This pastor’s wife wears biker boots

When you write a book about a world to which you don’t belong, you can’t help but wonder what the people who actually belong to that world think of your fictional version. Are they insulted? Aghast at your very nerve? Shocked, dismayed, scandalized?

Recently I got a message on my Facebook author page from a pastor’s wife. Karla Akins admitted she had bought “Pastors’ Wives” with the sole intention of reviewing it online. She planned to tell one and all how I did not get even a little bit of it right. Instead, she wrote me a lovely note. We got to corresponding, and I learned she too had written a book about pastors’ wives—albeit one with a much cooler title.

Karla agreed to a Q&A that I hope will a) tell you a little about the novel, b) show you how tickled I am at her reaction, and c) introduce you to this warm, funny and wonderful pastor’s wife.

How did you and your husband meet?

We met through mutual friends. My husband was attending a church similar to Greenleaf in your book, Pastors’ Wives. I was a lot like Ruthie in that I wasn’t raised in such a church. The character Ruthie was Catholic but I was raised American Baptist. Very, very different style of worship than what my husband’s church practiced. I was terrified that first service!

Could you share the name, denomination and location of your church?

Our church is Christian Fellowship Church of North Manchester, Indiana. It is an independent, non-denominational church. I like to describe it as a church whose emphasis is on following Jesus rather than following rules.

What are five words you would use to describe life as the wife of the pastor?

1. Challenging
2. Demanding
3. Stressful
4. Rewarding
5. Faith-building

Meet Karla Akins and her hog

Meet Karla Akins and her hog

What is the hardest thing about being a PW?

Life in a fishbowl. Constant scrutiny. It’s unsettling sometimes not to have privacy.

The best?

Helping people, families, children.

As a pastor’s wife, did you have misgivings about reading a book titled “Pastors’ Wives”? (I know I would.)

Oh yes. As soon as I saw the title I was very skeptical. In fact, I bought it with the intention of setting the record straight with a review. I thought it was going to make fun of pastors’ wives or criticize them. I figured there was no way someone on the outside could possibly “get” what life is like for a pastor’s wife and be sympathetic in their portrayal of them. There’s a show on TV right now that’s about pastors’ wives and it annoys me because the women they depict are nothing like me and my lifestyle at all, so I figured the book was going to be another skewed look. And while the characters in the the book are in a mega-church, and I’m in a small rural one, I was pleasantly surprised that the emotions are very similar. You were quite often spot on.

What did you think of Ruthie, Candace and Ginger, the PWs in my novel?

I could identify very well with all their emotions. While I’m not like any of the three women, all three have something about them I could identify with. My husband’s been on staff of a few larger churches before, so there were things that happen in the book I could truly see happening. I know what it’s like to be the wife of a staff pastor, and how your identity in those situations are pretty much non-important and that while you are pretty much invisible, you have quite a lot of expectations put upon you. The expectations are very different in a megachurch than a smaller church.

In our smaller church, I’m more of a Candace. That is, the woman behind the man, making sure things run smoothly, overseeing a lot of different departments and activities. Even though I’m an ordained minister myself, I prefer the title of pastor’s wife. I do better in that role. My husband is such an excellent pastor and is very people-oriented while I’m more task oriented.

I think the thing I most identified with in your book were the emotions these women had about feeling like they were playing second fiddle to God. I had to work through those emotions early in our marriage myself. Pastors’ schedules are grueling. And the pastor’s wife has to share her husband with so many others. When the kids were small it was pretty difficult.  This excerpt says it so well:   “What’s it like when the guy you married decides to marry God?…It feels lonely…”

One of my favorite paragraphs in your book was when Candace was trying to decide how to deal with the elder, John:

“…to forgive was to run the risk of being taken advantage of. So should she turn the other cheek? Or demand an eye for an eye?”

This is something that I find myself wrestling with at times. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a peace-maker, not a fighter, and if people see me as a pushover, then so be it.

I really, really wanted Ruthie to develop a faith, and for Ginger’s husband to make different responses. I was impressed with Candace’s backbone and confidence in her abilities. I’ve known pastor’s wives like her, and they are amazing people. However, I would find it difficult to work for someone like her.

You’re an author too! Tell us about your fabulously titled book, “The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots.”

My new release is due on shelves August 9 but it’s already on Amazon in paperback. It will also be available digitally in ebook form.

It’s about a pastor’s wife named Kirstie Donovan who gets tired of living life in a fishbowl. But when she hops on the back of a bright pink motorcycle, tongues start to wag at the conservative, century-old First Independent Christian Community Church of Eel Falls.The Pastor's Wife Wears Biker Boots

Here’s the back cover blurb:  Kirstie loves roaring down a road less traveled by most women over forty, but she’s not just riding her bike for the fun of it. Kirstie has a ministry. However, certain church members have secrets to hide, and when God uses Kirstie’s ministry to fill the pews with leather-clad, tattooed bikers, those secrets could be exposed…and some will stop at nothing to hide the truth. Join Kirstie and her motorcycle “gang”—two church matrons and a mouthy, gum-smacking non-church member—as they discover that road-toughened bikers are quite capable of ministering to others, and faith is fortified in the most unexpected ways.

Where can we find you online?

KarlaAkins.com

http://facebook.com/karlakakins

Twitter: @KarlaAkins

Blog: http://karlaakins.com/blog

Thank you, Karla!

Top beach reads of 2013, and other things I learned in a downpour

Last Friday, during a monsoon of apocalyptic proportions, I inched down the flooded New Jersey Turnpike to Princeton for a book event.

Billing it Beach Reads Night, the Princeton Public Library had asked nine women authors to discuss their recent publications and what we ourselves liked to thumb through while sitting in the sand.

Cupcake display at Princeton Public Library Beach Reads Night

If you bake it, they will come.

Now, I worship any library big or small, state-of-the-art or state-of-disrepair. But the PPL is in a class of its own. I mean, check out this presentation. In honor of the beach theme, library program director Janie Hermann arranged for Sweetly Spirited Cupcakes to supply fancy baked goods, and Cake It Up Cake Stands to design a wee little beach made of brown sugar. Will you look at that? That’s all edible.

As the deluge built outside, I understood the genius of this confectionery display: if you provide free dessert, people will show up. Guaranteed. The unholy weather forced two of the authors to bail. But readers braved hell and brimstone for a taste of that Tequila Lime cupcake. Even a reporter managed to show, and I speak from long experience that extreme weather is the assignment-shirking excuse. Here’s proof she was there for the treats. (To be fair: she’s a food reporter, so the presence of authors was merely incidental.)

Anyway, I was thrilled to be included, thanks to moderator Amy Bromberg, the teeny tiny and fabulous founder of ChickLitCentral. For me it was the opposite of Groucho Marx’s gripe about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him; me, I was somewhat mortified to find myself among writers of this caliber. The only thing I brought to the party were a gaggle of damp but determined friends (thanks, guys!).

Authors at Princeton Public Library Beach Reads Night

From left, Priscille Sibley (“The Promise of Stardust”); Beatriz Williams (“A Hundred Summers”); me, momentarily not slouching; cupcakes; Pamela Redmond Satran (“The Possibility of You”); Christina Baker Kline (“Orphan Train”); Sally Koslow (“The Widow Waltz”); Amy Bromberg (ChicklitCentral)

Here are some things I learned that night:

• “If they cry, they buy.” That’s what Priscille Sibley said about her debut novel “The Promise of Stardust.” She in turn was quoting her agent, who cried umpteen times while reading Priscille’s manuscript. Sure enough, the publishers cried too, then bought.

• Ideas turn up in the strangest places. Christina Baker Kline discovered her then 10-year-old son flipping through a dusty tome at his grandparents’. When she inquired, she found the book held an account of the “orphan train”—a practice around the turn of the century of sending American children off for labor to the midwest. Idea!

• Some novelists lead double lives. Priscille Sibley is a nurse who writes when she’s off her shift. Pamela Redmond Satran is behind Nameberry, the hugely successful baby-name website. And Beatriz Williams writes popular romance novels under a pseudonym. She and her alter ego snipe at each other on Twitter. Who knew?

• Man, I have the worst posture. The. Worst.

In case you’re in the market for summer reading, below are brief synopses of each author’s book taken from the Princeton Public Library’s Pinterest board on the event. Click each title for the Amazon page. Here’s a link to some more pictures of cupcakes.

The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow tells the story of a widow who learns the idyllic life she shared with her recently deceased husband – including a plush Manhattan apartment, a Hampton’s beach house, a driver, fine art and club memberships – was built on lies. Realizing that she and her daughters have been left with nothing, the widow struggles to protect her husband’s legacy and cope with her new reality.

The Possibility of You by Pamela Redmond Satran tells the story of three women at three key moments of the past century. Three stories of independence and motherhood, love and loss, power and family that intertwine in unexpected ways and culminate in an explosive ending that shows how one woman’s choices can affect her world forever.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline weaves together the stories of two women, one a widow from Maine who as a child was among the orphans transported from East Coast cities to Midwestern farmlands. The other is a teen girl who grew up in foster care and is assigned to help the widow clean out her attic for community service. Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, “Orphan Train” is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams will be released May 30 and tells the story of New York socialite Lily Dane and her heartbreak after her fiancé leaves her and marries her best friend. Kirkus Book Reviews calls “A Hundred Summers” “a candidate for this year’s best beach read – the period story of a derailed love affair seen through a sequence of summers at Seaview, R.I.”

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley chronicles a husband’s dilemma when he discovers his wife, brain dead after an accident and known to not ever want to be kept on life support, is pregnant. “Sibley does a wonderful job of exploring a complex and controversial moral issue, skillfully giving both sides of the story,” said a review in the American Library Association’s Booklist publication. “This is a gripping, thoughtful, heart-wrenching, and well-written debut …”

 

Who’s reading “Pastors’ Wives”?

I ask myself this.

When you’re an author with a new book out, you think about who’s reading it. I mean, maybe not if you’re Stephen King. Or Anna Quindlen. Or someone else who’s at this very moment headlining a panel at BookExpo America jam-packed with her quazillion fans. I’m not bitter.

Me, I sit at home in New Jersey and wonder who’s reading my book. I’m particularly curious in the case of this baby. Because it’s a quirky little thing. It’s women’s commercial fiction set in an evangelical megachurch. Yet it’s not a quote-unquote Christian book (more about that here). And I’m a former journalist whose line of faith is best described as—to borrow my friend Desa’s term—devoutly tolerant.

I wrote about women married to men married to God because I found their predicament complicated, poignant and fascinating. At the time in my life when I wrote “Pastors’ Wives” and my TV pilot “The Ordained,” I struggled mightily with religion. I found fiction a way to write about it without bludgeoning readers and viewers over the head with theology dogma.

So who are the readers of “Pastors’ Wives”? Are they Christian or pagan? Churched or mosqued? I asked a few friends and readers to let me introduce you to them (thank you, dears!).

This small and highly unscientific survey proves “Pastors’ Wives” may be consumed safely by parties of any faith. Side effects include a very slightly heavier beach bag.

Shari

Shari, Louisiana
I am: mom of three, nurse, sports fanatic
Religious views: Baptist

Desa Philadelphia

Desa, California
I am: working mom, lover of all things literary
Religious views: devoutly tolerant

Amy Sullivan

Amy, Washington, D.C.
I am: Journalist, mama, and semi-professional beach reader
Religious views: Baptist

Helen Mitternight

Helen, Virginia
I am: a PR leader, mom to one human and two canines, writer, aspiring world leader
Religious views: Lazy Wiccan

Rebekah Sanderlin

Rebekah, Florida
I am: Mother of three, amateur (and unwilling) wrangler of turtles, frogs and lizards
Religious views: Christian (Protestant, non-denominational)

Bee Ridgway

Bee, Pennsylvania
I am: English prof, novelist, good eater
Religious views: Methodist as a child, minister’s daughter for life

Emi Dantsuka

Emi, California
I am: Mom of one, wife of a football fanatic, subcontract manager
Religious views: Non-denominational Christian

Reader of "Pastors' Wives"

Carla, Indiana
I am: Business owner, executive leadership coach, mom of triplets
Religious views: Catholic until six months ago, now attending evangelical church with my formerly Jewish husband

 

What it’s like to launch a debut novel in 2013

Hard, is what it’s like. Hard. It’s hard.

My first novel, “Pastors’ Wives,” debuted April 30. You already know that if I’m on your Facebook or Twitter feed because I WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT. My sister says I’m turning into the Amway lady, pushing dish detergent and hand lotion on increasingly weirded-out acquaintances.

It’s true. Launching a debut novel in 2013 is all about sales.

Pastors' Wives at Barnes & Noble

My friend Gerry sent me this snap of my book at Barnes & Noble. But many folks these days buy online.

You know who’s bad at sales? Writers.

Marketing a new book is a monstrous task. It’s made harder in my case because mine belongs to a genre called women’s commercial fiction, and we simply get very little traditional press. When’s the last time you saw a major newspaper review of a novel with a beach towel or flower basket on the cover?

Here’s another tricky fact: my novel is set in a Southern evangelical megachurch. Yet it’s not a quote-unquote Christian book. This is an important distinction. Christian books have their own publishers (mine is Plume/Penguin, a secular house) and their own set of rules.

For instance, characters must spend a lot of time in church. Given the setting, that’s a check for me. There can be no language or sex scenes. Um, mine has mild PG-13 content. Characters must also be or become believers; in “Pastors’ Wives,” a conflict arises when a main character’s husband becomes an evangelical pastor just as she realizes she doesn’t believe in God.

We knew all this going in, me and my team (my agents, my publisher, and a wonderful marketing company called Litfuse—I highly recommend them if you have a book like mine). So we decided to focus our marketing strategy online.

This is new for me. In 2006, when my first book was published, the marketing was all about radio interviews, newspaper reviews and personal appearances. What’s changed is how people buy books.

Check out this graph from Bowker:

Book sales chart

The portion of books bought online went from a quarter in 2010 to 44 percent in 2012. In just two years!

It’s desperate enough attracting notice in a bookstore with thousands of titles. So how do you get the attention of readers in a space whose edges you can’t even see?

One answer: book blogs. There are now thousands, maybe millions, of independent readers who have said to hell with the local paper’s weekend book review, if their local paper even has one any more—they’re going to publish their own damn opinions.

What’s more, online book marketing is far more targeted. I could sit in your local bookstore till the cows come home, but how many of its drop-in customers would be interested in my book? Yet if you’re clicking through a book blog specializing in women’s commercial fiction, you’re not there by accident. We could also target websites popular among Christian women readers who might be open to a respectful (if not “Christian”) book set in their world.

What this means for us authors is a lot of hustle—but of the kind we’re trained for, which is writing. So far I’ve written 26 online essays. I’ve participated in interviews for websites from Publisher’s Weekly to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. My online recommendations go from People magazine to Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews.

Basset hound

On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.

Do some of these sites reach millions while others a few hundred? Yep. But as the author Cheryl Tan (“A Tiger in the Kitchen”) quotes from that New Yorker cartoon: “On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog.”

Meaning: a mention is a mention is a mention.

And the hustle doesn’t end with the coverage on other people’s sites. I maintain author pages on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads. I Tweet book news. Last week I hosted my first ever Facebook live chat event. And then of course there’s the upkeep of this here site.

Also it’s not to say you can skip out on live events. Coming up, I’m part of this fun Beach Reads Night on June 7 at the Princeton Public Library, and one at my wonderful local library, both in New Jersey.

Is it exhausting? Look at me. Is it a full-time job that leaves little room for working on other projects, among them my next TV pilot and next novel? Uh huh. Will it pay off? I have no idea. But this is the reality of book publishing in 2013. And there’s no turning back.

What I learned naming characters in my novel and TV pilot

Owen Meany. Daenerys Stormborn. Katniss Everdeen. images

As a reader, I love a great character name. When they’re done right, the name infuses the role so completely in my mind that they’re forever inseparable. How can Jane Eyre be anything but?

When I became a fiction writer, it dawned on me that I’d be the one who’d have to come up with the names. I’d be inventing a person, after all: the color of her eyes, the way she talks, her earliest memories. Of course I’d have to give her a name.

You know how you agonized over the naming of your children? Yeah. It’s like that. A terrifying responsibility, if also a joyful opportunity.

In writing my novel, “Pastors’ Wives,” I turned for inspiration to the Bible. That made sense to me, as the story is set in a church and is about what it’s like when the man you married is married to God. Also, the Bible is a great source for names, as parents the world over can tell you. Bible Book of Ruth

“Ruth” is named after the Ruth in the Bible who pledges loyalty to her mother-in-law. Like her, my Ruth is helped by an older, wiser woman who counsels her on matters of love and marriage.

“Candace” is mentioned in the Bible as queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars surmise that it may derive from a Nubian word meaning “queen mother.” My Candace is indeed that of her megachurch flock.

“Jeremiah” is a Hebrew biblical name meaning “appointed by the Lord.” The Jeremiah in my novel, called Jerry, hears a calling to serve the church.

“Aaron” means teacher or mountain of strength. I thought that was an appropriate name for the charismatic leader of my fictional megachurch.

Not all my characters’ names have such lofty origins. Some I threw in for fun. For instance, in my story, the megachurch leader forms an alliance with a local imam. The wife of that imam is a blue-eyed American named Kristin Chaudry. That’s the name of my bff growing up (though her real husband is a telecom exec…you’re welcome, Kuri!).

Naming characters in my TV pilot, CBS’s “The Ordained,” was in some ways harder. Those names had to have a certain ring and resonance when spoken aloud. And what I learned when my pilot was produced is that every single name—even those scribbled on a white board in a law office—have to be vetted by the network. They check exhaustively for living people who bear the same name.

Interestingly, if there are a lot of people with the same name—say, John Smith—you’re fine. If there’s only one, you have a problem. Why? Lawsuits. That one person could decide to sue for defamation or some such. I lost out on some of my beloved character names because of this. One name had become so ingrained in our minds of our crew that they refused to remember the new one.

It’s okay. I got to keep the most important name of all: Tom Reilly, the main character. He’s named after my late father, who also inspired the character and the story.

How to approach a book agent, how to recognize a book idea, and other things I learned on a panel yesterday

Yesterday, I sat on a panel titled, “Secrets of the Book Biz!”

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I didn’t actually know any secrets, so I was relieved to learn my fellow panelists did.

Alison Singh Gee is the author of a memoir called “Where the Peacocks Sing,” about meeting her now-husband and finding out he grew up in a palace in India. She got there in great anticipation to learn it was “a total tear-down.”

9780312378783

Is that a gorgeous cover or what?! I think the subtitle is important to note: “A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home.” Alison said that while it’s a love story and a travelogue too, in the end it’s really a woman’s search for home.

Our moderator, Julie Dam of People magazine (and author of “Some Like It Haute”), asked how our books came about. I told my crazy story about my magazine article turning into a TV pitch turning into a disaster turning into a novel.

Alison said something far more useful: that her story made all her friends lean forward. When she updated them on the situation with the loser boyfriend and the magazine job and this prince from India, they all leaned forward, wanting to hear more. That’s when she knew she had the makings of a book.

The other person on the panel was Kirby Kim, a literary agent at William Morris Endeavor. His takeaway was basically this: when you approach an agent, be ready. Write the best damn pitch you could possibly write. Sweat over that query letter. Bleed over it.

But don’t stop at the query: be ready with your work. Because if and when the agent professes interest and asks for a few chapters, you want to send him a version polished so bright he could brush his teeth off its reflection. Biggest lame-o mistake: sending an agent a draft, and then, a couple weeks later, sending another, “better” draft. That’s sure to land your ms in the bin.

My novel published yesterday. Here’s why I wrote it

My novel debuted yesterday. Here’s a post I wrote for SheReads:

If you’d told me five years ago I’d publish a novel and shoot a TV pilot in the same month, I would have laughed.

If you’d told me they’d both be about faith, I’d have laughed so hard I’d have the hiccups for hours.

No one I know would describe me as religious. I was raised Catholic and practiced into my 30s, but Catholics—we’re private about our faith. Forget the yells and bells of more expressive denominations; we barely manage to mumble the liturgy in Mass. We don’t thumb the Bible on the subway. We don’t praise Jesus in polite conversation. We’re outed once a year by that smudge of ash on our foreheads.

And yet.

In 2008, my mother died. She died after a long and valiant battle with cancer, each step of which my siblings and I witnessed in ever heightening despair. Nine months later, our father died of a broken heart.

My parents were the root of my faith. My father was a former Catholic priest who removed the collar to marry my mother, who had in turn converted from Buddhism. They taught me all I knew of faith and love. They remained devout till their last. As I sat weeping by her bedside at the hospital, my mother said to me: “Remember this. You are not alone. You always have Him.”

When they died, I felt forsaken.

I quit my job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and my career in journalism. Inspired by an article I had written for Time, I began Pastors’ Wives, a novel about three women whose lives were defined and dictated by faith, married as they were to pastors at a Southern evangelical megachurch. I imagined their dreams and frustrations, their trials and triumphs.

After the novel sold to Penguin/Plume, I wrote a TV pilot inspired by my father called “The Ordained.” It’s about a priest who becomes a lawyer in order to protect his family, a New York political dynasty. It was bought by CBS last fall, and we just wrapped shooting in April. We’ll find out in mid-May if it will be picked up for series.

We writers have the great privilege of writing through our issues. My crisis of faith led me to write stories that, in their recording, led me to a kind of peace.

But I’d gladly trade that for just one more sunset at the Jersey shore, joking and laughing with my family, holding my parents’ hands.

Mom and Dad

This is my mom and dad. I miss them every day.

Yet another post in which I promote my novel, this time under the guise of an author Q&A

I hate chain letters. I mean I really hate them. I find them obnoxious and annoying and creepy. Also I resent the threat of eternal damnation for breaking the chain. I may be damned, but it sure as hell isn’t for failing to forward some stupid letter.

But this chain letter is different. Different because it came from someone I respect: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” her memoir of growing up and cooking in Singapore. She was also a fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal. So she cooks and dresses fancy. Some husbands have all the luck.

Why was this lovely and accomplished person forwarding me a questionnaire about my work habits? Because writers need help. Let’s admit it. We spend day after day shut in from society with our weird ideas and delusions of grandeur, but at the end of the day we need to sell what we produce. And that’s the point of this exercise.

So I will continue this chain without complaint. Without much complaint. It’s called The Next Big Thing. I don’t know who started it, and I’m too lazy to find out. Following is the Q&A, in which I, like many writers before and after me, answer questions nobody asked me about my current work. If you value your time, please skip it and go straight to the part where I tag five other writers I like very much.

What is your working title of your book (or story)? “Pastors’ Wives.” Pre-order on Amazon!

Where did the idea come from for the book? It was inspired by an article in TIME magazine. That I wrote. I am not yet good at lifting other people’s ideas.

What genre does your book fall under? Women’s commercial fiction. In other words, if you only read Hemingway and Vonnegut, keep moving.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oooo. As Ruthie, the skeptical outsider new to the Southern evangelical megachurch that hired her husband: Emma Stone! As Candace, the fierce, powerful wife of the senior pastor: Alison Janney! As Ginger, the lonely wife with a hidden past: Jessica Chastain! Wait a minute. That’s the cast of THE HELP. (In truth: any actress with her own production company, the funds to option and with the clout to get a studio to greenlight.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? “Pastors’ Wives” follows three women whose lives converge and intertwine at a Southern evangelical megachurch. No, no, that’s boring. Let me try again: “Pastors’ Wives” is a passionate portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the consuming demands of faith, marriage, duty and love. There.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? My publisher is Penguin/Plume.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The date on the Word document titled PASTORS’ WIVES FIRST DRAFT is September 2009. Many complications ensued. I turned in a final draft to my agent in December 2011. I would say most of it was hacked out over 2011.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? “The Help,” by Katharine Stockett. “Fly Away Home,” by Jennifer Weiner. “Belong to Me,” by Marisa de los Santos. All of those books alternated the story lines and perspectives of three characters. It is mere coincidence that they also sold like hotcakes.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? While reporting for TIME magazine, I met and interviewed pastors’ wives whose stories stayed with me. What struck me most was their honesty. They shattered my preconceptions about these sweet ladies who supported their minister husbands above all. No—they were lonely, intelligent, wistful, opinionated. Almost all of them wished their husbands weren’t pastors at all. Yet they remained devout. I marveled at their faith, their sense of duty, their love for their husbands and God. The question that became central to my novel popped into my head: What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It is told entirely in limericks. No! It’s not. It’s set in a world you may know well or not at all, about women you may recognize or not at all. I love my Ruthie, Candace and Ginger with all my heart. It would make me so happy to introduce you. (Pre-order on Amazon!)

Now here’s the part where I tag other writers. Not it!

I met Julie Gray when I fan-mailed her after stumbling upon her website. Julie is a screenwriting guru to students and writers around the world. So I was delighted and surprised when she replied and invited me to lunch on my next trip to L.A. We cemented our friendship over martinis in New York. Her website is called Just Effing Entertain Me, and it’s an awesome resource.

Julie recently introduced me to Margaux Froley. Margaux is a Los Angeles–based television and YA fiction writer. Her first novel, “Escape Theory,” comes out March 12. Margaux says that when she’s not writing, she can be found “hiking in the Hollywood hills and practicing Tae Kwon Do with her nunchucks.” I have no idea what that means, but I like the way it sounds. Check out her work here.

I think I fan-mailed Rebekah Sanderlin too. (For someone who hates chain mail, I appear not to have any compunction about cold-calling other writers with gratuitous gushing.) I admire the blunt and candid style with which Rebekah writes on military and family—and military family—issues. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Self, Maxim, and a whole slew of impressive titles. But I think the medium where she proves her genius is Facebook. This is her website.

I met Lauren Sandler at this kaffeeklatsch of writer moms in New York. Which sounds cozy, but honest to John it’s the most high-powered group of writers, and I’m always thrilled but utterly intimidated to attend. Lauren was warm and high-larious and we hit it off right away. That’s not to say she’s not scarily accomplished. Her new book draws on her experience as an only child and the mother of one. Because it’s Lauren, you know it’s going to be brilliantly reported, beautifully written—and controversial. Her book comes out in June. This is her website.

Bee Ridgway I met through our mutual editor at Penguin. Her time-travel novel (!), “The River of No Return,” will be published by Dutton/Penguin this spring. Lauren Willig, author of “The Pink Carnation” series, describes the novels as “A compelling race through time in a historical world turned upside-down. Take time travel, intrigue, a vast conspiracy and a wicked way with words, shake and serve.” Here’s her site.

 

What I wrote in the farewell letter when I quit my job in 2009

One thing that happens when you have big news is that you hear from people you haven’t heard from in never. For a shut-in, this is a nice change from the usual inbox garbage. It’s pleasant to be thought of, isn’t it?

If it’s someone I once knew, it’s interesting, archeologically speaking, to read the correspondence that preceded this one. That’s how I came across the farewell letter I had e-mailed to colleagues at TIME magazine when I departed in 2009.

Let me set the scene. I had worked on staff at TIME for eight years, and before that at Money for four. Which means I’d called the Time-Life Building my work home for 12 years, minus the two I spent in the Tokyo bureau. I knew everyone in the building, including the guards and the daycare workers. (Time Inc. had emergency daycare. I know!)

Time-Life Building

This is where I worked for 12 years.

I loved my job as a staff writer at TIME. I still believe it was one of the last, great jobs in journalism. (Not to mention the emergency daycare. Come on!) And yet, it was time to go.

For the last few of those years, I’d had my own blog on Time.com, one covering work-life topics called Work In Progress. It’s fair to say it had become the highlight of my job. It’s even fair to say that in writing the blog, along with my first book, I learned how to sound like me.

I had no flipping idea what I was going to do next. The TV drama I had been developing had gotten pitched and sold by my producer—without me. I had a flurry of offers—one of them, inexplicably, an on-air gig at CNBC—each for a whole lot less money, each requiring a whole lot more work.

Meantime, a lot of life stuff was going on. I’d just had my second child. Then my mother died. And my father was on his way.

What could I have been thinking, quitting the cushy job with which I kept my growing family off government cheese? What kind of farewell letter would such a desperate slob have written?

This, it turns out, is what I wrote:

“I want to let you know that I volunteered for a buyout from TIME. I shall now answer your FAQs:

Q: Why are you leaving?

A: A staff writer post at Time Inc. is one of the last, great journalism jobs, and I had a 12-year run. I’ve written about wacky funerals (which led to this book) and fried-chicken empires and how I find environmentally correct behavior a huge pain in the butt. I’ve tried absolutely every item in the cafeteria salad bar. It’s time to venture out of Rock Center.

Q: What will you do next?

A: I have one skill: writing. That’s it. I can’t add. I can’t tap dance. I can’t lift heavy objects. I’m hoping someone somewhere will pay me to write something. Limericks. Eulogies. Subtly poetic menus.

Q: What about your blog?

A: “Work in Progress,” my beloved if under-appreciated Time.com blog, shall not be reincarnated as “Out of Work in Progress.”  If you’ll indulge me, I’ll send another shameless promo when I find my new blog a home.

Q: How should I contact you with congratulatory food stamps or suspiciously lucrative opportunities?

A: Please write me at lisa dot cullen at gmail dot com. If we are not Facebook-linked, please friend me. I need friends.

I’m wishing you a very healthy, happy and rewarding 2009. Your friend, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen”

That was it. Phew.

The difference between selling a TV pilot and selling a novel

…is that one will eventually see the light of day. The other may not. Ever.

Last year, for the first and maybe last time, I did both. I sold a novel to Penguin, and a TV pilot to CBS.

In both cases, the sale is only the end of the beginning of the process. You get paid, partially; the rest comes in increments, after you hand in the next draft, et cetera. You and your people edit the hell out of the thing. You prepare. You strategize. And you wait.

In the case of my novel, “Pastors’ Wives” (pre-order now on Amazon!), we have a publication date: May 2013. Since we sold the manuscript in February 2012, it’s gone through two edits by my main editor, a copy edit, and something called a pass, which is kind of like a proof. We rejected two cover designs before we landed on one we loved. I begged other authors for blurbs. We’re currently circulating it among book bloggers and reviewers. Next week I meet with my agents, editors and publicists to devise an all-out marketing strategy.

And whatever happens, it will publish in May. If the only people who buy it are related to me by blood, it will still exist in the world.

Not so my pilot.

So far, the 66 pages I bled over have been read by under two dozen people: my manager, my agents, our producers, our studio execs, and our network execs. I made my husband read it. Also a very few people with expertise in my topic, for fact-checking purposes.

That’s it. And that may be it, ever.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll know if mine is among the seven or eight drama pilots CBS will decide to shoot, among the 60 or so it has bought this season. I mention this so you know my odds are loooong.

If it should happen to hit the jackpot, then, yes, many more people will read the script. And if it should happen to win the whole lotto and get sent to series, even the tiniest broadcast TV audience would dwarf a bestselling book’s.

And in the likely event it doesn’t? Then into the bin it goes. No chance of selling it elsewhere, as the studio now owns the rights. The Writer’s Guild stages readings of unproduced teleplays, but that would just be weird.

So here I send my two babies into 2013, their fortunes already set. I love them both. I hope they make it.