Welcome to the six hundred and eighty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery novelist and interviewee (October 2011) Catherine Astolfo. 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, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Catherine: Hi, Morgen! I’m from a medium-sized city in Canada, located near Toronto, Ontario. Growing up, the city was a small town, and we had characters galore. My mother always told us lovely stories about her life on a farm. Thus I had a rich upbringing in creativity. As soon as I could put pencil to paper, I started writing stories. First, fairy tales for my classmates, then short stories for my sisters and cousins. I have the feeling that I was born a writer.
Morgen: How lovely. I read a lot when I was younger (and Stephen King in my teens) but it didn’t occur to me that it was a profession I could do until I went to evening classes January 2005). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Catherine: I write mysteries. Lately, there is a new sub-genre that’s being bandied about in North America at least: the literary mystery. Much as I dislike the term “literary”, I must say that I am happy at last to have a category for my books. One literary agent said that the plots of literary mysteries are “underneath the surface”. The characters take the front seat. The vocabulary tends to be somewhat more extensive and the focus is on the personalities involved. The reader learns something about the human condition through the stories. In addition to solving a puzzle, of course. My current novel, Sweet Karoline, can also be classed as a psychological thriller: the unreliable narrator; the underlying feeling that we’re not being told everything. I have considered other genres, especially the general literary one. In fact, I have an outline for a future book that follows a couple of generations of women.
Morgen: I’ve always thought of literary as being a genre that are more poetic than other genres (and where non-genre books fit)… no doubt I’ll have readers tell me otherwise! What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Catherine: I have had four mystery novels and several short stories published so far. On July 14, 2013, the fifth book, Sweet Karoline, debuted. My publisher is an independent Canadian company from Edmonton, Alberta. My short stories have appeared in such publications as NorthWord Literary Magazine. In fact, “What Kelly Did” won the 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story in Canada. I don’t use a pseudonym, although I have considered using my maiden name for a future book that’s not in the mystery genre.
Morgen: Some authors do to avoid their avid fans expecting one book but reading another (although looking at the jacket blurb would help) but I’ve always written a bit of everything so I don’t have to another name (it is hard enough to get one noticed!). Have you self-published? If so, what led to you going your own way?
Catherine: As a matter of fact, I self-published my Emily Taylor mystery novels first, before I acquired a contract with Imajin Books for all four of them. I was a bit impatient initially and am grateful to Imajin for taking a chance on a series that had already done the “soft sell” (i.e. to family, colleagues, friends). Emily Taylor has faired much better with Imajin’s brilliant marketing skills. There are, however, lots of pros to self-publishing, too. I think we’ll see more authors going that route as electronic channels make the process easier. Of course, there are cons to all of that, too. But if a writer has a good product, something that readers identify with, popularity will follow no matter which route the author took.
Morgen: It’s certainly a hard slog with no one else in your corner – I think why people are so grateful to have this platform. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Catherine: All of my books are available as eBooks. Fortunately, my publisher does all the work in that area, because I’d be lost. However, I do read eBooks. I love my Kindle. Mostly because I have very little room left on my shelves, I am happy to store up to 1000 novels in one slim package. It’s also very convenient when we travel. I no longer use up all the weight in my suitcase with books. Having said all that, I still buy paperbacks too, especially when I can have them signed at a reading. I’m happy that the Emily Taylor Mysteries and Sweet Karoline are available in both formats.
Morgen: I’ve just uploaded four collections of short stories (with another two on their way) and it’s really not that difficult but then I’ve done a few now. I also have a guide on how to eBook. Designing covers is possibly the most fun bit, next to writing of course. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Catherine: I love Sweet Karoline (don’t tell the Emily Taylors I said that). I believe it’s my best work to date. Although I also love Emily, I have a feeling that Karoline is going to be even more popular. It’s such a hybrid: mystery, romance, history, psychological thriller. So far, among an eclectic bunch of first readers, it has appealed to everyone. Emily might be a bit more oriented toward a mature female audience. For Sweet Karoline, the lead character is Anne. I really want Halle Berry to play her in the movie! Although Halle’s a bit older than Anne, I’m sure she could pull it off; she’s who I picture when I think of that character. As for Emily, I’d pick Jonny Lee Miller to be her husband Langford.
Morgen: An interesting pair. I’d definitely go and see it. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Catherine: I am a voracious reader and always have been. My absolute favourite authors are John Steinbeck and Margaret Laurence. Their writing is so rich and complex and beautiful. I know they shaped me as a writer, because as a reader, I am fond of description, multifaceted characters and remarkable settings. I think authors tend to write what they like to read, so although I don’t pretend to reach the heights of a Steinbeck or a Laurence, I strive to emulate them.
Morgen: We do have our own voices but as I’ve been told many times, we have to be readers as well as writers. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Catherine: Imajin Books is an incredibly inclusive publisher. I did choose the titles. As well, I had a lot of input into the covers. Ryan Doan is the cover designer for Imajin and I am always blown away by his images, colour and motif for each of my novels.
Morgen: It’s a great cover. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Catherine: At the moment, I’m working on a short story for the Mesdames of Mayhem Anthology, a Young / Adult mystery novel, and a cozy called Nosy Rosie. I’m beyond busy, but I must like it that way, since it tends to be my state of being.
Morgen: It’s one I’ve got used to too, although it certainly beats having a day job (although I’ll be teaching creative writing locally from next January so it doesn’t give me long to get everything done that I want to get done – see earlier reference to eBooking and add in six unpublished novels). Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?