On a lucky trip to the library a few months ago, I pulled Death Comes to the Village off the shelf and quickly hunted down the next two novels in The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries series (Kensington Books).
There’s nothing like writing your own first novel to give you an appreciation for all authors. One of my goals this year is to reach out and thank those writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. That’s how I “met” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Catherine Lloyd. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and her writing process.
Congratulations on the success of The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries. You write under a pseudonym (Kate Pearce) as well. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?
Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write something different. I also write romance, but they are very different entities. With romance it’s more about the love story and the character’s romantic arc. With the mystery, the plot is more front and center, and the characters don’t have to be quite so romantic.
I don’t really have a preference for one genre. They speak to different sides of my brain and my writing process. I’m lucky to get the opportunity to do both.
You’ve previously said it took you five years to get your first novel published. Can you describe those five years; the successes and setbacks?
Yes, that was back in the days before self-publishing in its present form existed, so the process was literally to send off lots of submission letters with a stamped addressed envelope and wait for the reply in your mail box. It took me a while to find my first agent, who then immediately died, and a little longer to find my second agent. The third one was the charm. Once I’d sold a couple of my romance novels things did start to get easier, but it took me 5 complete manuscripts and almost five years to get there.
Sometimes it was difficult to keep going. At one point I almost gave up, but decided instead to be braver with my writing and really write what I wanted to rather than what I thought was the popular thing. That proved to be the right decision for me. I also learned how to deal with rejections in a more private way than anyone who self-publishes these days and has to deal with reviews on amazon etc.
With the mystery series things happened a bit differently in that my current editor asked me if I’d like to write something else for the same publishing house. I went home to think about it, and submitted a proposal for the cozy historical mystery series. It combines my knowledge of the Regency period with my love of Agatha Christie in a perfect way.
How did you develop a knowledge of the Regency Period?
Well, I grew up in London with a mother who did her teaching qualification in history, and always talked about places we were visiting, which inspired a great love of the past in me. I also did my degree in history, so I know how to research a time period. I read voraciously and loved Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I gained a sense of what I wanted to write from there, and the rest I just research as I go. It really does help having been born in England with the history all around you.
You say you went with what you wanted to write rather than what you thought was popular. What did you think was popular? What were you trying to write?
I was originally trying to be Jane Austen or write more cookie cutter romance. I couldn’t really be Jane, and I’ve always had something of a subversive nature, which meant that my historical romances always pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable. (I was more interested in writing gritty dark romances with multifaceted heroes with questionable sexual proclivities than the standard Alpha male. LOL.)
For my mysteries I wanted to write something that wasn’t centered in the city of London with a strong male protagonist. I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in the English countryside where the hero and heroine are unconventional in a different way. I researched what was published in Regency mysteries, and I found a nice little niche for myself.
What was your mindset during those years? What made you persist?
I think I just wanted to communicate. I knew that writing was the piece that made sense of who I was, and I was determined that I’d eventually get published. I couldn’t not persist if that makes sense, but I had to give myself permission to be brave, and think outside the box. Getting angry at all the rejections helped sometimes as well.
What does the physical process of “thinking outside the box” entail? Do you make lists, brainstorm, try scenes from different angles, etc.?
No, I just write and let my brain noodle away at what will happen next. Sometimes if I’m aware there is a problem my unconscious will happily provide me with a solution when I wake up. Sometimes I can see a scene is wrong, and I’ll go back, try it in a different point of view or look for where the problem starts, and write on from there.
For me thinking outside the box means more that I look at my strengths as a writer and I commit to using those strengths and not compromising when I write by worrying about the market too much or what I ‘should be writing.” You have to be aware of what is popular, but you can’t follow trends, and make yourself miserable writing things that don’t work with your writing style.
How does penning your own books affect you as a reader? Are you able to read and get lost in stories?
It depends on the story. A fantastic author who can pull me in, and not let go makes me very happy. I do have a tendency to work out the plots ahead these days though, which sometimes even annoys me.
What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?
I have eclectic tastes. I currently have:
Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes.
Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.
Get A Clue by Jill Shalvis
The Roads of Taryn McTavish by R. Lee Smith
Dark Angels by Karleen Koen
I’ll try anything, I like to see how other authors do things especially in literary fiction.
Being a full-time author is a dream for many writers. What is one thing about the reality that would surprise most people?
I think it can be quite lonely, and that you have to establish boundaries to either protect your writing time, or not let your writing time take over your real life. For me, it’s also my job. I sit down five days a week and write. That’s what I do.
Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?
I plot my mysteries quite extensively, and talk them through with my editor. The end product sometimes doesn’t have a lot to do with that initial synopsis, but the basics are there. I like to be surprised when I’m writing, and I like to follow off down trails that appear and use them to make the book better.
For my romances I’m even more vague because I really enjoy writing in the moment and discovering the emotion along the way.
My husband sometimes taps me on the head and says, “Where does all that stuff come from?”
Answer: I have no idea.
How much of real characters in your life make it into your books?
None in the sense that you’d recognize anyone. I do, however notice small things about people, their body language, the way they accent certain words etc. etc., and those things sometimes creep into my writing. I am fairly famous for eavesdropping in restaurants.
What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?
The best? Write the book. Repeat.
The worst? Write what you know.
Why was “write what you know” not good advice for you. Can you elaborate?
I meant it in the sense that most of us live fairly unremarkable lives, and can’t time travel back to the Regency or out into the future. To me my imagination was my escape from the everyday, and it’s where all my best ideas come from.
Something readers would be surprised to learn about you? Any hidden talents or obsessions?
I’m British, but I currently live in Hawaii. That’s fairly unusual I think. I love to knit. I make hats and scarves and Outlander cowls and send them overseas to the cold people in my life.
If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:
I’m pretty lucky actually. I get to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my lovely husband and daughter, three cats and fluffy little dog. I can get to the ocean in ten minutes. I love my job. I can’t really think of anything else I’d want except if I were a billionaire, I’d have a cat butler to let the cats in and out because they drive me nuts.
Lastly, if you could get newer writers to understand one thing about writing a book, it would be:
It’s hard work, but if you get it done you will learn so much along the way that even if it sucks, (and first books often do), the next one will be better.
A big thank you to Catherine for her time and generosity! Look for Book #4 Death Comes to the Fair, set to be released November 29, 2016.
Visit my #BooksByTheBed page for my take on the first three books in The Kurland St. Mary series.