Interview with Jeanne Felfe

Head shotJeanne 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.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00025]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.

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The Writers Circle: Writing Events

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

The July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo has started.  Are you participating?  Whether you are participating in Camp or not, today we would like to know which writing events you have tried in the past or are planning to try in the future. What do you see as the benefits of online or in person events geared toward getting a lot of writing done? Do you find any major drawbacks to participating in these events?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

November: A Novel Month

To be bound by a designated entry point, a predetermined finish, and a trivial concern for quality—at least at the initial stage, for the first draft—doesn’t necessarily sound like the finest makings of substantial art (although I don’t know if during this yearly November event you’re asked to do that). Because during your involvement in National Novel Writing Month, ‘NaNoWriMo,’ you are required to achieve a quantity of words that translates to a novel-length manuscript.  The amount is the goal. You’re asked to write continuously, to reach daily checkpoints, and to work without pause and heavy reflection; being overly watchful of your prose may hinder your progress.  It’s daunting, especially because we surely want to write something good and to move on from a sentence, a paragraph, a page of something that we aren’t fully satisfied with requires trust.  And that isn’t always easy.

Although I don’t like the idea of writing a novel in a month’s time, I can see it’s value for others and, therefore, the effort deserves to be celebrated.  Just as January 1st marks the beginning of our newest weight-loss journey and Monday marks the beginning of, well, anything we hope prompts good change, November offers the writer a digestible meal in an otherwise overwhelming feast.  If anything, your involvement in NaNoWriMo will help teach you about your own process, that maybe you are the type of writer that needs to write daily, without self-editing, to just spill it all out.  Or maybe you thrive on a patient year focusing on one longer piece where a month’s time results in the satisfactory completion of ten damn good pages.  Either way, you learn, about you, and that’s a very good thing.

And November is just the start, really.  You will hopefully go back into your novel, repeatedly, to polish it.  Often, the best writing comes in the revision stage.  So if the month works for you, what a great springboard. You’ll have 50,000+ of your words to work with. It’s a commendable endeavor and talking with others that have endured NaNoWriMo before can offer some beneficial pearls. (Maybe even some folks here on this site.)

But it isn’t for me and may not be for others. Hemingway said, “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.” Having to write a certain amount of words in a day may not allow that approach. And moving on too quickly when writing something I’m deeply engaged in just doesn’t work for me.

That, though, may not be you, which is good. Our craft process takes different forms and you need to be dedicated to yours. So dig your heels in and be kind to yourself daily, throughout. Take some time, perhaps before bed, to softly reflect on how the day’s writing went. What worked well for you? What will propel you the next day? What practice might you scrap?

Personal Writing Challenge: fait accompli

In June I decided to write a novel in the month of July. That’s 50,000 words in 31 days. Most of you reading know I don’t – er, haven’t – written 50,000 non-school-related words in 365 days.

I did it. Over 52,000 words done by July 31st.

As with all writing, goals, or challenges, some reflection is necessary to put it in perspective. This isn’t a very pretty post. My language is flat. In our writerly varlance, I’m all tell, no show. But I wanted to share my reflections with you so you can take from it what you will.

Goals & Pragmatics

50,000 words in a month breaks out to about 1,600 words a day. I had an evening once, way back when I was a night person, when I did a happy dance at 800 words. The first week of July, 800 words was a – ahem – miracle. My goal, to get this done, was 1600 words a day. I thought between the hour in the morning and the time in the evening that it was very doable, if not easy. Not easy comes because I’m a pick-it-apart writer. I overthink everything.  So writing in the evening was my intention. The reality…evenings were my worst time for writing, despite my child crashing into sleep nice and early. On a good night I got 800 words (happy dance).

Clearly, I reevaluated.

Personal Space

By “personal space” I mean not only the physical space but also the functional time.  I was really behind on where I thought I’d be, word wise, early in the second week. Add in my husband’s random schedule (it’s his job, not a slam on him), and my son’s random wake-up schedule, and it was a mess.

I’ve recently read an article on great female writers with children. The phrase that came up over again, and I believe was part of the title, is “Shush, I’m working.” Now, I know this is a phrase you’ve used in some variation before. There are work-from-home writers in this group. But it’s usually used in conjunction with a clearly defined office, with a door, and older child(ren).

Side note on the office: I have one. The door serves to keep guests from noticing that it looks very much like rental storage. I had intended to “work on” the office this summer, but really when choosing between writing a book and cleaning out the rental storage who wouldn’t choose the book?

Side note on the child: He is smart, sweet, sensitive, and clingy. C L I N G Y. This isn’t driven by fear or anything worrisome, just a high preference for company. An example: this past Wednesday when my husband’s schedule switched from being in the office to being on the site (three hour drive) from early morning and through the night, my schedule switched from a day alone to a day with the child. We were, if not in direct contact, at least within 6 feet of each other from 4 am to 7 pm. Good thing he’s so cute.

As with this very article, I wrote the book on the couch. That’s where my son first looks for me when he wakes up in the morning. He comes out, snuggles up to me, and all too quickly asks me what’s for breakfast. It’s easy to get distracted, to forget what word comes next, how the scene’s supposed to unfold.

Something that children know and adults have unlearned (not at all exclusively, but I do think especially women because of how we are socialized) is that if you don’t demand it, you probably won’t get it. So I demanded time from my four-year-old son. “Shush, I’m working” doesn’t cut it. (Yes, of course I tried it.) My new goal was at least 1,000 words each morning and 600 or more after the boy went to bed. My son already knew I was writing a book. Again, he’s four. He has no clue what “writing a book” means, and could care less.

Still, I explained what I was doing, what my goal was, and then demanded the time to do it. That is, I told him I was writing 1,000 words every morning regardless of when he woke up and what he wanted, and the more he left me alone the sooner I could get off the couch to do something interesting, like make him breakfast or play cars. I’m proud of him. There were days he left me alone – as in alone in the room – for a whole thirty minutes. Then there were the days I had to finish my word goal while he drove cars or built legos on my legs.

Permission

I made it because of my deal with the boy, but also because when I first brought up writing a novel in July – knowing full well I wasn’t go to do it because a novel is just too damn long – my husband said, “That’s a good idea.” At the time it felt like validation. I wanted it to be a good idea, just needed to hear it from someone else. In reflection, it’s validation in another way. “That’s a good idea” meant that I not only could focus on my writing, I should focus on my writing. Somehow I forgot that in the last four years. Choosing to be a writer means giving myself permission to write; and I hadn’t done that since my son was born.

Permission to write, by the way, comes from ourselves.  It means permission to ignore the laundry until you are down to your last pair of underwear, permission to forget where you put the lawnmower, or the vacuum cleaner, at least until you’ve met that day’s goal. For me, it was permission to spend my child-free days writing to make up the loss for the days I was interrupted so much I didn’t make it past word 50. Nothing else got done in July that wasn’t absolutely necessary (note: meeting friends at McDonald’s when you have a four-year-old and a 113 degree day, IS absolutely necessary) or directly related to the book. That’s okay, I had permission.

Writing Flow, Habit, and the Internal Editor

I’ve written on the site Write Anything about my habit of starting things in a notebook because otherwise I edit as I write. This is something I worried about when I began the project but it turns out that writing a long piece in a very short period of time does the same trick. I just had to, again, give myself permission to focus on 1) writing daily and 2) focus on moving the story along rather than on the story’s integrity.

I wanted it to get me in the habit of writing every day, but that didn’t happen. The morning after I finished my novel, I started reading someone else’s. But the challenge did let me know that I can do it. I can write strongly every morning; I can write longer pieces; I can give myself permission to write and demand my family respect that. It will work out wonderfully.

What I did learn is that I like the story. Not as I wrote it, mind, but the concept is sound, and so are many of the characters. They need to not sound like each other, of course. Now I just need to figure out how to write a second, integrity-based draft as my four-year-old piles cold metal toys on my feet.

Personal Writing Challenge

I’ve been jealous of so-called NaNo-ers for the past couple of years.  I had never heard of NaNo until I had a baby (the cute, time intensive, pick-me-up-or-I’ll-cry all-night-long kind) and a brand new class to teach and was still working toward my Master’s degree.  Writing?  Yes, plenty of that, as long as we count assignment directions, notes on scholarly articles, notes on what I forgot at the grocery store on the second run.

Now that baby is a preschooler and I’ve been ignoring NaNo anyway. It’s in November.  That’s just cruel.  There is no way in –er, Hades – that I’ll ever get any creative writing done in November.

So I’m doing it in July.

If there’s anyone else who has been reluctant to get involved in a novel-in-a-month because of the date, join me.  Here’s my goal:  50,000 words on a novel written from July 1st to July 31st .

That’s over 1600 words a day.  A friend and I estimated it at 8-9 pages a day.  Keep in mind I haven’t written more than two pages a day – on assignment stuff and the occasional dead-end story – since before my son was born, so I’m setting the bar scary high for myself to aim for a (crappy, no-one-reads-it) novel in 5 weeks.

50,000 words in 5 weeks?  I must be insane.

Wish me luck!  (And kindly send a kick in the pants too – starting now (well, if you can arrange it, start kicking me yesterday… about 5am July 2nd.)

 

Editor’s Note:  If you are interested in joining Jessica in this July writing adventure but don’t know where to start, you may want to check out Camp NaNoWriMo, which is running now for the month of July!

Going to Camp

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into the Flash Fiction arena for some time (though my wordiness tends to work against me in that plan).  I’ve also been toying with the idea of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, though I can guarantee that I do not have time to write 50,000 words in April.  For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking of ways I could do both – participate in Camp and also start writing Flash.  Yesterday, Grant Faulkner, Executive Director over at the Office of Letters and Light, posted his plan to write 30 Shorts in 30 Days over on the OLL blog.

Flash Fiction Camp?  I love the idea!

Looking at reality, I wonder if how I can actually do this.  I mean a story a day starting April 1 when I’ve written barely a dozen stories in over a year?  How crazy am I?  Add in the fact that baseball games for the team I manage start on April 1, the garden needs to start going in on or about April 1 and I have crazy work deadlines in April and really this is probably a bad idea. Nonetheless, the more I think about it, the more excited I am getting about going to Camp and starting this project.  I have the ideas to accomplish it, so now it’s time to start writing.  And, as the subtitle of this site says: just keep writing.

I am going to spend the next few days putting together prompts, much like Grant suggested in his post.  I’ll likely use a lot of the Today’s Author Write Now prompts, but I have others as well. I am not committing to posting each and every story on my blog right away, but my goal is to put them out there in some form during the month and/or after April is done.

So who else is participating in Camp this April?  What projects are you starting, whether for Camp or not?  I’m still not positive that I haven’t lost my mind in considering this, as there’s no way I can be writing a flash fiction and flashing signs from the third base coach’s box on the baseball field, but I’m going to give it a go.  Are you in?  Let us know what projects you are looking forward to starting. After all, putting it out there for all to see makes it more likely we’ll get started, right?

Oh, and if you have any tips for being successful with writing flash fiction, share them, too!

 

If you are doing Camp, find me on the site – my username is Lousy Writer 13. Looking forward to writing with everyone!