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

success stories

I recently sat down for a conversation with Fern Bernstein about her debut novel, Staunch: The Edies of Grey Gardens. 

In our conversation, we talked about her writing, editing, and publishing journey, including things like where the idea to write a fictionalized story about The Edies came from, what it was like to write a dual POV and 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. If you want to listen to this episode, click here or search for the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast in your podcast player of choice.


Transcript: How Fern Bernstein Wrote (& Published) A Dual Timeline Novel Based On The Edies of Grey Gardens

SAVANNAH: Hi Fern, thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm so excited to have you here today!

FERN: Thank you, Savannah! I am so excited to be here on your podcast. I love your podcast; 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: 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 came out on October 5th. We're recording on the 27th, so that’s 22 days ago… How do you feel?

FERN: 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 a cancer diagnosis and treatment in the middle, as you know… 


FERN: It's a huge sense of accomplishment, and I definitely want to share that with listeners. Don't give up! In the middle of writing… It 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 Ediesgood and we really honored them, and that was very important for me when I was writing the book. So, yeah, it's a huge feeling of accomplishment, for sure.

SAVANNAH: What a great feeling, for sure! 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. 

FERN: Okay, terrific. So, I live on Long Island, which is in the state of New York. 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, 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: Yeah, she's going to chime in from time to time (laughs).

FERN: I love to play the game of Mahjong. It's a Chinese game that was brought to the United States in the 1920s and became all the rage, along with flapper dresses and pixie haircuts, and all that fun stuff. It's a tile game, and it's just a lot of fun. My first book was a memoir and it's called Mahjong Mondays, and I also host a podcast about Mahjong Mondays and the game and learning to play and tips and strategies and just the fun friendships everyone makes around the table. 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 fiction, I guess? Contemporary fiction?

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

FERN: 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. So I think that's kind of everything in a nutshell.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, I think you nailed it, and so you mentioned The Edies before, and so this book is about The Edies of Grey Gardens. Do you want to tell listeners, just like a quick overview of who these wonderful women are? 

FERN: I would love to! So, The Edies… Big Edie and Little Edie Beale… They 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. The real estate's really high over there. And so they bought this house in the 1920s and as life kind of went on, 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. 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. She eventually became divorced and 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 Radziwill, and these two powerful women came to help their aunt and cousin. 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 Edies and yeah.

SAVANNAH: And with that great description, I almost don't need to read the back cover copy because you just nailed the summary. So, you wrote a story 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: 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: Their subjects?

FERN: Yeah, their 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… Why is this woman wearing a head covering? She doesn't have any hair under there and she dresses in these very avante-garde, bizarre outfits. And the mom is busy singing with this beautiful voice and it was just very intriguing. And it’s captured the heart and attention of so many people over the past 50 years. There are Facebook groups that center around Grey Gardens and The Edies, and there are a lot of people out there who really adore them.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and the house still exists, and it's in beautiful condition, and there are tours of the house… And you're about to go on one, right?

FERN: I'm so excited! 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 Grey Garden fans out there. 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. She really paid homage to The Edies. 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: Yeah, it’s so pretty! I’m jealous that you’re going to get to see it in person. 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 Fern’s 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: 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 thirty something, cats and a family of raccoons? And I mean it's kind of crazy. 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…. 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. 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 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: Yeah, and that's one of the things I really like about both of The Edies. 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. The world has questions.

FERN: Yeah.

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

FERN: Yeah, I tried! It was 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 Edies were part of my life. Do other writers feel like that too?

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

SAVANNAH: Yeah, yeah, definitely. 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: 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 your prompting and asking me those questions.

SAVANNAH: All the tough questions that probably kept you up at night sometimes. You’re like, “Oh good, why is she asking me this?!”

FERN: It was well worth it!

SAVANNAH: Well, 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. So you kind of you were developing the ideas, you had to figure out what the timeline looked 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. And then 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: Wow, okay, yeah. I was so glad you took notes on all of that.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, I mean, it's, you know… 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 book takes a while.

FERN:I think honestly, I spent maybe the first year writing a draft. And then I finished it, and 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: 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. And one of the things… If we can dig into kind of the actual process now… 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: I was like, “Oh, my God…” Yeah.

SAVANNAH: You were like can we not? (laughs)

FERN: 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: 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. 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 that we can show both women's journeys kind of overlapping each other and having one help answer questions that the other timeline raises.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 is exploring in her timeline. 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.

FERN: 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. 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: 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: Yeah. But I'm just so glad that I said yes to it and listened to your guidance because I'm really happy with the outcome of the story.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, me too. I think it's awesome! So, 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: 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: There’s no unseeing them. 

FERN: 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. It has 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. The 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: Yeah, and it's fun because I'm sure there are some listeners who identify more with being a pantser and they don’t like to use these structural tools, at least when they're drafting, 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 make it easier for the writer to write the story once you kind of internalize them. Do you agree or disagree?

FERN: I agree. So the first draft I wrote I had written without having heard your podcast and so I wrote it pantsing, 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 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: 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… Okay, so now we've written the story, what is it really about? 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. 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: 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. 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 start with. 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: 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… Is this something we really want to talk about?” And then you were 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: Yes. 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 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: 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: 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: 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: For me it was exciting! I took your advice and worked with The Spun Yarn beta reading service, and I don't know how long it took them, maybe 30 days? I was pretty surprised, and they had 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. 

SAVANNAH: How many pages was it? 

FERN: Oh gosh, it was 25, 27?

SAVANNAH: It was a lot, yeah, it was definitely over 20, for sure. And they have really comprehensive charts and things to go through on the report.

FERN: 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 Spun Yarn was great.

SAVANNAH: And it's so fun because, at the time that this episode goes live, we will have just had Julie Taylor from The Spun Yarn 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 Spun Yarn’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. Very helpful for me to look at.

FERN: Yeah, for sure, and I think it's a great service. I didn't even know about it, but you did, so thank you for presenting it to me, Savannah. 

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. 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 Edie, and the beta readers told us that, like you said, there were 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 experience.

FERN: Everything was a great experience, thankfully! The beta readers through The Spun Yarn 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: 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: Yeah, like when I wrote one of the scenes, the death scene, I was crying as I was writing it.

SAVANNAH: No, I remember! So emotional. I read it and I kept putting comments like, “This is such a gut punch!” I was sad too. But yeah, we won't spoil any more of that for people who are going to read it. So fast forward... 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: 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 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. And I think another thing that was meaningful for me is I wanted to have ownership of my story. 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: 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: Yeah, definitely. 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, Vellum and you download it and you use it yourself. And, yeah, there's definitely a learning curve, but it was good. I'm happy I did it. 

SAVANNAH: Now you know how to do it and you can use it for your next book, right?

FERN: 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: 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 now that you've gone through your memoir, you've gone through this book about The Edies… How do you feel about the possibility of writing another book someday?

FERN: Well, I have two in the back of my mind. One I've kind of been going back and forth on in dialogue with my son—he wants to write it 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. 

SAVANNAH: How fun!

FERN: Yeah, so we'll see. But writing it takes a lot. So, yeah, I want to. Just a little break in between, yeah. And I want to focus on The Edies. I worked 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.

SAVANNAH: Do you feel more confident about starting something new?

FERN: 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. 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. 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 in my opinion. 

SAVANNAH: 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. 

FERN: Exactly. I think working with a developmental editor is essential. You that's your bones of the book, 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: 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. So it's kind of… 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. 

FERN: Absolutely yes.

SAVANNAH: I think that's really fun. So, 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 Grey Gardens and all that fun stuff. But any final parting words of wisdom or anything you want to share with people who wish they had a book finished like you do?

FERN: 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. 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: I love that, and I was going to say this is like perfectly describing the vibe of The Edies 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. 

FERN: Thank you!

SAVANNAH: Okay, Fern, it was super fun to sit down and talk about all this. I mean, we have just wrapped up together not too long ago, but 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: 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 Edies. And thanks for your podcast, because I've learned so much and I'm sure your listeners feel as that as well. And just keep doing what you're doing, because you are helping us to be STAUNCH writers.

SAVANNAH: 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: Okay, so on Facebook I'm Fern Levitch-Bernstein and on Instagram I'm Fern Bernstein writes, and I have two podcasts, Grey Gardens and Majong Mondays, and I think that's it for my social contacts.

SAVANNAH: 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!

FERN: I'd love that! Thank you so much, Savannah!

Final Thoughts

My favorite takeaway from this episode is that Fern was willing to do something a little scary—in this case, write a dual timeline, dual POV story—to showcase her characters and tell the story she wanted to tell. While working with Fern, I was consistently inspired by her willingness to try new things, and I hope this episode will inspire you to do the same in your writing.

To learn more about Fern Bernstein and to get your hands on Staunch: The Edies of Grey Gardens, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram. You can also check out Fern’s podcast, Grey Garden, here.

If you want to learn more about my Notes to Novel course—and how it can help you finish your first draft—you can click here to get all the details!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →