Jeanne Felfe is a women’s fiction author whose debut novel came out in 2016. Always curious how other writers make the journey, I asked her a few questions about writing, publishing and her support system. Here are her answers.
When did you start writing?
I actually have a notebook from Junior High that contains some of my writing, so back at least that far. However, I didn’t write seriously until around 2012. I “played” at writing, but would start and then stop for months at a time.
When did you decide to pursue publication?
The Art of Healing began its life as a short story for a Writers Digest contest in 2003. A friend mentioned Camp Nano in July 2013, the day before it started, and I decided to turn that short story into a novel, even though I knew two weeks of that month were already booked. Although I didn’t write 50K words, I did make it to 21K, which was the most I’d ever written on a single story. The writing bug caught hold that time and hasn’t let go. It took me three years to complete The Art of Healing, and I published it in June 2016, knowing absolutely nothing about pre-launch and marketing. I knew half-way through that I would publish my first book as an Indie author – it just felt right.
Describe your book. Who is your audience?
The Art of Healing is a blended Women’s Fiction/Love story. Although the love story is central, it’s not a true romance. And though it has a satisfying end, it’s not the ending one might expect. The main female character, pediatric nurse Julianne Garvoli, has fooled herself into thinking her life is perfect – that it’s her dream life. Until she comes home one day to learn that her perfect life is anything but perfect. The main male character, photographer Jokob O’Callaghan, is definitely living his dream life, with his wife Keara. They travel the country in an RV creating works of art from his sunrise/sunset photos, and her poetry. When his life is shattered, he hides behind his work. A chance meeting between Julianne and Jokob in St. Louis at one of his art shows opens the door to a possible future together that neither really wants due to their brokenness. In spite of themselves, they find themselves falling in love. But life may have other plans for them.
The ideal audience is a reader who enjoys a deeply emotional journey through pain and healing. A story of growth and forgiveness, and of learning that we all deserve a second chance at love.
The Art of Healing was a quarter-finalist in the Booklife Prize 2017 Contest, where the judge said, “…This satisfying novel has a traditional romance plot, but infuses it with a depth and introspection that keeps the story fresh. No space is wasted on tangents, and the plot comes to a gratifying climax.”
Do you consider genre before you start writing or after the book is complete?
I should, but don’t. When a story floats into my head, I don’t question what it is, I simply write it. However, most of my stories revolve around strong female characters, and fit into some sub-category of Women’s Fiction. That said, I also write short stories, many of which have won contests and been published in several anthologies. My short stories range from humor to horrific, and just about everything in between, including a couple of fantasy. I’m never sure where the ideas come from, but they are usually a flash of a character or scene, and I follow wherever the stories lead.
Do you have a critique group or support network? Do you let people read early drafts?
I am truly blessed to belong to Saturday Writers, a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild (MWG), and began serving on the board in January 2017. I also served on the MWG board for the 2017-2018 session. Saturday Writers is my writing home and I belong to two novel critique groups made up of several of its members. I can’t imagine trying to write a novel without their support. These two groups (one made up of six women), along with a tightly knit Facebook group, are the only ones I allow to see early drafts because I trust them completely to be honest without destroying me. That wasn’t the case early on when I received some critiques from writers who were not kind, nor supportive but were rather demeaning. I quit writing for a while because of that feedback. Now I am selective. My FB critique group has been writing together since 2014 when we participated in short story workshop together.
Learning which feedback to take from any particular critique partner is something all writers must figure out. Many beginning writers will take anyone’s feedback and make changes that may not serve the story, perhaps changing the voice beyond what truly works.
What are you working on next?
I am so excited to be working on my second novel, The Things We Do Not Speak Of. One day I had a flash that a teenage boy, Daniel, the pastor’s son, had disappeared. When I asked what happened, the voice of fourteen year old Cadey Farmer, a Somali Muslim refugee came through as if she were sitting in my kitchen telling me her story. I ran with it, not truly knowing where it would lead. I knew the beginning and the end, and I knew what had happened to Cadey and Daniel. The rest comes to me in flashes of conversation (how I usually write) between the various characters. I am trying something different. Cadey’s voice came to me in 1st person. There are multiple other point of view characters, all in 3rd person (but all with their own chapters and/or scenes – it’s not omniscient, but rather deep POV for each character). I’ve never read a novel that does this, and it probably breaks a bunch of rules, but all my critique partners tell me it works this way.
The story is a blend of coming of age, family drama, small town bigotry, religious clashes, and mystery, all rolled into one. After the Farmer family moves from Atlanta, where they settled six years earlier after escaping Somalia, to (fictional) Savannah Falls, South Carolina, young Cadey makes a decision that rocks her family, and rattles the townsfolk. Her decision sets up a collision course, forcing a change in deeply held beliefs on all sides. The story dives headlong into generations of racism and prejudice, of small town rivalries, and hidden secrets.
I hope to finish it by the end of the summer and will then begin submitting. All three of my critique groups have been reading it as I write it, so by the time I finish it will have had over ten sets of eyes on it.
For more information, check out Jeannefelfe.com.