A Month for Literary Ladies

Monday, March 18, 2013
There are only two more weeks of National Women’s History Month. What have you done this year to celebrate women this month? Party? Parade? Pep rally? Nothing, not one little event to celebrate women’s contribution to the world? Well, don’t feel bad. You still have time to commemorate National Women’s History Month with a little help from an old friend of WOW, Nava Atlas.

WOW: The last time everyone at the Muffin heard from you, Nava, it was for your blog tour. For those who missed it the first time around could you tell us a little about your book?

NAVA: The wordy title reveals a lot about the book: The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life: Inspiration Advice and from Celebrated Women Authors who Paved the Way draws on the journals, letters, and other first-person writings by classic authors of the past. These personal narratives illuminate these writers' paths, from finding their voices and the discipline to write, to dealing with children, lack of money and insecurities; and finally, to enjoying some measure of success. In short, our literary foremothers, including Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and others all faced the very same challenges as any of us who write and aspire to an audience face in our journeys.

In my annotations, I discuss these parallels; I include other quotes and passages by other female authors, past and present (the twelve main Literary Ladies are deceased). And I wrap the whole thing up in a highly visual presentation, as, among the other hats I wear, I'm also a visual artist with a penchant for design.

WOW: And now to celebrate the anniversary of your book as well Women's History Month you're launching a complementary website. Tell us what we'll find at your new website and what made you decide to launch it.

NAVA: The first Literary Ladies site was mainly about the book. It's still there in its original form, at http://book.literaryladiesguide.com. The new site is now at http://www.literaryladiesguide.com and is much expanded from the original site. There's a mini-biography of many significant female authors from the past, with the roster going far beyond who I covered in the book. Each mini-bio contains links to more information, including the authors' homes or archives, plus great quotes. There's also a filmography page—it was fun to collect and list some of the numerous films made from the books by classic women authors, plus, some films about the authors themselves. "Miss Potter" (about Beatrix Potter) and The Hours (part of which is about Virginia Woolf) are among my favorites!

Also central to the site are featured essays, some of which are by me and some by contributors. These reference at least one classic author and/or her work and are geared both to readers and writers, providing inspiration and insight. In fact, I'm looking for submissions in this category. See http://www.literaryladiesguide.com/category/essays/ for examples of essays already on the site.

I made the site because in all my research I didn't find a comprehensive site about female authors of the past that was easy to navigate, organized, and thorough. So I hope that this site is off to a running start, and I hope to add more in the months and years to come. I need to add more of the great poets, for example.

WOW: I remember you were nervous when I initially met you because The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life was quite a genre jump for you. Although you were well-known for your cookbooks this type of nonfiction was definitely something new for you. Was it as difficult as you anticipated developing a new audience for a new type of writing?

NAVA: Yes, it really has been a challenge. Building a site on the subject, starting a Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, connecting with the writing and literature community—are all things I should have been doing while writing the book, if not much sooner, not two years after its publication! It's simply a reality of the publishing world these days—once your book hits the shelves, your audience should already know about it and be anticipating it. Scrambling to find a market from scratch once pub date hits, or just hoping someone happens upon your book in a bookstore, are old-school strategies.

WOW: So are you still genre jumping? Cookbook author? Nonfiction author? Both?

NAVA: I’ve already had two new vegan cookbooks published since Literary Ladies came out in March of 2011. Vegan Holiday Kitchen was published in November of 2011, and Wild About Greens in June of 2012. Both are well into their third printings, so that audience at least, remains intact, and growing. There's so much interest in plant-based diets these days, and I've been building that platform for, shall we say, decades ...

I've been trying to write and design a visual dual biography, and I have another idea for a nonfiction book on women's issues, but the lessons I've learned from my experience with Literary Ladies is fresh on my mind. As tricky as it has been, it hasn't discouraged me from genre-jumping. I really enjoy producing the vegan cookbooks and they do make me a nice living. But I just don't want to be confined to one subject area!

I'm working on a new food-related project for Harper One (the SF division of HarperCollins). They came to me with a fully formed idea that I thought was a good one, so I said yes. That's actually the first time that has happened, so it's kind of a nice change of pace from having to sell an idea to a publisher.

WOW: Do you have any advice for writers who are considering genre jumping?

NAVA: Don't do it!! Just kidding. Seriously, if it's in your heart, you've got to express yourself however you wish. If you do want a book's to succeed, at least modestly, you need to pre-build your audience.

Some of the authors in the book jumped literary forms all the time, and some jumped genres. Edna Ferber wrote novels, screenplays, Broadway shows, and memoirs. Madeleine L'Engle wrote novels for adults and children, as well as memoirs about her spiritual life and her writing life. Louisa May Alcott was the biggest genre-jumper of all—she wrote gothics and thrillers under assumed names, memoir (Hospital Sketches), her well-known "girls' fiction" that she thought so little of at first, and much more.

So us genre-jumpera, just can't help ourselves, nor should we, even if we do so at our own peril!

WOW: What do you hope readers will take a away from a visit to your new website?

NAVA: I'm actually not a big part of the picture in the new website. It's really about the authors, their legacies, as well as what they teach us about the writing life that I wish to showcase. It's wonderful and amazing how relevant their words and ideas have remained. Some of them are still very much in the forefront—the world never seems to get enough of Jane Austen, for instance—while others have become more obscure, for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was saying things 100 years ago that Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is saying in her new book, Lean In.

WOW: Is there anything the readers of the Muffin can do to help ensure the success of your new website?

NAVA: How very nice of you to ask! I would appreciate inbound links, of course. And contributions of repurposed content, posts that make reference to classic authors and their works. Maybe even pieces on how certain fictional heroines or classic works resonate with you or inspire you. Who doesn't love Jo March, Elizabeth Bennett, and Anne Shirley (of Green Gables)? And please join the fledgling Facebook page for daily inspiration from the greats: http://www.facebook.com/LiteraryLadiesGuide

WOW: Well, you heard her writers! Do you have a favorite literary lady? Has she inspired you? Taught you? Helped you set goals?


Margo Dill said...

First, I wanted to tell Nava that my critique group named ourselves after her book that inspired us! Our group is called the Lit Ladies. :) I love the children's literary ladies: Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Madeline L'Engle. :) Will check out your website!

Margo Dill said...

I think the link to the new site might be broken? Is there an extra space in it?

Angela Mackintosh said...

Good catch, Margo! I fixed the link. There was an extra space.

Congratulations, Nava, on the new website! What a fantastic, inspiring resource. I'm looking forward to checking everything out and perhaps contributing an essay about Anais Nin or Sylvia Plath--two of my favorite authors. :)

Unknown said...

I love the concept of this book and link-- can't wait to check them both out! I also love the idea of a vegan cookbook. Wow-- am I glad I took the time to stop by here today. Nice to meet you and your work, Nava.

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