Kate White answers some questions
- Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique? The Wrong Man opens with a woman going, by invitation, to the apartment of a man she slept with on vacation, and the person who opens the door is not the man she expects to find there. Life is filled with unexpected twists and discoveries, some very unsettling, and I love thinking and writing about them.
Though the twists in my book tend to be bigger than ones I’ve faced in life, I’ve had my share of rude awakenings. I dated a guy in my twenties who turned out to be a huge liar and it was unsettling to eventually find that what I assumed to be reality wasn’t at all. Those experiences ideally teach you to be better at reading situations and trusting your gut. And writing about them helps, too
How is my book different than others? I’ve never actually read a plot exactly like this, though many thrillers have details in common. For instance, I love the new thriller The Flight Attendant by Chris Bojalian. It opens with a woman waking to discover that the man she spent the night with his lying stabbed to death next to her. That happened in my psychological thriller Hush. It was really fun for me to see what another author did with the same basic idea.
- How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a notebook where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time? I start with a germ of an idea and then I think about it over several months. (I often have to do this while I’m finishing up another book). I like to know the ending of a book before I start and also have a rough idea of all the major plot points.
Funny you should ask about a notebook because I do keep one for each book. In the beginning I use it to jot down all sorts of questions about the plot, and somehow my subconscious gives me the answers, sometimes even as I’m making notes. I read this technique somewhere and it works fantastically (even for life in general).
Eventually I use the same notebook to do a rough outline of each chapter before I write it. And to be honest, I love feeling a little like a schoolgirl again–but without the angst!
- How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book? I research when I’m developing the idea and then research other details as I write. I’m often still researching when I write the final chapter. So in a sense it’s always a year.
- What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote? I use the Internet constantly for research, but I also like to actually go to a setting I’m writing about. The Wrong Man opens in the Florida Keys and though I researched the area thoroughly online, I ended up going down there for a few days (you should have heard me explaining the need for my trip to my husband!) When I started up the writing again after the trip, I didn’t change the opening chapter much (though the trip gave me the idea to have a gecko dart up a tree), but I felt more confident about what I’d written. While in Florida, I also visited the Miami morgue for a later scene in the book and that was a very gripping experience.
- How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience? I’ve found that police and forensic experts are more than happy to help. You just have to get up your nerve to ask and make sure your questions are smart. And thank them in the acknowledgements!
- How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted? My first mystery was accepted with only four chapters written and the publisher gave me a two-year contract. But I was the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan then and had written several non-fiction books, so they had confidence I wouldn’t flake out on them. It was a bit of a fluke situation.
- Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist? From what I’ve picked up, self-publishing can be fruitful and some authors have done really well with it. But many people in the business say that it still pays to be published, if possible, by a major house. I love to write so much that if a publisher stopped wanting to publish me, I definitely try self-publishing.
- Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened? For me being an author has been a real financial success, but that’s in part because for many years I combined it with having a day job. My day job provided me with a pension and health insurance and the like. I wrote my first eight mysteries while still at Cosmo. Yes, it can feel like burning the candle at both ends, but I do believe it’s best to try to really establish yourself as an author before you quit that day job. I didn’t leave until I had all my ducks in a row financially and knew I could afford to live even if my books stopped selling.
And though it may not sound very creative, I think it’s important to approach the situation like a business. Get a sense of what genres are selling and where there may be room for you. I’ve heard great writers recommend that write the book you’re dying to write, and there’s truth in that, but I think if you’re writing a thriller or mystery, it can be smart to know the marketplace. As an entrepreneur once said to me, “It’s not enough to think about what you want from the world. You have to think about what the world wants from you.”
- What is the funniest thing that happened to you on a book tour? I did a major event with several other authors and the event planners had a set designer create a scene from each of our books. They were all terrific, except I don’t think the designer realized that with the scene he created for my book, he was giving away the killer and the ending. Oops! I just had to laugh to myself and hope no one realized it.
- What do you read when you are ill in bed? I love mysteries and thrillers at all times but I find they’re particularly good as “comfort” reading.
- What is your favourite genre? I love literary fiction, books that stay with you forever, like Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending or James Joyce’s The Dead. I love to go back and read those books again and again and think about them endlessly.
- If you recommend a living author – who would it be? A dead author? Someone who comes to mind right away is American writer Anita Shreve, who just passed away at 71. Her novel The Last Time They Met is one of my favorites.
- Which author had the most influence on your writing? Your writing style? Your writing genre? I can’t name just one. I have so many favorites. In terms of mysteries, I am a total sucker for Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series. It helped me learn to be better at creating red herrings and legitimate clues and not being unfair to the reader by having a killer no one would have ever expected.
- In your opinion who is the funniest author now writing? I don’t read a lot of humor though I’m enjoying the new memoir Just the Funny Parts by screenwriter Nell Scovell. If Hollywood intrigues you, you’ll like it.
- Have you ever tried to imitate another author’s style? And if so, why? No, not at all. My favorites are so talented I couldn’t come close.
- What have you done with the things you wrote when in school? I saved everything for years and when moving left them in my then-boyfriend’s parents’ basement, in a suitcase. They threw everything out my mistake. It made me ill, and it took a long time for me to just let it go and accept. I know a lot of it was silly, but I’d love to get a peek at the girl I once was.
Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve works of fiction: seven Bailey Weggins mysteries and five stand-alone psychological thrillers, including most recently, The Secrets You Keep. For fourteen years she was the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and though she loved the job (and the Cosmo beauty closet!), she decided to leave in late 2013 to concentrate on being a full-time author and speaker.
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