Welcome to the two hundred and twelfth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre writer Catherine Lundoff. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Catherine. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Catherine: I started writing fiction during a brief, ill-fated foray into law school. I wrote my first short story, fell madly in love with writing fiction and sold the story and that, as they say, was that; I quit law school a week later. That was fifteen years ago and I’m still at it.
Morgen: Ah, my first love… short stories. 🙂 What genre do you write?
Catherine: I’m all over the map: I have published erotica, romance, science fiction and fantasy, horror, nonfiction and am now dabbling in mystery. I like the opportunity to explore other genre conventions and when possible, to cross genre boundaries and mix things up.
Morgen: That’s the joy of short stories (for me anyway). What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Catherine: When I first started writing, I focused on short fiction. Since then, I’ve had two erotica collections published, have edited an anthology of ghost stories and co-edited an anthology about lesbian magic users. My fifth book, a single author collection of my fantasy and historical fiction, emerged into the world this month. I can vividly remember the first time I saw an actual stack of my books for sale at a bookstore’s booth at a science fiction convention. I brought my friends over and squealed like an anime character. People were enthusiastic.
Morgen: That’s lovely… if I squealed I’d imagine they’d run a mile. 🙂 Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Catherine: Not so far but I eagerly await.
Morgen: Well, your books are out there in paper form so that’s more than mine. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Catherine: I do most of my own personal branding. My publisher sends out review copies and handles award nominations as well as doing publisher-related publicity (website, blog, etc.). I maintain my own website and social media presence as well as setting up my appearance and interview schedule.
Morgen: It sounds like a full-time job. You mentioned award nominations, have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Catherine: I’ve won two Goldie Awards (for lesbian lit, erotica category) and two Lesbian Fiction Reader’s Choice Awards. I’ve also been shortlisted for a Goldie in speculative fiction and shortlisted twice for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, short fiction category. I do think it helps, particularly if you are a small press author in a niche market. It gives you more name recognition and makes it more likely that your work will get additional word of mouth buzz, thereby increasing sales and reviews.
Morgen: I certainly can’t see it doing any harm. 🙂 Have you ever written under a pseudonym?
Catherine: I haven’t thus far though I wouldn’t completely rule it out. I think they can be useful for writers who write in multiple genres and need to maintain different marketing / sales / publishing strategies in each. Or for writers who might suffer some repercussions in other parts of their lives from their writing.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Catherine: No on the first, so let’s hope not on the second.
Morgen: I don’t have one and um… I was going to say that I don’t bereft without one but there maybe agents reading this so I’ll say I would love it if one approached me. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Catherine: My publisher distributes all my work in all available formats so I haven’t had to do any of the conversion work myself. I read some ebooks but haven’t invested in a reader yet. I expect that will change in the next couple of months, as most of my sales are now ebook sales.
Morgen: All mine are. 🙂 I have an eReader but I still primarily read paperbacks. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Catherine: My first acceptance was the first short story I ever wrote. It was accepted for a small magazine and a famous fantasy artist (Alicia Austin) based the magazine cover on a scene from my story. It really doesn’t get better than that, but acceptances are still lovely every time they happen.
Morgen: That sounds fantastic – what a start. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Catherine: Yes. Really good sugar helps a lot. That and resubmitting the piece elsewhere.
Morgen: Absolutely, don’t sit and mope… huff and then let it go again. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Catherine: I’m writing two novels: a science fiction novel and a fantasy novel. The latter is a sequel to my forthcoming fantasy novel, which is about a woman who discovers that as she enters menopause, she also turns into a werewolf.
Morgen: Oh wow. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Catherine: I have a fulltime job so I usually don’t manage to write every day. On my best days, I’ve written about 3000 words in a day.
Morgen: That’s pretty good. 300 words a day is a 100K novel. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Catherine: I haven’t experienced it so far.
Morgen: I’m pretty lucky in that respect. I battle with lack of writing time more than anything. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Catherine: I get it from a variety of places: music I listen to, things I read, art, travel, and publisher’s guidelines. I like to be open to possibilities.
Morgen: Yes, guidelines do help, don’t they? 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Catherine: I generally just run with it, but since I’m writing more novels than short stories lately, I’m beginning to do a bit of outlining.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Catherine: I don’t really have a method. My protagonists generally emerge with my story ideas and I take it from there. I try to put my characters in believable situations and use real speech patterns. The way your characters express themselves can make a big difference in how your story is perceived.
Morgen: That’s the thing – you can be as outlandish as you like but it has to be believable / genuine. You mentioned earlier that you also write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Catherine: My nonfiction is usually based on approved queries for different publications. I query on things that interest me and which I think will interest the publication’s editor. For example, a few years back, I wrote two articles for Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia; one was an article on feminist bookstores and the other was a biographical piece on writer Melissa Scott. I used to be a bookstore owner and I have interviewed Melissa in the past so I brought some expertise to table for topics I was interested in.
Morgen: Ah, handy – definitely writing about what you know. 🙂 Do you write any poetry? If so, do you write to form or free verse? What would you say is the difference between a piece of prose and a prose poem? Why do you think poetry is so popular and yet so poorly paid?
Catherine: No, no poetry. Good questions though.
Morgen: Oh, thank you. I only dabble so the genre is still a mystery (pardon the pun) to me. You write short stories, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Catherine: I’ve written considerably fewer novels than short stories to date. There are a number of differences though, primarily in plots and story arc. You have to go for more impact in a short story, generally speaking, because you have less room to play around in to develop those elements of story. As to difficulty in publication, that can vary from genre to genre. There are a fair number of short fiction markets for science fiction and fantasy and erotica, but considerably fewer for mystery and romance. It has to do with reader demand and willingness to purchase and read short fiction as much as anything else. SF/F and erotica readers are accustomed to reading short fiction, so they look for it in that format as well as for novel length work.
Morgen: That’s interesting (shame I don’t write SF/F… maybe I should). 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Catherine: I also teach writing classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and do panels and organize group readings at science fiction and fantasy conventions.
Morgen: That sounds like fun (hard work no doubt). Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Catherine: My wife is my first reader. She’s an artist, not a writer, but she’s very good at spotting logical problems and places where I’ve lost some control of my plot.
Morgen: Oh dear, let’s hope that doesn’t happen too often. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Catherine: I need to do less editing of my own work than I used to, but for me, editing is an organic process. I start at the beginning of whatever I wrote last whenever I sit down to write so I’m always rewriting and tweaking pieces as I compose.
Morgen: But hopefully drawing a line under it eventually. 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Catherine: I write some stories with historical settings so I do a lot of research for those. I also like to read histories and anthropological texts and often use those for writing research. I’ve gotten feedback from my readers, but it’s generally been fan mail or asking when something new is coming out rather than comments about my research. So far, anyway.
Morgen: I’d say that’s a good thing… I’m sure if there was anything inaccurate you’d be the first to hear. 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Catherine: I tend to write in short bursts. Ideas come to me when I’m relaxing, listening to music, taking a bath or walking, and from there, I think of an opening line. Once I have that, I can build on it and create a story from that point forward. I’m usually working to deadline so I try to make my early drafts as polished as possible; I do a lot of thinking about plots while I’m doing other things.
Morgen: Me too… well, thinking about writing anyway. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Catherine: Computer. I compose on the computer, do final revisions on paper, then enter them into the computer.
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Catherine: I like to listen to music and prefer to do my writing at home. I do too much people-watching at coffee shops to be able to concentrate well enough to write in one.
Morgen: One of my Monday nighters (Denny – who I’ve mentioned on my blog before) and I have a plan. I want to get out the house and hers is too cold so we’re going to ambush a new café at the end of my road (just round the corner from hers) on a regular basis so I can us fighting for a window view. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Catherine: I’ve written a couple of short stories in second person: it’s a hard perspective to maintain for longer work. As for first versus third, I think it depends on what the story needs. I tend to write in the voice that the protagonist uses in my head when they first turn up.
Morgen: I love second person but agree, it’s best suited for short pieces. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Catherine: I use prologues occasionally. They’re a stylistic choice that can bog a work down and slow its pace, when really the plot should be covering the parts of the story that an author put in a prologue or epilogue. So I’d say that I think they’re to be used sparingly, if at all. That said, my current novel in progress has a prologue to cover the back-story so I can’t say I’m absolutely opposed to them.
Morgen: I used to skip prologues but the book I’m reading at the moment (Trisha Ashley’s Winter’s Tale) has one and it was delightful so I’m so glad I didn’t. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Catherine: Oh yes. I consider them “retired”. Occasionally, I resurrect the idea for a massive overhaul, but not the story itself.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Catherine: My favourite aspect of writing is completing a new story or novel and revising it until I think it is the best it can be. My least favourite aspect is that I can’t write all the time due to the need to continue to live indoors and eat regularly.
Morgen: I like that (and can empathise). If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Catherine: Perhaps that I love it as much as I do. I didn’t start out writing fiction as a kid so when I started, it was like falling into water and discovering I could float.
Morgen: 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Catherine: Persist and rewrite. Many problems can be improved with an effective rewrite.
Morgen: They can, and as you said earlier, learning the skill is a lot about practice, the actual writing and improving as you go along. What do you like to read?
Catherine: I try to read a mix of genres; science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, social histories, some romance. Some of my favourites include Jane Austen, Elizabeth Peters, Sara Caudwell, Georgette Heyer, Jeffrey Farnol, P.C. Hodgell, Hari Kunzru, Nancy Goldstone, Samuel Delany – the list is pretty extensive.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Catherine: I try not to get too attached to individual words and phrases since I tend to reuse them without realizing it.
Morgen: I used to think I wasn’t like that but then I started noticing that I used the word ‘actually’ a lot – more recently it’s ‘seriously’ (classic example being “Dog! Seriously?”). What do you do when you’re not writing?
Catherine: When I’m not working at my day job or writing or promoting my work, I read books, go to plays and movies and make preserves.
Morgen: So writing-related or thinking about writing by the sound of it. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Catherine: I really like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King and Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer. The former is an excellent primer for learning to edit yourself and the latter is a good resource for the writer whose career is further along, focusing as it does on marketing and branding and related topics.
Morgen: Thank you for those, they sound great. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Catherine: I’m in the U.S. Publicizing is a huge challenge – I covered some of what I’ve been up to in the next question. It’s difficult being a small press genre author in a big country without a lot of arts funding and with a lot of competition for audience and sales. Thus far, I’ve found the best publicity seems to be putting out a new book.
Morgen: I had heard before I put my eBooks online that it’s best to have more than one so people have a choice and if they like one, there’s more chance of them buying a second… third… Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Catherine: I’m on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, MySpace, Redroom, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. I find that social networking follows a lot of fast moving trends; MySpace, for example, has really dropped in traffic and viability for authors.
Morgen: Yes, it has, hasn’t it? I’ve had a MySpace for months (do nothing with it, to be fair) and get no feedback from it.
Catherine: Google+ is new and shiny so it’s possible to network with a lot of people very quickly. I find that it takes a substantial time commitment to keep my posts new and relevant in each location. I try not to post the same thing everywhere all at once, for example. Overall, I have found that the effort pays off: I post three times a day on Twitter, and at least once per day on Google+ and Facebook, crosspost several times a week on Dreamwidth and Livejournal, and make special announcements on the remaining sites, and it has helped pick up my sales. Makes for an exciting amount of juggling though, what between posting, writing and my day job.
Morgen: But you do it because you love it (like me). 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Catherine: My website www.catherinelundoff.com and my blog www.dreamwidth.catherineldf.com are the best places to keep track of what I’m currently up to. But I can also be found as myself on the networks listed above.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Catherine: Any writer or me in particular?
Morgen: Yes. Either? Both?
Catherine: I think that the landscape of publishing is changing and that things will look very different in the next couple of years – ebooks and self-publishing will impact how publishers, large and small, do business. I think that writers who can’t adapt to the e-landscape will have a difficult time continuing as professional writers. For me personally, I hope that the future holds many more publications, new readers and the occasional award.
Morgen: Absolutely, me too (for both… all, of us). If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Catherine: I’d have started writing earlier than I did (my mid-thirties).
Morgen: It’s funny, a lot of people have said that. You were ahead of me (late-thirties). Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Catherine: What motivates you to work with other writers?
Morgen: The short answer is that I live and breathe writing. I won’t bore you with the long version (because I could, I promise you!) but I was asked to be interviewed and loved it so put the word out to do the same and here we are 212 interviews later… with many more booked in. It makes me realise how many authors there are out there trying to be noticed (like me :)). That wasn’t too bad, was it? 🙂 Thank you Catherine.
I then invited Catherine to include an extract of her writing and this is from her story “The Letter of Marque”, in ‘A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories’ (Lethe Press, 2011):
Celeste Adéle Gírard laughed, fluttering her fan just below her topaz eyes. The gesture was enough to make her audience, old rakes and young chevaliers alike, vie against each other even harder to make her laugh again. But Celeste was becoming distracted. Her gaze turned as often on the ballroom door as it did to her admirers, making their aspirations even more difficult to attain.
A liveried footman announced each new guest as they arrived, bowing them into the Governor’s ballroom as if it were Versailles itself. Celeste smothered a sigh at the memory of her last vision of her beloved France. Oh, to leave this benighted island, hot, dull and filled with boorish Englishmen!
Sternly, she reminded herself that the King had promised to make her a Countess if she succeeded in her mission. That alone should be reason enough to stay. She drew herself up and smiled harder.
It was at that moment the footman announced a “Mr. Bernard”. Mademoiselle Gírard merely glanced briefly toward the door as if the arrival of the man she hunted was of little moment before declaring herself faint from the heat. A hundred arms, or so it seemed, were proffered and she was soon swept off to an elegant, uncomfortable chair from which she could observe her quarry. The youngest of her admirers was dispatched to fetch her wine and exited with resigned grace.
Bernard had not seen her, which was as well since he might have recognized her from the Court.
Morgen: “boorish Englishmen” as an Englishwoman I’ve met a few. 🙂
Update August 2012: Since our original chat Catherine released her novel ‘Silver Moon’ so her updated biography reads as follows…
Catherine Lundoff is the award-winning author of Silver Moon: A Women of Wolf’s Point Novel (Lethe Press, 2012) as well as the short story collections Night’s Kiss (Lethe Press, 2009), Crave (Lethe Press, 2007) and A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories (Lethe Press, 2011). She is the editor of Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008) and the co-editor, with JoSelle Vanderhooft, of the anthology Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic (Lethe Press, 2011). In her other lives, she’s a professional computer geek, the spouse of her fabulous wife and an occasional teacher of writing classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Website: www.catherinelundoff.com.
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