Hello, and welcome back for another author interview! This month I’m happy to interview a new member of the Great Lakes Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathryn’s debut novel released earlier this year, and she’s hard at work on book two. Here’s how she does it:
Hi, and thanks for your willingness to appear on my blog! I’m looking forward to sharing your knowledge and advice with the rest of the world (at least with the small portion of it that follows my blog). Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, Karin. Thank you so much for hosting me.
I’m a business operations manager and recently published author who lives in Rockford, Michigan with my husband, two children, and a little Yorkie named Bear. A prolific reader, I’ve always enjoyed the escape of a really good book, and four years ago I decided to try my hand at writing one of my own.
My stories are contemporary, character-driven tales of normal, every-day people and the challenges we all face in real life: love, friendship, parenthood, morality, mortality, compassion, and faith. My favorite novels are those that reach down deep, wrap up my whole heart and soul, make me laugh and cry. And those are the types of stories I want to write.
I want to touch people’s lives. I want my readers to feel better, be better, love better, because they read my words and took them to heart. I want to inspire, to comfort, and to breathe faith and hope into anyone who may despair that they’re alone in this world.
Why did you start writing?
A few years ago, with two children entering their teens, my husband and I became frustrated by the lack of family-appropriate movies. Our children were too old for Disney and Pixar, and they definitely weren’t ready—in our minds anyway—for PG-rated films. Sadly, we simply stopped going to the movies.
Later that same year, my mother-in-law, a prolific reader like me, recommended a book. I read it, and, while it was a good story, the writing was downright lame. It made me think, heck, I could write better than that. The more I thought about it, the more I talked myself into it. People around me—at work, at home, on several boards I’ve served on—often ask me to handle the correspondence or proofread for them. Obviously others thought I had a way with words.
So I gave it a shot. Fast-forward three years to February 29, 2016 and my first novel, Angel Beneath My Wheels was published.
How did you start writing?
When I sat down to decide what to write, I kept two things in mind. It had to be a story my whole family would enjoy, and it had to be something that would make a great movie.
I decided on a love story because every good movie contains a great romance, but I wanted it to be one my husband would enjoy. So when my brother described an interesting film called Gas Hole, an eye-opening documentary that alleged a massive cover up by oil companies, it sounded like the makings of an intriguing story and one with a definite modern-day interest, given the volatility of gas prices. According to the documentary, “Big Oil” has been suppressing innovations in fuel efficiency for years, even going so far as to murder at least one very bright young inventor who had the idea for an engine that ran on vapor.
Like many men, my husband and son are into cars. Coupled with my above-average-for-a-woman knowledge of engines, mechanics, and chemistry in general, I came up with the idea of a young woman who, like me, grew up working on cars with her father. My husband and son love NASCAR too, so I thought that would provide an exciting backdrop, as well as tie in nicely with the idea of fuel efficiency. And who doesn’t love to learn something new while reading a good story?
Finally, above all, I wanted it to be wholesome and family friendly, with a meaningful message for young people. So my heroine is a young woman of faith who’s made a commitment to God to save her virtue for marriage. She wears a purity ring, and the story explores how difficult it can be for a young woman to retain those ideals in our modern culture.
I really expected it to take more than a couple of tries to get it right, but my beta readers encouraged me to submit Angel Beneath My Wheels, assuring me it’s a great story and well-written. Six months and forty-nine query letters later, I landed an agent who then helped me find a publisher.
How did you select your genre?
Honestly, I think my genre selected me, but as I’m moving on to other stories, I’m second-guessing whether I’m in the right place. I’ve been marketing Angel Beneath My Wheels heavily to Christian readers, and I’ve been dinged by a couple of recent reviews. My story might be a bit too “real” for folks who read nothing but Christian fiction.
I have to admit that I don’t prefer Christian fiction. Most Christian romance is so over-the-top sappy and unrealistic, I feel patronized reading it. Even some of the best-selling Christian authors have left me disappointed.
There is a definite hard line between Christian and secular fiction, but the real world isn’t that black and white. And I don’t think most readers would align that way either. If given the chance, and there were more really good Christian writing out there, more secular-only readers would read it.
I’ve been told by my agent, and found first-hand with my second novel, that if you have any kind of faith message in your work, ABA publishers aren’t interested. If there’s too much un-Christian-like content, you’re shunned by the CBA. True cross-over fiction is rare.
I think there is a middle ground there that represents an untapped market. This is where I want my stories to live…if I can find a publisher willing to go there with me, and, of course, readers who will follow.
What is your writing day like?
This question made me giggle because I don’t have the luxury of a “writing day,” and probably won’t until I get that ever-elusive but oh-so-sought-after six-figure publishing deal that allows me to quit my day job. I have teeny tiny snippets – typically an hour at most – in which I get to write, especially now that I have a book out and have been spending ALL of my “writing” time on marketing. Stephen King once said, “You can’t be an author and a writer at the same time.” How true!
I try to make the best possible use of my limited time. This summer, my college-age teenagers are home, and I’m spending most of my free time with my family—gotta keep those priorities straight. I have a full-time job and usually spend at least half of my lunch hour on writing, social media, and marketing stuff. Sometimes I fit in an hour or more in an evening. Most often, I write on weekend mornings. Thankfully, teenagers sleep in!
How do you organize your writing (outlines/note cards/post-its)?
I use Excel to lay out an overview of my story, and flesh it out by ensuring there is plenty of conflict in every scene. Along the way, on a separate tab, I make a list of characters and their attributes, emotions, backstory, etc., then I write a first-person prologue from the character who I think might be my protagonist. Sometimes that changes. Then I start writing scenes, usually not in order. I’m not sure why.
That’s my first draft. I let it simmer (as Steven King would say) for a few weeks and move on to something else. When I come back to it, I’m in serious edit mode. I highlight the lines/scenes that “sing” to me, and scratch out the ones that grate. Then I review the highlighted ones and try to apply what worked in those to the scratched parts.
From there, I give it to my alpha readers – my husband and my mother-in-law. From their feedback, I’ll revise as needed, and then it goes to a small group of beta readers. Revise as needed, and then I have it professionally edited, which is a bit costly, but I think it’s worth it. Then I send it to my agent.
What’s the most surprising thing a character has “told you?”
(Minor spoiler alert) I’m not sure she actually “told” me, but in my recently published novel, Angel Beneath My Wheels, the main character, Rachel, is a young woman who’s made a vow to save her virtue for marriage. In my story, I wanted to depict how challenging this can be in today’s culture, so I felt it was realistic that eventually, she gives in. Don’t worry though, it works out okay. But a critique partner and at least one other reader who left a review were disappointed in the way that played out. They felt I should have written it differently.
Do you have a list of characters that you’re saving for future use? What kind of information do you keep on these characters?
I don’t have a list of characters, but I do have some story ideas. Among them are some high-level character descriptions. I more often begin with a story idea then decide what kind of characters are needed to “play the parts.”
What does your work space/office look like?
Here’s my favorite place to write and where you’ll usually find me on weekend mornings –
What is your go-to snack when writing?
I don’t snack while I write – how can you type 100+ wpm and eat at the same time?
If you could only recommend one NOVEL, what would it be? Why?
Hands down, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. The most beautiful love story I’ve ever read…and I’ve always read a lot! I absolutely love Spark’s writing style in his earlier works. Unfortunately, he’s become quite commercial, rushed even, and his last few releases have really disappointed.
If you could only recommend one CRAFT book (writing, no crocheting), what would it be? Why?
This one’s a toss-up between Steven Wilburg’s Keys to Great Writing and Jeff Gerke’s Plot Versus Character. Wilburg’s book was all about what makes good writing, and, even though you might think you know because you read a lot, he points out things you never even considered if you haven’t learned the craft yet. Definitely a good place to start. Gerke’s book was more detailed and focused on the structure of story. It was all-encompassing without being too remedial or advanced. It provided a lot of great info for getting started as well as taking your writing to the next level. Check out my Authors page to see a few more of what I consider the “best of the best” craft books.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m looking for a screenwriter and producer for my debut novel, Angel Beneath My Wheels, if anyone knows Alex or Stephen Kendrick. If not, prayers are always appreciated. And if you’d like to receive a touching short story once a month, please sign up on my website.
Thank you, Karin, for this awesome opportunity. Blessings!
Thank you so much for appearing on my blog! Have a blessed day!
You can connect with Kathryn here:
Beneath his playboy façade, young NASCAR driver Luke Brandt yearns for a family. Rachel Tate, an inventive, purity-ring-wearing mechanical engineer, is determined to prove herself in a male- dominated industry. When Luke outbids Rachel on the only two muscle cars she could use to test her new vapor-fueled engine, she wants nothing to do with him. But Luke’s gentle ways and down home country charm just might win her over—if his painful past doesn’t push her away.
When she begins to touch his heart, he’s haunted by bitter memories of the only woman he’s ever loved—the mother who abandoned him as a little boy. With an intense trust that God will lead her on life’s journey, Rachel perseveres, her innocence and grace breach his defenses and his walls begin to crumble. As they join forces to bring her remarkable invention to market, their love, their very lives, are threatened by the iron-tight grip that “Big Oil” holds over the whole auto industry and Luke realizes his final happiness must come through faith, in the One who has always loved him… and always will.