Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SHE'S HERE Come and visit - ask questions...

Hi Phyllis,

1. What an exciting title, The Sinner’s Guide to Confession. It really grabs your attention. The most fascinating thing for me is where authors get their story ideas, but the grabber title has to be the exact hook a publisher needs to push a story. Where did the idea for the title come from? Was it something in the story or did you start with the title and then write the story?

The title is taken from a scene in the novel. Gertie, Kaye’s mother, recounts a story of how on the train, she notices a very plain woman reading a pamphlet on the train. When Gertie sees that the pamphlet is titled The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, she wonders what such a plain-looking woman has to confess. I actually had this experience while riding Metro North into Manhattan. I was fascinated by the woman sitting across from me and began to take notes. If this woman had something to confess, imagine what others might be hiding? Anyway, that’s where the idea for the title came from. However, I cannot take credit for it since it was my agent’s brainstorm. We went back and forth over it for awhile with my editor and with the publisher before everyone agreed.

2. Your book starts out with a look in the mirror. I mean, when we see the young 15 year old faces pretending to be 20 acting like they’re 40, we remember our own youth and wish it were possible to cross that barrier we left so long ago to back there when things were perfect. Your characters seem so true. Each one is at a perfect age, a perfect place, a perfect psychological time to be, say and do what they are, say and do. You show a masterful use of story telling here. A reader just feels what they feel. How did you arrive at such incredible reality?

Well, first I must thank you for such a lovely compliment. I am flattered. As for arriving at such an “incredible reality,” I am weeks away from fifty-six, so I’ve had my share of experiences at different ages. When I see a twenty-some or a thirty-something who struggles with issues I have already experienced, I often feel compelled to share my own sense of reality. After all 20/20 hindsight is not really anything more than introspection. It’s not about regrets, but it is about knowing what you might have done differently.

3. How did you go about developing these characters?

I approach character development the same way each time. Long ago, a good friend told me that one needs to know everything about each character even if you don’t use all the information. I start out by writing a character sketch—physical characteristics, age, religion, education, family, friends, political views, childhood, quirks, anything and everything. The character then begins to take form. I can actually see each character as he or she emerges from these details. It’s all very exciting at that stage. I love that part of the process, and since I don’t do much in the way of outlining, it makes me feel very virtuous. After this, I tab a notebook—a section for each character and begin to compile my notes. It’s no longer preliminary work. The characters evolve. As I write, they allow me to create them.

4. Perfect – is not what your book is about. Flaws, mistakes or life choices that you would change, if only…seems to be the essence of your book. What drew you to explore these three secrets in particular?

Perfection is so much less interesting than anything that is flawed. The mistakes we make have so much more to offer than anything else. Would life be interesting if we were all perfect and always did the right thing? Perfection is boring.

5. You hear author’s put themselves in the hero, or heroines make up. How much of you are in the three women whose lives we are wrapped up in?

I think there are elements of me in every character I create. I see certain elements of myself in each of these women. I have Barbara’s cynicism, Kaye’s resilience, and Ellen’s perseverance. I have other qualities that we see in these women, but those qualities stand out for me at this moment. However, everything of me is in those women in one way or another.

6. My first thought when I read about your book and the three women who play the major roles in your story was the title “The Three Faces of Eve”. Each of these women hordes a secret. The hiding is as much of the story as would be the revealing…this seems a precarious balance that you manage to hold through out the book. The secret doesn’t make them evil. Did you know this at the outset, did you have the story designed this way or did your characters form the story as you went?

My characters form the story as I go along. I almost never know where I’m going when I first begin. It’s all about taking a chance. I have to believe that the story will unfold and that the characters will tell me what to do.

7. Women are such nurturers. Do you think guilt over choices made in her youth influences the way people, especially women, lead their lives?

I really don’t know about other women. I do know that for myself by the time I reached a point where I no longer gave much credence to guilt, I had wasted a lot of time doing things I really didn’t want to do and being with people I didn’t want to spend much time with when I really don’t even like socializing. So, in answer to your question, I learned from the wrong choices I made in my youth and corrected them in adulthood—a good thing, no?

I think when we are young we make choices for a lot of the wrong reasons, including guilt, but I don’t believe that it is the overriding deterrent for women to making good choices. I think poor self-esteem is the plague of women at every age. We just don’t see how much we are worth, or we don’t accept ourselves as we are, or we think we’re too fat or not pretty enough. It’s exhausting.

8. Did you have a friend like one of these women that you could or would confide in no matter what the secret revealed about you?

Of course, don’t you? I certainly hope you do. I have a few women in my circle. I couldn’t survive without my women. My closest friends know most everything about me, but always to a degree. Some things simply shouldn’t be shared.

9. Ellen is thinking during a conversation with Bill that, “… Behind every woman who has been betrayed is a confused man.” I found this an interesting comment. Of course it fits very well in their conversation at this point. Do you feel this statement is true? Do you think that misunderstanding – perhaps the men are from mars women are from Venus type mentality causes rifts that could be solved if couples were more open and express themselves better?

Well, of course, more rifts would be solved if everyone, not only couples, could express themselves. I’m not sure about being open. I used to think that “being open” was always an advantage, but I’ve come to the logic of the less is more theory. I don’t think there is always more to be gained from full disclosure. In answer to the men are from Mars and women are from Venus reference, my answer is yes. Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, and that is just the way it is. We are simply different.

10. What about Phyllis Schieber? Who is she on Saturday morning when the dog wants to be walked and the kids want breakfast, the phone refuses to quit ringing with one more request for your undivided attention? Who is she at the PTA meeting or the Red Hat Society or perhaps none of these fit you…Tell us about the * real * you.

First of all, I have a cat, and my son is away at graduate school, and I don’t belong to anything that requires my physical presence—no clubs, no meetings, no regular sort of anything. I never did like groups. On a Saturday morning, or most any morning for that matter, you’ll find me in my office at my computer with a cup of tea or coffee, answering emails and writing. I love my own space. I don’t like to socialize much except for the occasional lunch or dinner with one or several of the girls. The real me is very funny, a loyal friend with loyal friends, delightfully irreverent, a devoted wife and mother, and someone who tries very, very hard to remember to count her blessings.

11. Finally, where can we find out more about you and your work? Do you have a blog or website? How can readers connect with you?


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I’m sure my readers will have many more questions for you as they read and re-read your wonderful book. Can they reach you by email or snail mail with comments or questions?

About Sinner’s Guide to Confession:

Kaye and Barbara are longtime friends, now in their fifties. Ellen, who is several years younger, develops a friendship with the other two women years later, solidifying this close-knit group. The three women are inseparable, yet each nurtures a secret that she keeps from the others.

About Author Phyllis Schieber:

The first great irony of my life was that I was born in a Catholic hospital. My parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants. .In the mid-fifties, my family moved to Washington Heights. The area offered scenic views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, as well as access to Fort Tryon Park and the mysteries of the Cloisters. Her first novel, Strictly Personal, for young adults, was published by Fawcett-Juniper. The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, was released by Berkley Putnam and in March 2008, Berkley Putnam will issue the first paperback publication of Willing Spirits.

Win A Free Book from Phyllis Schieber – Its very easy to be entered in a drawing for a FREE book by Phyllis Schieber. Post comments on any blogs during the virtual tour and you will have a chance to win a book from Phyllis. One random person will win – but we are also asking visitors to share a secret and one secret will also win a free book. As a bonus the blog owner that hosted the winning comments will also win a book. Share some interesting stories and questions with Phyllis Schieber during her tour – and have a chance to win a book.

For full details about Phyllis Schieber’s virtual tour, visit her tour home page -


Phyllis Schieber said...

I am so happy that Billie Williams invited me to answer some very thought provoking questions about THE SINNER'S GUIDE TO CONFESSION, as well as questions about writing. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here today--we are in middle of an ice storm in NY, and I just got back from Newark Airport in New Jersey! I am eager to hear from women about their friendships, their struggles and their triumphs! I am also always ready to hear a good secret!

Word Crafter said...

Hi Phyllis,
How scary - I hope you stay safe and your power stays on. It has been a strange year for weather.
Okay Ladies and gents you heard her she wants secrets -- she wants questions.
Small Town Secrets are always the best - you never know what your next door neighbor might be up to. LOL
But then, friendships - bring out the possibility of sharing those secrets you wouldn't dare share with anyone.
I can't wait to see what come up here.
Thanks for joining us Phyllis.

Word Crafter said...

Need to clarify here - there was no previous post that I deleted - some glitch in the system Phyllis - honest it wasn't me = )

Karen Syed said...

What a nice post. I think I might actually read this. It sounds fascinating. Coming from the romance genre, it is refreshing in an odd way to have access to stories and characters that are not magazine ad perfect.

Billie is a gem isn't she, glad she brought you out so we could get to know your story and you a little better.

JanetElaineSmith said...

What an interesting sounding book, and Billie, you do ask the best questions. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview.
Janet Elaine Smith (Billie's next-door neighbor, who doesn't tell her EVERYTHING! LOL!)

Phyllis Schieber said...

Hi Karen,
I already sense that Billie is a gem, and I am genuinely happy to be welcomed into her circle!
There is very little that is perfect about the women in SINNER'S, yet they are endearing in different ways. I do hope you will read the book and let me know what you think. I have a very thick skin--no other way to be good writer!

Phyllis Schieber said...

You're so right, Janet. The questions Billie asked were fabulous! Never tell anyone everything! I agree.

Nikki Leigh said...

Hi Billie

Thank you for hosting Phyllis on her tour. We're getting great feedback, but we're still looking for some secrets :) It seems like I know everyone that dropped by - hi folks :)

Nikki Leigh

Word Crafter said...

So okay you guys know my secret -- tee hee - I'm really not a gem, diamond in the rough or anything that amazing. But I love that you all visited here to check Phyllis out. She is quite an amazing woman and I don't think she's told us all HER secrets yet = )
So okay whose gonna be first?
Thank you all for your comments - I'm stoked.

Word Crafter said...

Pssst! a secret from anonymous:
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
I think Phyllis is the kind of woman who could/would do that.


Phyllis Schieber said...

I try to "invent" the future are often as possible. Thanks, Billie, for sensing that.

Word Crafter said...

Golly no one is willing to divulge their secrets in this forum - I can't understand why not - only a few million people roam the internet looking for secrets they can sell to the inquirer or some other magazine. LOL. Well I have three books (compared to your 3 women friends)that are chuck full of secrets. Knapsack Secrets, Small Town Secrets and Ancient Secrets. We could probably find lots to talk to in there. But I have one for you Phyllis - What is in the works for you next?
Will their be a sequel?

Diana Black said...

Mistakes! I've made a few, but then again, too few to mention...Or however that lyric goes! THanks, Phyllis, and you, too, Billie, for great insight and info. Great post.


Phyllis Schieber said...

Well, since you asked. . . I've been working on a novel that is a vast departure from anything else I've written. The protagonist in this work does not have many women friends. I wanted to explore what life would be like from the other side of the worlds I've described. In addition, this woman has a "gift" that gives her access in a way others rarely experience. The novel also looks at mental illness and how it affects everyone in a family. There are several sub-plots in this new work and characters I hope will be memorable and familiar.

Phyllis Schieber said...

Thank you, Diane! Mistakes? What are those? ;)
I have several private students to see, but I will be back later!

Word Crafter said...

Boy that sounds like a good read Phyllis. I can't wait to see it. I happen to have a strong interest in mental illness, at one time I thought I would work in a home caring for those -- but got married instead - hmmmm. We won't go there.
Oh and Diane thanks for joining us.

Phyllis Schieber said...

lol. . . I agree. Let's definitely not go there! Oh, but it's so tempting!

Word Crafter said...

Well, it's gotten really really quiet in her Phyllis. I hope everyone didn't just go home from work and forget about us. *sigh*
I did want to be sure to thank you for spending time with us. I'm sure there are lurkers who are just to shy to say - how much fun you are - but that's okay we'll catch them next time.
You will come back soon won't you?
Maybe when you get your next book out?
I'll be waiting. Thanks again. If anyone hollers later tonight I'll have Nikki give you a heads up.
Thanks and Good Luck with a million sales at least of The Sinners Guide to Confession! Great book, I enjoyed it immensely.
Billie A Williams

darbyscloset said...

Okay Phyllis,
Catty women in the work environment, how cope? You can imagine my secret which isn't really a secret I suppose is I work with "C.W.", help!
Would love to read your book!
Thanks so much
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

18191819 said...

Hi, Interesting answers. I especially enjoyed reading how you creat your characters and how you write. I look forward to the book.
Thank you

Joyce Anthony said...

Billie, you outdid yourself on questions again :-) Phyllis, I look forward to you stopping by my blog later on your tour--I'm in the middle of your book now :-) Your next one sounds fascinating as well--most people know the psychological aspect is right up my alley-I look forward to it!

Phyllis Schieber said...

I think I went to bed too early yesterday! I don't know who C.W. is Darby, but I suspect I've met women just like her. I once had the most dreadful boss. She made my life miserable for years. I don't know what I was thinking, but I learned a lot from that experience. I have used bits and pieces of her in some of my characters and will continue to do so. That brings me to Cora's comment. I am always interested in hearing how other writers develop their characters. Thank you for your comments.
I'm ready now Joyce! I am looking forward to our dialogue later in January. I am so happy that you are enjoying SINNER'S.

avisannschild said...

What a great interview! I started checking out this blog tour on Ramya's blog (Ramya's Bookshelf) and the first thing I said was that I wasn't taken by the title, so I'm glad this interview shed some light on where the title came from!

The more I read about this book, the more I want to read it (though I'm still not willing to divulge any secrets for that privilege!).