I’m pleased to introduce my guest today, author Barbara Josselsohn, who not only writes fiction but teaches others how to write their own stories. But let’s let her tell us about who she is and what she writes…
Barbara Josselsohn is a novelist and magazine writer. Her newest novel is THE LILAC HOUSE, which releases from Bookouture in March and is now available for pre-order. Her articles and essays appear in a range of publications, including New York Magazine, American Baby, Parents Magazine, the New York Times, WorkingMother.com, and NextAvenue.com. Barbara is also a writing coach and teaches writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College and other venues. Her debut novel was THE LAST DREAMER, which was released by Lake Union in 2015, and she is currently at work on her third novel, which is scheduled for release in the fall of 2020. She and her husband live in Westchester County, just north of New York City, and have three children and a lovable shih-poo named Mosley.
Betty: How many books have you written and published?
Barbara: I’ve written two books – THE LAST DREAMER, which was released in 2015, and THE LILAC HOUSE, which is currently available on pre-order and will be released on March 13th of this year. THE LILAC HOUSE is actually Book 1 of what’s being called the Lake Summers series. The next book in the series will be released this fall.
Betty: What genre(s) do you write in and why?
Barbara: I write women’s fiction, with romance as kind of a sub-genre – largely because this is a genre that comes naturally to me, and it’s a genre I love to read. Women’s fiction revolves around a character’s emotional journey. For me, there’s nothing more interesting or compelling than writing about a character who’s plunged into a difficult, heartbreaking or catastrophic situation and then navigates a path up from the abyss, becoming wiser and stronger in the process.
Betty: What themes or motifs did you use in your recent release and why were they important to your story?
Barbara: My current release – like my last book and my next book, for that matter – revolves around the theme of reinvention and second chances. I love characters who find the courage to leap toward a new future. I’m inspired a lot by my mother, who – after being a widow for ten years following my dad’s death – fell in love again at the age of 85! I don’t mean to sound like too much of a Pollyanna, and I know that life has a way of dealing devastating blows and knocking us off our feet. But I like to think that life also deals in welcome surprises and unexpected opportunities for growth, enrichment, and love.
THE LILAC HOUSE (on pre-order; releases March 13th)
Summer escapes to Lilac House have always been a source of comfort for Anna Harris. Though things will never be the same since her husband’s death, she knows that it is there, nestled in Lake Summers in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, that she and her children Zac and Evie can begin to build a new life.
The house is just as beautiful as Anna remembers, and caught up in the rhythm of small town life, helping her Aunt Hope run the little shop on Main Street, Anna begins to feel a sense of herself she hasn’t felt in years. Then she meets Aidan. Handsome, strong and quiet, he also knows what’s it’s like to lose someone. In each other they recognize something they’ve both been missing and they feel a spark.
But Aidan’s past holds a different set of complications. He’s hiding a secret about why he came to Lake Summers. And just as the Lilac House finally starts to feel like home, Anna learns something devastating about Greg’s death that makes her question everything…
Betty: Do you have a specific place that you write? Revise?
Barbara: I’ve learned to be pretty flexible about when and where I write – stemming from the time when my kids were young and I had to grab whatever time and space was available to me! I do have an “office” – a small enclosed sun porch at the back of the house, but since it’s unheated, I need to move out from December through March. Sometimes I move to what I lovingly call my “winter office” and what my family more typically calls the dining-room table. I also work at my local Barnes & Noble, my local library, the campus center at the college where I teach, hotel lobbies when I’m on vacation, etc. The one rule I do have, however, is to do my final revisions somewhere other than where I did the bulk of my writing. Somehow I find that a new setting helps me see the manuscript with a fresh eye, and catch errors, inconsistencies, plot gaps, etc.
Betty: Do you have any writing rituals while you write? Did you have a special drink, or music, or time of day that you gravitated toward?
Barbara: I always listen to music when I write – and typically the playlist I choose has a connection to the book I’m writing. For example, the main character of THE LILAC HOUSE was a ballerina, and a struggling dance shop is at the heart of the book. So while I was writing that book, I was always listening to ballet music – The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, etc.
Betty: What helped you move from unpublished to published? A mentor or organization or something else?
Barbara: The turning point was when I enrolled in a novel writing workshop at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, which I now teach. That’s where I met my most cherished mentors and began the process of turning my story from a manuscript into a published novel.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest strength in your writing?
Barbara: Oh boy, that’s a hard one, because I feel like I struggle with everything! I was a journalist for a long time before I turned to novel writing, which I think helped me with clarity, structure, and conciseness. It also helped me learn how to apply feedback effectively, which I think is a skill that is often overlooked but can truly make or break a writing career. As for craft, I’ve been told that I create very relatable characters.
Betty: What comes first when you’re brainstorming a new story: setting, situation, characters?
Barbara: For me, it starts with theme – some meaning or feeling or idea that I want to explore. Character is next – and from there the plot begins to unfold.
Betty: Do you have a structured time to write or is it more fluid/flexible? Do you have to write between family obligations or do you set aside a block of time?
Barbara: When my kids were very young, I had little time to write, and I had to squeeze my writing in whenever I found a few spare moments. I think that experience made me very nimble in terms of switching my writing brain on and off. These days, I teach creative writing at various venues as well as privately, and I also have family and other personal obligations. So I still find myself fitting the writing into the empty spaces – although there are a few more empty spaces now!
Betty: What is one recent struggle you’ve experienced in your writing?
Barbara: My current release, THE LILAC HOUSE, is set in a fictional lakeside town known as Lake Summers – and my editor loved the setting so much that we agreed my next book would be set there as well. It’s been kind of a challenge – but also very fun – to create a whole new set of characters and plot, but place them in the last book’s setting!
Betty: Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?
Barbara: I do participate in NaNoWriMo – in that I try to keep up with the daily word goals. I find it very motivating.
Betty: What are you reading right now?
Barbara: I’m currently reading THE WEIGHT OF INK by Rachel Kadish. It’s such a rich and fascinating story. I’m loving it!
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Barbara: I don’t really have a favorite genre. I read a lot of women’s fiction and historical fiction, but I also enjoy romance, mystery, fantasy, mainstream fiction…mostly, I just like a good story!
Betty: What are your keeper books? How often might you reread them?
Barbara: My keeper books are 19th Century classics – Dickens, Hardy, Trollope, the Brontes. Marc Twain, too. I don’t reread all that often, however – there’s only so many hours in the day, and my focus tends to be on new books.
Betty: When you’re writing, do you read in the same genre as your work in progress or something else?
Barbara: I guess I would have to say both. I like to stay on top of what’s going on my genre – women’s fiction – but I also will pick up books that simply look interesting to me.
Betty: Do you have a “day job” or do you write full time?
Barbara: My “day job” is teaching creative writing and coaching aspiring novelists. I love teaching and mentoring, and am so glad I can do this in addition to working on my own books.
Betty: What do you wish readers knew about the publishing industry?
Barbara: I guess I wish more people realized how important it is to review the novels they like, to post about them on social media, and to share news of upcoming releases by their favorite authors. Often I think readers tell themselves that they’re just one person – how important can their review be? But reviews mean a lot to writers, and can have a big impact on their careers.
Betty: What advice do you have for new writers?
Barbara: One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from one of my Sarah Lawrence mentors, who said that when it comes to publishing, persistence is more important than talent. I think that’s a great piece of advice – after all, you can’t sell a book that you haven’t written!
Betty: Any hints of what you’re next writing project might be?
Barbara: My next book will be Book 2 of my Lake Summers series, which is due out later this year. After that…I don’t quite know yet, but I do have an idea that’s been simmering on the back burner for several months now, and I’m looking forward to giving it my full attention.
Betty: What kind of writing would you like to experiment with? Or what’s a different genre you’ve considered writing but haven’t yet?
Barbara: I definitely would like to tackle an historical novel at some point. I really enjoy historical research.
Thanks, Barbara, for stopping by for a chat. Your stories sound intriguing! Something about a lake during the summer is inviting especially in the chill of a January morning.
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