Female Fiction Authors Discuss Writing Advice and Inspiration: 5×5

We’ve gathered five incredible female fiction authors to tell us about their writing process, tips for aspiring writers, and weird talents!

5x5 Author's Corner Female Voices
Kelly Moran, Alice Markham-Cantor, Katie O’Connor, Joan Meyerson, and Shelly Small on a pink background with red and pink polka dots.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we want to highlight five luminary female voices in the publishing world. In the same way that they were inspired by the women who came before them, these remarkable authors inspire fellow women with their narratives of freedom, truth, and feminine power. Their heartfelt insights in this discussion are a reminder to celebrate women this month and always. Let’s hear what they had to say about inspirational women from history, how the identities of “woman” and “author” intersect, and much more.

The Authors

Kelly Moran

Kelly Moran standing in front of a pine tree and smiling with her arms crossed.

Kelly Moran is an international bestselling author of enchanting ever-afters. She gets her ideas from everyone and everything around her, and there’s always a book playing out in her head. In 2024, she founded her own publishing company for fiction called Rowan Prose Publishing. She’s originally from Wisconsin, but she resides in South Carolina with her significant other, her three sons, their wily dog, a chameleon, tree frogs, and their sassy cats.

Kelly’s latest novel, In This Moment, releases on May 14.

Alice Markham-Cantor

Alice Markham-Cantor smiling in front of a white background.

Alice Markham-Cantor is a writer and fact-checker from Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been published in New York Magazine, Scientific American, The Nation, and elsewhere. She is the writer and co-producer of A Witch Story, an award-winning documentary about Salem and her research.

Alice’s debut book, The Once & Future Witch Hunt: A Descendant’s Reckoning from Salem to the Present, releases on May 8.

Katie O’Connor

Katie O'Connor smiling in front of a black background.

Katie O’Connor is a bestselling paranormal and contemporary romance author of stories that will warm your heart and fill you with hope. She’s dedicated to helping writers thrive and created The Creative Career Planning Workbook for Authors. She resides in Canada and divides her time between Calgary and her retreat in Northern Alberta.

Katie’s latest novel, Cappuccino Mugs and Fire Fighter Hugs, is available now.

Joan Meyerson

Joan Meyerson leaning on her hand and smiling in front of a white background.

Born in Los Angeles, Joan Meyerson graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She has an extensive, award-winning career as a writer, producer, and director of documentaries and television programs. Joan lives in Valley Village with her husband and Miniature Schnauzer, Jazz.

Joan’s debut novel, Who Needs Paris?, is available now.

Shelly Small

Shelly Small smiling and looking foward.

Shelly Small is a prolific author with novels in the mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, crime, paranormal, and contemporary romance genres. She’s a military veteran and travels often with her spouse, who is also a veteran. Her love of reading inspired her to not only write books but to launch her own company, Small Edits. She resides in Wisconsin.

Shelly’s latest novel, Georgia’s Demise, is available now.

The Questions

What women in history have been a source of inspiration?

Kelly Moran: Foremost, I have to say Betty White. She broke many molds and firsts for women, including writing, acting, and producing. She earned a spot in Guinness World Records for the longest TV career and was still working up to her death. Besides being hilarious and talented, she was an animal rights activist and a great human. In the 1950s, when segregation was at the forefront, she refused and rejected attempts to fire Black dancer Arthur Duncan from the show.

I’m also incredibly inspired by Agatha Christie and Shirley Jackson, who both broke into male-dominated genres to become two of the bestselling female authors of their time. As a girl, I was incredibly touched by several Maya Angelou quotes, but it wasn’t until I grew older that I realized just how miraculous a woman she was. Besides being the first Black female director in Hollywood, she was an incredibly gifted writer, playwright, and poet.

Alice Markham-Cantor: To name a few: Emma Goldman, anarchist and writer; Johnnie Tillmon, groundbreaking welfare organizer; Ursula LeGuin, of clear sight and driving pen; Audre Lorde, who made politics into ecstatic poetry; and Grace O’Malley, pirate. Also, my ancestor Martha Carrier, whom I wrote the book about and who openly defied Salem’s witchcraft court before being hanged as the so-called Queen of Hell.

Katie O’Connor: I have great admiration for Margaret Thatcher for breaking new political ground. Anne McCaffrey for her amazing imagination. Queen Elizabeth for her grace and elegance during difficult times. And for every unsung female who contributed to mathematical and scientific advances without being noticed. These women, and many others like them, remind me that life is a struggle, and my characters can follow their lead and get through it with grace, dignity, and imagination. Generally, I use the problems of ordinary women as fodder for my imagination. I like to craft my own version of their fight and their successes.

Joan Meyerson: For way too long, women were mostly consigned to the role of mother and housekeeper. But there have always been those who’ve claimed independence from society’s rules and bravely followed their own path. They are my inspiration.

In 19th-century France, women writers weren’t respected, so Aurore Dupin de Francueil became “George Sand.” She wore trousers, smoked cigars, wrote very popular novels, and defined the French “Romantic Era.” A century later, the French writer Colette thrived on scandals (and lovers), wrote bestsellers, including the famous novel Gigi, and was considered one of the greatest French writers of her time.

In today’s world, I’m inspired by three women who’ve braved their own paths and contributed to the world as feminists and environmental activists: the brilliant, beautiful, and brave Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Jane Goodall.

In what way does the female perspective contribute to distinct and nuanced voices in their works?

Kelly Moran: Our perspective and voice have often been quieted for the simple fact we’re female. It’s quite interesting how often, throughout history, men have spoken for us, and no one has the right to tell our stories but us. We think very differently, and without an alternate viewpoint, we’re only seeing one side of a coin. The narrative has slowly changed in recent decades, and we can impact future generations by inspiring, which can set off a chain reaction.

From a generalized standpoint, men tend to be more concise and factual, whereas women tend to hang out in the gray area and can be more social. Females have scored higher in emotional intelligence and measures of empathy, which are incredibly important to creating 3D worlds and characters. If readers don’t care about the characters or the author can’t invoke emotions, the book is less interesting. Female writers are proficient at weaving personally interesting stories about love, friendship, family, and even growth or self-discovery. Those elements resonate with all of us, regardless of genre.

Alice Markham-Cantor: The story of the Salem Witch Trials is one of women’s voices. Women making accusations, allegations, denials, confessions — this is the material the trials were made of. This isn’t to say that these voices, or the women they belonged to, were a monolith; they had diverse experiences based on class, race, and age, and plenty of women in Salem used their voices to silence other women. But everything they said and did was shaped by their experience of gender under Puritanism.

At the same time, nearly all of their voices are filtered through a man’s pen. Fathers filed depositions for their daughters; court scribes summarized confessions; ministers described what a woman said or did in their own words. The women themselves wrote almost nothing down. This is one of the tensions of the work: how do you excavate a woman’s voice from a record authored by men? What can you learn from the blank spaces in the record? What can be heard in the silence?

Katie O’Connor: While men and women share the same emotional pool, I think their ability to display those emotions and deal with them varies greatly between the genders. Though they feel things as deeply, men tend not to show it, and women usually put a softer side forward and are more open to dealing with their emotions and subsequent issues. This shows through in their writing and their treatment of prose.

Joan Meyerson: The “female perspective” doesn’t mean all women have the same thoughts or write the same. Male authors tend to not delve into their inner life, but as a woman writer, I do reflect on my own emotions and complexities. This introspection helps me to intuitively portray my characters (female and male) with their own “distinct and nuanced voices.”

How do you handle themes or subjects that are personal or difficult to write about?

Kelly Moran: Most of my books tend to have a social or medical ailment a lot of us face every day. Honestly, even if the subject is a trigger for me, I let myself cry or get angry while writing because it’ll translate on the page in the story. The way I see it, if we don’t face problems, they never go away. They fester. I also find writing very therapeutic, so even if the act of doing so is tough, I typically come out the other side better for having written it. Self-care is important also, and giving myself time afterward or engaging in activities that clear my mind is beneficial.

Alice Markham-Cantor: When engaging with a topic that is personally difficult for me to write about, I try to keep in mind a post I saw once on the internet, which I’ll paraphrase: the point of art is not to be perfect but to make it very clear that there is something wrong with you.

Katie O’Connor: Difficult themes require a lot of soul-searching and self-reflection for me. A couple of painful issues I’ve covered in my novels are the loss of a child and physical abuse. As a survivor of both miscarriages and attempted rape, I think I bring these subjects forward with tact, understanding, and dignity. Of course, getting past my own feelings takes time and frequent breaks. I have a strong support network of friends and writers whom I discuss issues with, both to ground myself and to ensure I’m putting forward understanding and compassion.

Joan Meyerson: To put yourself on the page seems difficult, but I’ve learned to leave shyness, hidden fears, or worries “at my doorstep.” In my first draft, I just let it all out. Then, the more I write, the easier it gets. In fact, there have been passages I’ve written that have become the best therapy I ever had!

Shelly Small: When writing about something difficult, I look at it as a type of therapy to overcome it even more. I do have a book that I’m proud of how it turned out, not only because it was hard to write about the situations as they were personal, but the response from readers about how they loved the book and wanted more like that made me more empowered to write.

What advice do you have for aspiring girls and women who want to become authors?

Kelly Moran: Cliché as it sounds, don’t give up. We don’t start out as great authors, so keep at it. The more you write, the better you get. Learn the craft, read in the genre you want to write, research, make connections, join writing groups, and taking a class or two can’t hurt. Take constructive criticism with a grain of salt, and don’t let bullies intimidate you. More often than not, they’re jealous. Every rejection will get you closer and closer to your goal. Don’t lose sight of that dream. Erect a spine of steel so you can stand tall, but keep your heart tender so you don’t lose yourself. And never let anyone say you can’t.

Alice Markham-Cantor: It’s true, whatever everyone says: you just have to write. Keep a document or a notebook where you can write down any bits and pieces of language or story that come to you — not because you might reuse them someday, but because it’ll help you learn how to use language and what your own voice sounds like. When you find an author you like, read everything they’ve written and try to figure out how they did it. When a story comes to you, follow it. Be confident to the point of delusional. And stay off Twitter.

Katie O’Connor: My first piece of advice to all women and girls is to believe in yourself. Always. For aspiring writers, I believe it is important to know that writing isn’t always easy. It isn’t always pretty. Every time you write, you leave a piece of your soul on the paper. But if you persist through the struggle and pain of writing, the end reward of seeing your words on paper and of hearing how your words touched a reader’s life is worth every second of pain. Be brave, be bold, put those words on paper. It’s worth it. Know that your first draft will be ugly, and you can and will fix it.

Joan Meyerson: Keep writing, writing…and rewriting! Open your eyes and your mind to the world — both within and outside of yourself. Write about your thoughts and experiences — in a journal, an article, a short story, or even a note to yourself. It’s all research for the novel you will one day author!

Shelly Small: Write what you want, and don’t worry about what others are writing, as there will always be readers who will love what you wrote.

What’s your coffee order?

Kelly Moran: Winter/Fall: cappuccino with half-fat cream.

Summer/Spring: iced latte.

Every day: dark roast, one cream, two sugars.

Alice Markham-Cantor: Drip coffee, ideally very strong, with a lot of cream. Once in a while, I’ll get an espresso, but usually only if I’m alone.

Katie O’Connor: I like my coffee black. No frills, no additions. Simple black coffee. Except on Friday nights when I take it with a shot of spiced rum, Kahlua, and a glob of ice cream. Delicious, heavenly bliss.

Joan Meyerson: Inspired by my French student days, I have a Café au Lait for breakfast, a
Cappuccino in the afternoon, and an after-dinner espresso (two cubes sugar, si vous plait!)

Shelly Small: White Chocolate Mocha or any flavored coffee with hot chocolate.

What’s a weird talent that you have?

Kelly Moran: I tend to have a bit of OCD. I can analyze patterns and spot an anomaly. For instance, I can usually find a four-leaf clover in under 10 minutes. I can also touch my tongue to my nose (without using my hands).

Alice Markham-Cantor: I sang in a professional chorus as a teenager, and once we performed at a showing of the Lord of the Rings movies where the musical tracks were removed, and the music was performed in real-time by a live orchestra and choir. In other words, I can sing in Elvish.

Katie O’Connor: I’m not sure I have a weird talent, but at one time, I was a member of a historical theatrical group that staged mock gunfights. I used to shoot the bad guys and come out the winner. Beyond that, I’m a crafter and quilter who will try any new craft at least once.

Joan Meyerson: I have no idea. Sometimes, I think my whole life is weird, although that’s not exactly the talent I expected.

Shelly Small: I can crochet blankets fast.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Kelly Moran: I don’t know if I have one that’s the biggest. I’m incredibly auditory sensitive, thus, I hate whistling and dog barking. I can’t stand it when I read a book or watch a movie/show, and they get the facts wrong. Even fiction has a basis in truth. Oh, and while we’re on that subject, it annoys me to no end when they remake legendary or iconic films. People who chew with their mouths open or get up in your face to talk are other more common peeves.

Alice Markham-Cantor: In life? People who try to get on the subway before people get off. In writing? When a romance author continuously reminds the reader that the love interest is hot. Please stop this. I promise I won’t forget.

Katie O’Connor: My biggest pet peeve is probably lateness. It is the ultimate in rude to be habitually late. People who do this are basically saying their time is more valuable than yours. It makes me irate. Personally, I often end up sitting in my car reading because I arrived too early.

Joan Meyerson: With a bow to Larry David, have you ever had dinner with a friend who orders much more expensive items than you do, plus several more glasses of wine, then blithely proclaims we should “split” the total cost?

Shelly Small: Liars. If you say you are going to do something, then do it.

Thank you to Kelly, Alice, Katie, Joan, and Shelly for sharing their time and wisdom with us. Each of these women brings an invaluable female perspective to the publishing industry, and their literary contributions will undoubtedly go on to inspire future writers with equally important experiences to share.

Find Kelly Moran here.

Find Alice Markham-Cantor here.

Find Katie O’Connor here.

Find Joan Meyerson here.

Find Shelly Small here.

To read our previous roundtable with asexual authors, click here.

To browse these books and more, check out our Female Author Spotlight shelf on Bookshop.