Cate Tells Us The Truth

Last night I was lucky enough to be at fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. To say Cate’s latest book has been getting good reviews would be like saying Coco Chanel made a few dresses. Hank Phillippi Ryan described Cate’s latest as “intricate, intense, and completely sinister.” Our own award-winning Miss Demeanor Alexia Gordon summed up Cate’s third novel by saying, “Wow. Just wow. As soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Cate Holahan hits you with a twist you did. Not. See. Coming…A taut story.” Library Journal had this to say, “Recommended for anyone who enjoys Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn, primarily because it’s better.”  I managed to steal this master of psychological suspense away from her fans at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca to ask her a few questions about writing.  Many suspense writers write series. You don’t. How do you come up with completely new ideas and characters for each book? Cate: I don’t really know how ideas come to me. When they do, however, they arrive as semi-fleshed out stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Recently, on a trip to Iceland, I saw a boiling hot spring that could melt a body. That night, I returned to my hotel and outlined an entire story about a group of bachelors that go to Iceland for a stag party and meet a female environmentalist tour guide. Their vacation won’t end as well as my own. I have a folder on my computer where I have outlines and character notes for upcoming stories. My protagonists are often sketched out with my initial idea, but they develop more during my first draft and are fully realized in my second when I re-plot the story so that it grows organically from the people in it.  Without giving anything away, what is Lies She Told about? Cate: Lies She Told centers around a suspense author, Liza, whose work-in-progress novel points to clues concerning a disappearance in her real life. It’s a twisty, psychological thriller that plays with the philosophical concepts of mimesis and anti-mimesis: does art imitate life or is it the other way around? The novel is two tales in one that intersect. There’s the story of Liza, a writer struggling to pen a new suspense book capable of reviving her flailing career, as well as to conceive a child with her husband, David, who is distracted by the sudden disappearance of his law partner Nick. And, there’s the story that Liza is writing about Beth, a mom with a six-week-old who believes her husband is having an affair. As she writes, Liza begins to see parallels in her work that hint at secrets kept by those closest to her, forcing her to confront the inspiration of her fiction. Is her subconscious picking up on information that is revealing itself in her work? Or, are the similarities all coincidences? You’ve been a professional writer for quite some time, but in your prior life as a journalist you wrote non-fiction. What made you want to write fiction? Cate: I always wanted to write fiction. I have a couple books in drawers and wrote novels in my free time. I didn’t write anything worth publishing, unfortunately, until I took the plunge and let go of the steady paycheck that journalism had provided. I loved the interviewing and research aspects of journalism, and writing everyday. But I never felt that I got to stretch my creative muscles writing for business publications. That job was more about understanding the companies that I covered, and accurately and concisely explaining a concept or point of view.  Is there any advice you wish you’d known when you started your career that you can pass on to aspiring writers? Cate: Learn your genre. Telling a good story is one thing but you have to know the readers that you are writing for and what their expectations may be. Before getting published, I wrote a couple “trunk junk” books that I thought had decent stories but didn’t fit into a genre. They were romantic, suspense, literature, comedy, all over the place tales.  What is something readers may not know about you? Cate: I sang and played piano in a rock band–though, I’m not sure that is a surprise as many novelists whom I’ve met have dabbled in music or other performing arts. I have a tattoo of books turning into birds on my left arm. The placement makes it more or less invisible unless I flip my wrist over. I think I might be just preppy enough for this to be subversive. But probably not. Tattoos are so common now.  

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