I connected with author Sally Koslow when I interviewed her about her third novel, With Friends Like These in 2011. Now, with the publication of Sally’s fourth novel, THE WIDOW WALTZ, Sally joins us again at Women’s Fiction Writers with her insights about writing fiction and non-fiction, exploring the threads of reinvention and widowhood and secrets, and digging into writing that is meaningful to us to make our own writing more meaningful.
Both THE WIDOW WALTZ and THE GLASS WIVES were listed in Lilith Magazine’s Summer Suggestions! I was thrilled to be paired with Sally, who is a generous and compassionate writer friend and mentor.
Please welcome Sally Koslow back to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Sally Koslow Says Men Appreciate Her Novels, But She Doesn’t Spit On The Concept Of Women’s Fiction
Amy: The Widow Waltz is your fourth novel, congratulations! Where were you and what were you doing when the idea sparked for this novel? Did the idea come to you fully formed, or was it a plot point, a character, a line of dialogue?
Sally: The Widow Waltz wove a handful of threads. After writing three novels whose protagonists were younger than I am, I wanted to create a character closer to my own age. When I considered the issues that women face at, say, 50, both widowhood and the struggle to re-invent yourself after years out of the workplace came to mind. I also started wondering about women who were beached by the Madoff swindle. For The Widow Waltz, I merged all of this in Georgia Waltz, and added a character with Alzheimer’s, the disease my mother had, as well as two daughter who were inspired by people I met in my research for Slouching Toward Adulthood, a non-fiction book I wrote about young people who take circuitous routes before landing.
Amy: I love your NY Times Opinionator essay on writing both fiction and non-fiction and not being able to pick a favorite. I’ve had essays published since I started writing again in 2006, and feel the same way. So I have to ask, what’s next for you? Novel or non-fiction? And how did you decide—or did the project decide for you?
Sally: Next up, fiction, though I have a few memoir-y essays to finish while I hatch the book. Since 2007 I’ve published four novels and only one non-fiction book, but fiction still feels newer, because I spent decades producing magazine articles as a writer or editor. Through fiction I like exercising my imagination and leveraging what I’ve lived, which was rarely the case as a staff writer or freelance reporter. At one point, for example, my specialty was freaky sexual relationships….loveless marriage, unconsummated marriage, incest. My first novel was about the magazine world, inspired by some of my you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up experiences as an editor-in-chief. The concept for The Late, Lamented Molly Marx came to me whole while I was sitting a neighbor’s funeral. With Friends like These grew out of a nasty injustice in a friendship.
Amy: Since I’m trying to juggle a myriad of projects, tell us how you do it! Do you write fiction on certain days and non-fiction on other days? Everything at once? (Can you tell I’m looking for the secret to your success?)
Sally: When I’m into something, I can’t shut down write-mode and I find myself “writing” when I’m walking around the city, running, cooking, sleeping. The first draft is torture. The fun is in polishing –upgrading words, cutting flab, eliminating unintentional duplication, untangling tenses. As I reread, which I do constantly, I always ask, “How can I make this better?” When I am juggling more than one deadline, I start the day with the project I absolutely have to focus on, even if there’s something else I’d rather write. Being trained as a magazine editor has helped me meet deadlines. This doesn’t mean that I don’t procrastinate. Whether you give me a lot of time or a little, I’ll probably do the same job, sometimes under the whip of pressure.
Amy: Novels are layered and complex. We know that as both readers and writers. But if you could impart one takeaway from The Widow Waltz, for its readers, what would it be?
Sally: Only one? That all of us are capable of handling more than we think. We can rise to the occasion and help can come in surprising packages. Also, that our families are a medley of people we love who love us back—they may be blood-links, but not always.
Amy: What do you think of the term “women’s fiction?” How would you define it? (Obviously it doesn’t bother me, but I know it gets under the skin of many authors)
Sally: Men have read and appreciated my novels; I see the reviews and Facebook comments. But I know most of my readers are women and as someone who happily edited magazines for female audiences, I’d be a hypocrite to spit on the concept of “women’s fiction.” I recognize that the subjects I have explored in my novels—working for the eccentric female celebrity editor of a magazine: reflecting on motherhood, infidelity, and complicated friendship; rebuilding your life after being widowed without resources—may resonate more for women than men. Fine. Certainly some amount of “women’s fiction” is sappy, overly dependent on clichés and product placement just as many suspense novels and thrillers marketed to men are poorly written. I like remind myself of authors like Margaret Drabble, Claire Messud or Elizabeth Strout, who often tell women’s stories. The real issue is that reviewers undervalue women’s concerns and give less coverage to “women’s fiction.”
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors (or any authors) of women’s fiction?
Sally: Read—extensively, slowly and not only for plot. Don’t waste your time on mediocre or derivative titles. Consider how the author of a finely executed novel or memoir has told her story and look carefully at her use of language. If an author’s work strikes a special chord for you, dig into other books that she’s written. If you’re lucky, the virus of good writing will infect you.
Sally Koslow is the author of The Widow Waltz, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest, With Friends Like These, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx and Little Pink Slips.
Please visit her website www.sallykoslow.com or follow her on Twitter: @sallykoslow