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Review - Author Salon Novel Writing Program

The Writer's Edge Brings You an Author Salon Talk With Brittany Hughes About Her Writing Life and Novel

GENRE:  Upmarket/literary
WORDS:  85,000+

Brittany Hughes graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing, and subsequently earned a Masters in Teaching. Although raised in the Emerald City, Brittany recently spent two years living in the Midwest, a landscape that inspired the setting of her novel, "Breaking Clay." With past experience volunteering within underprivileged communities, she was surprised to find the level of impact her travels through the hills of West Virginia had upon her. Witnessing the spread of current-day poverty led to the birth of her novel. Brittany now lives with her husband, and Westie, in Seattle, where she is the administrator of a financial planning firm. When not shuffling papers, she spends time writing and seeking inspiration. She is also training to run a marathon, all proceeds going to the underprivileged of the community.

When I came face to face with the disheartening financial reality in which many Americans exist, the two concerns came together to form the plot of my novel. I am passionate about this story because it is heartbreaking in its realism ...

- Brittany Hughes

AS: Tell us something about yourself as it relates to your writing life. Also, what inspired you to begin the novel?

The story goes (as told by my mother) that at a young age I picked up a book and began to read without prior instruction. The freedom and passion I have always felt when holding a book is the same felt when holding a pen and creating a world filled with people I can allow myself to believe exist somewhere.

I consider myself fortunate to have been raised in the Pacific Northwest by parents who provided me with opportunities to succeed. However, this upbringing must have made me somewhat naive because while visiting my husband's family in Logan, West Virginia, I was astonished to discover the poverty in which much of America still lives. It was then I was inspired to tell a story based on a population bound by circumstance and the motivation needed to break free.

AS: Who are you reading now? Which authors and novels have been an inspiration to you, and why?

I am currently reading Elizabeth Brundage's A STRANGER LIKE YOU and Jodi Picoult's THE STORYTELLER. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a novel I have read half a dozen times and am likely to pick up again... and again. Lee's manner of filtering the darkness of racism through Scout's innocent eyes touches me each time. In the writing of my novel, I am inspired by Daniel Woodrell's WINTER'S BONE and Barbara Kingsolver's FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. Both deliver strong and authentic portrayals of one's survival instinct and humanity's ability to rise above even the toughest of circumstances.

AS: Can you tell us about your novel?

Set in the small Appalachian town of Logan, West Virginia, BREAKING CLAY is about transcending the life into which one is born. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between a young woman and her grandmother, one who passively allows generational poverty to direct the course of her life, the other who lives within the bounds of circumstance but does so with reason and purpose. BREAKING CLAY delves into topics of elder abuse, the human need to protect the ones you love, and the life-changing power of faith in oneself and others.

AS: What gives you a passion for this story and why are you the one who needs to tell it?

It is difficult to trust that others will care for the people you love as you do. I feel a certain level of desperation each time I leave my grandmother's nursing home, entrusting her safety to the nurses and doctors. What would I do if she was mistreated? What would I do if circumstance inhibited me from protecting her? Before BREAKING CLAY was even a concept, I had pondered these questions. When I came face to face with the disheartening financial reality in which many Americans exist, the two concerns came together to form the plot of my novel. I am passionate about this story because it is heartbreaking in its realism--it may be a work of fiction with characters my mind has formed, but many of its themes are sadly real. My desire is that in writing and publishing this story, those who need hope will find it in the overall message of transcendence.

AS: What have you found to be your biggest challenges to writing a successful commercial novel?

My biggest challenge has been maintaining a consistent writing schedule while balancing work, family, recreation (the list goes on). I find myself writing "when inspiration strikes." This is a challenge I need to overcome, and fast. I look forward to the day that writing BREAKING CLAY is my full time job but I realize there will always be other responsibilities that pull at my attention so it is important to not wait until tomorrow to establish a writing routine.

AS: Is there any particular facet of the Author Salon novel writing program that has helped you more than any other? If so, why? How would you review it?

I attended an Algonkian novel workshop where I discovered I 'd written a character-driven novel filled with very little plot. Unfortunate, though not irreparable. Immediately, I joined Author Salon, and it has been eye-opening. In a matter of weeks I had created a plot with twists and turns, action, and theme, as well as characters with more history and arc. The design of the modules force you to do so.

I had not expected that strengthening the depth of my characters' lives both past and present would so naturally work to form plot. Module 6-8 (6-Act) then created a visual image of my novel as a whole that helped me ensure I had the necessary elements for a publishable novel. I was also surprised how helpful Module 2 (Antagonist) was in developing strong plot line. By fleshing out an antagonist, and an in-depth backstory, the overall plot was transformed. Previously, I had placed much higher importance on the protagonist, but have since learned to value the incredible role of a story's antagonist, especially since he or she provides the lifeblood of an interesting story: conflict. My plot was further developed as I made my way through Module 4 (Protagonist).

AS: What bit of advice can you give to other aspiring authors just getting started?

Write about things you care about. Think of hour-long conversations you've had with your family or friends: what had you so passionate you didn't want to stop talking? This is the basis of the story you are meant to tell... but it is only the starting point, you can't stop there. Readers will not keep turning pages simply because you care about something--you must make them care too. And that takes well-developed characters, frequent and well placed action, and a lot of creativity.


  1. The Author Salon novel writing program can be found at

    I am proud to be a contributor.

    Michael Neff


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