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Monday, June 25, 2007

Interview with Cathy Elliott!

Today I’d like to welcome Cathy Elliot to our suspense site! She's going to chat with us about her cozy mystery series. Cathy, what was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

Cathy: What a great memory! After a weekend out of town, I came home to a phone message from my agent saying, “Cathy…we have a sale! Give me a call.” That was it, but it was enough. I was so happy I simply couldn’t quit smiling. I was drowning in gratitude, as well. So many talented writers submitting their work for years and hoping to get a call like this one, yet I had been given this great blessing. It was a blend of delight and joy and fear and thanks that I’ll never forget.

Lisa: I'm sure you won't ever forget the moment! Tell us some of the background behind the idea for your stories and about the story itself.

Cathy: Because I collect antiques, I set my story in an antique shop with lots of opportunities for my amateur sleuth to stumble into trouble. The book is full of things I love – like cats and quilts and small town charm and family. All stitched together with suspense, of course. Here is the story summary:
An antique dealer acquires a vintage vase with a list of familiar names inside. At first, she is just curious, but when one person listed meets with a freak accident and another goes mysteriously missing, Thea gets nervous and then gets involved, because…her name is next!

Lisa: Love the hook. I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

Cathy: A Vase of Mistaken Identity features a sweet, elderly quilter named Mary-Alice who, through an inner prompting, prays for Thea. When Mary-Alice explains her earnest prayers on her friend’s behalf, Thea is moved by God’s loving-care toward her. I am reminded by Mary-Alice’s obedient example to stop my busyness and pray for others when I hear His prompting, as well.

I also love Mary-Alice’s boldness for the faith in her everyday life. The fictional character was built on the memory of a dear saint who never feared a discussion about her Savior out loud or to anyone. She knew what (or should I say Who?) was really important in this life…and the next.

Lisa: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

Cathy: That it is possible to live your dream. Number two? Creative waiting.

Lisa: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

Cathy: Although I hope to do more books in the cozy genre, I’m interested in stretching my abilities a bit. I am currently working on a suspense mystery as well as Thea’s next cozy adventure. We’ll see what happens.

Specific dreams? For me, it really is all about the craft. I long to polish my prose so each book shines more brightly than the last.

Lisa: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?

Cathy: There are SO many tidbits! But let me encourage the pre-published writer that if you study the craft and put pen to paper (make that fingertip to computer key) on a regular basis, your chances for publication are good. If you can take constructive criticism and apply it to your piece, making the changes we all need to make, your chances become very good. And, if you persevere because you love writing, because you must write, I’d say it’s only a matter of time before your first sale.
Do enjoy that pre-pub time – the planning, the dreaming. The anticipation is delicious. 

Lisa: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

Cathy: Absolutely! Some favorites I recommend: Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King, Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, and a special fave for new writers - Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract by Camenson & Cook. (The Writer magazine is tops.)

In addition, I am an enthusiastic attendee of writer conferences and would encourage folks to participate in every available conference, seminar, or workshop that applies to the craft. Join a writer’s group in your area and be accountable to someone. Set goals and meet them. Have your work critiqued and do the same for others. You’ll learn a great deal about good writing (and mistakes to avoid) by doing so.

Lisa: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense?

Cathy: I start with a character and a hint of mystery. When I learn a bit more about my protagonist, I understand what he or she wants and that begins to push the plot forward. Then, I create a promo pitch statement – my elevator pitch. I try to build on that, add elements that round out the mystery. I often struggle to put the plot together – it’s my big weakness in the process. But once it’s figured out, I move to the synopsis.

As I write that ever-important story summary, I find places to insert clues or red herrings and work out details. The synopsis is my most useful tool. Though the story may change a bit, I refer to the synopsis again and again throughout the writing process. Next, I make up a rough chapter outline, considering word count and plot points. Then…it’s time to tell the tale.

Lisa: What is your system to keep the story/clues organized?

Cathy: A detailed synopsis helps me remember what is introduced and when. But often, story events just happen and I have to adjust my direction a bit. I also might put colorful sticky notes next to different chapter summaries in my outline. That way, I can see at a glance which clues are planted or exposed…where and when.

Lisa: Tell us a bit about the research you had to do for this story?

Cathy: For my first cozy mystery, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, I researched the dates and uses of various antiques to be sure I didn’t misrepresent them inside the book’s covers. And though my little town of Larkindale was mythical, I studied the California Gold Rush years when the town was born. I wanted to write up an authentic history for Larkindale that would ring true for history buffs when a character referred to ancestors who once lived there or events that once happened. The detective work served to make my town even more real - to me, at least.

I also featured a K9 Patrol Officer, a German Shepherd called Justice. Some time was spent researching the interesting subject of police dogs, K9 handlers, etc. In addition, I interviewed a local Police Officer, Michael Peery, whose first K9 partner was actually named Justice. Officer Peery gave me the information I needed to make those scenes ring true. I expect Justice will return in Thea’s next adventure.

Lisa: I've enjoyed so much chatting with you, Cathy and look foward to seeing many more books out by you soon.

Cathy: Thanks you so much for the opportunity to talk a little about my book and writer journey. It’s a privilege to be included with so many great suspense and mystery writers.

Don't forget to check out our contest page for a chance to win a copy of Cathy's book!

Cathy's Website


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