I am very pleased to feature author, blogger and founder/facilitator of the Women’s Writing Circle Susan Weidener in this Google+ interview about her debut novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor. Susan’s books include two memoirs, one anthology and her novel based upon a true story. Above all, it is a love story. I am fascinated by Susan’s creativity in shaping this novel from her late husband’s memoir. We are all bombarded with the rules of writing and what qualifies a book as fiction or nonfiction. It appears that Susan has taken creative license and written a stunning debut novel that incorporates another person’s memoir into a fictional love story. I invited her to this interview to address some of the questions that have arisen when convention is defied. Literary Agent,Carly Watters has an interesting post on “Four Reasons You Should Be Taking Risks With Your Fiction” which fits in with the discussion about breaking the rules.
My reviews of all her books can be found on Amazon:
Breaking the “Rules ” of Writing
KP: A Portrait of Love and Honor is a very personal story.Talk a little about why you wrote A Portrait of Love and Honor?
SW: It was gratifying . . . writing about ordinary people standing up to powerful systems, yet maintaining their integrity and honor; finding in each other love and companionship to stay strong and make sense of it all.
You know this because you read A Portrait of Love and Honor. And you also know from reading my memoirs that early on after John’s death I did a lot of dating. But I never remarried. I suppose you could say I’m a believer that true love only comes around once – and, maybe not even then, unless you’re very lucky. And I was lucky, although he died far too young and we only had 17 years together.
The “trilogy” – a term my son Daniel coined for Again in a Heartbeat, Morning at Wellington Square, and A Portrait of Love and Honor is a detailed rendering or “portrait” of the friendship and love between a man and a woman who seem destined to meet, if you’ll excuse the hyperbole.
KP: How did writing this story differ from writing your memoirs?
SW: You can’t imagine another person’s life, only yours. You’re bound by certain somewhat rigid “rules” . . . or, at least, I felt I was in terms of staying totally accurate or as nearly accurate as I could be in terms of names, places, conversations, memories. Memoirs, by their very nature, allow the writer to present just one POV. In fiction, you don’t have to worry about that and there can be more than one POV, although in Portrait there are only two – Jay’s and Ava’s. You can create, too, a more dramatic story.
KP: Since the book is based on your late husband’s memoir, did you ask your sons about publishing their father’s memoir in the framework of a novel instead of just as a straight memoir? If so, what did they say? How did you come up with the structure of the book? Do you feel you “broke” the rules of memoir?
SW: My sons were very helpful . . . they encouraged me to write it as a love story – the idea being that the memoir was a “bit dry,” as my one son put it. Using the flashback technique would draw in readers and help create a compelling story as well as enhance the memoir without tampering with the truth of John’s story.
It’s important, too, to have a vision for your novel as a creative expression and not get hung up on rules that stifle that expression. I read somewhere that Agatha Christie was nearly drummed out of her writing group for “breaking the rules” of mystery writing!
Ava Stuart is, I suppose, in some ways my alter ego in the novel . . . she is a woman I probably would have been had I met “Jay” in my early 40s, not my mid-20s. Disillusioned, cynical . . . a willing heart . . . but always steeled against another disappointment in terms of love. So it’s semi-autobiographical with fictionalized “chronicles” . . . for example Ava reading from her novel in the library. As an author, I’ve been doing that with my memoirs for several years. So I had fun with that opening scene. There is a blurring of the lines – what is real, what is made up? Charles Bukowski did it; Hemingway did it, just to name two.
KP: This is your 4th self-published book. What advice would you give writers about publishing?
I would offer that this is the best way to get your work out there and make as much from royalties and signings and events as possible. Wasn’t self-publishing, until recently, considered ‘breaking the rules’; a place only for outliers and those who couldn’t get traditionally published? Ha! That has changed!
Until I get an offer from a mainstream publisher, I hope that my work continues to garner interest and attention. Creating my own publishing imprint and having complete creative control – my choice of an editor, (editors, I believe have to be true friends in that they work with you, but are not intent on changing your vision, or even most of your words), . . . creating the cover image – that is my own photograph on the cover of A Portrait of Love and Honor. Of course, uppermost is a dedication to a creating a professional product, although I hate using the word “product” when talking about a book. But it is that because you are asking the public to spend their hard earned money – not to mention time – on your book when there are a million other choices out there. So being a self-publisher entails responsibilities and commitment to excellence.
Also, I was published extensively for over 25 years in newspapers and made my living as a writer . . . I didn’t need that validation anymore . . . that some might feel they need in order to gain “legitimacy” as a writer. I have to admit, however, having a publisher who has email distribution lists at their fingertips would certainly be nice! Discoverability is the unending, exhausting task of the author entrepreneur.
KP: Thank you Susan for sharing your writing journey with us.
Ordering Link: Amazon
A former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan started the Women’s Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. Her novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor, takes the reader from the halls of the United States Military Academy at West Point during the Vietnam War to a moving love story between two people destined to meet.
She is the author of two best-selling memoirs: Again in a Heartbeat, about being widowed at a young age, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Her work also appears in the critically-acclaimed anthology, Slants of Light, Stories and Poems From the Women’s Writing Circle.
Susan offers editing services for writers aspiring to publish their manuscripts. She also teaches writing workshops and is available for talks and lectures on writing life stories. Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
Website: Women’s Writing Circle
Susan’s Amazon Author Page
How about you? What creative license have you taken to shape your story? How do you feel as a reader and/or a writer about “breaking the rules” of writing?
Susan has graciously agree to offer a paperback or digital copy of A Portrait of Love and Honor to a commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing.
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Monday, 5/25/15: “Memorial Day Tribute to Heroes: A Memoir Moment”
May 2015 Newsletter, “Planting the Seeds for Story”, will be published.
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My Goodreads Giveaway for my memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse is going on until June 11. I’ll be giving away ten paperback copies. You can enter in the right sidebar or here.