— Tell us one strange and provocative tidbit from your life that nobody has heard before. Let’s see. OK, when I was in college – I went to the University of Miami – I had a cat that the dorm mistress made me give up. So, I took him to the airport and put him on a plane to my brother’s sister-in-law who volunteered to give him a home. Right after I dropped the cat off, a boarding call for Air Jamaica to Montego Bay was announced. I ran to the desk, bought a ticket, lied about my boyfriend having my passport and raced to the plane. There I was, no passport, no clothes, no reservations, no return flight, nothing but a debit card on my very anemic bank account. Obviously this was before 9/11. I charmed my way through customs, hit the ATM, took everything but $10 and caught a cab for town. I hitch hiked to a beach town, paid a kid to build me a palm frond hut and lived on the beach for a week. US customs called my parents when I Ianded in Miami. My folks convinced customs that I wasn’t a terrorist and they didn’t need to detain me. I stayed away from my home for a couple of months until the fury died down J I figured after that, I could survive anything. Whenever I get in a tight spot, I just remember Jamaica and figure a way out.
–Tell us about your latest book. My latest book is Murder in the Multiples – I was going to self-publish, but I decided to send it to a small press instead – fingers crossed J. MIM is the second in the Catherine Swope Series. Like Zoned for Murder, it’s set in South Florida. Catherine Swope leaves her dream of returning to police work behind and turns instead to selling high end real estate in Miami’s white-hot market. Her law enforcement connections give her an inside track on confiscated mansions coming up for auction. Hoping to develop a unique niche, she convinces her boss to bid on an island estate and use the drug bust publicity as a marketing hook. The house goes under contract nearly before the ink on the Multiple Listings dried. The buyer is the husband of a competing bidder at the auction. Catherine is busy preparing the house for the closing ceremony when she finds her rival, the new owner, dead in the master bathtub. The Medical Examiner determines the death is a drug murder not the tragic accident it first appeared. The DEA investigation uncovers leads that put Catherine in the center of the ever tightening web of evidence. With her entire life under a microscope, Catherine works desperately to unpluck the tightknit skein of circumstances that tie her to the death before she becomes the next victim.
Zoned for Murder was the first book in the series. It exposes secrets of greed, adultery, blackmail, murder and the foreclosure crisis set in the tropical paradise of Summer Hill, FL. Catherine Swope’s mission to apologize for her drunken threat makes her the prime suspect in the Zoning Commissioner’s murder. Her investigation to clear her name uncovers corruption at the highest governmental levels and a killer without a conscious.
–Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next? Next up is the introduction of a new series set in the Florida Keys. The first book is called Death by Blue Water. It’s with my editor now. Hayden Kent is a scuba diving diva and a paralegal. While diving one of her favorite wrecks she follows a Goliath Grouper into the long abandoned bridge of the boat. A hand floats up from the murky cabin floor. When she recovers from the shock, she finds a body wrapped in anchor line. The body belongs to the brother of the man who recently dumped her. A series of events tie Hayden to the body and the death. She’s forced to use her paralegal and diving skills to uncover the killer against a backdrop of the tragedy of human smuggling.
Catherine Swope #3 is also in the works. Right now it’s an idea and an outline.
–What is a typical writing day like for you? I start writing at 2 PM when I finish my day job. I’m lucky I work from home so my commute to my writing desk is merely crossing the room to my other computer. True confessions time, I start by take playing a rousing game of spider solitaire. Once I have that out of my system – and I play until I win no matter how long it takes, my mind is clear and I am ready to write. I’m an outliner. I tried to be a pantser, didn’t work for me. So I check my gross outline to see where I am in the story, then I open Scrivener, read the last two chapters and the detailed outline for the upcoming chapter. If it all flows, I let the words come. I usually write a chapter a day. And I try to have detailed outlines for three chapters ahead of the one I’m writing, so I finish each session by outlining a new chapter. Then I head out for a five mile run. That’s where I solve my plot problems and fight it out with my characters. The one non-negotiable in my writing day is quiet. I can’t write with any background noise. My husband jokes that I like to listen to the voices in my head. I don’t admit it to him, but it’s true.
–When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters? Great question. Plotting and outlining is my show. When I am in the writing process, the characters lead. They often surprise me, and sometimes I have to re-do the outlines for those next three chapters, but the characters are definitely partners in the creative process. I love the gestalt moments when a character suddenly reveals something to me that makes me see him or her in an entirely different light, and sometimes that takes the story in another direction. I don’t interview my characters, but I do talk to them. And I listen when they speak with each other.
–Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Diane Vallere, Susan Schreyer, Harlan Coben, and Rita Mae Brown are my big four. Why do they appeal to you? Diane and Susan for their deft touch with their characters and their use of humor. Reading their books is like taking a vacation. Harlan Coben because he handles suspense so well. I like to read his books twice, first for the story and then to trace back the clues. He is one of the few writers that give me fits trying to figure out who done it, but once I know, I wonder how I missed it. Rita Mae Brown because I am an animal person. I’d love to know her secret for making the reader suspend belief while the animals talk. I tried that in a short story – failed miserably.
–Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote? I wish I had a magic formula or even one I was comfortable with. Blogs like this are a golden opportunity for me. I really appreciate being invited to participate. I also try to maintain an active Facebook presence – visit me, I’m Kait Carson on Facebook. Then there is Twitter @kaitcarson. I love doing signings. Meeting people who have or want to read my books is wonderful. I also like public speaking. I know, who likes that! I do and I’m trying to arrange to do more as I have more books and more to say. I also have an Amazon page and a Goodreads page. Like most writers though, I’d really rather be at my desk.
–How long have you been writing? I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I was first published at 13 in a letter to the editor of our local paper. I was hooked. I wrote and published for years in high school and some in college, then life got in the way. I still kept writing, but most of it was just for me. When I left my day job in 2005 I decided to get serious again. I started with shorts and worked on novels. Zoned for Murder is the end result of six long years. Fortunately, it got easier after that J
–Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why? There have been so many. Sr. Marie Therese did something in sophomore English class in High School that let me know I could claim an audience. We were assigned to write a short story. She began to read mine aloud to the class and then stopped after the first paragraph. My heart pounded. I was certain I’d made some fatal mistake in my writing. The rest of the class burst out with cries of, “keep going, what happened.” Sr. Marie Therese looked at the class and said, “That’s what a story should do. Make you want more from the very start.” I keep those words in my mind when I write now. I never want to let Sr. Marie Therese down.
–What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer? This will sound strange. The wordsmithing. I love massaging the words until I’m certain I have the right word to convey something in the story. I actually look forward to the editing process.
–Tell us a little bit about where you live. I live in my dream house. My idea of the perfect house was always three bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a fireplace. We’ve got two fireplaces as it turns out. I’m not complaining! I’m a country girl, and proud of it, and I live in Fort Denaud the heart of orange and cattle country in Florida. My husband is a pilot. Our home is located in an airpark and we have a plane in the hanger. Did I mention eight cats – all rescues and two birds. If I didn’t, I’d better – they do get revenge!
–Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers? I grew up surrounded by boys. I was a tomboy. “That dog won’t hunt” is a phrase I find myself using time and again. It’s a phrase that can be turned to have many meanings. It’s also my test phrase for red herrings in my stories. If the dog won’t hunt, the red herring goes.
–Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way? Louisa Mae Alcott. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she did influence me in many ways. Jo March supported her family with her writing at a time that women didn’t work. Carolyn Keene. I desperately wanted to solve mysteries and now I do, in my writing!
–Where do you find inspiration for your writing? Everywhere. I like to tie a timely issue to my stories. Zoned has the mortgage crisis, Multiples deals with drugs, Blue Water with human smuggling. Those ideas come from the news. I’ll read a story and I’ll think “what if….” I write short stories too, mainly romances. Those often start off with a snippet of overheard conversation. Again, it’s a case of what if.
–What are major themes or motifs in your work? My major theme is that nothing is as it seems. I always feel that I need to peel back the layers of life and see what’s really going on underneath. Doing this has become a reoccurring theme in my books. Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote? Yes. It surprises me what readers see in my books. They often talk of the humor in my books. That always makes me think they must have someone else in mind! I read other writers for the humor, but I don’t see it in my work. True story, I once had a neighbor of a friend recommend my own book to me. Since I write under a pseudonym, she had no idea she was talking to the author. I autographed her copy for her. And I loved hearing her tell me the story.
–If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be? PD James. Both the woman and her books fascinate me.
–What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process? I think my strongest is the use of setting in my stories. I want the setting to be a character and I think I accomplish that. My weakest, I think is developing relationships among my characters. My readers dispute this, but that always surprises me. I really have to work at relationships.
–How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process? I try for 4 hours a day 3 to 4 days during the week. I do one six hour session on either Saturday or Sunday and that can be editing, researching, writing, plotting, even day-dreaming. Noise will kill my muse. I can block out most noise, except music. I cannot write with music. I wish I could. I’ve heard it’s helpful. My favorite time to write, and I still do it when I get the chance, is night. I love to create when it’s dark outside. I don’t know if it’s the silence, or if it’s the mystery of night, but I find it’s my most creative time. My Saturday or Sunday writing session is often from 2AM to 8AM and then I sleep for a few hours.
–What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”? Doesn’t work for me at all. Write what interests you. Be open to chasing new experiences to inform your writing. Learn to love research. Writing is an adventure!
–How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc. I am definitely a fiction writer. My novels tend to be mysteries because I love solving puzzles. My short stories are romances. Come to think of it, that’s about solving puzzles too.
–Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”? My day job is as a paralegal for one of Florida’s largest law firms. I do civil litigation, probate, tax, trust and estate work. I’m lucky that I get to work from home. My office is in Miami and I go there once a month.
–What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be? Active. I’m always on the go. I only need four hours of sleep a night. I multitask constantly and I get bored if I don’t have six things going on at once.
–Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries. I can’t write in clutter. So first I clear my workspace, make sure that anything I will need for the chapter is available to me. Any research, character notes, etc. Then I play spider solitaire. Before I start a book I go through a set process. I am an outliner, but I also need to be sure the story has legs. To do that I complete the templates from Mary Buckham’s wonderful class The Hero’s Journey. I also do the templates in her book Break Into Fiction. Both of these preliminaries let me see if the story will go the distance and if I need to develop plot or characters further. That done, I write a brief synopsis. Then I start the outline. The initial outline is very basic. Five events that have to happen in each third of the book to support the plot and five events that have to happen to support the characters. From there, I drill down until I know exactly where the book is going to go. Once I finish the entire outline, I review it in sequence and see if the story still interests me. If it does, I write detailed chapter outlines for the first three chapters and then I’m off. Beginnings are the hardest for me. Middles and endings are the most fun and the easiest.
–Where do you get your ideas? Everywhere. Zoned came from selling my house in Florida in 2005. I overheard someone saying that the Zoning officer was receiving threats. What if…. Murder in the Multiples began with a photograph of a house that was seized by the DEA. What if…. Death by Blue Water came from one of my scuba dives. I was looking in a window at the bridge of a sunken ship and a plastic bag floated up from the cabin floor. What if….
–Any family influences? Memoirs in the making? My husband has always encouraged my writing. He’s my best cheerleader. He’s ready at the drop of a hat to fly me to anyplace I want to go for research or marketing. No memoirs for me. I’m too busy making new memories to dwell on the past. Well, that may not be quite true. I am a breast cancer survivor. I kept careful notes and I sometimes think that I want to write the story of that adventure.
–Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up? Oh yes. My entire family read and we would discuss the books at supper. I learned to read at age 2 and never stopped. We read everything. Nothing was considered too advanced. In fact we were encouraged to read at an adult level
–Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged? Sr. Marie Therese. I spoke about her before.
–Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?) Alice in Wonderland was spectacular. The Secret Garden. Emily’s Runaway Imagination all played a big part in my childhood.
–Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing? When I was in treatment for cancer I got a Kindle. At the time I didn’t want one but my husband prevailed. He didn’t want me lugging pounds of books around. I’m addicted now. I now rarely read anything that’s not on Kindle or IPad. I think electronic publishing is a good thing. That said, I think the authors who opt to indie publish, and I’m one, need to work twice as hard as the traditionally published authors. You have to be sure the product you are putting out is the best it can be. For me that means lots of beta readers, an independent editor, and paying attention to the details.
–How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know? I wish I could base them on people I know. That would make them much easier to know. I’m a visual person. For example, I was driving home today and I saw a young man on a bike. He turned his head to glance over his shoulder and he had the most gorgeous jawline. It looked like it was carved out of granite. I just knew (but couldn’t see of course) that he had gorgeous blue green eyes surrounded by full dark lashes. I know he’s got strong ethics, just like his jaw. He doesn’t see shades of grey, but he also has a secret. He’s haunted by something from his past, that something made him into an attorney who works for the Public Defender’s office. It also puts him in harm’s way…you see where this is going J
–Are you in a critique or writing group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing? I started out in a critique group that Guppies, the Internet chapter of Sister’s in Crime, put together, and they were wonderful. When I wrote Zoned I started from a dim idea and the book grew chapter by chapter, no outline. My critique group kept me on the straight and narrow. They helped me with POV, and voice and so many things. After each of us finished our book, the group went its separate ways. Now I have some trusted Beta readers who know me well enough to tell me the unvarnished truth. It’s what every writer needs. They read for content and often catch things I don’t see, like I’ve dropped a story line, changed someone’s eye color mid book and answer the all-important question. When did you know who did it and why. One of my readers asks up front for the villain. Then she reads for the villain’s storyline. Another reads for red herrings and I get the manuscript back all marked up with numbers and threads and solutions. It’s great, and it helps my stories to hang together well.
–Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block? Boudreaux Butt Paste. I keep a tube on my writing desk to remind me that the only way to write is to stay in your chair and do it! There are days when I cannot write a word. But I stay at my desk and write whatever comes to mind. The lyrics to a nursery rhyme, a journal entry, why I don’t want to be writing. At some point, I realize I am writing and I usually find that I also have some great ideas. There are times though when I just need a break. If 2:00 rolls around and I don’t feel that I can face the keyboard, I’ll give myself permission to take a day or two off with no guilt. I also take a day or two off between thirds of a book. It lets me come back to the next section with a fresh viewpoint. Sometimes writer’s block is telling you that you need to refresh. If it goes on too long, that’s when the Butt Paste comes into play J
–Any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken? As a member of Guppies, I am the beneficiary of a lot of excellent classes. I have learned so much that it’s hard to single out any specific courses. The one class that I keep returning to is Mary Buckham’s Hero’s Journey. I wouldn’t want to write a book without it. A lot of the Hero’s Journey spirit is covered in her book Break into Fiction. I guarantee that using the book will strengthen your plot and your entire story. I won’t final edit without first re-reading Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. It’s a how to guide for cutting out chaff. Then there is my all-time favorite writing book. Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s not so much a guidebook as it is a love letter to writing. Every time I read it, I come away energized. That’s pretty funny because I am not a fan of his books and I avoided reading On Writing for years!
— Why do you write? Another great question. For me, it’s like asking why I breathe. I do it because I have to. Even if no one ever read my work, I would still write. It’s ingrained in me. It’s how I face and view my world, it’s how I solve my own problems, it’s how I express myself. It’s the one place in the world I feel totally comfortable. Thank you for asking.