Interviews: Cate Holahan
Interviews: Lisa Loucks Christenson with Cate Holahan
Author Bio: Catherine "Cate" Holahan is an award-winning journalist and former television producer.
CATE HOLAHAN is an award-winning journalist and former television producer. Holahan’s articles have appeared in BusinessWeek, The Boston Globe, The Record and on web sites for CBS, MSN Money, NorthJersey.com, BusinessWeek.com, and CNBC. Her short fiction won first place in the 19th annual Calliope competition, a magazine published by the writer's group of American Mensa.
BD = Book Divas, Author = Cate Holahan
BD: Cate, I appreciate you taking time out of your day to do this interview and sharing your writing life. Cate your new book, Dark Turns snares the reader right into the mind of a murderer, and on Nia, who on her quest to solve the murders, ends up fighting for her own life. It would seem you'd almost have to know a little something about words that hurt others, and betrayal to.
Did you know the ending before you started? Was it inspired by any stories you came across?
AUTHOR: I always know the final scene. I start stories with a beginning and an ending in mind, though how I get to my finish point often changes as the characters develop.
The competition portrayed in Black Swan certainly figured into the novel, though that movie is an exploration of one character’s psychological breakdown and my novel is more of a traditional murder mystery. The true story of Misty Copeland, now ABT’s first female African American principal dancer, influenced the creation of my protagonist. I wanted Nia to come from a different socio-economic and ethnic background than her students so that she would have a removed perspective from which to view their actions and, at the same time, also be struggling to fit into this world.
BD: Give readers who haven't had a chance to read your book, a glimpse into a character, one that still haunts your memory?
AUTHOR: Aubrey, the school’s golden girl and the star of the ballet program, is one of my favorite characters. She’s damaged by her backstory, which I don’t want to reveal. And she’s an example of how young people can be led astray when they lack proper adult support and are raised in a culture that values beauty and success, often without regard to moral character.
BD: If you could step into your novel at any scene and give your heroine a clue, where would you step in, and what would you tell her?
AUTHOR: I don’t want to give Nia a clue because I want my book to have a climax. But, if I didn’t need that, I would tell her to trust her instincts earlier.
BD: I loved how you started each chapter with a definition of a dance move, can you share with our readers what your background is in dance, if any, and why you chose to add these in?
AUTHOR: When I decided that ballet would figure prominently in the novel, I enrolled in an adult ballet class. I continued with classes for the year that it took to write and sell the book, and during the year that I was working with my publisher on the editing and production.
I’d never taken ballet before. Many of my fellow students were retired ballerinas or had danced in college or high school. One woman was a former gymnast. Struggling through the class gave me an appreciation for just how difficult it is to move with grace and precision. It also introduced me to the amount of physical strain involved in developing the flexibility and strength that ballerinas must possess. I could never come close. I don’t have an athlete’s pain tolerance.
I had initially included a few ballet terms to mark the beginning, middle and end of my story. My agent, Paula Munier, who is wonderful and has penned several books on craft worth reading, suggested that I make the terms an organizing principal. The dance definitions help set the tone of each segment. Sometimes, they refer to a dance step in the chapter, other times there’s a double entendre for the reader to figure out.
BD: How has your former television producer and journalist background helped you see stories, like your Dark Turns, in a different light?
AUTHOR: Journalists and producers are reporters first and foremost. I don’t write anything without delving into the facts. If I’m writing about a boarding school, I tour boarding school campuses and talk to people who went to boarding schools. If I’m writing about ballet, I take ballet classes. I think the immersive research that I do helps me create believable fiction.
BD: Will you share with us, one place inside yourself that you have to reach to write a scene that is believable?
AUTHOR: Nia, by the end of the book, is afraid not only for her physical safety but also for her reputation, her career and her freedom.
Writing about a character’s fear demands that I explore what scares me and how I manifest that terror. I’ve never been attacked, but I’ve been walking down a dark street and paralyzed, suddenly, by the sound of heavy footsteps behind me. I can imagine the desperation I’d feel if someone made a false accusation against me.
I’m certainly concerned about my young daughters growing up in an age when the pervasiveness of recording technologies makes it difficult to recover from poor decisions. I tap into this fear with what happens to one of the characters.
BD: Do you remember the first story you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: My mom made certain that all her kids were reading before kindergarten, so I’m sure the first story I read was about a duck or a panda. But I remember as a middle schooler reading VC Andrews Flowers In The Attic and that had a profound effect on me. She tapped into a child’s worst fear: being unable to trust your parents.
BD: What challenges do you face when you start writing a new book?
AUTHOR: I worry about whether the story that I am writing is commercially appealing. No one wants to pen a whole novel just for it to end up in a drawer. So I have to think about the conventions of my genre, and that sometimes demands changing the tale that I’d initially planned on telling.
BD: What could you share with other would-be writers, who want to write a story like yours, but don't because they aren't sure they would be acceptable, or fear ridicule from family, friends, peers?
AUTHOR: You can’t write a thriller with violence and sex, and imagine your grandmother reading it aloud. That said, my grandmother and grandma have read the book and never once criticized any of the risqué scenes. If the violence and sex have a point in the narrative—if they move the story along—then no one will complain. You can’t be salacious just to be salacious.
BD: What is the easiest part about writing for you?
AUTHOR: Writing. I LOVE writing. I wake up in the morning and I write. Then, in the afternoon, I rewrite. Plotting is more methodical and difficult. The writing is joy.
BD: When did you first decide you wanted to write a book, and what led you to the decision to write in this genre?
AUTHOR: I wrote my first novel after college while working as a journalist. It didn’t get picked up. In retrospect, it lacked enough of a plot. It was a thinly veiled memoir cast as a coming of age story, and it was awful. Plots keep a story moving and stop the writer from becoming self-indulgent or preachy. Thrillers are plot-intensive. They still have morals and say something about our world, but they’re not heavy handed about it.
BD: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I love thrillers. I read them. I enjoy them best. Thrillers and psychological suspense novels are really where I’m focused.
BD: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: I usually have an idea of a character and a conflict together, and I have a sense of how I’d like the main problem resolved.
BD: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you write the chapters in order, or do you jump around as you get ideas for each section?
AUTHOR: In order.
BD: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write full-time, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: I write every day from the moment I return from dropping my kids off at school until I pick them up at 3:00 p.m. Then, after I put them to bed, I edit. When I’m in the middle of a story, I tend not to read as much because I don’t want to be unconsciously influenced by another writer’s style or voice. After I finish a novel, I read everything I can get my hands on for a couple months or so while I’m waiting to get my edits.
BD: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: My children and my husband are most important people in my life. I have two daughters, ages five and three. Teaching and caring for them takes most of my time. I also play the piano and sing (I was in a rock band for a while after college, post a cappella group). That’s my primary hobby.
BD: Name three of your favorite authors? Do you try to emulate them, or their techniques in your own writing?
AUTHOR: I love Gillian Flynn and Karen Slaughter. I think both authors create rich, nuanced female characters and have a way with plot twists. My writing style is my own but, certainly, I aspire to write a plot twist that leaves readers as satisfied and shocked as their surprises leave me. I also love Stephen King. I admire the way he crafts a sentence and chooses his words, plus the speed with which he produces novels. And, if I may add one more, I think Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent is genius.
BD: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: This is a standalone story. My second book, tentatively titled The Widower’s Wife, which is due out in August, is intended as the first of a series.
BD: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I see my next book as a series that can continue for at least three books—though it’s unlikely that all the characters will survive the duration of the series.
BD: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: My characters routinely demand that I rip up perfectly good plots and remap out the story. But, I need them to grow, so I have to do it.
BD: Do you develop your protagonists/antagonists after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: I think many of my main characters are versions of myself. The villains have aspects of my personality that I’m not proud of—maybe vanity or a quick temper—and then I amplify those unfortunate qualities and put the character cursed with them in difficult situations that further bring them out. Some villains are just an amalgamation of my worst fears put into a package that I think I could be duped by. The protagonists often have qualities I admire and hope to embody, or, at least, they reflect my desire for justice.
BD: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What made you decide to become your own publisher? (NOTE: I am not my own publisher. Crooked Lane is publishing.)
AUTHOR: I lost count of the rejections for my first, yet-unpublished thriller. My agent Paula saw potential in it, but it defied some genre conceits that made it difficult to get others on board. I wrote smarter with my second book, so I didn’t have to suffer much rejection. Crooked Lane Books bought it, and bought my second novel.
I was never tempted to give up because I’m a writer. I have to write. It makes me who I am. It makes me happy. There are characters and stories in my head that need to come out.
BD: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I have attended ThrillerFest and Bouchercon. I met my agent, Paula Munier, and the editorial director of Crooked Lane at the Algonkian Conference. At the time, Matt Martz was at St. Martins and he didn’t pick up the novel that I was pitching at the time. Though, he bought Dark Turns from Paula. Algonkian was hugely helpful to my career. Without that conference, I would probably still be querying.
BD: What are some unique ways you promote your work?
AUTHOR: I produced a book trailer for Dark Turns. I asked the guitarist in my former band to play and I wrote an original piece of music for the trailer. I play piano and sing in the video. Then, I hired a ballerina, rented a studio for two hours in New York City, and asked my cousin Gabrielle Ayala to film and edit. She studied film in high school and plans to study it in college so I was very fortunate that she had the skill set to help me make the trailer.
BD: What is the best part of working with your editor?
AUTHOR: My editor at Crooked Lane has been Nike Power. She’s fantastic. Smart. Witty. She gets where I am going with my plots and knows when to reign me in and how to give me direction. I am very fortunate to work with someone who is so intelligent and has such a wonderful eye.
Everyone, in my opinion, needs a good editor. The first draft is rarely the best. I appreciate having someone who can read my work with fresh eyes and point out when, for example, I’m hammering the same point home too often because, perhaps, I wrote the chapters with that point months apart and don’t remember.
BD: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: I think radio and blogs are a great way to get the word out. My book just launched so I’m not sure what’s the best method in terms of sales.
BD: How often do you check your sales to see how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: I’m a tad neurotic and a glutton for punishment, so I check my sales at least once a day. In fact, sometimes, when I want to make myself feel really bad I compare my sales to anything with one of the Kardashians on it. Then, I weep.
BD: What has been the best review you have received, and why?
AUTHOR: I think Booklist really got the audience I was going for with this novel and the review reflected that. This particular book is aimed at new adults, folks ages 16 to 30. It takes place in a high school. Some of the characters do things that may seem naïve, but they are fifteen or twenty-two, which really isn’t that old. I don’t think teenage and early-twenties characters should be expected to have the foresight of someone a decade older.
BD: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: My short fiction won first place in the 19th annual Calliope competition, a magazine published by the writer's group of American Mensa. The story was a psychological suspense tale about a young boy who thinks he is hearing his dead father.
BD: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: There are several reviews on Amazon that I felt, YES, that person got it. They had fun with the book. They enjoyed it.
BD: If you could write in any genre, what one would you pick?
AUTHOR: Thriller. Psychological Suspense.
BD: When you finish writing your book how do you celebrate?
AUTHOR: A glass of cabernet with my husband.
BD: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: It’s a book tentatively titled The Widower’s Wife. The story is about an insurance investigator and a woman’s death. It will be out in August 2016. Crooked Lane is publishing.
BD: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: When a young mother falls off a cruise ship, insurance investigator Ryan Monahan must figure out whether her death was an accident, a suicide, or murder.
BD: What one message do you want your fans to remember when they finish your book?
AUTHOR: Pretty packages can hide poor presents.
BD: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
BD: Thank you Cate for being our guest. We look forward to your next book!
AUTHOR: Cate Holahan
Author website: http://www.cateholahan.com/
Name of Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publisher Website: http://www.crookedlanebooks.com/
ISBN 13: 978-1629531939
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