Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Visit with Cathy Lamb

I'm so pleased to host talented women's fiction author Cathy Lamb on Brant Flakes today. Cathy is a fellow Kensington writer but, more than that, she is a truly generous and thoughtful lady, and I'm thrilled she took time to answer some interview questions for me about her writing process and about her new book, SUCH A PRETTY FACE (out next week!!). Thanks so much for being here, Cathy!

~Can you please tell us about the premise of your upcoming novel, SUCH A PRETTY FACE?

SUCH A PRETTY FACE is about a woman named Stevie Barrett who, through bariatric surgery, has lost 175 pounds. She has a new life...sort of. She's still making her fantastical, colorful wooden chairs and hiding them in her garage, still working for a wild and formidable boss at a law office, still hanging out with a friend who clearly, utterly resents her weight loss. But she's trying new things. She's actually planted a garden and sees it as an organic metaphor for her whole life. She has stopped diving behind recycling bins and leaping over fences to avoid her gorgeous he-man neighbor. Her tinker-bell sized office mate puts her on a DATE ME website and she goes on two dates. They're miserable dates, but hey, she's there.

But Stevie has to confront why she let herself get to 325 pounds in the first place, so the book is in and out of Stevie's past. Her childhood? A combination of a beautiful farm in southern Oregon with a house called The Schoolhouse House, because it used to be an old schoolhouse, a grandma with curly white hair, a stud of a granddad, a mentally ill mother who responds to voices, sunflowers, unique family members, corn, farm animals, wild flowers, a sister named Sunshine, a dark room, a cave with Indian drawings, a charm bracelet, blood, a state run hospital, jars with names of dead people on them, a rushing river, a horrid uncle, an opera singer, a broken frog, and show tunes.

I truly hope you like it. (Speaking as someone lucky enough to get an ARC, I did! I did!! Thanks for giving me a sneak peek at the story...it's a beautifully written novel. :)

~What challenges do your characters have to overcome in this story?

The challenge that Stevie has to overcome is to find a new her, a new Stevie, and be happy and comfortable with the person she is and wants to be.

~Did writing this story pose any unique challenges for you? If so, how did you overcome them?

This book was a monster for me. I went from present times, to her early childhood, to mid - childhood, her 20's, all in and out and weaved together. I overcame those unique challenges by going to Starbucks every day and holding my head in my hands and groaning. Eventually, the literary puzzle fell into place before I was muttering to myself about how I should go back to teaching grade school.

~What is your writing process? Are you a night or day writer? A pantser or plotter? A writer of habit or a spurt writer?

I think I write best late, late at night, when my kids and husband are in bed. I do write in the day, though, too, when my kids are at school. I do make extensive character sketches for every character so my books are character driven. I know my characters inside and out by the time the book is in its third draft. Every little thing about them, I know. I plan when I walk, I think of new ideas when I'm carpooling, when I'm cooking dinner, staring at a tulip, guzzling mochas, laughing with friends, out in the woods, or having a "debate," so to speak, with my husband. I feel like, in many ways, I am ALWAYS working. I have to make conscious efforts to stop thinking about my book, the hurdles, the issues, the character arcs, etc. (I can REALLY relate to this. The tasks are never ending, and it's hard to pull away from the multiple facets of the job--both the creative side and the business side--in order to relax.)

~What are your favorite parts of the writing process (i.e., storyboarding, scripting dialogue, revision, etc.)?

I truly love all parts of the writing process. I love when I have the freedom to think of a whole new plot, I love editing, I love sketching characters, I love writing freestyle - when I just write and write and don't go back and edit. All of my books are edited about 12 times before they're "real books." Even the proofs I read two times to make sure there are no errors.

~Please tell us a little about your journey to publication. How long were you working on your first novel (JULIA'S CHOCOLATES) before it sold? Had you written any completed manuscripts before that one?

I tried to get into writing romance books. I got soooo close, several times. The editors at two well know romance writing house, (If I said the names, you would know them) would always ask me to send the first chapter of my romance book after my cover letter and synopsis. I'd send it. Then they'd ask for first three chapters. I'd send it. They'd ask for the book. I'd send it. Rejected. After one particularly bad rejection, which took TWO YEARS, and was implied by an editor that they would buy my book, I decided to call it a day. I was done. I was a wreck. Any sane person would have quit years before I did. I do think there's something to be said for determination and perseverance, which I had. But I also think there's a point when I should have said, "OK, Cathy, this isn't working. This isn't your genre, you're not going to be successful here, accept it, move on." I should have said that about two years before I did. So, JULIA'S CHOCOLATES was my first women's fiction book that I wrote. It sold in weeks after I signed with my agent. Yahoo.

~What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received, and what advice would you pass along to other writers aspiring to publication?

Read. Read all the time and absolutely do not read only in your genre. Read all over the place, all kids of books. Fiction, chick lit, non-fiction, memoirs, Pulitzer's, award - winning books, the New York Times, autobiographies, etc. Study what you're reading. Study what made the book work for you. If the book didn't work for you, figure out why. Study how the author started the book and caught your attention and why your attention stayed in place for the whole book. Study the language, sentence structure, pacing, character development. What made you cheer for the main character? What made you hate other characters? How did the author build suspense? How did they build to the climax? How did they use sub-plots? Study, study, study.

Also, read reviews of books. I learn a ton about great writing just by reading reviews in the newspaper.

And, one more thing: Only read really good books. That's how you learn.

~What are some of your favorite hobbies/things to do outside of writing?

I love my kids and love spending time with them. I love to read and write. I just love, love, love books. I love going to plays and I have recently discovered that I love the symphony, too. I thought the symphony was only for rich and snobby people. As I am not rich, and no snob, I did not think I belonged there. Ha! I went, I loved it. Have seen four concerts now and have season tickets for next year. I love Broadway shows that come through Portland. I love going to coffee and walking and going to the beach and any sort of travel. If I can just get out of my house for awhile and all the stuff I MUST do, ah, I am happy.

~What project is next for you?

I am writing my next book, due in December. I have to write 3,000 words a day because I am behind. Yikes. Very busy. Late nights. (Good luck with this! I know you'll finish and it'll be another brilliant women's fiction story. :)

Thanks so much for visiting, Cathy, and thanks to everyone for reading!


Pamela Cayne said...

I <3 Cathy. It's that simple. This book sounds incredible (with a possible side of tissues) and the story of your journey to publication is just inspiring! Plus, I love anybody else who is such a freestyle writer (with many edits!)

Thanks for coming by Marilyn's today! And big thanks to Marilyn for introducing you to us!

Robin said...

I'll second what Pamela said! Fantastic interview, ladies. I so enjoyed your answers, Cathy. And Marilyn, you always know the perfect questions to ask. Best of luck with your book, Cathy! I'll be on the lookout for it. (Love the cover.)

Marilyn Brant said...

Pamela~I <3 her, too ;).Thanks so much for stopping by to see us. p.s. Only 1 more week (OMG!!).

Robin~thank you!! So glad you liked the interview ;). p.s. See above!

Edie Ramer said...

I love the description of Stevie's story and all the layers. I know I'm going to want to read it.

Thanks for sharing the story of your journey. I feel as if I'm stuck in the same place you were in. Like you, I don't give up easy, getting interest but no sales. I finally got it that I need to take my journey on a different route.

Tonya Kappes said...

I Cathy! I love your advice. Especially about reading GOOD BOOKS....so keep writing and we can read those good books:)

Morgan Mandel said...

I love Cinderella stories. Sounds like a great modern adaption.

Morgan Mandel

Marilyn Brant said...

Edie~it's a touching and beautifully written story--I really think you'd enjoy it!

Tonya~I'd liked Cathy's advice on that, too!! ;)

Morgan~hi! Thanks so much for visiting--it's great to see you here :-).

Judy Croome said...

Fantastic interview! As someone who - like Stevie - has a lot of weight to lose, this is a definite to buy book for me. And I could also relate to Cathy's experience with the romance genre - I'm almost at that same point!

Josh Healy said...

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Marilyn Brant said...

Judy~So glad you enjoyed the interview! I think any of us who have ever battled food issues can relate to Cathy story. Hope you'll have a chance to check it out sometime!

Josh~Thanks for letting me know ;).

Marilyn Brant said...

Hey, everyone! This is a note from Cathy. She had trouble posting to Blogger so she kindly emailed me her comments :). See below:

Hello ladies.
Marilyn, thanks so much for letting me write on Brant Flakes, and for the interview.

I have one more tip for writers. Carry a notebook at all times, in your purse. I learned this from one of my favorite writing teachers many years ago when I was struggling so hard to get published and thinking it would never, ever in a million years happen. A notebook makes you feel like a writer. Any time you get an idea for a book, a character, a character arc, an ending, a funny scene, a tragic scene, bits of dialogue...all of it can be written down immediately. Plus, you can use a notebook to write and scribble and draw. Write off the top of your head and keep going. What I have found when I'm writing in a notebook or journal is that my thoughts gets deeper and deeper the more I write. It's like the first few writing minutes are to get rid of the junk off the top of your head. The more you free hand write, the more you'll get to the guts of where you need to go. It's amazing what can happen when you sit and write for a half hour with no agenda, no pre-thought of idea of where you need to go.

I do this for my characters, too. I just write. I scribble across the notebook, write down all kinds of crazy or silly or unuseful things, and discard most of it later. BUT. There is always a little bit of good there in my ramblings also and that's what I use in my books. You're going for that tiny nugget that will help you with your characters, your story...or even your life. You're looking for that creativity or that clarity. I also love the following books for writing...Annie Lamott's Bird by Bird, Stephen King's On Writing and Writing out the Storm by Jessica Morrell. Natalie Goldberg is great, too.

So, carry that notebook! I have so many journals, I can't even count them anymore.

I hope you all have a wonderful summer. If you would like to contact me, write to Cathy@CathyLamb.net. I always answer all letters. (Unless they're mean, of course. :) )

Happy reading and happy writing.

Maria Geraci said...

Awesome interview! I loved the premise of the book. Will definitely have to check it out :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Thanks, Maria! Looking forward to seeing you next week!!!! :)