Contrary to the advice of many, I thinking writing what we don’t know is the best part of writing fiction, and it seems author Wendy Francis agrees! In THREE GOOD THINGS her main character, Ellen, bakes kringle (you’ll have to read the book to find out more—or head to the Midwest!), but Wendy is not a baker. She writes about the relationship between sisters but Wendy doesn’t have a sister. (Sounds similar to my novel writing experiences!) But what Wendy does know is how to take her own experiences to inform, populate, and create fine fiction.
Please welcome Wendy Francis to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Three Good Things (Okay, Many More) From Author Wendy Francis
Amy: Congratulations on the publication of THREE GOOD THINGS! The story is about two sisters. Did you base THREE GOOD THINGS on your own relationship with your sister? Do you even have a sister? 😉
Wendy: Thank you, Amy! I don’t have a sister, but I’m very close to my mom. She became a mother in her early twenties, and she always says that we grew up together. She gave me all the love and support that a mom could give, but she also was like a cool, funny big sister. Though I was too young to realize it as a child, I got the best of both worlds. I also have a close-knit group of girlfriends from college, whom I think of as my extended family or my surrogate sisters. All of these things played into my depiction of the relationship between Ellen and Lanie in the book.
Amy: Your main character, Ellen, opens a bake shop in her small town. How did you decide on this element for your character and your book?
Wendy: I always knew that I wanted to share the story of kringle, a delicate Danish pastry that’s popular in the Midwest, with a wider audience. I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin and fell in love with kringle when I was a young girl. Racine, Wisconsin, is the American home to kringle, and it’s where you can find the pastry in all its mouth-watering varieties, from almond to blueberry to chocolate turtle. But the pastry is surprisingly hard to find out east, and when I came this way for school I started to crave it. I told my husband that one day I wanted to open a kringle shop in Boston. Of course, that was the dream. When I realized that running a bakery would actually require some talent, I settled for writing a novel about it instead.
Amy: I think for some writers there’s a moment when a story comes to light and we know (or hope) that we’re going to write it. Did that happen to you with THREE GOOD THINGS?
Wendy: I wish a light bulb had gone off for me! In truth, crafting THREE GOOD THINGS was more of a process of writing, re-writing, and more re-writing. I was at home with my baby son and was itching to try my hand at a novel. Ellen’s character, a recent divorcée who runs a bakery, popped into my mind first. I knew she had a sister, though Lanie wasn’t as fully formed in my mind. And I could feel the setting – for whatever reason, I knew the book had to be set in the Midwest. There’s a patience, a certain respect for the land and its people that imbues the Midwest, and I wanted to pay tribute to that. But beyond the characters and the setting, I would say the novel was never a sure thing until I had a signed contract.
Amy: Are you more of a plotter, or a pantser (write by the seat of your pants)?
Wendy: I love the term “pantser.” I’ve never heard it before, but that definitely describes my approach. I wish I could sit down and map out a storyline with precise beginning and end points, but I find that the story grows and takes shape as I write. I usually have a vague notion of where it’s headed, but the characters often end up surprising me as they did in Three Good Things. I was remembering this as I was working on my second novel. Writing for me is akin to learning to play a song by ear: you have to feel your way around the keys (or the characters) until you strike the right melody.
Amy: How do you feel about the women’s fiction label? What does “women’s fiction” mean to you?
Wendy: I think it’s a little silly to try to label something as “women’s fiction” or “men’s fiction.” Most authors, whatever literary camp they’re in, hope to create characters that any reader with empathize with or, at the very least, will want to better understand. That said, I’ve worked in the publishing business long enough (as an editor) to know how eager people are to assign labels and categories to works of fiction and nonfiction. Frankly, it’s difficult enough to find a wide audience for any book these days – sometimes having a particular angle can help a book capture its audience; other times it can be limiting. I really think it depends on the book. Where the confusion comes, at least to my mind, is when people start to equate “women’s fiction” with writing that isn’t literary. So much of “women’s fiction” is gorgeously crafted. When people tell me that Three Good Things is great women’s fiction, I take it as a wonderful compliment. To me, it means I’ve written a book with strong female characters and relationships.
Amy: What is your best advice for authors and aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
I think it’s easy to get caught up on how a novel is “supposed” to come about. There is no one timeline for how long it should take, no one way of doing it, whether you’re a plotter or a pantser. Sometimes the easiest way for me to approach a new chapter is through a scene that has been percolating in my head. The scene may end up at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a chapter, but it’s the impetus to get me writing that particular day. At some point, the characters in the story begin to feel like real people in my life. I find myself thinking about them throughout the course of the day, when I’m doing laundry, cooking dinner, coloring pictures with my four-year-old. It can be a bit strange and chaotic having all those people running around in your head, but it’s also a wonderful feeling: you know the story has taken hold of you. My advice? Don’t let the story go; trust your instincts and get it down on paper when time allows.
A Wisconsin native, Wendy Francis came out east for school, attending Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard. After a brief stint in law school (where it became apparent she had no aptitude for the law), she took the Radcliffe Publishing Course and went on to work as a book editor for nearly fifteen years, dividing her time between Houghton Mifflin Company and Da Capo Press. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Wisconsin State Journal, The Racine Journal Times, and in magazines such as The Improper Bostonian. Her most recent essay, “A Letter to the Author You’re About to Become,” ran in The Huffington Post (http://huff.to/10ZEATC). Three Good Things is her debut novel; she is currently at work on her second. Wendy lives with her family outside of Boston.