Monday, October 9, 2017

An Interview with Kathy Cannon Wiechman

A few weeks ago I read Not on Fifth Street, a novel for children by Kathy Cannon Wiechman, and I am still thinking about it. I didn't used to read so much historical fiction, but lately I am drawn to it, fascinated by how people in the past respond to events, and wondering if we have learned the lessons history has to teach us.

The answer is often, sadly, no.

Not on Fifth Street takes place in Ironton, Ohio, 1937. It's the dark days of the Depression and the town is about to suffer through a record-breaking flood. The story centers around two teen brothers, the narrative unfolding as the rains begin and the river rises, each brother challenged by the crisis in different ways, believing what the adults have told them, that the water will never reach them

until it does.



I met Kathy Cannon Wiechman at a writers retreat several years and since then I have been following her career and her stories closely, and I am so happy to have her with me today, On the Verge.

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Jody: First, Kathy, I have to tell you how much I loved these characters-- their relationship with each other and how they reacted to the same event and also their very different way of interacting with their father. I know from the author's note at the back of the book that these boys are based on people in your life.

Kathy: That's right. The 1937 flood was an event my father experienced.

Jody: Are all of your books inspired by family experiences? I imagine that you've heard lots of stories from older relatives about things that have happened to them when they were growing up. What makes you think: THIS is an anecdote that could be made into a novel?

Kathy: My books are usually inspired by an interesting event, like a steamboat explosion that claimed more lives than the Titanic (Like a River, 2015). When I hear about any event that makes me want to know more about it, I figure readers might be interested too.

Jody: Once you have that spark for a story, what do you next?

Kathy: Research. And I keep researching until the idea begins to gel into a possible plot. My next step is to create the characters I want to tell the story through. I can't begin the book until my main character is real enough for me to step inside his head.

Jody: Do you outline your books in advance?

Kathy: No, but I do make notes about possible scenes. Once I begin, I am not the kind of writer who writes a rough first draft all the way through. Each day, I read over, make changes, add details, and tweak what I wrote the day before. That puts me back into the flow of the narrative to continue from there. Some days I write a scene I feel should have been hinted at earlier. The next day I might go back and add that change before I go on.

Jody: So, lots of reworking as you go.

Kathy: Yes. My "first draft" is what one member of my critique group calls a "first-ish draft." When I am finished and have comments from my critique groups, I sit down for a serious and thorough revision.

Jody: You write historical fiction for children. What draws you to that genre? Do you see yourself ever writing for other age groups/in other genres?

Kathy: I began my writing life as a poet and my novelist years writing contemporary fiction. But contemporary fiction became out-dated too quickly. I loved reading historical fiction from the time I was a kid, but I was intimidated by the amount of research I would have to do to write it.

Jody: How did you get past that initial fear?

Kathy: At some point I realized I would probably enjoy that research. And I do!

Jody: When I met you at a Highlights Retreat, you were working on your first novel and my own first book was just about to come out. Both of us, I think it's fair to say, had been writing and pursuing publication for a very long time before snagging our first book deals. For me it was five novels and seventeen years. What about you?

Kathy: Between the time I first submitted a novel manuscript to an editor and the day I was offered my first contract, I wrote eleven novels--and thirty-nine years passed.

Jody: This business is not for people who give up easily! What advice do you have for writers like us--people are not beginners but who have not yet broken into publication and may be feeling discouraged?

Kathy: Learn everything you can about the business, read a ton of books, write every day, and love what you do. If I didn't love writing I would never have stuck with it for thirty-nine years. If writing is what you love, never give up.

Jody: This is so important. We can't control the end result. We can only control the time we give to the process. What are you working on now?

Kathy: My current WIP is another Civil War novel. This one takes place in North Carolina. I have 26,000 words so far in my first-ish draft, and am eager every day to get back into it.

Jody: And I am eager to read it, Kathy! Okay, are you ready for the lightning round?

Kathy: I am!

J: What are the books on your nightstand?
K: The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

J: What's your non-writing-related hobby?
K: I spend time with family and organize our family reunions. I play cards and board games.

J: Do you have a family story that will probably never make it into a book?
K: My mother was brought to the US from Germany at the age of six to be adopted by her aunt. The adjustment was difficult for her. It's a story she always wanted to write, but never did. She's gone now, and I don't feel I know enough to do it justice.

J: Give me one surprising fact about Kathy Cannon Wiechman.
K: I have been a Type 1 diabetic since I was sixteen.

Jody: Thank you, Kathy, for chatting with me today. And readers, if you'd like to find out more about Kathy and her wonderful novels, see below.

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Kathy Cannon Wiechman is the author of Like a River: A Civil War Novel, which earned a Kirkus star and won the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize, and Empty Places, about life in a 1930s coal-mining camp in Kentucky.

She lives with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio, not far from where the story of Not on Fifth Street takes place.






Website: http://kathycannonwiechman.com
Facebook author page: Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Twitter account: @KathyCWiechman
Amazon
Barnes & Noble      



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How to Make a Natalie D. Richards Book... (a story in four parts, as told by her critique partner. me.)

Part One opens at a haunted house. It's Natalie's brilliant idea to take a writing retreat in the most haunted town in Ohio--

a quaint, artsy town on the Ohio River, with darling shops and restaurants, an old railroad bridge spanning the river that we walk across several times. The loveliest of cottages to rent (which also happens to be haunted!) Oh, and on the other side of the street from the lovely cottage, a creepy barn with skulls peering out of the windows.

We are too freaked out by the events of the weekend to think much about doing more than praising the heavens that we survived it, but several weeks later, Natalie tells me that she has an idea for a new book...

well, two ideas actually:

Idea number one is that freaky bridge we walked across multiple times, the metal beams and the precarious-looking slats beneath our feet. The clusters of locks, each one etched with the initials of long ago romances.

Idea number two is a broken boy. "His name is Theo," Natalie tells me. "And I'm trying to push him away,

because I know he's not a parent-approved hero. He has ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Honestly, he's a bit of a mess. But he's breaking my heart, Jody," she says, "and I can't stop thinking about him. About the way people see him and talk about him, and never see the rest of who he is.

Maybe it's messier or more difficult, but kids like Theo feel all the things other teens feel. They have hopes and dreams. They fall in love. I want to write him," she says, "because I can't not write him. I know his story deserves to be told."

So, I say what any good critique partner would say: Go write it!!

Which leads us to

Part Two.

Here is a fun thing Natalie and I do every single weekday morning:

She calls me on her drive in to work and after giving me an update on the horrific traffic and her daily fun swing through the Starbucks drive-thru so she can get a peppermint mocha, we talk shop. I tell her what's going on in my WIP and she tells me what's going on in hers. (Okay, we also talk about our kids, our husbands, our dogs, and the latest crap news we've woken up to and how we are supposed to write books in this world, but then inevitably we move our conversation back to writing because it is what we do.)

The book she's writing is called "The Haunted Bridge Book."

And it is stressing Natalie out. She's got the boy, Theo, in all his broken-ness, and messed-up-ness figured out, but she's struggling with the girl. Her name is Paige and she's got a secret crush on Theo but Theo's done something terrible to her. Not sure what yet.

And then, omg, Natalie knows what Theo did. And it's horrible. Will it work? Can she write this book? My guess: yes. Because Natalie, I've come to learn very quickly, is a master at writing books.

Not that they spill out easily for her. We spend the next few months in daily discussion about Theo and Paige. There's lots of anxiety involved, in the writing of it for Natalie and in the character of Paige, who, interestingly enough, is consumed by anxiety, about food, about germs, about her parents and their expectations for her, and especially about Theo and what he did to her...

We work through plot holes and structural problems. Character motivation. Roadblocks. What happens next? What the heck IS this book, anyway?

A moment of insight for Natalie when she realizes she is not writing a thriller, but a supernatural horror-- and supernatural horror, be definition, cannot be logically explained.

After roughly four months Natalie finishes the first draft, and--

Part Three--

she sends the file to me to read.

I LOVE being one of Natalie's first readers. I am a fan of her books and even though I have talked with her through the play-by-play, behind the scenes, piecing together of the manuscript, it's always cool to sit down and open her file for the first time.

I write comments as I read. Mark passages that are strong, and flag places where I am tripped up. There's a moment about two thirds of the way through, where I feel like we've mind-melded. I'm in her head and she's in mine. I see the book on the page as she's written it and I know the story that she's trying to tell. I sense where it's falling slightly short and I can pinpoint where she's hit it exactly right.

We have more phone conversations. We send flurries of emails back and forth.

She goes back in for round two. Round three.

Round four after she's gotten her letter back from her editor. And after she's gotten her copyedits. And after she sees her final proof.

Time passes, and the book is out of her hands, the publisher and book designer and cover artist and marketing people doing what they do. Natalie's writing another book. We talk on the phone. We puzzle through plot holes. We analyze possible character motivation.

Today, she's working through a traumatic kiss scene. The traffic into the city is bad. Our kids are worried about the state of the world. Forget the Peppermint Mocha. She is going all in on the new Maple Syrup Pecan Latte at Starbucks.

Today is also Part Four. 

Her book We All Fall Down is officially out in the world. In bookstores. In libraries. On Amazon. I still call it "The Haunted Bridge Book."

The cover is gorgeous, don't you think?



But here is what I picture:




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Lifelong Ohioan, Natalie D. Richards, spent many years applying her writing skills to stunningly boring business documents. Fortunately, she realized she’s much better at making things up, and has been writing for teens ever since.

A champion of aspiring authors, Richards is a frequent
speaker at schools, libraries, and writing groups. She lives in Ohio with a Yeti, a Wookie (her dogs) and her wonderful husband and children.

Where to find Natalie:

Website: Nataliedrichards.com
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @Natdrichards
Instagram

Buy her books here:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon

And here's a teaser for We All Fall Down...


A new romantic thriller―with a dash of horror―from the author of One Was Lost and Six Months Later

Theo's always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He's obsessed over that decision. And it's time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She's trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene―Theo's fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember...and pay for what they each did.