Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Author interview no.689 with writer Trish Nicholson (revisited)


Back in July 2013, I interviewed author Trish Nicholson for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and eighty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction, short story writer and spotlightee Trish Nicholson. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Trish. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based.
TrishTrish: I am from the Isle of Man so I’m part Celtic, part Viking, and like many islanders, seem destined to wander. After fifteen years of living and working in various corners of the world, I’ve settled in the ‘winterless’ Far North of New Zealand, on top of a hill overlooking a lake which is my daily inspiration.
Morgen: I’ve moved five times in my life, the grand sum of sixty miles. A lake would inspire me too – I love water and yet live in the middle of England, three hours away from the sea but I do plan to have a house with a sea view eventually. How did you come to be a writer?
Trish: I’m not sure at what point one calls oneself ‘a writer’. Writing came in somewhere in all the careers I’ve followed, research, interpretation, newsletters, press releases and so on, but in the 1980s I was asked to write a regular column for a UK management magazine and a number of features for national newspapers. So I suppose you could call that the start. But my background is anthropology and whenever I could, I was travelling, not only around Europe for my work, but trekking in the Himalayas and in South America, feeding my curiosity and indulging in photography. In the end, these interests won – I left the UK for my first overseas job in rural development in Papua New Guinea and worked there for five years. Writing then was mainly in a personal journal – lots of extraordinary happenings to scribble down.
I worked in the Philippines for a further five years after that, with more research in Vietnam and a year in Australia. After my return to the UK, all that experience led to a couple of commissions. I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book on anthropology; Earthscan asked me to co-edit and write new material for the 1999 edition of The Green Travel Guide, and I worked for a UK university as a gobbeter, writing synopses of research reports for their website. Poor pay but wonderful practise for a writer – reducing great wads of text to 500 words. That’s probably where my love of flash fiction came from.
And then I settled in New Zealand. At first, I was too busy planting my hillside in native trees to do much writing, but now I write full time and love it.
Morgen: Having an interest in photography must help when designing book covers. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Masks coverTrish: I write short stories as well, but yes, most of my published work is non-fiction – management, anthropology, tourism, and latterly, travelogues. They’ve all arisen from my overseas working and travelling, some involved extensive research. Masks of the Moryons for example, an eBook about the Easter pageant on Marinduque Island in the Philippines, was based on three years in the field – it was the basis of my doctoral degree, but of course, had to be completely restyled for publication. I’ve even written a short popular-science book, but that combines short fiction with anthropology; it traces how humans evolved as storytellers – that was huge fun to write. And my latest book explores the relationship between readers and writers when they ‘meet’ in a story. No shortage of topics to write about.
Morgen: I purely write fiction (or non-fiction about writing) and have more ideas than I can cope with, even writing a story a day for my 5pm Fiction slot. Writing non-fiction and short stories, are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Trish: I find it difficult to switch rapidly between them, I need time to soak my brain in the right sort of thoughts for each, but the writing craft is basically the same. I write creative non-fiction – I don’t invent things, but use creative writing techniques to describe people, events, landscapes, and to evoke atmosphere, just as you might in a novel, the difference is, I have to make sure the facts are accurate and verifiable. I am more productive with non-fiction, perhaps because, though I’m using my imagination, I’m not inventing complete scenarios. With short stories, the completing and editing can take weeks, even months, especially with flash fiction – others call it procrastination, but if I’m still tinkering with a story in my mind, I call it ‘positive procrastination’ and that’s okay by me.
Morgen: One of my Monday night writing group writers can spend a day tweaking a paragraph. I don’t have that much patience (or time!). Do you write under a pseudonym?
Trish: Heavens no, no pseudonym, I have enough trouble keeping up with one identity.
Morgen: :) It’s hard enough work marketing one as well. What have you had published to-date?
Journey coverTrish: For the last couple of years I’ve been writing for Collca, a non-fiction digital publisher of e-Books and Apps. They produce some interesting BiteSize series. Although my books are longer, I have two titles in illustrated BiteSize Travel: Masks of the Moryons: Easter Week in Mogpog, the one I mentioned earlier about the Philippines, and Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. I especially enjoyed writing these because I could use lots of my photographs – one of the advantages of digital publishing compared to the huge costs of colour photography in print.
In February this year, they released the first title of a new BiteSize Science series: my study From Apes to Apps: How Humans Evolved as Storytellers and Why it Matters. It has a super cover – a gorgeous picture of an Orang-utan with such a knowing expression, I’m sure her head is full of stories. I kept it short and easy to read because I am passionate about the dangers of political and corporate spin-doctors using storytelling to manipulate us – story technique is big business these days. It’s a cautionary tale because our brains not only function around stories, we are primed to believe them – it projects shadows of George Orwell’s 1984. It was interesting, too, because it introduced me to a relatively new field – the psychology of fiction.
And this month Collca released my latest title which is completely different and a full-length volume – Inside Stories for Writers and Readers. It’s about creative prose but it’s not a ‘how-to’ book, more like an entertaining companion to inspire both writers and readers. We talk about them as if they were two different groups, but a reader’s experience completes a story, so I wanted to bring them together to explore storytelling. Chapters give insights on key story elements like Inspiration, Character, Theme, Voice, and so on, and I analyse fifteen of my own stories as illustrations. I include comments from professional critiques, warts and all. I’ve never seen that before in a book on creative writing and I can understand why, but I think that kind of sharing is a good way to grow as a writer, and as a reader for that matter.
**NOTE: the cover pic is of the print edition which includes also the complete text of From Apes to Apps, the eBook version contains only an excerpt.
Morgen: I haven’t either and I’m enjoying reading yours, albeit only a few pages in, especially as I regularly edit others’ short stories. Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Trish: Frankly, I couldn’t cope with the technology of self-publishing, and it would be a huge diversion taking time away from writing, so no, I have never self-published.
Morgen: I’ve only self-published on Kindle (and that’s really easy once you’ve done it once). I do plan to paperback my chick lit novel as it’s set in the town I live in (and uses 30 real locations from here) and will see how that goes when the time comes. Are all your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
InsideStoriesPbookCover-webTrish: All my recent books are eBooks, but Inside Stories is available also in paperback, and From Apes to Apps is included in the print edition as another perspective on storytelling – I’m delighted about that. I do read eBooks as well as paperbacks, they each have distinct advantages. In fact I sometimes buy both versions to use in different ways.
Morgen: I’ve heard a few people say that, especially if they loved an eBook and just want the paperback to own it. I don’t like damaging the spines of paperback and have probably 1,000+ eBooks on my iPad so will probably stick with that unless I go to author events where you can’t beat a ‘real’ signed book. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Trish: Traditionally, covers and titles are a publisher’s prerogative because they are marketing decisions, but Mike Hyman’s working style at Collca is consultative, which is great. The final result is usually a team effort.
Morgen: That is great. Not all authors get a say. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Trish: I was a bit of a tomboy in my younger days, usually up a tree or tramping aimlessly with my dog, but when I did read, it was about the great explorers. The discovery of the White Nile and Stanley in Africa come to mind though I can’t remember the authors. I think it was the subjects that had the most influence on me at the time – a definite urge to escape!  Later, I discovered Joseph Conrad and enjoyed all his books. It’s hard to pick just a few but Steinbeck, Orwell, and Rushdie stick in my mind, and latterly, new Asian and African writers. And of course I read a lot of travel books. But I’m not sure how much any of them has influenced my writing – it’s hard to analyse. A reviewer once wrote that my style reminded her of Paul Theroux (without the grumpiness), but I’ve never consciously tried to emulate any particular style, I think you develop your own by writing as much as possible.
Morgen: I grew up with an older brother so I think I still am a tomboy (I can’t remember the last time I wore a skirt). Although I do remember reading Nancy Drew, I loved the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone adventure books, which is probably why I love (writing and reading) second person viewpoint stories. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Trish: I have a completed manuscript for a long travel narrative based on my years in Papua New Guinea which is currently being considered by a publisher, so my fingers are quietly crossed on that one. And there’s what I fondly call my ‘magnum opus’ – a long-term project, a sort of biography of stories, from oral traditions through to writing, printing and other key historical and social influences. It’s a labour of love involving a huge amount of research, but I don’t yet have a publisher for this, so other projects keep jumping in front of it.
Morgen: Do let me know how you get on with that. Maybe you could do another spotlight when it’s available. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Trish: I don’t like strict routines but I do write pretty much every day, usually in the morning when I’m fresher, and sometimes do editing or research in the afternoons, read in the evenings. I can’t say I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block, although some days I’ll be in a mood for one form of writing rather than another, or maybe only editing. I try to keep ahead of schedules to allow time for these little foibles. Some writers thrive on pressure, on deadlines – I’m not one of them, I prefer peace and calm.
Morgen: One of my favourite quotes if Douglas Adams’ ‘I love deadlines – the sound as they whoosh by’, although I endeavour to stick to mine. No one likes being kept waiting. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Trish:  I know all the writing advice says you should not, but I do edit to some extent as I write. If I’m not happy with a paragraph it is hard to make the next one flow smoothly from it. So I don’t normally need too much reworking when it comes to the full edit later. I’ll do a couple more ‘passes’ for tweaking and polishing, and then it goes to a professional editor. Editing is key – as writers we are too close to our work to know how it is being read by others, and we need that feedback.
Morgen: I tend to do a mixture too. I’ve done six NaNoWriMos to-date and although you’re not supposed to edit while you write, because the minimum is 1,667 words a day, if I know something’s wrong I’ll either change it or cross it out so that I can see later whether it can go (or I put ‘MORE HERE’ if something’s missing). Do you have to do much research?
Trish: For me, research is a great source of ideas as well as data. I do it for fiction, especially to get those little details that lend authenticity to a story. For non-fiction of course I do a lot of research, even on topics I’m familiar with, to check details from my journals or to update information. I enjoy it so much the problem is having the discipline to stop when I have what I need.
Morgen: It’s worth spending the time researching because there will always someone who knows more about a subject and will gladly point out errors. I mentioned earlier about marketing one name being enough work, do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Trish: I work with my publisher on marketing as most authors do these days, but I try not to let it dominate my time. As for me as a ‘brand’, I break the first marketing rule – I’m not known for one specific genre. I keep jumping out of the box. Unless I can create a ‘brand’ out of the ‘unexpected’ I’d probably best forget it. I love interacting with my readers on Twitter, but I’m not sure I want to feel packaged, labelled and stamped somewhere on my anatomy with a barcode.
Morgen: Glad to hear that. I started writing various genres so I think as long as readers see that, they won’t expect one thing – and really, they should read the blurb anyway. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Trish: Favourite is the complete freedom to work on whatever I feel like when I get up in the morning, or to go for a walk instead, but what has surprised me is that if I go a day or two without writing I become restless and discontented. And I find the next project is bubbling away at the back of my mind as I complete the current one – there’s no hope for me now!
Morgen: I quit my job in March 2012 and although I’ve never been poorer (well, only once since I left home), I love what I do. I’ll be teaching creative writing for my local council next year so the cherry on the proverbial cake. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Trish: Write whenever you can, even for a few minutes, and about anything that interests you, regardless of genre, to develop the wordcraft, the ability to put thoughts, feelings and observations into words and sentences. To communicate what we think we are saying is harder than it might seem, so the second piece of advice is to get feedback on your work and thicken your skin to listen carefully to it. It doesn’t mean you necessarily follow it, but it lets you know how you are being read by different readers and that is crucial information. Lots of reading of course – go outside your comfort zone. Basically, read, write and listen.
Morgen: Absolutely. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Trish: Only one, I have a Twitter account as @trishanicholson which I used initially to let people know about weekly blog posts on my website. The number of visitors to the site is directly related to tweeting about it, but it has proved valuable in other ways. I learnt a huge amount about social media, blogging, and other subjects by following up links; I’ve made numerous mutually helpful contacts leading to reviews, guest posts and other promotion; chatted with people who have bought my books, and formed some genuine friendships. 
Morgen: Twitter is great, although I can lose hours if I have the timeline open (I follow about 1,800 people – about half the number who follow me) and can’t keep up with everyone’s saying so I check every now and then, and retweet anything interesting. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Trish: Probably the same as it holds for everyone else – rapid change and uncertainty. And I think the only way to live with that is to try new things and be adaptable. That’s how I first became involved in writing eBooks. Even though it is still a pioneer field for publishers and mainstream reviewers don’t yet pay as much attention to digital publications as they should, it’s where the opportunities are, and they will expand.
Morgen: I agree. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Trish: You can find regular updates on the HOME page and weekly articles on the BLOG of my website: www.trishnicholsonswordsinthetreehouse.com and there really is a tree house you can visit. And Collca has an author page for me on their website: http://collca.com/TrishNicholson.
Morgen: Thank you, Trish. It’s been great chatting with you.
Trish: Thank you for having me, Morgen, I’ve really enjoyed talking with you – some of your questions I haven’t thought much about before.
Morgen: It’s taken me a couple of years to adapt these questions (and I’ll keep tweaking them) so I’m delighted they were useful. Thank you again for joining me today, Trish.
*
I then invited Trish to include an extract of her writing and this is an excerpt from the Introduction from Inside Stories for Writers and Readers:
Introduction
"Stand still, traveller and read."
In a letter to a friend, Mark Twain claimed not to like reading novels or stories. When challenged that he wrote them himself, he replied: “Quite true: but the fact that an Indian likes to scalp people is no evidence that he likes to be scalped.” It seems he was being characteristically contrary because a comment elsewhere to his daughter penetrates the heart of storytelling: “It is so unsatisfactory to read a noble passage and have no one you love at hand to share the happiness with you. It is unsatisfactory to read to oneself anyhow – for the uttered voice so heightens the expression.”
Stories and their telling are a shared encounter. A story is not complete until the listener or reader has experienced it and achieved his or her own understanding. Oral storytelling may no longer be a regular occurrence for most of us, nor reading aloud by the fireside, but audience and storyteller are coming together in new ways. All writers are readers, it is part of our obsession with words, and the number of readers who have started to write is increasing. Everyone, it seems, is writing these days: it’s getting harder to tell readers from writers – maybe there is no significant difference other than a tilt in one direction or the other. We are all born storytellers: our brains function around narrative, it is inescapably the way we perceive and understand life and the world around us.
Certainly the relationship between readers and writers has changed radically with digital communication. Readers want to know their favourite authors; follow them on social media; learn the ‘inside story’; post reviews, and become more involved. Writers set up websites; write blog posts, and open Facebook and Twitter accounts to interact with their readers. Some authors use digital media to write interactive stories, where readers can choose alternative plot paths and outcomes. We love talking about the stories we read, and I have never met a writer who didn’t enjoy talking about their craft, or gain something from sharing the ideas and stories of other writers.
Thinking through these changes, I thought it was time to celebrate stories in a way that brought readers and writers together – an inclusive book – this volume is the result, aimed to inspire both writers and readers to a deeper appreciation of that ‘chemical reaction’ between two ‘voices’ when a story resonates with a reader. And there is a whole chapter on ‘voice.’
Many of the insights in Inside Stories are applicable to any length of fiction, but the focus is on short stories – there are several reasons why I chose to do this.
On a practical level, the brevity of short stories allows us to see their wholeness, to understand more clearly how the various components of a story such as theme, structure, character, are woven into a seamless tale – they can be read and reread in a brief time. The fifteen stories included here are my own because only these can I analyse fully, tell you what inspired them, how they were written – or rewritten – and what critiques have said about them.
Literary short stories offer a particular and unique writing and reading experience: they are not simply stories that are short. Although infinitely varied, defying any agreed definition, the compactness, depth and language required to tell a complete story in as few as 500 words, or even as many as 5,000,  has created a recognizable form that many would claim is the most difficult in fiction writing. Every single word in a good short story has significance – in sound, rhythm and image as well as meaning. An experience of a life condensed yet deeply penetrated, a short story can provide rich insights not only into our own lives as readers, but into the craft of writing.
Despite the challenging nature of the form – or perhaps because of it – many successful novelists began their career by writing short stories. Others, like Alice Munro, made the short story their career. Teachers of creative writing encourage students to learn their craft through writing and reading short stories as well as longer prose. The form has a great deal to teach us.
Finally, in a fast-moving world where images and texts stream endlessly passed us, our attention spans shorten accordingly – we expect everything to be offered in ‘super concentrated’ form, not only the laundry powder. It is nearly twenty-five years since Saul Bellow issued the warning: “The modern reader…is perilously overloaded.”  And the volume and range of published material has expanded since then.
Short stories should be ideal reading in such an environment, but popular though they are with readers, publishers are wary of them and critics and reviewers pay them scant attention. They deserve better, so the form has a major character part in Inside Stories.
But this is not a ‘how-to’ book. Rules for writing can be useful guides, but even standard strictures on punctuation and grammar have been creatively and successfully flouted on occasion. For me, there are only two unbreakable rules: keep reading, and keep writing. So this is a book of ‘show and share’ rather than ‘tell and teach’, and I have included ‘also-rans’ as well as winning or shortlisted stories because we can learn from reviewing our problems as well as our successes, and sometimes, our reasons for writing have nothing to do with competitions or publication.
Because we need structure to avoid muddle and to make ideas accessible, I divided Inside Stories into chapters that emphasize certain topics, but the problem is that the magic of a good story is in its wholeness. Character, voice, form and theme have to mesh in our minds and on the page as a holistic experience for a reader. Though we are obliged to talk in parts, the inclusion of complete stories reminds us of this wholeness, and I indicate connections in the text to integrate the various points.
Each chapter is a bit like a workshop: exploration, followed by articles to dig deeper into particular aspects, and then a couple of stories are analysed to illustrate the chapter’s topic. The illumination and encouragement from attending a reading or writing group, or a workshop, can last for weeks, but the benefit of having such insights in a book is that you can go back to ‘listen’ to something you only half heard the first time, and pause when you want to ponder, make a pot of coffee, or pour yourself a beer.
Much of the inspiration for this book was sparked by the joys, frustrations, whinges, moans and exaltations of writing and reading friends on four continents – this is my ‘thank you’ for their company over that rugged landscape.
**
Trish Nicholson began a 30 year writing career as a columnist and feature writer, later drawing on her background as an anthropologist to travel and work in many countries, researching and writing about other cultures, tourism, and travelogue. Living through some extraordinary situations, she developed a passion for storytelling. Her short stories have won international competitions and been published in anthologies. She lives in New Zealand, Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud.
***
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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Author interview no.688 with mystery writer Catherine Astolfo


Back in July 2013, I interviewed author Catherine Astolfo for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and eighty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery novelist and interviewee (October 2011) Catherine Astolfo. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Catherine. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
CatherineCatherine: Hi, Morgen! I’m from a medium-sized city in Canada, located near Toronto, Ontario. Growing up, the city was a small town, and we had characters galore. My mother always told us lovely stories about her life on a farm. Thus I had a rich upbringing in creativity. As soon as I could put pencil to paper, I started writing stories. First, fairy tales for my classmates, then short stories for my sisters and cousins. I have the feeling that I was born a writer.
Morgen: How lovely. I read a lot when I was younger (and Stephen King in my teens) but it didn’t occur to me that it was a profession I could do until I went to evening classes January 2005). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Catherine: I write mysteries. Lately, there is a new sub-genre that’s being bandied about in North America at least: the literary mystery. Much as I dislike the term “literary”, I must say that I am happy at last to have a category for my books. One literary agent said that the plots of literary mysteries are “underneath the surface”. The characters take the front seat. The vocabulary tends to be somewhat more extensive and the focus is on the personalities involved. The reader learns something about the human condition through the stories. In addition to solving a puzzle, of course. My current novel, Sweet Karoline, can also be classed as a psychological thriller: the unreliable narrator; the underlying feeling that we’re not being told everything. I have considered other genres, especially the general literary one. In fact, I have an outline for a future book that follows a couple of generations of women.
Morgen: I’ve always thought of literary as being a genre that are more poetic than other genres (and where non-genre books fit)… no doubt I’ll have readers tell me otherwise! What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Catherine: I have had four mystery novels and several short stories published so far. On July 14, 2013, the fifth book, Sweet Karoline, debuted. My publisher is an independent Canadian company from Edmonton, Alberta. My short stories have appeared in such publications as NorthWord Literary Magazine. In fact, “What Kelly Did” won the 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story in Canada. I don’t use a pseudonym, although I have considered using my maiden name for a future book that’s not in the mystery genre.
Morgen: Some authors do to avoid their avid fans expecting one book but reading another (although looking at the jacket blurb would help) but I’ve always written a bit of everything so I don’t have to another name (it is hard enough to get one noticed!). Have you self-published? If so, what led to you going your own way?
Catherine: As a matter of fact, I self-published my Emily Taylor mystery novels first, before I acquired a contract with Imajin Books for all four of them. I was a bit impatient initially and am grateful to Imajin for taking a chance on a series that had already done the “soft sell” (i.e. to family, colleagues, friends). Emily Taylor has faired much better with Imajin’s brilliant marketing skills. There are, however, lots of pros to self-publishing, too. I think we’ll see more authors going that route as electronic channels make the process easier. Of course, there are cons to all of that, too. But if a writer has a good product, something that readers identify with, popularity will follow no matter which route the author took.
Morgen: It’s certainly a hard slog with no one else in your corner – I think why people are so grateful to have this platform. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Catherine: All of my books are available as eBooks. Fortunately, my publisher does all the work in that area, because I’d be lost. However, I do read eBooks. I love my Kindle. Mostly because I have very little room left on my shelves, I am happy to store up to 1000 novels in one slim package. It’s also very convenient when we travel. I no longer use up all the weight in my suitcase with books. Having said all that, I still buy paperbacks too, especially when I can have them signed at a reading. I’m happy that the Emily Taylor Mysteries and Sweet Karoline are available in both formats.
Morgen: I’ve just uploaded four collections of short stories (with another two on their way) and it’s really not that difficult but then I’ve done a few now. I also have a guide on how to eBook. Designing covers is possibly the most fun bit, next to writing of course. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Catherine: I love Sweet Karoline (don’t tell the Emily Taylors I said that). I believe it’s my best work to date. Although I also love Emily, I have a feeling that Karoline is going to be even more popular. It’s such a hybrid: mystery, romance, history, psychological thriller. So far, among an eclectic bunch of first readers, it has appealed to everyone. Emily might be a bit more oriented toward a mature female audience. For Sweet Karoline, the lead character is Anne. I really want Halle Berry to play her in the movie! Although Halle’s a bit older than Anne, I’m sure she could pull it off; she’s who I picture when I think of that character. As for Emily, I’d pick Jonny Lee Miller to be her husband Langford.
Morgen: An interesting pair. I’d definitely go and see it. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Catherine: I am a voracious reader and always have been.  My absolute favourite authors are John Steinbeck and Margaret Laurence. Their writing is so rich and complex and beautiful. I know they shaped me as a writer, because as a reader, I am fond of description, multifaceted characters and remarkable settings. I think authors tend to write what they like to read, so although I don’t pretend to reach the heights of a Steinbeck or a Laurence, I strive to emulate them.
Morgen: We do have our own voices but as I’ve been told many times, we have to be readers as well as writers. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Sweet_KarolinaCatherine: Imajin Books is an incredibly inclusive publisher. I did choose the titles. As well, I had a lot of input into the covers. Ryan Doan is the cover designer for Imajin and I am always blown away by his images, colour and motif for each of my novels.
Morgen: It’s a great cover. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Catherine: At the moment, I’m working on a short story for the Mesdames of Mayhem Anthology, a Young / Adult mystery novel, and a cozy called Nosy Rosie. I’m beyond busy, but I must like it that way, since it tends to be my state of being.
Morgen: It’s one I’ve got used to too, although it certainly beats having a day job (although I’ll be teaching creative writing locally from next January so it doesn’t give me long to get everything done that I want to get done – see earlier reference to eBooking and add in six unpublished novels). Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Catherine: I do manage to write every day, but I have to confess that sometimes the writing is a blog, or an interview like this one, or a whole bunch of creative tweets. As for the novel writing, I do sometimes suffer from writer’s block. I try to work through it by just doing it, as the saying goes. I simply start putting down words. Then I sift through the junk to find the nuggets and follow the flow from there.
Morgen: Just doing it works for me. :) Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Catherine: I do a bit of both. I always have an outline. The thing is, my plotlines tend to change fairly often because I do run with an idea that pops up. I consider my plot graphs works-in-progress or living things, because they’re always going off in different directions. It’s spooky sometimes when a character takes the wheel and drives off on another road. Usually I follow them because I have no choice.
Morgen: I love it when they do that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Catherine: I create my characters from bits of me, my family, friends, strangers on a bus. I love a t-shirt slogan that I saw recently: Careful what you say, you might end up in my next novel. Usually, however, my characters are combinations, exaggeration and imagination, so they turn out to be their own personalities and not copies of a living being. Often I get their names from obituaries. Seriously. I read through the newspaper and make different blends of first and surnames. What makes my characters believable is their humanity, their emotions and reactions to extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes their profession helps readers connect with them (for instance, Emily Taylor is an elementary school principal). Essentially, though, I think it’s the trick of infusing fictional people with realistic feelings, dialogue and actions.
Morgen: I have the same t-shirt! Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Catherine: I’ve had both experiences. Often I do a lot of editing as I move forward. This happens particularly when I’m working through a block, because sometimes the work isn’t at its best – the words were flung into the stream to break the logjam. Other times I cook the scene in my head for ages. I repeat the phrases over and over until they spill full-formed onto the page. Whenever you catch me with a vacant stare, it’s probably because I’m writing a scene in my head. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Morgen: The joy of being a writer is that when we’re staring out the window, we can say we’re working and mean it. Do you have to do much research?
Catherine: That depends on the book. Sometimes I know right from the beginning that this particular novel is going to require a lot more research than others. For instance, a section of Sweet Karoline is based on a family myth about my children’s ancestors and their connection with Joseph Brant. I knew I had to – and wanted to – do a lot of research into that history. Other times, the research is a surprise. For The Bridgeman, I realized suddenly that of course I would have to find out about lift bridges and puppy mills before I could write about those topics with any authority. In order to be realistic, novels require some level of inquiry. Even though I adhere to the adage not to let the facts get in the way of a good story, there must be a sense of realism or the reader will be unhappy.
Morgen: You do have to get it right because there will always be someone out there who is an expert in something and be only too glad to tell you. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Catherine: I am most fond of first person, though I’ve used third and very often mixed the two within one novel. I’ve never tried second person, but I think it would be intriguing and incredibly challenging. Maybe I’ll attempt it one day. I have to add that I also use present tense a great deal, which some readers might not like so much at first. But I believe it adds an extra dimension of that “in the moment” quality. Akin to using first person, the reader is drawn into the story as though they are experiencing the action up close and personally – and right now.
Morgen: Second-person is my favourite but even I’d not recommend it for anything longer than short stories. It’s very tiring to write and read, and most editors don’t like it, which is a shame. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Catherine: I do write poetry and short stories, but I’ve never tried non-fiction. I have a feeling the research for the latter would do me in. My imagination would simply not allow me to be so factual. My poetry days are somewhat behind me, though now and then I jot down song lyrics, which are very poetic. No one has put them to music yet though. Elton John hasn’t coming knocking lately. Short stories still appear every once in a while, usually when I’m writing a piece for a contest or an anthology. I am partial to the challenge of choosing exactly the right words, being succinct but thorough and precise. It’s a terrific, skill-testing exercise for a writer.
Morgen: It certainly is. I write a short story a day for my blog’s 5pm Fiction slot and it’s great discipline to keep it tight. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Catherine: Absolutely! Some of my song-lyric poetry will probably never be unearthed. And likely should not be. There are also some short stories and book outlines that may never make it either. Some of that will be as result of the “so much to write about and so little time” syndrome.
Morgen: Oh yes, I know that feeling. I’ll never run out of ideas… even at one a day! Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Catherine: I’ve had lots. Here I’m including very mean reviews as rejections! How I deal with them depends very much on my state of mind. A cruel review can send me into a spin or make me doubt myself.  I can suffer from writer insecurity. Usually, however, I dig into my inner resources and carry on. I highly doubt that anything, any kind of rejection, could stop me from writing entirely. When the rejection happens, my advice is to own it, wallow a little if you must, then pick yourself up and keep going forward. It helps when you do a little research and discover just how many very successful authors were, at first, turned down many times.
Morgen: I had one lady on Goodreads love one of my free eShorts (April’s Fool, from memory) then read another (Feeding the Father) and hated it so much she vowed never to read anything by me again. It stung for about 10 seconds but then I found it quite amusing that something (which was actually based on a true story – I was tempted to ask her if she wanted to see the article) could get that reaction. I clicked on the ‘like’ button. :) Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Catherine: I have entered competitions. I think they’re good for the soul, even if you don’t “win”. The excitement before announcements can be inspiring. If you do get a win or a mention, it’s one of the best thrills ever. As a Canadian mystery writer, I have entered the Bloody Words Bony Pete short story competition and the Arthur Ellis Awards. For both, I was a runner-up or winner. I have also entered CBC (Canada Writes) contests (haven’t won any of those yet). Oh and Britain’s Debut Dagger – which I also didn’t win.
Morgen: Congratulations / commiserations. I’ve had a mixed bag too, but you just have to keep going, don’t you. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Catherine: I don’t have an agent, though I do have a casting director / producer who represents my books to filmmakers. I would love to have an agent, but in Canada, that’s like winning a lottery. With my current publisher, an agent is not vital to my success. I just have to hope Imajin Books never leaves me!
Morgen: It’s the same in the UK. Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Catherine: I spend an enormous amount of time on marketing. Online social networks, bookstore/library appearances, readings, launch parties, virtual book tours – every avenue I can to market my published works. As for my ‘brand’, that’s an approach that I would like to pursue once my novels reach a bigger audience. I’d love readers to say, “Have you bought the latest Catherine Astolfo yet?”
Morgen: And for them to say, “yes”. :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Catherine: My favourite part of the writing life is when the subconscious takes over and I am zinging along, my fingers flying over the keyboard. The inspiration and plot are in sync and I can’t type fast enough.  My least favourite is when that’s not happening and I feel as though I am forcing it.  I would also say that, aside from the actual writing process, my least favourite part of the life is the marketing.  I am often uncomfortable trying to sell myself and my product, though I still do it, of course. I am often surprised by how humbling it is when people come up to me and speak about one of my books. They tell me how moved they were, or how they laughed or cried at particular points. I just want to burst with joy, yet at the same time I feel grateful that I was given this tremendous gift.
Morgen: Two answers most interviewees have given, and what I’d say myself. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Catherine: Keep writing. Despite setbacks or criticism or self-doubt, just keep doing it. (If you are a “real” author, you won’t be able to stop anyway.) But it’s perseverance, determination and commitment that will make the difference between wish and fulfilment. In this day of e-publishing, go for it. If no publisher recognizes the worth of your novel, go ahead and put it out there to the reading public. Ask them to decide.
Morgen: That makes me a ‘real’ author. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and being paid to teach it is the cherry on the cake (no icing, I’m on a diet!). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Catherine: I would love to invite Margaret Laurence, John Steinbeck and Brad Pitt to dinner. I’d go to my local Italian restaurant and get pasta for take-out. I’d buy some carrot cake from our nearby bakery. Then I’d add wine! That would be the perfect evening – scintillating conversation and something delicious to eat – as well as look at.
Morgen: Brad Pitt (minus the beard). :) Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Catherine: I belong to Sisters in Crime, the Toronto branch, Crime Writers of Canada, the Bloody Words Conference gang, the Toronto Writers Union of Canada and PEN. I do a lot of different things with each organization.
Morgen: We have a Sisters in Crime here in the UK but I’ve yet to join, probably will next year when the cashflow’s a bit healthier. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Catherine: Although for mystery writers mostly, www.crimewriterscanada.com is filled with authors, speakers for hire, and lots of interesting tidbits.  The world literary café is marvelous for authors, but readers too www.worldliterarycafe.com. The following are terrific for author marketing and networking: Book Bub www.bookbub.com, Goodreads www.goodreads.com and 49th Shelf (for Canadians): www.49thshelf.com. Book blogs http://bookblogs.ning.com provides lots of good tips. There are hundreds out there, so google your genre and you’ll find a zillion great tips on writing. On my bookshelf you will find Forensics for Dummies, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Write Away by Elizabeth George.
Morgen: I love the sound of ‘Forensics for Dummies’. I’ve avoided getting too technical so far, that sounds my kind of book, and the series are great. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Catherine: I am on sooo many forums and networking sites! Google+, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Shelfari, BookBlogs, World Literary Café, Goodreads… I could probably go on and on. I find social networking extremely useful, not only for my own learning, but for promotion purposes as well. I have established some great “relationships” and have been introduced to tons of great books.
Morgen: I get a list of 100+ free eBooks every day and can’t keep up with them all. The joy of Amazon’s Select programme (which I’ve just joined for the collections and will probably have a go with the novels when they’re ready – 90 days exclusivity isn’t long in the scheme of things). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Catherine: I truly think the future is exciting. I believe that ebooks and printed books will level out with one another. While ereaders are convenient, they will never replace the tactile joy of a paperback. “Vanity press” will disappear as a limiting stamp and more authors will be able to invest in their own talent without being disparaged. Quality will be determined by the readers and buyers, so as authors we’ll be successful if we produce great books. With social media, we can reach out to those readers so much easier and to a wider audience than ever before. How’s that for a rosy outlook?
Morgen: Isn’t it. I can’t wait (not wishing my time away). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Catherine: The best place to go is to my website. I’ve got all my links to my books as well as to my blog and other networks. Please visit! I absolutely love to hear from readers and fans. www.catherineastolfo.com.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Catherine: Since one of the greatest joys for a writer is feedback, I encourage your readers to write reviews for their favorite authors. As a writer, I’m interested in your reaction to my novel. This is your opportunity to write two or three sentences giving your opinion. You are not bound by the old rules of book reviews that you might have learned in school. You are relieved of the summary task! You don’t have to prove any expert literary skill to anyone, although you may want to demonstrate correct spelling and grammar to be taken seriously. Your only goal is to tell other readers what you thought of, reacted to or how you felt about this particular book. I’d also love emails from my fans! My email address is cathy@catherineastolfo.com.
Morgen: I’ve been very fortunate with reviews of my books / shorts – apart from Goodreads, they’re a tough crowd. :) Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Catherine: Yes! How’s your book coming along?
Morgen: :) I’ve written seven altogether but only one (my chick-lit, The Serial Dater’s Shopping List) is online but once the final two collections (Story a Day May 2012 and 2013 – woefully overdue!) are up, hopefully in the next few days, then it’s on to the other novels, one of which needs some minor tweaking then it’ll either go up as an eBook or do the agent hunt. So, busy, busy. Thank you, Catherine. It’s been great chatting with you again.
You can read my earlier interview with Catherine here.
I then invited Catherine to include a sample of her writing and this is an excerpt from Sweet Karoline…
I met Ethan on the day that I killed Karoline.
Other than a few minor adjustments, I believe that I have handled her murder well.
The state of my car, for instance, has become something of a nuisance. Bits of tissue, used napkins, paper cups and pop cans litter the floor at my feet or fly out the window as I drive along. I am subjected to honking whenever I reach a red light.
People these days have no patience. They ought to understand that I am busy examining the stray bits in my car. Some of them are works of art. I don’t notice the change to green because they are so infinitely interesting.
This study of creative possibilities has become somewhat of an obsession. In the back of my mind I know that all I have to do is clean it up. Yet the thought of actually tackling the onslaught of debris leaves me inert and helpless.
Ethan offered recently to take me to the car wash. He’d help me dump the debris and vacuum the inside, but I have seriously considered the idea that I may be destroying a future Picasso. I have thus far refused his proposition. Not that I have shared my vision of a Picasso with him, of course. I just say that I never have time.
I have acquired a habit of going shopping. I make lists of things in my mind —groceries, toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, vitamins or clothing—that seem absolutely essential to the arrival of tomorrow. But once inside the pharmacy, the clothing store or the shopping center, the bright lights mesmerize me. My eyes blur and I can’t for the life of me remember what I have come for.
When I do buy something, I am left vaguely dissatisfied, certain that I could have gotten a better bargain somewhere else. Depressed because I had to use my credit card again and this purchase will become just one more thing to do. Write the check. Buy the stamp. Walk to the post box. Mail the envelope.
The little, unfinished things do sometimes bother me. Dirty laundry is piled up in the closet. The bed is always unmade. In the bathroom the ceiling is slowly cracking from some unspecified leak that I have failed to report to the superintendent. The drapes in the living room neither open nor close.
At first I tended to watch television all night long, despite the fact that the next day I was a zombie. After I decided to go on an extended sick leave, it didn’t matter. I started to sleep all night and all day, never moving unless forced to by some phone call or knock at the door.
And a synopsis of the same book…
I met Ethan on the day that I killed Karoline.” But is Anne Williams really a murderer? Or was her best friend’s death a tragic accident for which Anne blames herself?
This compelling central character embarks on a rollercoaster ride of self-exploration that causes the reader to breathlessly follow her. Throughout an emotional breakdown in the present, sprinkled with flashes of the past that brought her to this point, Anne questions her own decisions, her lifestyle, and those of the friend she thought she knew.
The gripping twists of Karoline’s duplicity are vicious and deplorable. Entangled in the arms of the homicide detective who helped rule the case a suicide, Anne learns about love and decides to trace her complicated past. The journey uncovers dark family secrets, an unusual history, and criminal treachery. Anne must answer the classic question, “Who am I?” amidst a backdrop of racial tension, lies and hidden chronicles. Eventually she has to confront a deadly threat before the entire story becomes clear. Can she survive this maelstrom of revelation and betrayal with her sanity intact?
**
Catherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries, published by Imajin Books. In 2012, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in Canada. She’s a Past President and Derrick Murdoch Award winner for service to Crime Writers of Canada. Her new novel, Sweet Karoline, was released on July 14, 2013. Find it here, at a reduced price for a short time: www.catherineastolfo.com. Sweet Karoline is also available via http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Karoline-ebook/dp/B00DUIDMKO and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sweet-Karoline-ebook/dp/B00DUIDMKO.
***
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