Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Kate Canterbary - Writing Wednesdays

I can only start this blog series with Kate Canterbary, because she's the reason for it. In the past I've interviewed authors here and on the Voices From the Middle podcast for NCTE. I love hearing about the writing lives of others. However, when I began writing myself, I realized I needed to talk to others who also wrote what I was trying to write. I debated, who should I contact? And would they even reply? 

The idea came to me immediately, I wanted to contact Kate Canterbary. While Kate doesn't know me, I feel like I know her from her Instagram feed. Luckily for her, Boston, Massachusetts and Monticello, Illinois are a distance apart. Otherwise I'm certain I'd be dreaming up ways we could be best friends. I'm so grateful to Kate for answering my questions below. I hope you all will show her some love and can gain some insights into the world of writing through her. And with that, friends, let me introduce you to the amazing Kate Canterbary.

Talk to me about your writing life - what does it look like?

Kate: It looks different every time. I don’t have a singular method and I’ve found each book demands something different. Some books require extensive planning and outlining upfront -- I can’t move forward until I have a precise view of the path forward. Other books come to me in high-level ideas and I just work toward hitting a handful of moments and letting the characters tell me how the rest will work out.

I go between notebook and computer for writing. No real method to that madness--whatever feels right at the moment. Sometimes, the computer screen and the word/page count at the bottom can be really intimidating. Paper can be more forgiving, more approachable. I can write pages and pages, make notes to myself in the margin, cross things out and draw arrows to other things. But when I have a story percolating in my head (or I’m out of time and just need to get it done), typing is the way to go.

I edit almost exclusively on paper. I print out page proofs and mark them up. Some of my best work is the product of x-ing out a page and rewriting it on the back.

I don’t have a strict daily schedule. If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s feeling hemmed in. Even by myself. I write quickly and effectively early in the morning but I have a small child to wake, dress, and feed so my day usually begins after school drop-off. I usually go to a coffee shop or cafe to write for a few hours. Most of the time, I get a fair amount done in that time. If not, I pick up again after the dinner, bath, bedtime routine.

I don’t set word count goals for myself. Again, I hate being boxed in like that. I think progress is more important than hitting a target. Sure, there are times when I just need to In those situations, it’s more about finishing scenes/chapters/beats than word count.

I guess what I’m saying is I’m rebel without a cause ;-)  

Where do you get your inspiration?

Kate: Everywhere. There’s no limit to inspiration.

I was at coffee shop the other day and noticed a woman sitting two tables away. She had light blue hair and an old-fashioned sky hostess tote bag, and she was knitting while listening to something on her phone. I wasn’t sure what she was knitting. Maybe potholders or baby hats or doilies or something. But she stayed there, knitting and listening, for four hours on a Friday morning. And I had so many questions. I wanted to know whether she was knitting for business or pleasure. I wanted to know whether she was listening to a podcast or music or an audiobook. I wanted to know why an otherwise cool, funky chick was in a not-so-cool, not-so-funky town. Had she moved back home after spending some time in New York City or Boston? And if so, why? What -- or who -- brought her home? Was she trying to make a business of her handicrafts or was she filling her time (and hands) with something while she waited on...anything. Was she quietly famous for her knit hat-doily-potholder creations? What did she love and what did she hope for and what scared her?

That was from glancing around a coffee shop one morning. It’s everywhere.

What was your journey into writing?

Kate: I started writing a neighborhood newspaper when I was nine or ten. I reported on local goings-on and while that was plenty entertaining, I didn’t love the constraints of reality. I started writing fiction shortly after. When I was in seventh/eighth grade, I wrote two young adult novels. They were passed around the school bus and one teacher took a look at them too (and summarily crushed my tender writer spirit) but other than that, nothing came of those works.

I spent the majority of my high school and college years were spent working on newspapers, both at school and mainstream publications. I learned a tremendous amount in that time and met incredible people though I always had a fiction story rattling around my mind.

After college, I landed in the non-profit world. It’s a very hustle-bustle place and I did well. There was no time for stories in my head or even much reading. I did that for a little more than a decade before I found myself in books again. That time, it was reading. I picked up a Nora Roberts book at an airport and before my six hour flight was up, I’d read it cover to cover and was ready to read it again.

That book found me at a time when my life was in flux and it reminded me of all the things I love about reading and writing. It took a few more years but after my daughter was born, I had a tremendous amount of nursing and rocking time on my hands. It was the first moment since middle school that I’d had the time to think and let stories unfold again, and I let them. I let them grow and I allowed myself to listen to characters again.

Were you a writer in middle school? A reader?

Kate: Yes and yes. I read Maeve Binchy and Danielle Steel and Lurlene McDaniels and Michael Crichton and Mary Higgins Clark. I also read the entire Sweet Valley series despite the definite disapproval of a teacher who frequently required me to read “real” books.

What was your publishing journey like?

Kate: Nonlinear. Publishing is not a recipe. One cannot hop on a publishing blog, download the steps, and replicate. Sure, you can accomplish each discrete operation with success but that doesn’t mean it will culminate in success.

My first three books had lackluster releases. I think “lackluster” is a mild term. The books didn’t tank but they didn’t have any epic debuts either. And this is where the nonlinear piece comes in--just because they didn’t have strong releases doesn’t mean they haven’t done well. In fact, they’ve found deep and wide audiences.

Finding my audience took time and it took more work than I anticipated at the outset. I learned that no one will care as much about your book as you do and you should never trust anyone--editor, designer, vendor, publicist--with your success. If you want something done, you’re the one who has to make that happen.

I’m a diehard indie author. I’ve turned down traditional publishing deals for a number of reasons and while I don’t want to foreclose future possibilities (because I haven’t met Future Me yet), I am extremely comfortable and content in indie publishing.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Kate: I’m not sure I received this advice so much as stumbled upon the realization that authenticity trumps originality.

We’re all trying to write something different. We all want to be special. But special comes from finding your voice and owning your voice and being authentic in using your voice.

And don’t read reviews. There’s a difference between feedback from an editor and/or critique partner and reviews. Reviews are for readers. The book is done and out of your hands.

What is some writing advice you’d like to give either to my students or to other aspiring writers?

Kate: Feedback is a scalpel, not a cleaver. Approach it that way. Some teachers/editors will give you the perfect pushes and notes that is simultaneously supportive, challenging, and meaningful while also honoring your voice and vision. Some teachers/editors might deliver feedback in a way that’s overwhelming or bruising to the creative’s tender spirit. It’s up to you how you handle that feedback. You could get sad or defensive--and I certainly have--but you can also walk away, yell into a pillow, and then push on the spots that need more work. That can be better. Don’t throw it away. Don’t start over. Don’t abandon your voice and your vision.

Best thing about being a writer?
Kate: The power. (lol) In all honesty, writers get to raise entire worlds from the ground up. They get to create people. And you get to live in the worlds you create. Spend all day thinking about the people and places and experiences. It’s a wonderful, weird power.

Hardest part of being a writer?

Kate: Writing is emotional labor. This might be more salient for the character driven stories I write than other genres but any meaningful story will require the author to carry a significant amount of emotional weight. It’s hard work to get yourself into the heads of characters experience an emotion well enough to write it and it’s hard work leaving those emotions when you close the document or notebook for the day.

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Kate: I write conversations. I think about characters talking about nothing important and let them go. Dialogue comes easily to me and when I’m stuck, I just listen to the characters for a bit. Even if I end up cutting it, those conversations usually get me back into the heads of those characters.

Do you have an “inner editor” voice that is unkind?

Kate: Definitely. That’s one of the reasons I like writing on paper. It feels less official. Like I’m allowed to get away with more. My inner editor is always pushing me to set the scene even when I want to just write the interactions and exchanges. She’s also reminding me that I used the same word two sentences ago and need to find a new one.

What are you reading now that you’re loving?

Kate: I’ve been reading a lot of historical romances recently. I’ve found I’m more confident about my words if I’m not concurrently reading something from the genre I’m writing. I’m a fan of Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean.

Finally, do you want to share the inspiration for Before Girl?

Kate: This is a great example of highly obscure inspiration. I started writing Before Girl as a weekly serial for my reader group almost three years ago. It came on the heels of a stressful personal time and I was struggling to find my writing mojo so I let myself write for fun rather than a deadline.

The inspiration came in the form of observing several non-interactions at the gym. A woman was walking on a treadmill, listening to tunes, minding her own business. And a man jogging on another treadmill was clearly interested in her. When a treadmill beside her opened up, he hopped off his and moved closer. He kept sneaking glances at her. There were moments when it seemed like he was about to say something but stopped himself. And I watched this for a week.

Thank you, Kate! And, my blog readers, I want to end with this. In my Google Doc to Kate, I ended with my gratitude for her books. Romance books came into my life in July of 2017. I truly believe they have made me stronger and more "me" than I have been in years. I thanked Kate for what she puts out into the world and she wrote this. This, my friends, is what I needed to hear and I'm sharing it here incase you needed to hear it too.

Kate: I really believe romance is the genre of hope--even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges--and we could all use a little hope these days.

If you'd like to check Kate out ahead of time, here are some links to where you can find her online. Enjoy! 





Books and Main 
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