Fiction Writing Made Easy

#119: Student Spotlight: How Fern Bernstein Wrote A Dual Timeline Novel Based On The Edies of Grey Gardens

December 05, 2023 Savannah Gilbo Episode 119
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#119: Student Spotlight: How Fern Bernstein Wrote A Dual Timeline Novel Based On The Edies of Grey Gardens
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

“It's the inciting incident, the turning point, the crisis moment, the climax, and the resolution, and each scene really needs to have that to move the story forward.” - Fern Bernstein

In today's episode, I’m sitting down for a conversation with Fern Bernstein to talk about her debut novel, Staunch: The Edie's of Grey GardensHere’s a preview of what’s included:

[01:44] Savannah reads the back cover of Staunch: The Edie's of Grey Gardens to get context for today’s discussion.

[12:14] The history and unanswered questions around the Edie’s, how they inspired Fern’s book, and the character work and story structure Fern worked through with Savannah about these wonderful women of Grey Gardens, East Hampton, New York.

[21:11] Going through the outline, having consecutive drafts, and the balancing act of taking the reader through a particular emotional journey through two different timelines.

[32:37] How beta readers impacted Fern’s opinion of her writing and being open to feedback and constructive criticism as a writer.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

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Fern Bernstein:

That was an aha moment when you see it, when you take a chapter from a book and you break it down and you can kind of extrapolate those five elements and you're like, wow, so that was really really cool. Value shifts were another thing that were very interesting to learn about, and the different genre conventions, yeah, and those things really come into play. So the specific type of story you are writing has certain value shifts that have to occur.

Savannah Gilbo:

Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started. In today's episode, I have something super exciting to share with you. I recently sat down for a conversation with a writer named Fern Bernstein to talk about her debut novel called Stanch, the Edyse of Grey Gardens. In our conversation, we talk about her writing, editing and publishing journey, including things like where the idea to write a fictionalized story about the Edyse came from, what it was like to write a dual point of view and a dual timeline novel, and so much more. You'll also get to hear Fern talk about what it was like to work with me on her story, and she'll share some of her favorite craft tools and lessons as well. So this is a jam packed episode with my lovely client, fern Bernstein and I'm so excited to share her story with you. But before we get into the conversation, I wanted to read you the back cover copy of her book, just to give you some context for what we're going to talk about today. So here's what it says Grey Gardens, 1972.

Savannah Gilbo:

Little Edie Beale had high hopes of becoming a star, sole companion and caretaker for her mother. On a rundown property full of feral animals, tangled overgrowth and piles of trash, the unmarried 50-something craves away out. But when she attempts to burn away some of the clutter, the loyal daughter is horrified when the fire department arrives and triggers a slew of code violations and threats of eviction. 1923. Big Edie Beale longed to unleash her voice.

Savannah Gilbo:

Born a gifted soprano, she bristled every time her lawyer husband and her father told her to put her stage ambitions aside and manage their sprawling seaside home and gardens. And when she decided to pursue music, despite their judgment, the pampered socialite was left divorced with an empty bank account and a house too large to maintain. Driven to the brink by her mother's resolve to stay in the moldering mansion until her last breath, little Edie seeks help from their well-connected family and, as a film crew, shows up to document the pair's drastic domesticity. Big Edie seizes the chance to speak her peace as Little Edie shines in the spotlight, hoping to secure her dreams of fame. So that's what the story's about. That's what we're going to talk about today. So, without further ado, let's dive right into the conversation. Hi Fern, thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm so excited to have you here today.

Fern Bernstein:

Thank you, savannah. I am so excited to be here on your podcast because I love your podcast and that's how I found you and I think you share so much with your listeners, so I'm really excited to be here with you.

Savannah Gilbo:

Oh, thank you, and we're going to have a lot of fun today because your story is super fun, your story as a writer but the story you wrote as well, which just the book you wrote, just came out on October 5th. So at this point, that is, we're recording on the 27th, which is 22 days ago, that your book came out. So how do you feel?

Fern Bernstein:

Well, I feel hugely relieved. To be honest, it was three years in the making, a lot of hard work and blood, sweat and tears and dealing with cancer diagnosis and treatment in the middle, as you know. Yes, it's a huge sense of accomplishment and I definitely want to share that with listeners too. Don't give up and in the middle of writing, you can get really tough in that muddy middle part, but with great guidance and support, we can get through. And it's a great feeling getting to the other side and hearing from people that have read the book that they liked it, and especially fans of the movie. So it really made me feel like we did the 80s good and we really honored them, and that was very important for me when I was writing the book, as you all know. So, yeah, it's a huge feeling of accomplishment, for sure.

Savannah Gilbo:

What a great feeling, for sure, yeah, and so I'm going to read the back cover copy in a second, but before we get there, can you tell us who you are, what kinds of books you write and things like that? And I know you have some special hobbies that you can mention too. Okay, terrific.

Fern Bernstein:

So I live on Long Island, which is in the state of New York, and I have a house mid-island, and then I have a beautiful small summer house in the town of South Hold and it's a place where I love to go boating, we do fishing and tubing and just kind of relaxing. It's very beautiful and serene here and I have three children and a wonderful husband and a beautiful dog named Daisy. She's a Bernadoodle, so if you hear her barking in this interview, please just bear with us.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah she's going to chime in.

Fern Bernstein:

Maybe from time to time I will yeah, and I love to play the game of Mahjong and it's a Chinese game that was brought to the United States in the 1920s and became all the rage along with flabber dresses and pixie haircuts and all that fun stuff, and it's a tile game and it's just a lot of fun. And I actually wrote a book. My first book was a memoir and it's called Mahjong Mondays and I also host a podcast about Mahjong Mondays and game and learning to play and tips and strategies and just the fun friendships everyone makes around the table. And that was a different experience, writing a memoir. And then the book that I currently wrote is what did we decide on Savannah? Was it women's, I guess? Contemporary fiction?

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, women's, contemporary women's fiction, yeah.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, and it was a much different type of book to write, but nonetheless, we got through and did it, and I personally love to read, I guess, more biographies and I love to watch documentaries. I like to learn from people's life experiences. That really happened. I don't know why. That's just very appealing to me, and yeah, so I think that's kind of everything in a nutshell.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I think you nailed it, and so you mentioned the Edys before, and so this book is about the Edys. Do you want to tell listeners, just like a quick overview of who these wonderful women are? I would love to.

Fern Bernstein:

So the Edys, big Edie and Little Edie Beale, lived in the infamous house named Grey Gardens in East Hampton, new York, in the swanky town of East Hampton, which is on the other fork of Long Island and a lot of stars and the real estate's really high over there. And so they bought this house in the 1920s and, as life kind of went on and the mom her name was Big Edie wanted to become well, she was a singer. She had studied voice for probably two decades. When she got married there were some constraints put on her singing and she decided, I guess at some point that her singing meant more than, I guess, the constraints she was dealing with. And she started to sing and her husband was not happy with that and, being an affluent woman in the 1920s and 30s, it was kind of frowned upon. And she eventually became divorced, was left with this big beautiful house in East Hampton very close to the water, and the house went into ruin and kind of like almost like a gothic story where I mean it really became so run down and she loved cats and cat population grew in her home to almost 30. And then her daughter eventually moved home with her and they were going to be evicted by the town of East Hampton and they called upon two very affluent family members, jackie Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radzwell, and these two powerful women came to help their aunt and cousin.

Fern Bernstein:

And there was a documentary in 1976 titled Great Gardens, and HBO also did a version of it. There was even a play in the early 2000s. So it's this iconic film and this infamous house that really has a lot of fans and there's a cult following around the world and I just kind of stumbled upon the documentary during COVID and dug down the rabbit hole. I went and I started to do research and I formulated a story around the 80s and we are, yeah, which is so fun.

Savannah Gilbo:

And with that great description, I almost don't need to read the back cover copy because you just nailed the summary. No, it's just great. So you wrote a story, kind of to explore kind of everything you just said, like what happened to these women, what could they have felt like? Cause we don't have a lot of answers right?

Fern Bernstein:

No, the documentary was shot in six weeks and it's a specific type of documentary where the documentarians don't really interact too much with their I don't know what you call them their characters.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, they're subjects.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, they're subjects, but it was just so interesting you kind of like being on a fly on the wall and watching these two women and you were so intrigued like, well, why is this woman wearing a head covering? She doesn't have any hair under there and she dresses in these very Asante-garned, bizarre outfits. And the mom is busy singing with this beautiful voice and it was just very intriguing and it just, I guess, captured the heart and attention of so many people over the past 50 years. And there's Facebook groups that sent to around great gardens in the Edys and there's a lot of people out there who really adore them.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and there's. Even so, the house still exists and it's in beautiful condition and there's tours of the house and you're about to go on one, right.

Fern Bernstein:

I'm so excited.

Fern Bernstein:

So I have a podcast that's titled Great Gardens and I started it, I guess maybe a year and a half ago and during my research I felt like wow, there's so much that I'm learning and I really want to share this with other Great Garden fans out there.

Fern Bernstein:

And I've actually had the honor of interviewing Liz Lang, who is the current owner of the home, and she just did a beautiful renovation and the way that she decorated was just incredible. It was very different from the 1920s version of you know, when it was first, I guess, decorated by the Beals and there was an owner in between, sally Quinn, and she had restored everything to its original. I guess the way that the house looked back in the 1920s and so she had like swatches of fabric and she would go and have fabric created or buy something very similar to that, and she restored the house really to how it looked back in the 1920s and she really paid homage to the Edys and yeah. So it was pretty incredible, but I love the way that it looks now. I think Liz Lang nailed it with her just iconic fashion design in her eye. It's beautiful.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, it's so pretty and I'm just jealous that you're going to get to go see it in person. And if you were going to be so fun, yeah, I'm sure you'll post pictures on your Instagram and all that, so we'll make sure to put the link so you guys can all see Ferns tour on our Instagram. But so it's crazy, because there's so much history around these women in this house and this time. But then there's also a lot of unanswered questions, like you know what really happened? How did they really get this way? What were they thinking and feeling during all of this? And so, like, how did that factor into you wanting to write about them?

Fern Bernstein:

I guess I wanted to give voice to the Edie's to kind of fill in the blanks in a respectful way, and I just feel like there was so much more to the story and so many of the viewers left the questions like, well, wow, like what happened? Like how did they get like this? Like how did they live with sturdy something, cats and a family of raccoons? And I mean it's kind of crazy. Yeah, Things were cluttered and there's pictures online where they had empty cans that were five feet high. These piles of empty cans and it was I don't know. It just drew me in and I wanted to.

Fern Bernstein:

I don't know, I just wanted to create a story around them and give my version of what I thought maybe could have happened to them and, like I said earlier, it was very important for me to honor them along the way and I hope that I did, and I think that it's an intriguing story and I wanted to also show the power of women, the connectivity of women and family members, and that in a time of patriarchy back in the 1920s, when everything seemed to be kind of like, justified by the men of society, and this is how things are, especially with the super affluent and big eating kick things around a little, that's for sure. And yeah, it just shows the perspective of a woman who just had a different vision for herself and I really wanted to pursue developing that character.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and that's one of the things I really like about both of the Edis the way that you wrote them and the way that they appear in the films and all that stuff is that they're so bold and they're so themselves and society kind of said we're not sure about the way you are and they said we don't care, we're going to be this way anyway. So they're very inspirational and it's kind of like you said, we see that part of them and then we see the house they live in and we're like how do these two things exist at the same time? How are they so bold and wonderful and beautiful and then living like this? So we just have questions. Right, the world has questions.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

That's what your story really explores, which is awesome.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, yeah, I tried and it was. I think, just like I said, it's really special to kind of delve in and to watch the movie time and time again and I would even watch the movie and only have the audio on and really listen and kind of delve into their lives. And I'm kind of curious to even ask you, when your writers are working for three years on their project, working with their characters for me I felt like the Edys were part of my life. Do other writers feel like that?

Savannah Gilbo:

too. I think so, and I feel like anyone listening now is nodding their head, because I think everyone gets to this point where or at least with me and the writers I work with we get to a point where, like that character wouldn't do that, and it's like how do we really know? Because they're made up right, and in your case they're not made up, but we don't know so much that, in a way, you kind of have to make them up. So yeah, I think it's totally normal that they become such a figure in your life. And then probably at the end you were like I kind of miss them, you know.

Fern Bernstein:

And I do? Yeah, I do because I would like talk to them sometimes and like I'm like driving in the car, I'm like, well, what would Edie do?

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, yeah, definitely yeah, and so not to spoil where we're going to go in this conversation, but we had to do a lot of digging into the characters to figure out you know what are their stories really going to be about and what internal obstacle is each woman struggling with, and things like that. So there was a lot of character work that went into it.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, you asked me some good questions that were really thought-provoking and, I think, added a lot of fullness and richness to both of the characters, and I don't know if I would have done it as well without you prompting and asking me those questions All the tough questions they probably kept you up at night sometimes. Oh good, why is she?

Savannah Gilbo:

asking me this Well worth it.

Fern Bernstein:

Now it's all good yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

Well, so, okay. So on that note, let me just give listeners kind of a highlight reel of the big picture timeline because, like you said, it's been quite a few years. So you, we met in April 2022 and you had been working on it before that, right, mm-hmm. So you kind of you were developing the ideas, you had to gather kind of what does this timeline even look like, or what could it look like, and then get that into some kind of order. And then at some point you were like I need more help with this. So we met, we started working together, we spent some time working on an outline which we'll talk about Then.

Savannah Gilbo:

By about October of that year, you had a finished draft. And then we went back through it and revised it and then fast forward to about June of this year. You were working with beta readers. So we had finished the second draft, we were working with beta readers and then, like I said, october 5th was your published date. So you said three years, but all in all, in the draft we worked on together, it was just over a year, which is pretty exciting.

Fern Bernstein:

Wow, okay, yeah, remember, I was so glad you took notes with all of the people.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I mean, it's you know, and this is not an abnormal timeline either. And I like to say the months because other writers out there might be listening and thinking God, I've been working on my draft for six months. What's wrong with me? And it's like nothing. Every bet he takes, you know a while? Yeah, absolutely.

Fern Bernstein:

I think honestly, I spent maybe the first year writing a draft and then I finished it. I started the draft before I did an outline, so I did it backwards, and maybe that's when I realized oh, I need some help.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yes, and I know so when we met you had already been working with another coach and you guys had sorted kind of all the ideas, and then we really dove into more like how do we build this into a story, restructure and one of the things if we can dig into kind of the actual process. One of the things I said was I think we might need to do dual point of view and dual timeline, and I remember you were like I don't know about that.

Fern Bernstein:

I was like oh, my God yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

You were like can we not?

Fern Bernstein:

The first draft that I wrote was in a linear timeline, and so my head was just so fixed in that timeline and when you suggested it I was like, oh my gosh. I said, well, you know, savannah, I definitely trust you. Let me just think about this for a couple of days and then at our next session we'll talk about it. And then I think what happened is I said you know what? I just trusted you, and if you felt that this story would best be told in a dual timeline, that I was putting my faith in your expertise. And I'm so glad that I did, because I think the dual timeline was an excellent way to write this story. So thank you for that.

Savannah Gilbo:

You're welcome and it's so funny because, for listeners, I just want to explain why we did that, because I think that's really interesting, or I would like to hear that. And one of the things we noticed as we were digging into your outline and the chronological version of the story you wrote is that each woman had a similar but different journey. So they were both kind of struggling with what does it mean to be a woman in this world, in this time, when you're not quite the typical woman or what society wants you to be? So it's like how do we stay true to ourselves, how do we be a good mother or daughter and balance family and the stereotypical expectations versus what we truly feel? So that was a big indicator to us. We can show both women's journeys kind of overlapping each other and having one help answer questions that the other timeline raises.

Savannah Gilbo:

So like you were saying earlier, a big question is how did it get this way? What happened? And that's kind of what little Edie in her timeline she's. I'm not going to spoil anything, but the beginning of your book is kind of she's looking at her mom's portrait, going like what happened? Like how did we get this way? And that's really what the story kind of answers from your perspective, which is fun. Yeah, exactly so, and I know that like part of it when we talked about the dual timeline, it's like, well, first I've been looking at it chronologically, so that feels scary, but also like that feels kind of difficult and it was a little scary in that way too, right, yes, and you had suggested a book that was done in dual timeline.

Fern Bernstein:

So I I read that and I could understand. I guess the story kind of is it's written and just kind of shown in a different way during a dual timeline and I like it because it's kind of like a balancing act, like it's like kind of having a ball and throwing it from one hand into the other and it just creates this like fluidity and I liked it yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and the cool thing too that we realized and we aimed for this, but it also worked out just naturally with their stories is that we were able to line up some of those key moments in their life where, like one of them had, you know, something kind of devastating happened and then the other one did. So it's like we're taking the reader through a very specific emotional journey through two different timelines with two different women, which is pretty cool.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, yeah, but I'm just so glad that I I said yes to it. Listen to your guidance, because I'm really happy with the outcome of the story.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, me too. I think it's, it's awesome. So so then we went through the outline, then you wrote a draft. Do you remember anything kind of significant or like any aha moments or hard moments as you were writing the new draft?

Fern Bernstein:

Well, you know, I learned so much from your podcasts and that's how I found you and I knew that you were going to be the coach for me and I'm so glad that you know when we connected and our timing could work. And all of that and putting into action the things that you were talking about on the podcast were like kind of magical moments for me. I mean, some of the things that stood out were like the five scene commandments and I use those even when I'm reading a book now.

Savannah Gilbo:

And so unsee them.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, exactly so. It's the inciting incident, the turning point, the crisis moment, the climax and the resolution, and each scene really needs to have that to move the story forward. And there's other writer friends that I have, authors that I speak with, and they didn't know about this and I said, oh, you have to go listen to Savannah's podcast. I have so much good information there for writers and that was one thing that is really like that was an aha moment when, like you see it, when you take a chapter from a book and you break it down and you can, you know, kind of extrapolate those five elements and like, wow, so that was really really cool.

Fern Bernstein:

Value shifts were another thing that were like very interesting to learn about, and the different genre, conventions and those things really come into play. So the specific type of story you are writing has certain value shifts that have to occur and like just different elements of the story. And you know, I didn't know that before I worked with you, yeah, and those things really really do matter to help, I think, make a quality book. And yeah, so I was really thankful for those aha moments.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and it's fun because I'm sure there are some listeners who are they more identify being like a pancer, where they like to not use these. You know structural tools, at least when they're drafting, and and I think what kind of what I hear you say is like, yes, we need to use these tools because they help us write a story, but also they I would say they make it easier for the writer to write the story once you kind of internalize them. Do you agree or disagree?

Fern Bernstein:

I agree. So the first draft I wrote I had written without having heard your podcast and so I wrote it pancing, and once we started to work together and, you know, implemented all of these tools, it made the second draft certainly much easier. And then we really we broke down each scene. So you know my scenes were, you know, probably a little wishy-washy before, but it became more concrete and I saw, you know, the shift in quality was, it was incredible. So these tools really really do sharpen the writing, for sure.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and so, speaking of the second draft, because I like what you just said, is that you know, maybe things were a little wishy-washy, which again is totally normal because we only know as much as we can know at the stage where we're writing. But once you got to the end, and I remember we had a couple calls about like what? Okay, so now we've written the story, what is it really about? Now? How do you feel about what you've written? And you had so many ideas. I remember you're like I think it's really going to be about this. You know, so you had written a version and then it just sharpened and kept sharpening until it became what it is today.

Savannah Gilbo:

So you know, and then I'm thinking of the listeners who are perfectionists. What would you say to somebody who's a perfectionist trying to use these tools to write a book?

Fern Bernstein:

Well, I mean, nothing can ever be 100% perfect and we have to get as close to what perfect could be in our work, I think.

Fern Bernstein:

And I think writing is an evolution. So each draft that I worked on was an evolution and it just helps to fine-tune things and you can, as I say, kill your darlings when you're working on consecutive drafts. You kind of see what you can kind of pull out and things become clearer. You know, certain themes may stand out clearer, and it's really it's an evolution, and I think that writers have to be patient with themselves and it's a process and I admire anyone who could, you know, write a book in like, say, six to nine months, because I certainly can't. And I went at the pace that worked for me and I'm happy with my final product. And so three years worked for me and I had to spend a year on that first draft and, even as sloppy as it was, it gave me something to starve, it was like the bones and it was like my framework, and from there we kind of extrapolated things to formulate a little bit more concrete outline and then, to you know, go back and rebuild a stronger second draft and it helped immensely.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I like what you said about little themes popping up, because I know that that was definitely something that happened for you, where you would be writing the scenes that we kind of had mapped out and we didn't really know, you know, what things were going to rise of the surface and which ones were going to be less important than we thought, or you know things like that. And I remember there were times where you or I would say like, hey, you're kind of mentioning this a lot, Like is this something we really want to talk about? And then it was like yes, I really feel strongly about this. But imagine if you had never gone past chapter three because you're so worried about it being perfect. You would have never found all that stuff out.

Fern Bernstein:

Yes. Yeah exactly, and you kind of have to move forward and then kind of go back and then move forward, and it has to be fluid. And I think it's one thing that you always said that this whole process is fluid, and I think writing in scenes, as opposed to chapters, is a little bit easier, so you could maybe like move things around and break them down maybe a little bit easier. I'm not, I'm not 100% sure if I'm so clear you got it.

Fern Bernstein:

Okay, okay. But yeah, you know, I wrote in Scrivner and I would kind of like move the scenes around and we definitely had to do that, especially the Jackie O scene. We were trying to find the perfect spot where, but that she was. She needed the right little niche in there.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, yeah, and it's so funny now. We always called that our problem child scene, because we're like. We know it needs to be in here. We just don't know where it's going to go yet.

Fern Bernstein:

Exactly, yeah, and it was such an important part of the story. She and Aristotle Onassis helped to finance the renovation where her sister Lee was the one who was more like on the site and helping out because she was living in Montauk for the summer with her very handsome boyfriend, peter Beard. So that was an important scene for sure, but I think we put her in the right place.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I think so too, and it's such a fun little Easter egg for anyone who's going to read the book that you'll get to see Jackie Onassis in there and some other fun people. So it's really cool. But okay. So then after that you did work with beta readers, right, and you got some feedback. What was that process like? Was it scary, exciting, mixed your both.

Fern Bernstein:

For me it was exciting and, again, like I took your advice on something which was using the beta reading service called the Spun Yarn and I don't know how long it took them maybe 30, 30-ish days I was pretty surprised and they have three beta readers from around the country. You kind of give them a little bit of background of what you are looking for in your beta reader male-female, age group, type of genre that they would be reading and they give a very comprehensive analysis back. How many pages was it? Savannah Thanks, oh gosh, it was 25, 27.

Savannah Gilbo:

It was a lot, yeah, it was definitely over 20, for sure, yeah and they have really comprehensive Chores and percentages.

Fern Bernstein:

And then each beta reader answered certain questions and it was a tremendous help. So what we did is we took the areas that needed to be worked on some more, and one of them, I think, was feeling sympathy or empathy for Big Edie, so that's something that we kind of softened. We went back and we tackled any of the problem areas that they had suggested, where they didn't maybe resonate with the character or had a question or thought that maybe this didn't seem realistic. So we went back to work after that and that was a great tool and I highly recommend that to any of your listeners out there. The Spunyard was great.

Savannah Gilbo:

And it's so fun because at the time that this episode goes live, we will have just had Julie Taylor from the Spunyard on the podcast a few weeks ago detailing that whole process. So if you're listening to this in the future and you haven't heard that episode, you might want to go back and check it out. And also on the Spunyard's website they have an example feedback report that you'll get, so you can kind of see what we're talking about when we say charts and graphs in 20 pages.

Fern Bernstein:

Very helpful for me to look at.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, for sure, and I think it's a great service out there and I didn't even know about it, but you did, so thank you for representing it to me, savannah, it was well worth it and I think it's great because at that point you and I were kind of like we think this works, like we both feel really good. We don't know what. We can't see at this point because we're so close to it.

Savannah Gilbo:

So it was really great, like you said, to hear about how we were pretty close to getting it finalized, but then there were a couple of parts where it's like we needed to soften Big ED, and the beta readers told us that, like you said, there was questions, and so the good thing is is it wasn't like we had to do a whole overhaul of your draft. It was just like this is working, but here's how to make it even better.

Fern Bernstein:

Right, right, exactly, and I think that those comments that the beta readers suggested were definitely spot on and, like you said, we were just so close into it that we couldn't see these little fine points that maybe needed to be tweaked. So I think we went in and addressed each of those issues and kind of softened where it needed and had clarification where it needed to be a little bit more. So it was helpful for sure.

Savannah Gilbo:

And then what in general? What's your relationship to feedback like just for listeners? I know some people are kind of eager to have it and others are scared to get it. Where were you even before we started working together?

Fern Bernstein:

Definitely eager to get it. I'm always up for constructive criticism and when you're writing something, I think it's important to get feedback because if you're living kind of in a tunnel or a cave by yourself just with your own thoughts on something, you have to be open to perspectives and I think getting information whether you use it or not, it's up to you but to hear a different perspective I think is eye-opening can only really help to strengthen your story.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I agree. I think it's so important to be open and I think it does come down to getting the right people who are going to give you feedback, because of course, there are people that can ruin the experience for us by being super negative. But luckily you went into it pretty open and then you had a good yeah.

Fern Bernstein:

Everything was a great experience, thankfully, I mean, and the beta readers through Spun Yar and really I think sent constructive criticism. And one thing that I loved and actually brought me to tears the three beta readers all said that the way that I wrote the death scenes was so touching and so spot on and so emotional and that made me feel like validation as a writer. I mean, that's what our stories want to do. We want to touch people's hearts and that just brought true validation to me.

Savannah Gilbo:

Well, what a great feeling too. No matter what it is that has any kind of high emotion, you hope it comes across, and then to hear that not only did you do it, but you did it really well and really affected people. It's amazing.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, like when I wrote one of the scenes, the death scene, I was crying as I was writing it.

Savannah Gilbo:

No, I remember no, so emotional, yeah, and then I read it and I kept putting comments like this is such a gut punch yeah.

Fern Bernstein:

I was sad too, yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

But yeah, we won't spoil any more of that for people who are going to read it. So fast forward. Then we worked with beta readers. We edited it, and then you worked with other editors and proofreaders to get that and cover designers to get that ready, and then your published date was the 5th of October. So it's officially out in the world and we'll link to it and all that. But what made you decide to publish this on your own?

Fern Bernstein:

I think my experience of self-publishing. My first book went relatively smoothly, so I was pretty happy with that. I'm like, okay, I'm going to do it again. And I mean I did think for a couple of times along the way, well, should I try to query an agent? And I'm like, well, I don't think so because the process takes so long.

Fern Bernstein:

And I think another thing that was meaningful for me is I wanted to have ownership of my story. Yeah, I didn't want somebody else to pick my cover. I didn't want anyone else to change my sentences or my words or let this just like my baby, and I didn't want anyone else to own it. And when you work with an agent and they send it out, and if it gets picked up by a publishing company, they own it. So I think you can have a say in your cover design, but ultimately they make all the, I guess, the final decisions and you have to do your own marketing anyway. So I figured you know what. I just want to keep this. It's near and dear to my heart and I want to hold on to everything.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and, like you said, you did have a nice experience with your first book. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it right.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. So, yeah, and this time what I did a little different is I formatted it myself. Where my first book, I had somebody help me format it. So what's really nice about formatting it yourself is that you can jump back on to KDP and if there's any typos or any changes that you need made, you can do them, as opposed to having to reach back out to a formatter and having to wait or to have to pay additional monies for that. And I've actually done that. So I had to go back on and change one or two things and kind of loaded it. So, yeah, so it was a skill that was hard to learn. I'm not so tech savvy, but it was worth the learning curve. And I used a product called, or a service called, a vellum and you download it and you use it. You know yourself and, yeah, there's definitely a learning curve, but it was good.

Savannah Gilbo:

I'm happy I did it. Now you know how to do it and you can use it for your next book, right, yeah?

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, I guess so, and I wanted to share with you and your listeners. If there's anyone out there that has questions about self publishing, I'm happy to answer questions and just to share, you know, the experience that I had, because it's tough, there's bumps along the road, for sure, and I'm all about helping other people, so just wanted to thank you for that.

Savannah Gilbo:

And if the listeners can't tell Fern is the nicest person in the world, I'm sure you can hear it in her tone, in her voice, in her generosity. But yeah, she's one of the nicest humans ever. But speaking of your future book, how do you feel like now that you've gone through your memoir, you've gone through this book about the eighties? How do you feel about the possibility of writing another book someday?

Fern Bernstein:

Well, I have two in the back of my mind. One I've kind of been going back and forth in dialogue with my son about he wants to call right with me. And then I have the original book that I wanted to start before Mahjong Mondays. That is still percolating in my mind, but I can't give up on the Edis yet because I just launched it into the world, so I want to spend a good couple of months promoting it and getting the word out there, and that does take time. Marketing is labor intensive, so or time intensive rather. So I do have my stories percolating in my mind, so maybe in the next few months I'll dive into one of them, probably the one with my son, because he'll be home for the summer and hopefully we'll get to spend some time. He goes to college, so we'll have some time to develop maybe the outline a little bit more. How fun? Yeah, so we'll see. But writing it takes a lot. So, yeah, I want to. Just a little break in between, yeah.

Savannah Gilbo:

And I want to focus on the Edis and let the ideas work.

Fern Bernstein:

Work so hard writing it and I want to make sure that I give it the time to market it and get it out there, and I've been on a couple of podcasts and I'll be in a couple of magazines, so I want to give it the time to get out there into the world and I think that the time that we put into our endeavors in life really pays off. And so in a couple of months I will definitely be diving back in and using everything that I've learned from you, savannah, for sure.

Fern Bernstein:

Yeah, Well, that's why I was going to ask is like do you feel more confident about starting something new, or you know, I absolutely feel so much more confident than I did even before writing my first book and you know, working with different coaches you learn different things, but I learned so much from you and I hope that you know the listeners out there, you know, contemplating working with a coach, will choose to do it Because, like, we don't know what we don't know and there are so many tools that I learned from you and I knew that you were going to be the coach that I wanted and I waited to work with you. I think you know I had to wait a couple of weeks to fair our first call, but I knew it was going to be worth the wait and I won't write the next book alone either.

Fern Bernstein:

I feel like I need to work with you. So like, yeah, this it's a big endeavor and although I learned a lot, I don't think that I'm feeling confident enough to go solo at all and I think to really write a good quality book, it helps to have coach. I do that in my personal opinion.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and it's even. People are always surprised when I say, like, when I get to the point of needing to work with somebody, I'm definitely going to work with somebody, even though I'm a coach and an editor because we can't see what we can't see in our own work. Exactly.

Fern Bernstein:

I think working with a developmental editor is, to me, is essential, you know, because you that's your bones of the book Right, and if you don't get the structure and the framework down properly, it's going to be on wobbly legs and I think your expertise, you know, is really like focusing in on making that foundation as strong as it can be.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I agree with that and it's kind of fun because I'm imagining now you have tools and it's now we can take the tools and the process you have and make it more efficient.

Fern Bernstein:

So it's kind of.

Savannah Gilbo:

I'm sure it's like a different feeling for you, where before you were like I don't even know how to do all this stuff and now you know how to do it. But we can improve the process around it. Yes.

Fern Bernstein:

Absolutely yes.

Savannah Gilbo:

I think that's really fun and we're going to post all the links to like your Instagram, your website, your book and all the things in the show notes so that listeners can, you know, check out your books and also follow along on all the marketing things you're going to do, because that will be fun and, you know, see the pictures of gray gardens and all that fun stuff. But any like final parting words of wisdom or anything you want to share with people who are wish they had a book finished, like you do.

Fern Bernstein:

Don't give up on your dreams and you know, just like the Edie's, they had dreams of their own and I don't think anyone should put an age limit on a dream or the size of your dream.

Fern Bernstein:

And if your dream is to write a book, you know, fulfill that dream and take your time, do it on your own timeline, with the support around you that you can. You know, search for and find and feel a connection to work with, because our dreams are so important in life. And for me, writing a book as I was dealing with cancer treatment, it was almost like a beacon of light for me. I mean, I was lying in bed for many months and this is the one thing that, like, helped kind of get me through. Every day I was, I was writing, even as tired as I was, and we still, you know, kept up our weekly meetings and I think having goals is so important in our life. And just, you know, write on and keep going and just believe in yourself and the title of my book is staunch and I think everyone listening is a staunch writer. And just believe in yourself and don't give up.

Savannah Gilbo:

I love that, and I was going to say this is like perfectly describing the vibe of the Edys and the book you wrote about them, because it's all about them following who they truly are and following their dreams despite everything else, and you just perfectly captured it there. Thank you, yeah, but okay, fer, and so it was super fun to sit down and talk about all this. I mean, we we have just wrapped up together not too long ago, but I'm you know, I always love talking to you. I think you're going to inspire listeners and help them take action. So thank you for sharing everything you did today.

Fern Bernstein:

Oh, my pleasure, and I want to thank you for being such an amazing coach and developmental editor and helping me fulfill my dream to write a book and to honor the Edys. And thanks for your podcast, because I've learned so much and I'm sure your listeners feel as well. And just keep doing what you're doing, because you are helping us to be staunch writers.

Savannah Gilbo:

No, thank you. I love that. I'm a big fan of being part of the staunch club. But thank you, Fern. So tell everybody where we can find you and then we'll post that in the show notes, but just let us know real quick.

Fern Bernstein:

Okay, so on Facebook I'm Fern Levich Bernstein and on Instagram I'm Fern Bernstein writes, and I have two podcasts, grey Gardens and Majan Mondays, and I think that's it for my social contacts.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, awesome, and we'll put all that in the show notes with your books and everything. But thank you so much for spending time with me today, fern, and I can't wait to see all the marketing efforts and your pictures of Grey Gardens and all that. So good luck, and we'll have to have you back for the next book. I'd love that.

Fern Bernstein:

Thank you so much, Savannah Thank you.

Savannah Gilbo:

So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Interview With Fern Bernstein on Debut Novel
Exploring the Stories and Characters
Crafting a Dual Timeline Story
Writing and Receiving Feedback Process
Self-Publishing Process and Future Book Plans
Working With a Coach