I’d like to start by thanking Kathryn for taking time away from her writing to answer my interview questions! Kathryn is in the midst of the third book in the Virginia Kate trilogy. Since I’ve read the first two and can’t wait for her to finish the third, I’m selfishly keeping this interview short by only throwing a handful of questions at her.
So, without any further ado, hoopla, or fanfare . . . here goes!
Linda: How long did it take you to write Sweetie?
Kathryn: I wrote the first draft of 75,000 words in thirty days. Oh it was a whirlwind of words that tornadoed through the little log house. There were so many words swirling around, I had to push them away each morning, but they crowded around me and pressed and pulled. It was one of the most wonderful exhilarating exhausting experiences.
This was a personal test, as I didn’t know about nanowrimo at that time. A teacher (and novelist, poet, etc) who became a friend of mine, the literary brilliant David Madden, had once said he challenged himself to write a novel in thirty days. That challenge stayed in the back of my brain as a goal I wanted to accomplish. So when Sweetie prompted me, out tore her story—she was the impetus for the creation of a novel in thirty days. Of course, from Draft to Final took many months more.
Linda: I know that you wrote Sweetie while in the midst of working on the Virginia Kate trilogy. Did this make it harder to recapture the essence of Virginia Kate once Sweetie was published?
Kathryn: No, because they are as separate as two different friends would be. Going back to Virginia Kate was as if returning to an old friend to ‘set on the porch’ rocking a while. With Sweetie, there was no ‘setting on the porch’ – there was running and discovering and wildness; oh how I love Sweetie’s ability to sweep me away! Virginia Kate is more introspective, while Sweetie would make me jump off my butt and go to the woods.
I also had an opportunity, so I grabbed it, to write a novella-length work while also working on rewrites of Sweetie, while also dealing with one of the Graces trilogy releases—lawd! “Petey” is included in an anthology (The Firefly Dance) with three other authors (Sarah Addison Allen, Augusta Trobaugh, Phyllis Schieber). And dang-be-doggity, why did I call her Petey? Petey-Sweetie, my nightmare fear is that somewhere in either Sweetie or Petey I’ve interchanged their names! Of course, I could never interchange their personalities. All the characters are their own Self, and just as with people, they have their own way of letting me know that.
I suppose I am prolific, but understand that I don’t slam out novels for slamming out sake. It’s just that the words keep coming. I have to release them. I write as long as I am enjoying it and emptying my pea-head of all those words.
Linda: Your protagonist, Melissa, sure has some uniquely quirky parents! One who drops scientific facts as if they were famous names, another who makes up sappy poems about food. Did the creation of such an odd coupling come planned or did these characters and their relationship grow organically?
Kathryn: They grew organically, as I didn’t have any expectations of them. In the early draft, the father was an English professor and the mother wasn’t as sympathetic because I didn’t tap into her quite deep enough, but these things I didn’t recognize at first as “not quite right.”
I turned in the manuscript to my editor before the deadline even though I felt unsettled about it. That night, Sweetie bomped me upside the head and prodded, “You are not done. Get back to work!” I contacted my editor and said, “Wait!” and told her why—she was in agreement and liked the changes I told her about (the wonderful brilliant Deb Smith at Bellebooks/Bell-Bridge Books).
I thought, and still do, “Whew! That was close!” When I think of how it would have been had I not done the extra work; well, it would have been something Less I think.
Linda: You have said that Sweetie approached you in real life, insisting that you tell her story. Did Melissa have a similar beginning?
Kathryn: No, she didn’t. She came to me through the eyes of Sweetie, even though Melissa is the narrator. In the very beginning I thought Sweetie was the one who would tell the story, but nope, she could not, would not. She wanted Melissa to tell it, and that was the correct choice. I like Melissa, though sometimes she is a bit lost in Sweetie Love.
Linda: You have tapped into the soul of both Melissa and Sweetie, building them like nesting dolls with many, complex layers. How hard was it for you to get close enough to them both so that you could tell each of their stories? And did you have a favorite?
First let me say that you make me blush with your nice words about my work, and happy with the insights into them. I feel a little proud of what I’ve done—it’s difficult for writers to feel proud of their work because of hubris or people thinking we’re too big for our britches, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment, and gratitude.
I am told I do well with character development. I’ve said this before and it is true: my conscious brain goes to sleep and the black hole where all the mysterious things are that I can’t see but are there bursts forth its secrets and after I “wake up” I see who these people—I mean characters—are and I tell their story, realize them.
Hmm, favorite? I want to say Sweetie because we’d discover “inneresting” things and she’d teach me all about them and there would be nothing but nature and wild. But Melissa and I would have coffee and a pastry or go out to dinner or to the movies. Sweetie would never do those things—it occurs to me that I have both Sweetie and Melissa in me, with my reclusive side that wants only to be near nature and the critters, and my social side that wonders what’s going on out there in the world and why aren’t I a part of it. Huhn. Never thought of that until now! I fear my Sweetie side is growing stronger than my Melissa side.
Linda: Is there advice you might give to aspiring writers on how to develop rich, texturized characters? It’s okay to say no! I understand how some elements of writing just come naturally.
Kathryn: I do believe there are inherent talents in people that make it “easier” to do certain things; however, that doesn’t mean others cannot practice their craft and build on what they do have. I won’t say which I am *laugh*
I could advise not to force characters to do/say things they wouldn’t do/say. It drives me a bit batty when someone has a character do or say something as a device because something must happen and they aren’t sure how to make it happen so they fiddle around with things that do not fit, shoe-horning it in. You cannot cheat!
If I had to think of one brief specific bit of advice: think about “giving” your character a quirk/habit/foible that the other character doesn’t have and maybe doesn’t understand. It could make the characters more three-dimensional and separate them in your mind, perhaps?
Thank you, Linda – this was fun. I discovered some insights I did not recognize, which is the wonderful thing about interviews!
And thank you Kathryn for putting up with me this past week! Thanks for wonderful peek behind the scenes of Sweetie and for the great advice on characterization.
And thanks also to Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity which prompted me to prompt Kathryn into putting up with me this past week.