Welcome to our intriguing guest, Cathy Pickens, known for her Sisters in Crime organization and her wonderful series.
Visit Cathy Pickens at her Official Website.
Today she is talking to us about her work, what inspires her, and the life she leads.
1. You have an intriguing background—attorney, professor, university provost, clog-dancing coach, and writer. How did you happen to travel this particular journey?
Quite by accident. I always knew I wanted to be a writer—well, specifically, I wanted to be a mystery writer. The rest came as interesting ways to learn things and to support myself. It’s all been quite fun!
2. What early life experiences informed your professional choices?
When I was in high school, I sat in a courtroom and watched the judge—who later became my law partner—sentence a woman who wasn’t much older than I was to life in prison for conspiring to kill her husband. Life in prison. It sounded so final and so powerful. Now, of course, I know she was probably out in 12 years … and looking for another husband. But I realized then that there were two places in my hometown where battles for life and death took place on a daily basis: in the courthouse and in the hospital. I didn’t like dissecting frogs in biology class, so medical school was out of the question. I also began to realize that, in real life, answers weren’t neat and tidy. In fiction, that could be fixed. So I ended up as a writer who went to law school.
3. Why did you decide to write mysteries?
I blame Nancy Drew … and Trixie Belden and Brains Benton and countless others. I always loved mysteries. An insatiable desire to solve puzzles, see things put right, for good to win over evil. And to drive a cute roadster, even though I wasn’t quite sure what one was. I decided that one of the original Ford V-8 Mustangs must be close, though.
4. Are your characters based on people you’ve encountered while you were practicing law?
And teaching school and reading the newspaper and walking the streets. Folks are folks. For any writer, real life is like a grain of sand in an oyster shell. Something tiny and inconsequential goes in and, with time, it’s transformed. You hope it comes out as a lovely, shiny, perfect pearl. Sometimes it just comes out as a lump. But it’s always something different from what went in. Everything in my life can become a grain of sand. Who knows how it will transform? And that’s part of the magic—and the fun.
5. I have so enjoyed reading stories set in the South. I notice that you have created fictional towns. Do you have specific settings in mind when you create these towns?
I love the South. My family has lived in the Carolinas for 300 years, so we must like it. Thanks to television and movies, it’s been a bit mischaracterized and misunderstood, though, so I wanted to write about it to correct some of that. I write about some real places (like Columbia and Charleston), but I also invent places (like a fake medical school that stands close to a real one). I started writing about some of my favorite restaurants (Yesterdays in Columbia, Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston) after I got emails from ticked off readers who saw the food on the book covers and wanted to know where the &*()^ recipes were. I eat out … so I offered some restaurants instead of recipes. “Dacus” isn’t a real place, though there is a Dacusville in Upstate South Carolina. In my head, the streets and buildings are mostly where they are in my real hometown. That way, I can keep things straight. But I’ve moved a couple of waterfalls around for convenience’s sake.
The list is too long. My parents and sisters are incredible people. I had wonderful teachers. I met my first murderer when I was three years old – at the post office. Living in a small town, the whole world is there. You just have to notice it.
7. Of all the jobs you’ve held, which one or ones most influenced the characterizations and plots in your novels?
I write about legal subjects. In each of my books, at least one case is taken from real life. The area I haven’t written about yet is “murder on small college campus.” Not that I haven’t been playing with plots. And victims. And potential murderers. It’s just that I like my job. But one day …
8. What is your writing day like?
I teach mostly at night and on weekends. (That’s when adults go to school and those are the folks I most like to teach.) So I eat breakfast and head into my study. I set a certain number of pages a day. For a first draft, when I want things to move quickly, it’s 25 pages a week. I want five pages done each day; if I miss it, then I have a couple of extra days that week to catch up. Life always intrudes, but I’m pretty good with my schedule. Those five pages can take two to four hours to complete.
Email correspondence, research, and all the other business of being a writer takes another two to four hours. I don’t socialize much, especially when I’m deep in a book.
9. Do you have a favorite setting in which you create?
I have a gorgeous study where I usually work. I’m a firm believer in showing up at the same time, same place every day. I can work just about anywhere though. I get good work done on planes or trains, in hotel rooms, coffee shops, a floating house in Victoria, B.C. As long as I have my notebook and my pen, I’m good to go.
10. What can you tell us about your current WIP?
I’ve sent Avery Andrews (my series character) on an extended vacation while I’ve worked on a book on developing your creative process. It grew from a class I’ve been teaching in the MBA program at Queens University of Charlotte (where I’m on the business faculty), a happy collision of my life as a business person and as a mystery writer. I wanted to see if I could capture the essence of that class experience in a book. It’s been a blast to work on!
11. What else can you share about your current projects?
I’m also currently serving as the national president for Sisters in Crime and also as an at-large member of the national board for Mystery Writers of America. Those two organizations were both great helps to me in learning the craft and business of mystery writing, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to serve. I’m also president of the board for the regional Forensic Medicine Program, which trains first responders and others in crime evidence collection and preservation for trial.
I’ve got my next fiction project percolating in my head, but it’ll have to wait just a bit longer.
12. The Dames love pets. Do you have any, and if so, could you tell us about them?
I love pets, too—always had cats, Rottweilers, miniature schnauzers, labs, and mutts growing up. Now, though, with my work and travel schedule, I can’t even have a houseplant. My husband is very self-sufficient and we don’t have children, so no living thing relies on me for sustenance, which is best for now.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Cathy. I hope you’ll visit us often.