uthor Denise Williams is an inspiration. Her second novel, The Fastest Way to Fall (2021), has been lauded as a triumph in its handling of the rarely seen theme of body positivity, but it is also a well written rom-com, adult contemporary romance that can stand on its own with all the elements that any avid romance book reader would hope to find. WOW! was able to speak with Ms. Williams amidst a busy book release schedule about her sophomore novel, The Fastest Way to Fall, and the craft of writing.
WOW: Hello, Denise! Thank you for your time. The Fastest Way to Fall is a triumph on so many levels. How does this experience with your sophomore novel feel compared to your debut novel, How to Fail at Flirting (2020)?
Denise: Thank you for having me, and thank you for the compliment! My debut novel was released in 2020, so if pandemic author is a thing, it’s definitely a good descriptor for me! Releasing my sophomore novel and now a third one, The Love Connection [a novella] (2022), has been surreal. I always loved to write, but I never thought I would be an author. My professional training is in academics. I have a PhD in education. Writing fiction was always a hobby, however. With the publication of The Fastest Way to Fall, I had this moment where I finally sat back and thought, “Whoa. I’m an actual author.”
WOW: I’m glad that moment came through. That has to be a wonderful feeling. It’s certainly a major accomplishment. Congratulations! You certainly cover subjects people care about. In reading many of the reviews for The Fastest Way to Fall, much is said about one of the main themes—positive body image—but there are other major topics worth taking note of as well, such as the importance of feeling worthy of healthy love. So, I wanted to go back to the beginning to when you first realized you were a writer and storyteller because understanding how to tell complex stories doesn’t happen overnight. How did your love of writing develop?
Denise: I’ve loved telling stories since I can remember. I wrote my first book in the second grade, and I remember writing a play in third grade. I made all the neighborhood kids act it out! It was three pages, six acts, and had about twelve plot twists. Needless to say, my storytelling has improved! I’ve always found stories to be one of the most powerful tools to share information. It’s something I use in my work, my research, and now in my romance writing. Also, my parents always read to me, and that sparked a love of books and appreciation for the power of words.
WOW: Yes. Words are powerful. Your characters grapple with interesting self-talk, which is one way I love that you display their inner and outer worlds. It’s also interesting that story structure was important to you as a child. That skill shows up in your writing, yet you took a different path career-wise. How did you find your way back to life as an author?
Denise: In 2016, I had a three-month-old, was busy with work, and busy with a research project. I felt a little buried in work and life and mom-ming. I felt like I’d lost myself a little, so one night when my son went to sleep, I sat down to write a poem or a short story or just something to hopefully feel creative again. That was the birth of How to Fail at Flirting. I sat down the next night and the night after, and I immediately felt like I’d re-connected with a part of myself. I kept writing, and I haven’t stopped.
“I felt like I’d lost myself a little, so one night when my son went to sleep, I sat down to write a poem or a short story or just something to hopefully feel creative again. That was the birth of How to Fail at Flirting.”
WOW: That’s powerful. It’s interesting that the connection for you was immediate. From the beginning, was it your goal to publish in the romance genre?
Denise: Initially, I didn’t think anyone would ever read what I wrote, but I always knew romance was my genre. I’m a sucker for happily ever after, and I’ve always found the power of love to be the best part of any story. I’m an avid romance reader, and getting to create chemistry on the page always makes me smile.
WOW: It’s great that you continued to write despite not being sure if anyone would read your words. The evidence is we’re here asking about The Fastest Way to Fall. There are three additional novellas coming out this year, The Love Connection (2022) was just released this month in audiobook format with the eBook coming out next month. The Missed Connection (2022) and The Sweetest Connection (2022) will have a similar release schedule. You also have another full-length novel, Do You Take This Man (2022), scheduled for release this fall. People are certainly reading a lot of what you are writing! For some, the fast pace and deadline-driven schedules of professional writing take some time to get used to. What would you say has been the biggest takeaway lesson from your freshman to sophomore novel writing experience?
Denise: Writing with deadlines wasn’t too big a leap for me. I have regular deadlines in my academic writing, but I thought I was prepared for reviews. My first really negative review lives rent-free in my head, and going through that experience gave me insight on how I best handle feedback. The advice to not read your reviews is excellent advice all writers should follow. More than that, I learned with my debut that not all books are for all people, and that’s okay.
WOW: That’s an interesting perspective. It brings me to something you say on your website which might help in keeping the opinions of others in perspective—which is humor. In this case, of course, we are talking about humor in terms of romance. You mention, “Sometimes love is funny.” There are definitely lighthearted moments in The Fastest Way to Fall, which lends to its pleasant element of suspense and surprise. Why is laughter an important ingredient to include in a genre most people associate with heavy romance?
Denise: I love to laugh. I think I’m funny, yet there is always a touch on a heavy topic in my writing. I think most of us have heavy issues in our lives, but there’s also always humor because we all hopefully have that, too. I like to show characters shouldering burdens or living with hard things who also get to laugh, have fun, and fall in love. I like to write all those dimensions in my stories.
“I think most of us have heavy issues in our lives, but there’s also always humor because we all hopefully have that, too. I like to show characters shouldering burdens or living with hard things who also get to laugh, have fun, and fall in love.”
WOW: Definitely. It comes together nicely in The Fastest Way to Fall. There’s also something for every level of romance reader in your work. Were there formal classes or writing habits that prepared you for your writing career?
Denise: Thank you. That means so much to hear. Other than a few creative writing classes in college, I haven’t had formal training in writing, but I love to learn from craft books and fellow writers. A few favorite books are Romancing the Beat, Save The Cat Writes a Novel, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction.
WOW: Thank you for my new reading list! I’m sure WOW! readers will feel the same. Was there a specific moment when you knew you had the seed that would become The Fastest Way to Fall? For instance, the hook for me was one character I call Mr. Unattainable when he tells Britta, “Imagine how hot you’ll be as you keep going.” I think we’ve all come across someone whose made us feel like we can’t quite measure up.
Denise: I definitely had a spark, and I feel so lucky that it was in a moment of strength and not a moment of heartbreak or feeling diminished. I was at a retreat with a group of faculty and college students, and we asked the students to reflect on a moment they felt strong. As I joined in, I thought about being at the gym and crushing a hard workout. I imagined stepping off the elliptical machine and feeling like I could do anything. It’s such a powerful feeling to be in that headspace. At the time, I’d finished writing How to Fail at Flirting and was thinking of my next project, and I thought about being in that moment and falling in love. That’s where Britta and Wes were born; and when I doubt myself, I try to go back to that exercise. It’s far more motivating than any snide comment from some insensitive person!
WOW: I’m glad that it came from a moment of strength. It allowed for authentic exchanges between the characters that ran the gamut of emotions. The takeaway for many readers being the importance of body positivity. Yet, there was so much about the way we see ourselves and the roles we play in our day-to-day lives and our relationships, including our families of origin. The plot twists and story beats lend themselves to the question of whether your writing process begins with inspiration and then the use of an outline? It’s really a page-turner that cannot be second guessed. That’s to say, it’s precise, well-planned, and well-executed.
Denise: That might be the best compliment I’ve ever received! It means the world to hear because I do outline now, but when I wrote The Fastest Way to Fall, I didn’t. In fact, I wrote almost all of the first draft in about a month as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the fall of 2018. I’m a pantser and over writer by nature. So much of this book came together in editing, both by myself, with friends, and with my editor at Berkley. If I had outlined the book, I think I could have gotten it to its endpoint much faster, but sometimes I like to see where the story takes me and go on a wild ride.
“I queried and was rejected for about three months. If you’re still in the trenches, keep going! Have people look at your pitch, and I hope you find the person who falls in love with your writing.”
WOW: That’s surprising and comforting for those of us who still enjoy the wild ride without the use of an outline. Here’s the last question. For our readers who have yet to find and are still working towards finding an agent, can you describe your agent querying process?
Denise: I was very green when I entered the querying trenches. I’d just finished my first book, and friends were talking about querying agents. I was googling what they were talking about, so I didn’t look completely out of touch. I hadn’t planned to publish my first book. I didn’t think it was good enough, and I wasn’t sure anyone would want to read it. But I learned more about publishing, and I started querying in earnest. I was lucky to connect with my amazing agent through a Twitter Pitch contest via #DVPit, which highlights authors from marginalized communities. Before that, though, I queried and was rejected for about three months. If you’re still in the trenches, keep going! Have people look at your pitch, and I hope you find the person who falls in love with your writing.
WOW: Thank you, Denise, for your time, sage advice, and kind words. WOW! wishes you continued success.
While PitMad assisted in launching the careers of many authors, including authors of diverse backgrounds, PitMad appears to have seen its last pitch war on February 14, 2022, based on a tweet posted the following day. As in all things publishing, opportunities are bound to arise again, however.
Challenges like #NaNoWriMo which encourage networking and accountability while completing your novel help you reach the first requirement—doing the work needed to be prepared when the opportunities appear. Realize it’s normal to wonder if anyone will ever want to read your words, but push through anyway. Hone your craft, and let your love for storytelling in whatever genre you choose shine through.
Margaret Buapim is the author of Ring Envy, a Christian fiction adult contemporary novel (2006) published and available online through booksellers. She has previously interviewed New York Times Best Selling author Mary Monroe featured in “Lessons from a Self-Taught Author” in the June 2020 WOW! Women-on-Writing ezine and newsletter. She also interviewed author Karen Brown Tyson in her piece, “The Gift of Falling Forward: An Interview with Karen Brown Tyson,” featured on WOW’s blog, The Muffin, in February 2021, and author Brittney Morris about her debut novel SLAY in the November 2021 WOW! Women-on-Writing ezine and newsletter. Stay up to date and connect with Ms. Buapim online at www.authormyb.com or Twitter @YBuapim.