Friday, March 18, 2011

Author Catherine West ~ Interviewed

Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. Catherine and her husband live on the beautiful island of Bermuda, with their two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a founding member of International Christian Fiction Writers. Catherine’s debut novel Yesterday’s Tomorrow, will release in 2011, through Oak Tara Publishers.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

My debut novel is called Yesterday’s Tomorrow, a contemporary romance published through Oak Tara. Here’s the blurb:

It’s 1967 and Kristin Taylor wants to go to Vietnam to report on the war, and honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning journalist like he was. But no editor will send her. So she strikes out on her own and steps into a world more terrifying than she’d imagined.

As she encounters the horrors of war, Kristin struggles to report the truth while desperately trying to keep tabs on her only brother who enlisted some time ago, but both tasks seem impossible.

When she meets photographer Luke Maddox, Kristin knows she’s found a story. The mystery beneath his brooding eyes triggers her curiosity. She’s convinced he’s hiding something and determines to discover his secrets. The only trouble is, he won’t let her within three feet of him.

In an unexpected twist, Kristin and Luke are forced to work together. With war raging all around them, they engage in their own tumultuous battle of emotions. Headstrong and willing to risk it all for what they believe in, they’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill their own private agendas. Kristin is after a story that might get her the Pulitzer. Luke wants retribution from the enemy that took away his family. In the face of death, Kristin and Luke must decide if they’re willing to set aside selfish ambition for the love that seems to have ambushed them and captured their hearts.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

Convoluted. Great word! Well, I guess I started pursuing publication back in the dark ages, before there was Internet, which says it all. I gave up for a few years, my kids were small and I found there just wasn’t enough time in the day for writing. Once they were in school, I decided to try again. I came back on the scene just as the Internet was being born, and realized this was something I wanted to do. And boy did I have a LOT to learn! But I managed to find some wonderful critique partners, joined writers groups and kept going.

The hard times were dealing with rejections. I didn’t know enough yet to understand why I wasn’t getting published! J The highlights were when published authors started taking an interest in me, complimenting me and really encouraging me to keep going. That’s when I knew I was on the right path. And of course the biggest highlight for me was landing my agent, Rachelle Gardner. She is truly a gem and full of wisdom about this business, and a great source of encouragement to me.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Um…I don’t have any helpful hints, do you? LOL. Writers block is a biggie for me. I tend to have really good stretches where the words just tumble out, and then nada. It’s tempting to wail and bash my head against the wall, but I’m prone to migraines so I’ve learned to hold back. Usually what I do is get out of the house. Walk. Garden. And read. There’s nothing like reading a great book (or a not so great one) to kick the muse back into gear.

Self doubt? As I sit here waiting for my first published book to be born, I am literally plagued by doubt. I won’t be at all surprised when the phone rings to tell me they made a mistake and they’re not going to publish it after all. But I’m told this is perfectly normal, so I’m not too concerned. These twitches are starting to bother me though…

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

If I were to list all the mistakes I’ve made, you’d need to take out another page for your website. I’ll narrow it down by saying this business is HARD. If you think you’re good, you probably aren’t. The hardest thing for me was dealing with those first few rejections. I did not have a thick skin and it was very difficult to accept that I was not going to be next up on The New York Times Bestsellers list. I think it’s really important to have a good understanding of the publishing business an life as a writer, before you decide to plunge in headfirst. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you truly believe this is your calling, then prepare yourself as best you can by understanding that publication is [probably] not going to happen overnight for you.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I love watching people. Reading the newspaper or magazines. There are so many stories out there, the hardest thing is finding which one resonates enough with me that I want to spend the next few months writing it. It’s usually the idea that won’t go away.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

“Do the homework.” There are a TON of resources available to aspiring authors. Make use of them. Read those agent and writers blogs, network, join writers groups and get yourself into a good critique group. Invest in books on craft, take online courses and go to conferences. Learn, listen and apply. Yes, all this takes time, effort and money, but if you want to make this your career, as in any business where you’re the boss, you’re going to need to put out that initial investment.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

I think writing Yesterday’s Tomorrow has probably changed me the most, for the better. It was the first manuscript that I really believed in, and the feedback I received from it led to me finally believing in myself and knowing that I was a writer. There is a wonderful published author who emailed me after I’d posted a question about the manuscript on a writing loop. She showed a real interest in the story and even read some of it – her feedback and critique was SO encouraging, truly invaluable. Her willingness to reach out and mentor fledging writers inspires me to do the same.

God opened so many doors during the writing of that novel. I was able to connect with my agent, and eventually she offered representation, and even though we went through a lot of rejections with this book, I believe all those experiences, hard as they were, made me stronger and encouraged me to keep going.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

For me, I have to say my debut novel. This was a one of those stories that just wouldn’t go away. I learned a great deal during the process, both in the researching and the writing. I found an enormous respect for those men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. It was a heartbreaking experience for me, as I literally lived, slept, ate and breathed Vietnam for months. I used to dream of jumping out of helicopters!

I wrote it, rewrote, wrote it again, I don’t know how many times. It truly is the book of my heart for many reasons. I think that the message of forgiveness and restoration is one that will resonate with a lot of people. Ultimatley, it’s a final surrender to God in the hardest of circumstances that puls the characters through – this perfectly parallels the journey this this book and I had on the way to publication. I was told many times that this story would not be published. But I knew it was meant to be, and I didn’t give up. And I believe the end result was worth the struggle.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Ha. Why does it have to be so darn subjective?! No. Really for me, and I guess it’s not a peeve, but more an obstacle I need to overcome, it’s the waiting. Everything takes uber-long in the world of publishing, and I am not a patient person. But, like my wonderful father always says, “All good things come to those who wait!” Thankfully for me, this has proven true.

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

Abolish nuclear weapons and end world hunger. Aside from that, gracious, I don’t know! The fact that people are going to be able to read my work is so humbling for me. Really, I want to be able to tell stories that entertain and leave you feeling good at the end. I’m not out to change the world. I’ll settle for giving my readers a book they can’t put down, and a story they’ll remember for years to come. That may be a lofty goal, but we’ll see.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

Oh, I love this! It’s when you’re in the middle of writing a scene, and all of a sudden something pops out of you, your character says or does something that leaves you absolutely floored. Because its perfect and you wonder why you couldn’t have thought of that in advance. It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, I go a little nuts! It’s one of those cool writer phenomenons that only fellow writers understand.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

About ten years ago, I decided to search for my birth family. That experience is one that changed my life. I went through the gamut of emotions – there probably isn’t a single one that I can’t now tap into when I’m writing. I’d liken it to having your soul ripped out, cleaned up and put back in again – you’re never the same. Major life-changing experiences I think can only serve to heighten your ability to tell a story.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

We built our home a few years ago, so I was fortunate to be able to delegate a room that I call the study. My desk faces the ocean, the walls are my favorite color green, and I even have a fireplace, not that I’ve used it yet! But it’s wonderful to have a room I can hide away in. Although I do share a bit of the space with my husband, but my desk is bigger than his. J

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

POV! I was a terrible head-hopper. If I pulled out some of my early manuscripts, you’d get whiplash. And I was a passive writer. Everything was in past tense. That was a really hard habit for me to break. I still have to slap myself for doing it on the odd occasion, but thankfully, practice makes perfect. Or at least good enough.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

Pray! Well, actually it really should be. A lot of times I know God’s given me a story, but sometimes I just need to make doubly sure. I’m pretty good with that gut instinct feeling though.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I’m an SOTP’er all the way! Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so, but I’ve discovered I can’t change it. So I go with it and hope for the best. Once I get through the first draft, I feel a lot better.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Because I am not a plotter, I really struggle with the middle. That’s where I tend to sit back and do a more detailed outline. By then I know my characters and I can start to figure out where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. And yes, I usually find I need to make my characters a lot more complex by this point. I tend to have the most trouble with my female characters. For some reason the guys just waltz in and take over from the first page, and they’re always so darn cute…

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you'd share with us?

Not really, I’m very new at this! I think the biggest thing for me is networking. Spreading the word through the Internet, blogging, connecting with other writers and just hoping that people love my book as much as I do!

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Yes, "Find x > 3 such that

ln(x) <>

Seriously, I don’t even know what that means! I’d just like to say thanks for having me, and to all those aspiring authors out there, keep going! Don’t give up. One day all that hard work will pay off, and you’ll find yourself on Novel Journey. And yes, you’ll shake your head and wonder how it happened.


Catherine West said...

Thanks for hosting me on Novel Journey! Yesterday's Tomorrow released this week and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble at the moment, if anyone is interested!

Marcia said...

Thanks for the interview, Cath - looking forward to reading the book.
Marcia Laycock

Tamika: said...

Yay Catherine! I love hearing publication journeys! Your struck a special chord because I'm a SOTP writer and I feel on an island all alone at times. I've tried to shake the habit, but outlines kill my motivation and heart for the story.

Great interview!

Rebecca Vincent said...

I was fortunate to read some earlier drafts of Cathy's novel and always believed that it would be published. I cannot wait to hold this book in my hands and read the final version. As much of a roller coaster ride as this writing and publishing business can be, it's been a pleasure to take this ride with Cathy and be encouraged by her own writing journey. Thanks for sharing, Cathy! And everyone: READ THIS BOOK!!

Ane Mulligan said...

Cath, I've so enjoyed your journey, having known you for a number of years. I'm so thrilled for you! And what a fun interview you gave. God's richest blessings on you and your writing.