Starting Over

by Normandie Fischer

A recent post on Writer
quoted Donald Maass: “Since this proposal has been so hard to write,
ask yourself whether you are telling the right story.”
Sometimes our best laid plans falter. We assume we’re to
focus on one thing, one plan, and then it implodes, fizzles to nothing. And
we stare at a blank screen.
Has this ever happened to you? Has a critique partner or the voice in your head suggested you might not be telling the right story?
Just to keep things interesting in my writing world, I’ve spent years writing in one and a half genres (thinking they were two separate ones) with two series
and a stand-alone. Right now, my Carolina Coast novels seem to be my sweet spot. The characters of small-town Beaufort wave their hands to grab my attention just so they can introduce me to new neighbors. Neighbors with problems for the crew to fix.
Good, right? So, after Heavy Weather (Book 2) connected with readers, I knew I
had to finish the love story I’d begun in it.

So, enter Book 3. Six chapters in, three new characters and another big issue wiggled into the story, screaming for attention. That made three plots, which was at least one too many. The new wiggler became the genesis of Book 4 and caught my attention long enough for me to write eight chapters and imagine that Book 4 might actually morph into Book 3. Who cared? Flip one for the other. But then my daughter arrived needing help with her babies. Life intruded.
Two months away from writing may be nothing to some folk. I
thought it would be nothing for me.
I was wrong. When I once again sat staring at my screen, Book
3/4 had stalled. So, I reclaimed Book 4/3. Two more chapters in, and that one screeched to a halt. Oh, I
could write about 100 words a day, at which rate I’d finish one book in two
years. Two. Years.
Yes, I’m a slow writer, but that was absurd.
Then came the push for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writers
Month, and the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. With time off for the holidays,
right? My head hurt, but what if? I’d done it before when trying to finish Sailing out of Darkness. Could I do it again?

For someone who had been slogging away at 100 words a day, this would mean an increase in production that made me jittery. But a
goal is a good thing, right?
I signed up.
And on October 31, I woke to an idea. What if one of my
problems with Book 3 had to do with the clutter of too many story lines? What
if I nabbed the most pressing one (that holdover from Heavy Weather) and started an entirely new book with it? And
what if I tried writing a Christmas novella using those characters? The thought
caught my interest. I pulled those chapters out (8K words) and… then?
Oh, my, look what I found! Two new characters! Kids in need
of rescue!
Which is a favorite topic of mine. I want to rescue all
children. As I can’t do that in the real world, I do it in my stories.
I had found my sweet spot. And just like that, the book
wrote itself. I went from 100 words a day to 4000 words, then to 5000 words. Every day. Add
these to the 8000 words I’d already slid into place and I had the first draft
of a 35K novella completed by Day 8 of my marathon.
That has never
happened to me before.
But it happened because I was willing to change direction.
To imagine a new plan. To pay attention to the voices in my head whose story
cried out to be told.
Suffice it to say, my team rallied. My crit partners dug in.
I rewrote and polished and honed and sent it off to them again. Their edits
were swift and brilliant. I polished once more. And from my fantastic street team, four
angels offered their eagle eyes for proofing. While the manuscript was out with
them, I designed a cover, made a book trailer, and formatted the thing for
print and ebook. (I love Vellum, which formats ebooks for me.)
And on November 27, Twilight Christmas released.

Have you ever done that? Reversed course? Quit what wasn’t
working so you could shake off the cobwebs and create something that actually
did work?

I’d love to hear what process you used when you felt stuck.
Did it involve a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo? And how did the shift work for you?


Starting Over by Normandie Fischer (Click to Tweet)

It happened because I was willing to change direction~ Normandie Fischer (Click to Tweet)

Normandie Fischer studied sculpture in Italy before receiving her BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Known for her women’s fiction—Becalmed (2013), Sailing out of Darkness (2013), and Heavy Weather (2015)—she ventured into the realm of romantic suspense with the release of Two from Isaac’s House. In early 2016, a novella, From Fire into Fire, will continue the Isaac House saga. Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, sailing in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They now live in coastal North Carolina, where she takes care of her aging mother. You can find Normandie on her website,Facebook, and Amazon.

This Genre/That Genre—Classifying Stories

So Many Choices

by Normandie Fischer

Genre branding, not unlike author branding, is a hot topic in writerly circles. Querying authors scan agent and publisher websites, praying their work will be among the coveted.

I just returned from my second WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association) Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a slew of us gathered to laugh and learn and prod each other in our writing journey. We also discussed branding and what constitutes women’s fiction.
I thought I knew. But my definition was too narrow, so narrow, in fact, that I’d pushed my two latest works forward into the romantic suspense genre. A friend at the retreat actually approached me to say how brave she thought I was to have stepped out of women’s fiction—my comfort zone—to publish in a separate genre.

And yet. And yet.
Were Two from Isaac’s House and From Fire into Fire to be marketed differently?

I just came across something in a blog hosted by Amy Sue Nathan, the author who first introduced me to the concept of women’s fiction and who pointed me to WFWA when it was merely an email loop. Her post on September 29 was titled “Women’s Fiction Merges With Suspense by Kate Moretti.” Kate writes: “These novels [she discusses several] might be classified as suspense novels, but they have all the earmarks of Women’s Fiction. What they hold dearest is familiar to us: children, husbands, family, livelihood. Their journey is both external and internal – after all, you can’t risk everything and everyone you love and remain unchanged at the end. Life, and fiction, doesn’t work like that.”

And this year, two finalists in the Star Award given by WFWA for the best in published women’s fiction wrote stories full of magical realism; one of these, by Scott Wilbanks, actually won. Okay, thought I, if those fit as women’s fiction, what about mine?

In the middle of asking this question, I did what I do far too often: I checked my reviews. (You never do that, do you?) And in checking them, I came across an interesting answer. Have you ever had that happen? Ask a question, find the answer in an unexpected place? Here’s what Carrie wrote on her blog, Reading Is My Superpower.

“If you asked me how to classify this book in a library, I’m not sure where I would place it. Two From Isaac’s House reads like Southern fiction but is very much a novel of international intrigue. You will want to … absorb the delicious way the writing lilts across the page, but … Fischer’s command of international suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat. And then there’s the new romance and the new friendships…. In a book that could go political in a heartbeat, the plot stays just outside that line and instead whispers a few subtle hints toward the spiritual that both surprised and touched me with their presence. Normandie Fischer’s latest book is definitely a dichotomy of genres, but I loved the result!”

More lovely words followed, but there the reviewer was, talking about crossing genre lines. Two from Isaac’s House seemed more suspense-y than my second Carolina Coast novel, Heavy Weather, slightly more edgy than any of my other books. And yet, was it edgy in the right way, edgy enough for diehard romantic suspense readers? And did the fact that it “reads like Southern fiction” affect its categorization?

Back when I first wrote the story (way back, a couple of decades ago), I wanted to create two characters who didn’t fit genre norms. (That should have told me something, shouldn’t it?) I’d already decided to set a story in Italy and grab some of the Middle Eastern angst from people I knew, but I wasn’t interested in heroines with black belts in karate or their sharpshooter male counterparts. I wanted regular folk who just happened to find themselves in a world peopled with spies and dead bodies. I wanted to know how they’d change and grow when confronted with the unusual and uncomfortable. The story won critical acclaim in manuscript form but languished on a floppy disc while I wrote other stories and other books. When I decided to bring it to life in the now of Israeli/Palestinian politics and to tie it to my Southern fiction by having the main female protagonist be from Morehead City, NC, I faced the classification quandary in real time.

My critique partner Robin Patchen said she dealt with the same issue in two of her suspense novels, which she has since rebooted as women’s fiction. I asked writer Jennifer Fromke what she thought. According to Jennifer, location differentiates my books, all of which have elements of suspense and romance but work as women’s fiction. (Obviously, I should have asked her way back when.)

Here I was with category/branding angst. At the WFWA Retreat, I met Kathleen Irene Paterka, a highly successful (and delightful) indie author whose early work hit a snag when acquisitions editors wanted her to revamp it—and her 35-year-old protagonist—into YA. Her mentors suggested she ignore them and go indie. She has never looked back because she can write what she wants, when she wants, and in whatever genre she wants—and she doesn’t worry about classifications.

I think that’s where I am—finally. I write what I write, and I’m letting it settle where it will. (Hoping Amazon categories agree with me.)

What about you? Has the branding dilemma smacked you in the face? Do you write in one easily defined category, no shifting around or smudging? Or do you like to color outside the lines?

If you’re traditionally published, what has your experience been with genre boundaries? Do you think there’s been a shifting in acceptance of the odd and unique? I know literary fiction has always had room for the James Joyces and the Virginia Wolfes, but if you write genre fiction, do you find your work constrained and forced to remain inside the boundaries? Obviously, Scott Wilbank’s publisher (Sourcebooks) had no trouble with a little magic thrown in to liven things.

Some of my contemporaries in RWA PAN use pen names for their different genres, but that feels awkward to me. I mean, how do they remember who they are when they sign books or write to fans? Have you considered writing under different names?

What to do?

Talk to me. I want to know your thoughts on branding and genre shifting—and on enlarging definitions within a particular genre.

See, separated books. Time to move the pics?

Normandie studied sculpture in Italy before receiving her BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Her women’s fiction titles include Becalmed (2013), Sailing out of Darkness (2013)Heavy Weather (2015), and more recently two filled with international intrigue, Two from Isaac’s House (2015) and the novella, From Fire into Fire (2016). Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, sailing in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They now live in coastal North Carolina, where she takes care of her aging mother.
Normandie’s Website

She loves all things French and writes SoCal beach stories

The short
version could likely be similar for a lot of women of a certain age: I’m a wife
(41 years and counting), mom (adult son and daughter), mom-in-law, grandmother
(two girls, one boy), a former teacher (middle school reading; subbing; tutoring;
writing workshops); and now I’m well into that season of life defined by such
things as: not concerned about
coloring the grey; navigating through the Smart TV is a bit of a challenge; my
mom doesn’t always know who I am; and middle age is becoming a tiny dot in the
rearview mirror. I was born and raised in Moline, Illinois, and now live in San
Sally, you don’t know this yet, but it was
your book, Castles in the Sand, that
made me know what kind of stories I wanted to write—stories about relationships.
Tell us about your newest releasing book.
Oh wow!
Really?! That tickles me to no end – and makes me grateful once more for how
the stories touch readers in so many ways. I think your response is a first,
Heaven Help Heidi is set in a make-believe San Diego beach
community, Seaside Village. It’s another story about women’s friendships at the
Casa de Vida, a cozy group of rental cottages we met in Between Us Girls.
Heidi’s life is turned upside down, she moves in. As a successful real estate
agent, she never ever would have chosen this place to live. She struggles to
adjust as well as to ask for and to accept help from the other residents.
Piper, a
resident, faces her own life-changing decisions. Can she move beyond her grief
over her fiancé’s death? Can she let go of a job she adores for something
different? Can she let Hud into her heart?
Liv, Casa
owner and woman of a certain age,
mentors the young ones and deals with a deep hurt from her past.
By the end
of the story, all three women are living examples of how God is never finished with healing us and is always creating something new in
our lives. They’re in a space of love and acceptance.
Where do you get your ideas for your books? What
sparked this story?
The seeds
for ideas come from real life. Writers are observers. When something
interesting happens, we write notes on paper napkins, palms, and receipts. I
have learned to send myself a text message but that’s still not my first
thought. The news also provides story ideas (and proves that life is stranger
than fiction).
These seeds
offer the starting point to ask “what if” questions. Imagining the answers is
what develops into stories.
Heidi’s roots came from the idea for the Family of the Heart
I wanted to create a safe harbor for people, something we all desire.
I’ve done many stories about marriage and family. With these new stories I
wanted to explore the power in women’s friendships. (Harvest House suggested
“family of the heart” after I had started. It’s a great phrase for the series.)
From there I simply began to imagine women. The practical: what did they do for
a living? The catalyst: what stumbling blocks might be thrown onto their paths?
I created
Casa residents as minor characters, incorporating a variety of life
experiences. Piper came along in Between
Us Girls
, a fashionista who offered exactly what Jasmyn needed when her
clothes were stolen. She intrigued me. How was she dealing with her deep grief?
(Current news: Iraq and Afghanistan and our great losses.) I chose to make her
a major character in the new book.
Heidi came
from—I’m not sure! LOL. With the large population here in Southern California,
real estate is a huge deal. Every other day an agency ad lands on our doorstep
or in the mailbox. (Last week I received a nifty tool from one of them: a
flashlight/screwdriver! It’s better than the magnets and notepads.) I decided
Heidi could be successful in this work, happy as a lark, good at what she does.
What could bring her down? The economy and a physical injury that disrupts her
everyday life for months on end.
Did anything strange or funny happen while
writing this book?
several blocks from home one day, I happened upon a walled courtyard. I peered
through the locked gate and laughed. It was totally the Casa’s courtyard! The
cottages weren’t there (the place is an inn, although it doesn’t look like
one), but the ambience enveloped me exactly as I had imagined my characters
feeling when they entered the Casa.
That’s so cool about that courtyard! Did you
always want to be a writer?
Reading fiction kept me sane as I was growing up. More than an escape or
entertainment, it remains a source of insight. A favorite quote of mine is
“stories give us eyes other than our own with which to see the world.”
The thought
of writing fiction was a wild and seemingly unattainable dream. Until I was 35
years old, I believed Carolyn Keene lived in New York City along with every
real writer in the U.S. Seriously.
Where do you write, a coffee shop, attic
nook, or a cave?
Today I’m
actually in the process of moving from a bedroom to a corner in the living
room. Last week at a consignment shop I found a “secretary,” a small desk with
drawers and nooks and a hutch. Next to it is a narrow window; I can see a slice
of the patio surrounded by a low concrete block wall. Between my potted
succulents on it, I can see heads and shoulders of people as they walk by. The
neighbor’s hot-pink bougainvillea droops into the space. This makes for dappled
I’m partial
to desks. Okay, I drool over desks. For years I wrote on a huge one that I’d
bought at a Salvation Army. I left that in Illinois. At our next house I
claimed a bedroom (without a bed) as an office and filled it with a brand new
desk and matching bookcase. Three books later, a wildfire claimed that set and
the house.
I wrote the
next couple of books on a folding table in a bedroom. Eventually I bought an
inexpensive, drawer-less desk and enjoyed it. But, seven years later, it’s
saggy. The alley outside the window and the bed are totally disrupting the feng
shui… So here I am. 
Sally, of all your characters,
which was your favorite and why?
As a group,
the women in The Beach House hold a
special place in my heart. I had never tried to write from four points of view
before, but those ladies marched front and center into my imagination before I
realized what was happening. Jo, Molly, Char, and Andie carried me to a new
writing arena.
Miguel (Ransomed Dreams) is an
all-time favorite. He would show up and take over. I never knew what he would
do or say. And I didn’t even have a bio on him beyond the basics: he was short,
a priest in Mexico, loved God, and had a faith was as big as all outdoors.
Share a few of the techniques you learned
that changed the way you write.
is necessary for me. I learned this early on from a multi-published author.
Like her, I could write scenes, but stringing them together into a coherent
story took some forethought.
learned to trust the process. My outlines aren’t as detailed as they were early
on. Although I never planned exactly how a story would end, in recent years
I’ve seen how organic storytelling can be. Once I have the big picture in place
(plot, setting, characters, theme), the story can unfold. I might know Point A
and Point B, but situations and characters get me from one to the next when I
don’t have a clue.
Now for the fun: Tell us 3 things your
readers might not know about you.
  • My all-time
    favorite movie scene is from Stranger
    Than Fiction
    , when an author (played by Emma Thompson) meets her fictional
    character (played by Will Ferrell), in person.
  • I’m 5’ 7”.
  • During
    college, I lived for one semester in Grenoble, France, and I love all things
If you were a musical instrument, what would
you be and why?
A clarinet.
It can be made of wood and uses a reed (both earthy). It has shiny keys (a
little “glitter”). The sound is low and smooth, a steady undercurrent that
supports other instruments. Alone, it can make beautiful music…when it’s played
Heaven Help
Young and
successful real estate agent Heidi Hathaway is totally in control of her own
life. That is, until an accident leaves her injured, unable to work, and
questioning the purpose of her life. That’s when she moves to the Casa de Vida,
an ocean-side community that becomes so much more than a place to rest and
It’s there
she meets Piper Keyes, a young woman reeling from the loss of her fiancé in
Afghanistan. Piper knows Jared isn’t coming home, but she struggles to open her
heart again.
The two
women couldn’t be more different, but they need each other now. In their
friendship, they discover God’s grace and mercy, and with that comes hope,
healing, and the promise of new love. 

Interview With Our Founder, Gina Holmes–Win an Autographed Copy of Driftwood Tides!

Gina Holmes is the founder of Novel Rocket, regularly named as one of
Writers Digest’s best websites for writers. Her debut, Crossing
was a Christy and Gold Medallion finalist and winner of the Carol
Award, INSPY, and RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice, as well as being a CBA,
ECPA, Amazon and PW bestseller. Her sophomore novel, Dry as Rain was a
Christy Award finalist
. Wings of Glass has been named as
one of the best books of the year in 2013 by Library Journal and was a SIBA Okra pick
and a finalist for Romantic Times’ Reviewers Choice Award. Her latest novel, Driftwood Tides is in stores now. She holds degrees in
science and nursing and currently resides with her family in southern Virginia.
She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their
past and discover their God-given purpose. To learn more about her, visit

Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter. 

To be entered to win an autographed copy of Gina’s latest release, Driftwood Tides, leave a comment. One winner will be drawn. Winner announced tomorrow. 

Gina, you’ve come a long way since starting this blog back in 05 to chronicle your first novel journey. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot since your first novel, Crossing Oceans, was published. How has becoming an award-winning and bestselling novel changed your life?
The truth is not all that much. I still work as a registered nurse, spend too much time sweeping up dog hair and wish there was more time in the day to just be. One of the gratifying changes has been the respect I’ve garnered post-publication that I didn’t before the first book hit the shelves. A lot of people in my circles thought writing was a waste of time at worse, an amusing hobby at best. I think people listen to me a bit more when I give advice. I was prepared in a lot of ways of the reality of being on this side of the publishing fence having done so many interviews on Novel Journey and Novel Rocket. Even knowing what I did, I still kind of thought the amount of work, particularly in the promotion arena would ease up by this point, but it doesn’t. I think that part tires most authors out and I’m no exception.
Tell us  a
little bit about your newest release, Driftwood Tides.

Driftwood Tides, in stores now!

Driftwood Tides tells the story of an aging, alcoholic
driftwood artist turned beach bum, Holton Creary, and young Libby Slater. Libby
grew up with an absent father and a loving but cold, socialite mother. Leading
up to her wedding, Libby and her groom-to-be go through genetic testing and she
learns her blood type doesn’t match either of her parents. She confronts her
mother and is reluctantly told that she’s adopted. She goes searching for her
mother, Adele, only to find her husband, Holton Creary lying face down on the
carpet of his Nags Head beach shack.

She lies about her real identity until she is finally found
out. Holton does not welcome the news. He never knew the wife he had given
saint status too had given up a daughter for adoption. Together the two search
to find the truth about Adele, Libby’s father and themselves.

What do you hope
readers will take away from this book?

 At its heart, Driftwood Tides is really about discovering
who we are, whose we are, where we belong and the need to accept and bestow

Why did you set the
novel in Nags Head?

 Oh, how I love that place! I’m not sure there’s a more
peaceful setting in all the world. And the further out I get from civilization,
the happier I am. I love the sand dunes, the untouched nature, the quaint
towns. Just everything! (Well, except sand in my bathing suit maybe J)

You seem to have a
recurring theme in your novels about absent fathers, why do you think that is?

I was 6 years old, I was packed up by my stepfather and driven to my father’s
house. Overnight I had a new Mom, new sisters and brother, house and life. It
was as traumatic an experience as I can imagine. There were few explanations
that made sense to me and I missed my other family desperately. I think ever
since I’ve been trying to settle some pretty deep-seated questions. Writing
books is wonderful for that.

Crossing Oceans

The novel you’ve
written that seems to be a fan-favorite is Crossing
, do you ever

see yourself writing a sequel?

I love that book too. Makes me cry just thinking about
certain scenes. I would love to write a sequel, prequel or off shoot stories. I
love those characters dearly. I’m under contract for three different novels, so
I’m not sure when I’ll have the time, but I’d love to explore Craig’s story and
of course, Bella’s. I miss Mama Peg very much!

You’ve said that your
favorite novel you’ve written is Wings of
. Why is that your favorite?

It was a deeply personal novel to write. I grew up watching my mother in abusive relationships, and then two of my sisters. I swore it would never be me, until that is, my (then) boyfriend hit me for the first time and I found myself making excuses for him. I’ve matured a lot since then and have done a lot of work on the flawed thinking that I learned growing up. I see so much of it in women around me though and Wings of Glass was my answer to that burden on my heart.

What do you like most
about being a writer? Least?

 Most, I like being able to have a platform to share lessons
I’ve learned in my life that I know others would benefit from. And more than
that, I just love to tell a good story.

 Least, would be the unpredictability of the business.
Sometimes it seems so random and the lack of control makes me uncomfortable
sometimes. (Which is probably right where God wants me!)

 Do you have any
advice for aspiring novelists?

 My advice is pretty much always the same. 1. Write. So many
people want to have written but don’t actually do the work. 2. Get to a writers
conference because there’s so much  you
don’t know, that you don’t even know you don’t know. If you don’t you’ll be
spinning your wheels for years, wasting valuable time. 3. Run, don’t walk, to
the nearest bookstore and buy yourself a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Then apply it. (Best money I ever
spent!) 4. Join a good critique group and get a nice thick skin, ‘cause you’re
sure going to need it!

If you could go back
to the pre-published writer you were, knowing what you do now, what advice
would you give her?

Well, I wouldn’t have told myself how many novels I’d write
that would never see the light of day, because I would have given up. I
wouldn’t have told myself how little money there is actually to be made or how
lonely writing can sometimes be. I wouldn’t have told myself that I’d still
have a day job with 4 novels out in stores, including 3 bestselling novels…
okay, but that wasn’t your question… I would tell myself to relax. Some of
this, most of this is, is out of your hands, and that’s okay. It’s not going to
be at all what you think it is, but it’s going to be so much more. You won’t
get rich, but you will touch lives. At the end of the day, that’s going to be
exactly what will fulfill you.

Where can readers
find your books and more about you?

 Thanks for asking. My books are in B&N, BooksaMillion,
Amazon, Lifeway, Parable, Family Christian and hopefully a good number of
independent bookstores. You can find me at 

“[Driftwood Tides] moves like a serene sea: gentle,persuasive, and transformative. Much in the same way time and the elements turn driftwood into something beautiful, Libby and Holton learn that they, too, can change for the better. Readers will delight in this story of redemption and growth.” Booklist

“Holmes weaves a superb story of discovering how to forgive.” Romantic Times