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Welcome my special guest, Catherine Astolfo, award-winning author of mysteries and psychological suspense novels. Her latest work, SWEET KAROLINE, was just released by Imajin Books only a day ago and it’s already soon becoming an Amazon bestseller. Catherine is currently busy promoting her novel on the blogosphere, but she was generous enough to give me some of her time and answer my questions. 

1. Welcome, Catherine! Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

In 2002, I retired from a 35-year education career. Although I enjoyed the profession very much, my passion has always been writing.  I did write some short fiction while working and had a few stories and poems published in small literary magazines. However, I didn’t have much energy for the longer fiction I wanted to tackle, both in terms of the actual writing as well as the submission process. I began my first novel as soon as the ink dried on my retirement letter. I’ve now written 5 books and several short stories, all of which have been published.  My husband and I have lots of kids and grandkids combined, plus we live with two very spoiled cats.

2. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I remember writing fairy tales for my classmates in Grade Three. I probably wanted to be an author from the first time I could string words together. In Grade 8, I wrote a speech about “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” and it was about – being an author! I won first prize, too.

3. Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I was and still am a voracious reader. I will read anything. I love mystery, obviously, but I am an eclectic reader – I will go with fantasy or literary or non-fiction. My absolute favorite authors, since I was a teenager, are Margaret Laurence and John Steinbeck.

4. Tell us a bit about your latest book, SWEET KAROLINE, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Sweet Karoline explores the mindset of a psychologically fragile character throughout a journey of self-discovery that involves universal themes of beauty, racism, love, treachery, family history, and crime.

There were several points of inspiration for Sweet Karoline. The first one is a theme that runs through all my books. I am fascinated by evil, by the psychopathology that leads people to harm others. How is a monster created? Are they born or developed? How can we recognize them? For Sweet Karoline, I explored that theme through the complicated relationship between two women.

My second inspiration, which I have to admit also runs through my other books, is my children’s background. They are a combination of white, black and native ancestry. I find the history unique and intriguing, in particular the family’s undocumented connection to Joseph Brant. As for Anne, the main character, she was very strong and inserted her personality into the book right from the beginning.  One of my children lives in Los Angeles, so I am somewhat familiar with that area and was inspired to place Anne in the film industry, as my children are filmmakers.

5. How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? 

I always do both. Sweet Karoline was no different from the others. I usually employ stream of consciousness first, then do an outline to guide my thoughts, and return to streaming. I also cook many scenes in my head. My outlines are always fluid. Often the characters (like Anne, in Sweet Karoline) like to take a different fork in the road from the one I originally envisioned.

6. Did your book require a lot of research?

I did quite a lot of research on psychopaths, Los Angeles, Burford, and Joseph Brant. I do caution my readers, though, that I adhere to the old adage, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”. My research gives me a sensibility, a broad knowledge, that I hope lends credibility to my plot and setting in particular. I would never want anyone to accept the information as “fact”, though, because I manipulate the details to fit my own imaginary visions and needs.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00070]7. What was your goal when writing this book?

I wanted to write a page-turner of a book, one in which the reader is always wondering: who is telling the truth? What’s really going on here? I had in mind a definition from author/agent Nathan Bransford, who said, “Psychological suspense has a crime or a mystery as the plot, but also mixes in an element of horror.  You’re not quite sure who is insane and who just has major psychological issues.”  I think that describes Sweet Karoline perfectly. I wanted to include history and romance along with the mystery and fear.  Anne declares herself a “hybrid” and that’s what her story is, too.

8. Who is your target audience? 

My target audience is anyone over the age of thirty who likes to read suspenseful novels. Although I thought Sweet Karoline might appeal more to women, I’ve found through my test readers that it’s very popular with men, too.

9. What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

I am definitely a daydreamer-fantasizer. I often feel that I don’t live in the real world 90% of the time. In the middle of anything – doing dishes, swimming, walking, and, sadly talking to other people – I can drift off into the plot of my current novel.  I do like to experience some things about which I write; for instance, setting. I am more confident describing a city or country that I’ve visited. (Google Earth has certainly helped with the expense of travel.) However, I can certainly imagine a town, as I did in the Emily Taylor Mysteries. Burchill is based on Merrickville, ON, but I gave it a lake and a native reserve. For Sweet Karoline, I travelled to Los Angeles and Italy for first-hand knowledge, and went to revisit the areas around Brantford, Ontario.

10. Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

There are many times when we are not friends. When she refuses to show up at the party, for instance. During those moments when she is absent, I carry on without her. I get out all the stuff for the celebration – the laptop, the research, the inspiring music, the snacks – and then I just start enjoying myself. Usually, after several meaningless sentences and bad descriptors, Muse shows up. She just can’t resist a good time.

11. Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

In spite of my advice to other writers to “just get it down on paper”, I am an obsessive editor. I do try to ignore “Ed” when I am in the midst of a really good flow, but I have to admit he sits on my shoulder and begs until I pay attention. It doesn’t help that Laptop cooperates with little red or green squiggles that pop up if I misspell something or use improper grammar. I do try very hard not to rewrite as I proceed, but I often find that I can’t focus until I go back and fix that mistake. It’s very annoying. I can’t tell whether or not it slows the process, because it does save on the edits later.

12. They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review? 

I’ve already had the lovely experience of negative reviews. For the first book, I cried. Then, just as a parent becomes a little more easy-going with each child, I began to care a little less with subsequent books. The best thing I ever read on that topic was a blog, but I forget who wrote it. She (I think it was a she) posited that everyone hates something. There are even people who hate puppies, kittens or chocolate, she said.  She included a list of the number of negative reviews received for Gone With The Wind and other classics. That blog made me feel so much better. Books are still like my babies, though, so it is difficult watching them go out into the world and get criticized. I try to remember that you can’t please everyone and sometimes my style is just not that reader’s “cup of tea”.  I could very easily slip back into tears at any moment, though, so I suppose that whole fragile ego thing fits me perfectly.

13. What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer? 

I’ve always belonged to a critique group or two. I find the support immensely encouraging and inspiring. However, my advice to someone who’s about to join a group – do some research first. Sit in on several sessions to see how they handle themselves, before bringing something to read.  Ensure that they are following this rule: Give positive, supportive reinforcement. This doesn’t mean we have to “like” something every time, but there are positive, supportive ways to suggest changes. Yes, I do think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling author. Probably not for long, if the person is a true writer, because nothing can really stop writers from writing, but it can set someone back or prevent them from submitting their work. Take time to build up trust before fully entering a critique group.

14. How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Since I didn’t seriously start submitting a book until I was retired, I felt pretty old for entering the scene. I got rather impatient when my first novel wasn’t snapped up immediately, so I self-published. It wasn’t a horrendous experience and in the last few years the process has become even more manageable. However, I yearned for a “traditional” publisher. Someone who had been in the business for a while, who had a lot of experience judging others’ writing, and who said to me, yours is worth taking a chance on. In 2011, I found that publisher, Cheryl Tardif of Imajin Books. A small, independent Canadian company, Imajin Books has a huge asset: Cheryl’s expertise in marketing and her own sensibilities when it comes to writing.

My advice to novice authors: do what feels good for you. If you don’t care about being traditionally published, go ahead and do it yourself. Even since 2004, when I first did it, self-publishing has lost much of its stigma. It’s no longer “vanity press” but an investment in your talent. In the meantime, you can still keep submitting your work to traditional publishers. Maybe you’ll find your own Imajin.

15. Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I have both! My website is here: www.catherineastolfo.com and my blog is here: www.katywords.blogspot.com

16. Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects? 

I have two of them on the go, which is something I seem to do a lot (juggle more than one). One is a young adult mystery and the other is a cozy mystery about a retirement home.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

 

 

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