- GUEST AUTHOR -
Today, I interview an author from the south. Katherine also collects typewriters and cameras.
Welcome, Katherine ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I grew up in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Northeast Georgia. My parents were very old fashioned in their lifestyle, as well as their attitudes. They both grew up even deeper in the mountains, during the Great Depression and told stories of those times, about living in houses with no electricity or running water, and how most people were self-sustaining. They grew their own food, raised and butchered livestock, and made what they needed. I think those stories had a lot of influence on my love of history. In 1980, when I was in college, I discovered civil war re-enacting, and it has became a hobby that led to the publication of my first books for History In An Hour. In between there was college and marriage and kids and work, but there was always the ongoing research, even when there were no re-enactment groups to belong to. The writing began in high school and became something that sustained me through some very difficult times. It became a mixture of escapism, obsession, and outlet. I never expected it to become a career.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
When I was in high school, in the late sixties, my friends and I were all crazy for TV westerns. We particularly loved one that aired in 1968 called “Lancer.” (If you saw the movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, that is the TV western that Rick Dalton guest starred on.) One morning, one of my friends came in talking about a dream she’d had about all of us and the show. Somebody said, “Somebody aught to write this down.” I took the job on, and that’s where the writing began. Over the years, it became a source of escapism and practice for the career I would eventually have as a journalist. Years later, long after graduation, I called my friend. When she asked, “Who is this?”, I said, “Well, I’ll give you a hint. We used to talk about moving to Texas and having horses. I did and you didn’t.” She was screaming my name as soon as it was out of my mouth. She never forgot.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
If you’re familiar with NaNoWriMo, you’ve heard the expression, “There’s pantsers and there’s planners.” I am definitely a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I never plan a story. I can’t work like that. A story can begin with a scene that pops into my head or a name, and everything else sort of follows on its own. I’ve had no formal education about writing and I’m still learning about perspective and character development and all the mechanics of the story. But it all begins with a story that comes from my imagination. It makes for a lot of hard work when the story is done, but I have a solid story to work with.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Freedom. Freedom to let your imagination run wild, freedom from rules when you step up to the challenge of making everything work, being able to take characters in any direction I want them to go. Editors will tell you what they think you need to change, but they will also tell you that in the end, its your story and your name and you get to have the last word. In your writing, you can do whatever you want and nobody gets to stop you, much less tell that you can’t do it again. You can live out your wildest fantasies, kill off your enemies and make the world the place you want it to be.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
After the story is written, if you’re self published. You find an editor and begin the endless rewrites. You need a cover artist. The work has to be proofed, beta read, formatted, laid out, put into files that go to all the different outlets for ebooks and the files for the printers. After the book is finally published, you have to update all your social media and plan signings and readings and the list goes on! If you opt to pitch to an agent, you have to prep before you decide who to pitch to, and you may pitch to a couple dozen agents before you find one that will even take a look at your book.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
“Past life” is a good way to describe it. More like “past lives” in my case. I never expected to leave the town where I grew up or go to college. I studied engineering, been married twice, had two children, worked in radio, print media and broadcast media as a journalist, I’ve been a historian, a cop and a teacher. I’ve lived in seven states and two countries, traveled extensively, and I’m not done yet.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
So far, holding a copy of a book I wrote in my hands.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Another historical fiction that I wrote while I was in Maine. I try to keep the historical fiction as factual as possible, except, of course, for the characters. The story is about a young woman cut off from her family when the American Civil War erupts. There are few options for a women alone and she takes on the guise of a young man so that she can provide for herself and avoid being seen as prey. She ends up on the Texas-Mexico border, a place that was far more active during the war than people realize. She works as a spy, not for the south or the north, but for a group of British businessmen. It still carries all the dangers of spying and life in the wilderness of West Texas. She manages to avoid too much trouble for four years until her employers send someone to work with her. Suddenly, she’s running into problems at every turn.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
We travel a lot, and I have found that new faces and new places provide a great deal of inspiration for writing. It feeds the muse. Communicating with other writers helps a lot, too. I’ve lived in some isolated places where there were no other writers, except for those I was in contact with on social media. But even the messaging back and forth with those writers helped inspire me to keep working, just as it does now that social distancing is so important. I’ve begun chatting with several other authors over the past month or so. We really need to keep it up after this mess is over.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Historical fiction, usually. I’ve also done history books and plan to do more. I’ve also written some unpublished works of crime and scifi. I would like to publish those someday.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Find a writers group near you and attend meetings. They are your source of support and inspiration, as well as finding out about workshops and events and writing opportunities and resources that you are going to need.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Anybody who says they don’t is a great big fibber. I’ve found the best way to deal with it is to walk away for a while. If you try to push through, you’re going to produce work that isn’t work sending to the editor.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
No. When it comes time to begin the editing process, I drive the editors crazy because I can’t just pick it up and work. I have to be in the mood.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Sort of. With my first books, I got into the habit of staying in bed in the mornings, communicating with other writers over social media, and working on whatever project I had going. For some reason, that still works for me, whether it’s morning or I go back and sit on the bed in the afternoon, or late at night.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Painting my characters into a corner and then figuring out how to get them out.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Diana Gabaldon. She does her homework for her books and she believes, as I do, that if it takes 300,000 words to tell a story, then you use 300,000 words to tell the story. I hate being told that a novel can’t go over a certain word count.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
A local book club took up my last book one month. When I ran into one of the members, she growled at me that “that damned book” had kept her up all night. Before I could ask why, she said, “I couldn’t put it down.”
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
“I hated it.” (You won’t find anybody that knows him who won’t agree that the guy who said it is a jackass.)
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Absolutely. They say to write what you know. The historical fiction is influenced by all the reading and research and visits to historic sites. The crime drama is influenced by my interest in law enforcement. I wanted to go into law, too, but it didn’t work out for me. The latest book was inspired by the area we lived in when we were in Texas and the history of that area. The Texas-Mexico border was very active with spies and soldiers from both sides.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
The hubby, my kids and grandkids, my friends, travel, dogs and horses, sewing and crafting, old cars and trucks, any excuse to be outside, cooking.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Always. That old saying that it takes a village to raise a child? It takes one to complete a book, too. Once the story is told, you need an editor to help with clean up. They help you fill in plot holes, keep perspective where its supposed to be, make sure the characters are filled out, the list goes on. They do so much more than make sure the spelling, grammer and punctuation are correct.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Going exploring with hubby, with a picnic lunch or lunch at a neat little hole-in-the-wall place that serves good food, maybe coming across a junk shop and finding an old typewriter or camera (I collect them.) We like to go places we haven’t been before or to our favorite beach. Even when the weather isn’t suitable for swimming, we like to bundle up and walk along the shore.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
The hubby. I got lucky and married my best friend. We can spend hours or days together without getting on each other’s nerves. We like the same things and we like just hanging out together.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
I have no idea. The problems of our world are so complicated, and the list of things we need to change is so extensive that I wouldn’t know where to start.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Beyond getting the new book out? In another year, we will be reposting back to the US. We are hoping for a post closer to our kids and grandkids, maybe in Texas. We miss Texas. We think of it as home. My husband plans to retire in a few years and we will be looking for a retirement home in Western North Carolina. I don’t plan to stop writing. It’s one of those things that you can do anywhere.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
I don’t think we would sell as many books without them. People don’t want to invest in a book only to begin reading and find that it isn’t what they were looking for.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
My sister says that all my female characters are me. Maybe some are. I try to write about strong women. Not all of them know they’re strong. They’re either searching for the strength they need or they are aware of their own capability. I like to think that I’m a strong woman. But if there’s a difference between being strong and being bull-headed, I might have to rethink that.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
YES! It used to be so difficult to get published. Now, it’s too easy. And I think people are getting published just because their name sells or they’re willing to spend the money to self publish. It eliminates the filter that separates good work from all the rest. If you try to go to an agent, they are so overwhelmed with submissions that they have to skim over queries and good works gets overlooked.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
No. I like being published and I to be more successful than I am. But I don’t write to be successful. I write because I love it. It costs me nothing but well-spent time to keep writing, so why quit?
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
That’s a tough question because, as I said, I write because I enjoy it. But when I think “favorite” the one that comes to mind is the an unpublished scifi story. I like to use places I know as backdrops for my stories, and this one is set in the region where I grew up. It also relates to some of the old superstitions I heard of growing up.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
When your work is popular enough that your sales actually turn a profit, that might be one way to measure success. I’m not sure there is one way to define success for a writer and I think different writers might have different ideas about what success means to them.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
It depends on which book they’re reading. With the history books, the objective is to give people a basic knowledge of the subject matter. That’s one of the reasons the History In An Hour series was created. With the historical fiction, I would hope that they would read Silent Tears and come away with a better understanding of what life was like for women in the Victorian era, as well as some insight into the cruelty of abuse. The new book also focuses on the difficulties of being a woman in the late 19th century, but for different reasons. Hopefully, readers would realize just how oppressed someone can truly be, even though you can’t see that oppression on the surface.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
It might be fun to have a book made into a movie. I’ve never written a screenplay and I don’t think that I would want to, at least, not alone. Maybe, with the help of an experienced screenwriter. I would definitely expect to be a consultant. I work to keep historical accuracy in my books and I would expect a movie to do the same.
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I see the book cover as artwork. Even though I get ideas about covers as I’m writing, I usually end up working with a cover designer. The wrap for Silent Tears was done by an artist named Jessica Reed. I’ve had more than one person comment on how much they like the cover. I wanted something that would attract a readers attention and tempt them pick up the book and take a closer look. If a cover doesn’t create enough interest to get readers to pick it up, they’re not going to buy it.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
Writing a major best seller.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I am terrible at marketing, which is strange. When I worked in radio, I did sales. I was pretty good at marketing a customer’s business. But when it comes to promoting myself, I seem to be seriously lacking. If you self publish, you have to be able to self promote. So, I’m trying to learn how to pitch to an agent and let a professional do the promoting.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Only Silent Tears was self published. The three I did with History In An Hour and Harper Collins—American Slavery In An Hour, American Civil War In An Hour and Abraham Lincoln In An Hour—were not.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
A stubborn, sentimental, sarcastic Southern smartass. If I decide to stand my ground, you’re going to have to do some heavy duty convincing to get me to budge. My family and friends mean the world to me and I hang onto every little tricket than anyone gives me. No one gets my sense of humor because I deliver sarcastic remarks with a straight face. I take pride in my Southern roots and Southern heritage. I try to be polite, and I never waste breath saying anything I don’t mean.
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Bullies. I can’t stand bullies. It’s quite a shock for them when they try to push me and I push back instead of backing away.
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Which one? I’m usually reading several at one time. Seven Stones To Stand Or Fall by Diana Gabaldon. Frontier Texas: History of a Borderland to 1880 by Robert F. Page and Donald S. Frazier. We Saw Lincoln Shot: One hundred Eyewitness Accounts by Timothy S. Good. The second one is research for the current book and the last one is first hand accounts from people who were somehow connected to the Lincoln assassination at Ford’s Theatre. Many were people who were in the audience. Some were soldiers who were involved afterward and some were actors in My American Cousin, the play that was being performed that evening. With so many different perspectives you get a more detailed picture of what happened that night. The book is very well done. Good points out that readers should remember that some of the accounts were given years after the incident itself and that should be taken into account, especially when contradictory details present themselves.
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
See you on the other side.
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
Presently, we are posted in Canada, because of my husband’s job. I am not happy here and never have been. It comes back to a small percentage of people who make assumptions about Southerners and want to shove their opinions about the US down the throat of an American. We are due to go home to the US in about a year and I would love it if my husband could get a post in Texas. I was happier there than anywhere we’ve ever lived. We would also be closer to our kids and grandkids. And, of course, Texas is a great muse. The mountain of books written about the state is proof of that.
43. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I never expected to leave the small town where I grew up. My family was so poor that we didn’t know we were poor because most of the people we knew were in the same situation. And yet, if you ask anyone from hometown about Kat Smutz, they probably won’t have any idea who you’re talking about. I wasn’t called “Kat” when I was growing up and few people in my hometown have met my husband and probably don’t know his last name. That’s how far I’ve come from where I began. Here I am, 45 years after I left there, living in another country, in a profession that I never would have imagined, married to the best husband in the world. I’ve lived and traveled all over the US and halfway around the world more than once. It’s just not how a little country girl from the Southern Appalachian Mountains expects her life to turn out.
Clancy's comment: Go, Katherine! You make some interesting points here. Thank you. Good luck with sales.