Welcome to the one hundred and twenty-fourth of my blog interviews, today with novelist, essayist and non-fiction author Sharon Cathcart. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Sharon. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Sharon: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, to be honest. As young as age 8, I was making up little stories and even plays and puppet shows to perform for friends. I’ve been a journalist and a newspaper editor as well.
Morgen: Eight, wow. It’s not often that someone (myself included) knows what they want to do so young. Is there a genre that you generally write?
Sharon: I primarily write essays and non-fiction, although I have written one novel and have another in progress.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Sharon: My first book, “Born of War … Dedicated to Peace,” was written and published in 1995. It is the history of Sixth U.S. Army, which was decommissioned that year. I remember when the box arrived at the office with all of the copies; it was a thrill. Each attendee at the decommissioning received a copy.
Sharon: My complete list of works may be found at my website.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sharon: A good deal of it, actually. My publishers, both UK and US, are small presses .. which affects the marketing budget. I have been doing a lot of work on branding, including developing marketing statements and so on, which I share with my fellow authors so that they may take advantage of what I’ve learned. As the old saying goes, all boats rise with the tide.
Morgen: But I guess having a journalism background helps somewhat. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Sharon: No, I write under my own name. I have been tempted, occasionally, to write bodice ripper romances under the name Violette Sauvage, but so far I have resisted the urge.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? And do you read eBooks?
Sharon: Yes, and yes. The first time I published as an eBook author, the experience was not good. I had issues with the service provider and withdrew from them. However, I subsequently found Smashwords and have been absolutely delighted. I also love my eReader and use it regularly. At this point, I would say that I read about 25 percent of my books on the device.
Morgen: Smashwords is supposed to be great and I’ll be heading in their direction with my books. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Sharon: Turner Maxwell Books, in the UK, was my first acceptance. I had been given a letter of introduction to the owner by a fellow author, and I sent him a synopsis of “In The Eye of The Beholder: A Phantom of the Opera”. He asked to see my manuscript, but I didn’t have too much hope (or so I thought) as a US author. However, three days later I had an offer letter. That letter of introduction put my manuscript at the top of the slush pile, and he loved it. That UK publication led to my US publisher, Treasureline Books, contacting me and asking to publish the book here. Treasureline also published “You Had to Be There: Three Years of Mayhem and Bad Decisions in the Portland Music Scene.”
Morgen: And the rest is history. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sharon: Yes, I have. The first publisher to whom I sent “In The Eye of The Beholder” loved the first three chapters and asked for the whole manuscript – which they rejected. At first, to be honest, I was very upset. However, once I calmed down, I took a good hard look at that letter. There were detailed criticisms to consider, not just a “thanks, but no thanks.” I took the advice with which I could agree, discarded that with which I could not, and did an extensive edit and re-write. I honestly believe, now, that it was that rejection that made my manuscript really ready for the folks at Turner Maxwell and Treasureline. I tell this story frequently, because it really is worth paying attention to the blessing in a detailed rejection like that.
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s hard (especially the first one) but it’s just finding the right thing for the right person, as you did. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sharon: I have a couple of works in progress at almost any given time. Right now, there are three. “Around the World in 80 Pages” will be a collection of ten short stories, each taking place in a different part of the world and/or time period.
Morgen: Oh great, I love short stories.
Sharon: “Hugs and Hisses” will chronicle my time volunteering in humane education; all of the proceeds from this book will benefit my local animal shelter. “In The Eye of the Storm” is the sequel to “In The Eye of The Beholder.”
Morgen: ‘Hugs and hisses’ I love play on words. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Sharon: I would love to write every day, but it doesn’t work out like that too often. I have knocked out ten thousand words in a single day once, to my astonishment.
Morgen: Wow, I’m not far behind that during one of my NaNoWriMo novels but still, wow. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Sharon: I do think it exists … I’ve been there. I work on a different project if at all possible. I was once jolted out of a dreadful block by doing an editing project for a colleague – completely unrelated to my own work, but it loosened up whatever was stuck.
Morgen: That’s what most interviewees say; take a break and do something else writing-related or different entirely – it’s all about distracting the mind. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sharon: A little of both. Sometimes the stories and characters have different plans from mine. I tend to pay attention to that.
Morgen: Don’t they just (I love that). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sharon: I write about things I know. For example, one of my characters is an equestrian; I am a former equestrian athlete. Thus, she knows things that I know – even though she is far from a self-insert. My philosophy is that fiction has to contain facts; if you get the details wrong, someone will notice and call you out on it. Other than that, I don’t really have a methodology. As for creating names, sometimes they are changed along the way – and sometimes they surprise me. One of my characters is named Gilbert – which means “bright promise.” I didn’t know that when I named him, but it made complete sense in the context of the story.
Morgen: It often happens like that (well, it has to me) and yes, errors will be spotted by someone. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Sharon: Usually my husband.
Morgen: Ah handy (and unpaid). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sharon: I do at *least* four edits before it goes to my publisher, and then we do at least two more together.
Morgen: Sounds about the same as me; I do 3-4 then it goes to Rachel, my editor. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Sharon: A *lot*. It took me a total of four years (including edits) to finish “In The Eye of The Beholder.” I’m two years into “In The Eye of The Storm,” and just recently discovered some new facts that altered my timeline significantly. I would rather take longer and get it right than rush it out and have someone write me and ask why I put (for example) the 1905 Salon des Independants in February when it actually happened in November. People do notice. Most frequently, I’ve been complimented for making sure the little details were right while still creating an interesting story.
Morgen: Oh, great. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Sharon: Sometimes the sentences just come out of my pen or computer keys like gangbusters; other times, it’s like pulling teeth. I can’t predict which way it’s going to go.
Morgen: Oh dear… Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Sharon: A little of both. I keep a composition book with me for “just in case” – and then I transcribe it to the computer. Sometimes, though, I just sit down at the laptop and write.
Morgen: Me too. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sharon: I’ve done first and third, and like them equally well. I have not tried second; now you’ve put an idea in my head.
Morgen: Ooh great; do try, it’s fun (there are some 2pov sentence beginnings on my http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/sentence-starts if that’ll help). Let me know how you get on. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Sharon: I used an epilogue in “In The Eye of The Beholder,” and a prologue in “In The Eye of The Storm.” When used properly, I rather like them.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sharon: My mother once chucked an entire notebook full of writing. While I would like to have a record to show my improvement, I think it’s probably just as well that no one will ever see what I wrote as a teenager.
Morgen: No! That’s terrible… or maybe not so bad if the writing itself was terrible. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sharon: Become a voracious reader. Learn what good writing looks like so that you can emulate (which is not the same as copying). Be the best storyteller you know. Make sure you know grammar and usage – and get a professional editor.
Morgen: Absolutely, Rachel points out things I’d never thought of. A second pair of eyes is vital. You mentioned reading, what do you like to read?
Sharon: I read just about anything I can get my hands on. My taste is best described as eclectic, which is the best warning I can give you. I love Kathy Reichs, indie Regency author Jaimey Grant, Sharyn McCrumb, indie historical fiction author Magnolia Belle and many others.
Morgen: I have a German friend who loves books in English (the bigger the better – the opposite of me) and I’ve been sending her all Kathy’s books; she’s hooked. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sharon: I enjoy Victorian ballroom dancing, travelling, reading, studying French art history, showing dogs, and volunteering at my local humane society.
Morgen: Wow, and you have time to write? Ah, I remember you saying earlier “it doesn’t work out like that too often”. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Sharon: One of the best communities I’ve found is the group at BestsellerBound. This is a great support group for independent authors, with lots of advice and information.
Morgen: Ooh, I’ve not heard of them… In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Sharon: I’m in the US… which makes it easy to promote here, but it was very tricky when I was only published in the UK.
Morgen: You’re not alone, we find it tricky over here too. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Sharon: At one point, I was on something like 20 of them. I eventually had to narrow down to the most important ones that fit me – and that will vary from author to author.
Morgen: 20, wow. I’m on three and that’s time-consuming enough (although very enjoyable, and useful, so worth it). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Lovely, thanks so much Sharon.
A former journalist and newspaper editor, internationally published author Sharon E. Cathcart has been writing for as long as she can remember and generally has at least one work in progress. Her books provide discerning readers of essays, fiction and non-fiction with a powerful, truthful literary experience. She lives with her husband and an assortment of pets in the Silicon Valley, California.
NOTE: Photographs of Sharon and cover designs of ‘In The Eye of the Beholder’ and ‘You Had to Be There’ courtesy of James Courtney. Cover shots of ‘2010 Hindsight’, ‘Born of War…’, ‘Les Pensees Dangereuses’ and‘Sui Generis’ designed by Sharon herself.
UPDATE: Sharon’s UK publisher, Turner Maxwell, has since decided to retire and will be closing down his eponymously named imprint. I’d say it’s certainly an interesting time indeed for the publishing industry.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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