 and 160 pages. There’s certainly wiggle room on either end, but this range covers most of the bases.
Amy: We’d love to know about your novellas that are women’s fiction — what can you tell us without giving us any spoilers?
Grace: I have two novellas out right now that are women’s fiction. AN IMPERFECT WIFE is about a woman who moves away from her hometown to support her ambitious husband’s career. Unfortunately, his new job takes all of his time, and she can’t find a job of her own to fill the hours. She eventually finds a shoulder to cry on — but it belongs to her husband’s boss. NEVER LET GO is about a driven young woman who believes she can have anything she wants if she works hard enough for it. When her dream man dumps her, she embarks on a campaign to prove her devotion to him. Her devotion soon crosses the line into stalking, yet even after her ex moves on to a new girlfriend, she refuses to let him go.
As you might have noticed, I’m drawn to drama and misbehaving characters like a suicidal moth.
Amy: Why did you choose to write novellas as opposed to full novels?
Grace: I think novellas chose me! I must admit that when I started writing fiction, novels terrified me, so I dipped my toe into the water with shorter work. My first writing credits were short stories for pulp confession magazines. I thought AN IMPERFECT WIFE would be yet another short story, but it completely got away from me as I was writing it. As the pages piled up, I found I liked the freedom the longer format provided.
Since I’m a relatively new fiction writer, I’m still learning how to tackle novels. I have one novel draft under my belt and am working on another right now. Writing novellas gave me the confidence to play with character, plot, and my process without thinking, “OMG, how am I ever going to finish this?” Now that I know I can start and finish multiple projects, novels are much less scary. I will always write, read, and love novellas, though. As a writer, they allow me to explore ideas that might not have enough scope to fill a novel, and as a reader, they deliver complex stories with an intense punch.
Amy: How did you connect with your publisher and how has that process been?
Grace: I met Celina Summers, the managing editor for Musa Publishing, on the Absolute Write forum six years ago. A group of us became fast friends because we were all at similar places in our writing journey. We were, and still are, each other’s beta readers and cheerleaders. When she announced Musa’s launch last year, I asked her if she would consider my women’s fiction novellas; I was afraid they’d be a hard sell because they were an odd pulp confession/women’s fiction hybrid. Luckily for me, she bought them.
Working with Musa has been a delightful experience. I enjoyed the editing process in particular because it was so demanding. Erica Mills, my editor, was like my own personal trainer because she kept pushing me to think harder, write stronger, and demand more from myself. I definitely grew from the experience.
Amy: What’s the reception been like for the idea of women’s fiction in a novella format?
GraceIt’s been quite positive. A few readers let me know they enjoyed being able to finish my stories in one evening. I’m thrilled that novellas are becoming more popular as more readers embrace e-books.
Amy: How do you define women’s fiction?
Grace: Hm, that’s a tough question, especially with the controversy over whether women’s fiction should be defined as a separate genre at all. I think “women’s fiction” is simply a marketing category identifying stories that women are more likely to enjoy than men. Other than that, I don’t attach much significance to the label. As Jennifer Weiner and others have noted, contemporary stories about families, relationships, and feelings written by men are considered simply “fiction” while such stories written by women are tagged “women’s fiction,” “chick lit,” or “romance.” To me, a good story is a good story, no matter who writes it or what label is attached to it. If the “women’s fiction” label makes it easier for readers to find what they want to read, that’s great.
Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Grace: Don’t be afraid to write a horrible, awful, no good, very bad first draft. This is still the toughest advice for me to follow, but it’s the most valuable. Every time I write a first draft, I’m convinced it’s the WORST STORY EVER. Every. Single. Time. But I force myself to keep pushing forward until I hit “The End.” And wouldn’t you know it, when I start revising, the draft is never as awful as I thought. Every single time. The draft is rough, of course, but it’s fixable, and that’s the most important part — I have something to fix. All the writing craft advice is useless if you don’t have a draft to revise in the first place. Nora Roberts wisely said, “You can fix a bad page. You can’t fix a blank one.” So keep writing those bad pages so you can later turn them into great ones!
Grace Wen writes women’s fiction and romance. She finds people fascinating and loves to ask her characters nosy questions to avoid being a real-life busybody. An Imperfect Wife, her debut women’s fiction novella, won the runner-up spot for Love Romances Cafe’s 2011 Best Contemporary Book. Grace lives in southeastern Michigan with two neurotic but cute cats. When she’s not writing, she’s usually reading, cooking, or training for her next half marathon.