Marybeth Whalen and her husband Curt have been married for twenty-three years and are the parents of six children, ranging in age from college to elementary school. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth is a speaker and the author of five novels. The newest, The Bridge Tender, was released in June. She is the co-founder of the popular women's fiction site, She Reads, at www.shereads.org, and is the Writer-in-Residence at a local private school. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at www.marybethwhalen.com.
At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Marybeth will participate in the panel "Structure: Four Ways to Build a Book" with Kim Boykin, Erika Marks, and Kim Wright. Structure: It's hard to talk about and therefore many writers avoid the scary subject, even though a sound structure is essential to the success of any novel. On this panel, four writers will share their own unique ways of building a book, from being a “pantser” (who flies by the seat of her pants) to a “plotter” who won't begin without a detailed outline, to all the possibilities between these two extremes. We'll also discuss the issues of whether each book demands its own structure, the challenge of revision, writing when you aren't sure what happens next, and whether or not the "film formula" really works when it comes to novels. You'll leave with a new set of tools to help you find the best structural approach to your next book.
If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
Elizabeth Berg is my absolute hero so I'd have to say her. Her ability to observe the nuances of life, and to capture a woman's unique thoughts and emotions, is enviable to me so of course I'd like to be her—and therefore write like her.
Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Charming, hopeful, engaging.
What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
It will be rewarding—but not in any way you expect it to be.
In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
Charlotte is a mix of NASCAR and banking, old south and northern transplants, funky and austere, city and country. Which means that there's pretty much something for everyone, if you keep looking. At its heart, Charlotte is a small town who grew up fast, and experienced growing pains along the way. Who among us doesn't know what that feels like?
Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
The best writers are the ones who always keep learning and never feel they've arrived. They remain teachable and that open-heartedness is reflected in their writing.
Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Creativity breeds creativity. It inspires, it multiplies, it gets into the air and fills us all.
What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop, panel, or Mart?
The sense that there is no one right way. And that if they have a passion to write the key is to just keep at it.
What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
Don't be afraid to strike up conversations, to take risks, to be the first to reach out.
If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
I'm gonna go with my southern, Sunday school upbringing and say the Bible, especially the Psalms—from the depths of despair to the heights of euphoria, there is nothing withheld, no question too big, no promise unkept. Sometimes I need to resonate with the despair, sometimes I need to cling to the hope. Either way, there's always something there.
Can writing be taught?
The drive to write can't—but the skill to make what you write resonate can.
Who has influenced your writing style the most?
My best friend, author Ariel Lawhon, mainly because she listens to me weep and gnash my teeth, then kicks me back into play. She also helps me brainstorm and gives me good insight when I can't see past my own nose.
Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
Reading some encouragement from another writer, talking to my best friend, reading back through my journal, and then sometimes just making myself open the damn file. Sometimes that one tiny act is the hardest move I make all day.
Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
The same title of my "theme song"—I'm Still Standing.
Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, November 21-23 in Charlotte, is now open.