Wendy French

Rian: I loved both “sMothering” and “Going Coastal”. Tell me, which book did you find easiest to write, and why?

Wendy: I think “sMothering” was easier to write, partly because it was written after “Going Coastal” and I felt more comfortable with pacing, etc, but also because there were fewer characters to deal with. That said, I had a much easier time with the setting in “Going Coastal”. I had a clearer view of my surroundings, especially the fish and chip shop.

Rian: In sMothering, why did you choose to mainly base the novel around Claire’s mother?

Wendy: I was hired as a receptionist for a free newspaper in Portland, which meant that even though I was the only person on staff with a writing background, I was not allowed to write. When Mother’s Day rolled around, the editor asked everyone to come up with a little blurb about their relationship with their mother. Mine started with “My mother sings the national anthem like she really means it” (which is true -I’m Canadian, and we’re a nation of mumblers when it comes to that song, but my Mum really belts it out). Somehow, that small fact was the kernal of the book, and as I was writing, I felt like it was Claire’s story, but her mother kept nagging at me, wanting to be understood a little better. What could I do, but give in?

Rian: I love how your main characters have to “find themselves” before anything really good happens to them. Where did you get the idea for Jody’s situation in “Going Coastal”?

Wendy: I’d had enough Customer Service jobs to make me daydream about working on a production line in a ballpoint pen factory, or some such place. My own ten-year high school reunion was fast approaching, and I was dreading the prospect of attending, while a sick sense of curiosity meant I had to go. I think in some way I found it reassuring to write about someone facing both of these situations who was in a worse place than I was. As I typed, I thought, “At least I’m not Jody.”

Rian: How did you go about getting your first novel written and published? Was it as difficult as it’s made out to be?

Wendy: In my case it was indeed as difficult as it’s made out to be, but well worth the effort. I wrote a book called “Waiting for Directions” (which resides in a bottom drawer, never to be published) and bought a copy of “Writer’s Market”. I wrote my query letter by following their rules, then started mailing it out in batches of ten to agents and editors. As one rejection rolled in, I sent out another letter, so I was always waiting to hear back from ten places. As I waited, I wrote the next book, which was “Going Coastal”. Again, I mailed query letters, and the rejections started getting “nicer”. They weren’t just poorly photocopied, generic “Dear Author” letters anymore, but contained useful feedback and positive commentary, which made it easier to keep going. While I was pitching “Going Coastal”, I started writing “sMothering”, and since I knew from experience that it would take some time to hear back from editors and agents, I wrote my query and pitched it as a complete manuscript when it was only 140 pages. Truly a dumb move. I got a request for the full manuscript the following week, and wrote like a fiend to finish it off in a week, while working full time. Needless to say, I didn’t get an acceptance letter at that time.

When I was finally offered a contract, I tallied up the numbers and discovered that it had taken me five years, three novels and 137 rejections to get there. People think 137 is a lot of rejections, but I would have kept trying forever.

Rian: In regards to choosing the characters for your novels, where do your ideas for them come from? Are many of them based on people you know/knew, or are they all completely made up?

Wendy: I don’t use anyone I know entirely, though there are elements of my Mum in the first chapter of sMothering, the restaurant regulars in Going Coastal are loosely based on the clientele at a muffin franchise I used to work for, and each of my heroine’s contain a pretty big dose of me. Some of the characters are combinations of people I know in appearance, but their personalities are mostly made up. Sometimes they’re people I wish I knew, and sometimes they’re the folks I’m glad I don’t. I get inspiration everywhere – eavesdropping on public transit, reading “odd news” in the local paper, talking to friends and family, or just taking a walk and having a nice think.

Rian: What other books or writing projects do you have coming in the near future?

Wendy: My new novel, “After the Rice”, about a newly married couple with very intrusive in-laws, is due to be published in April, 2006. The next one, “Full of It”, a tale of love, taxidermy and other natural disasters, will be published in April, 2007. Light years away!

Rian: What are your thoughts about the chick lit genre? What about the people that bash it?

Wendy: The Canadian publishing industry is very interested in dark, literary writing, which I love to read, but can’t write. It took a long time to embrace the idea of writing something lighter, but that’s what I’m most comfortable doing. Now that I hear from readers who enjoy chick-lit as a fun and entertaining break, I feel very good about my decision, and about chick-lit as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with making people smile. I think the folks who are critical simply have different tastes, and that’s just the way it is. The fact that there is occasionally venom involved when they express their disapproval kind of stinks, but it’s all just a matter of opinion and I don’t let it bother me too much.

Rian: What do you think is the single most important asset of a chick lit novel? Why?

Wendy: I think voice is the most important element. Readers want to wince along with a heroine and root for her to “win”. The voice has to be honest and real.

Rian: Who are your favorite authors, and what kinds of books do you like reading the most?

Wendy: Some of my favorite authors are Amy Tan, David Sedaris, Lisa Jewell, Mike Gayle, Wally Lamb and Elizabeth McCracken. I like to read just about anything, and zip back and forth between male and female perspectives or light and serious writing. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read recently is “Good Grief” by Lolly Winston.

Rian: If someone came to you asking for advice on how to get their chick lit novel published, what would you tell them?

Wendy: I would tell them to follow the rules. Make sure the manuscript format is correct and the query letter is the best it can be. Try to get the tone of the book across in that letter by having a bit of fun with it. The query should be like a movie preview, leaving the editor wanting more. My other piece of advice is to keep plugging away. Getting a book deal is like winning the lottery -you can’t win if you don’t play. You have to reach the right editor at the right house at the right time with the right tone for the right project. That’s a lot of ducks in a row, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to happen.

View Wendy’s Website