My novel Amiga (L) with The Roof Above by Gail Dwyer

Learning from other authors

As writers, we are not each other’s competition. We can learn from each other as we see how other authors take on the same creative challenges.

I recently read an advance copy of Gail Dwyer’s new novel, The Roof Above, which is coming out February 15, 2024 from our mutual publisher, Black Rose Writing. I enjoyed this book tremendously. (You can read my five-star review on Barnes and Noble.) Gail created an engaging character with Kelly McGowan and used her to give a unique perspective of Army life. What really attracted me to The Roof Above was how much it reminded me of my own Black Rose Writing novel, Amiga.

You could do a “Would you like to hear a story” meme with our books, as in “Would you like to hear a story about a young woman who has an intimate relationship with a soldier, and she leaves her hometown and has trouble finding a job in a new place?” (I’ll stop the similarities in the plot there because they lead to spoilers.) Our books have even more in common. They are both first-person narratives. They are both set in time periods that affect what happens in the story. (Amiga during the early days in the personal computer industry in the 1980s. The Roof Above during the War on Terror in the 2000s.) And they both deal with women in their twenties who face multiple traumas and family problems and grow through those experiences.

I appreciated how well Gail brought her character Kelly to life. When writing in first person, you must become the character. We want readers to experience a person’s life first-hand and see the world from that character’s point-of-view. Readers can become emotionally invested in a character. The character’s goals become the readers’ goals, and their setbacks become the readers’ setbacks. Gail did a beautiful job with this.

I also recognized how much Gail brought her own life experiences into the book. She is a West Point graduate, an Army spouse, and mom to two Army officers. (One of her sons died tragically in a helicopter crash.) I can feel how much of Gail’s lived experience came through in Kelly’s character, the details of military life down to the acronyms, and settings like the Florida Gulf Coast. That experience brought Kelly’s story to life.

I also strive to bring my life experiences into my novels. Amiga shows my experiences in the computer industry in the 1980s, but I added many other personal touches. Of course, Reseda is there. So is the house in San Rafael where my dad grew up and where we often visited my grandmother. There’s a scene based on when I was robbed at gunpoint at Carl’s Jr. (At the book signing event in Woodland Hills, I reunited with one of my fellow captives. We had a good laugh as I pointed out that scene in my book.)

This is what I liked the most about The Roof Above. Gail’s personality shines through it. It’s like she’s sitting down and telling you this story about her life and the things she values. You want to listen because she’s pouring out her heart, and she created characters you care about.

The Roof Above also affirmed for me I’m on the right path with my writing. I’ve been wondering if genre-driven fiction might sell better. But The Roof Above shows there’s still a need for intimate, character-driven stories. They’re the books I love to read, and they’re the books I love to write. And the more titles we have in this genre, the larger the audience can grow. We’re not cutting a pie into smaller pieces. We’re baking a bigger pie.

This is another reason writers aren’t each other’s competition. Reading quality fiction in a genre you enjoy can inspire and motivate you. It shows other authors can take on the same creative challenges and succeed. So can you.