Tag: #cateholahan

#cateholahan

Back to School

I’m feeling just ever-so-slightly anxious. No, let me rephrase that: I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (to borrow a phrase from Pedro Almodóvar’s fabulous film). Every few minutes I take deep belly breaths to loosen the knot in my stomach. I’m doing guided meditations with embarrassing frequency so that a woman with a soothing British accent can advise me to “watch difficult emotions without resistance.” I’m drinking copious amounts of tea because holding a warm mug makes me feel a little calmer. Why? My revisions for Blood Atonement are due uncomfortably soon. I’ve been diligently working for weeks without feeling at all nervous. I set up a schedule, made a plan and have been (mostly) disciplined. Yesterday, though, I looked at the calendar and became overwhelmed with a jumble of distinctly unpleasant feelings. With the help of that disembodied British voice from my meditation app, I acknowledged my anxiety and put it in perspective. Getting a revised manuscript to one’s editor is not a life-or-death problem after all. I know that, but the knot in my stomach doesn’t seem to. Rather than letting myself sink into the quicksand of nervousness, I decided to take a cue from the season and become a student. I’m going to learn from other writers about how they approach their craft (and, I hope, learn something to help me get through the next few weeks). So, I’m dedicating this week to going back to school.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll get a lesson in political thrillers from Rick Pullen. In the evening, I’ll be attending fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. (If you’re going to be in New York on Tuesday, September 12th, I’ll see you at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street at 6:30 pm!) Wednesday morning, I’ll pass on what I learned from Cate about how she comes up with her spellbinding psychological thrillers. Thursday, I’ve got a tutorial with Daphne-Award winning writer S.B. Woodson. On Friday, I’m attending a master class taught by my fellow Miss Demeanors about how to work through the anxiety that comes with writing.  … gotta run. I hear my tea kettle.     

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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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Writing What Scares You

Whenever I am promoting a book, I get asked: How did you come up with the idea for the story? Invariably, the answer is that something scared the crap out of me. I had to explore and, hopefully, overcome my new fear by spending the next six months immersed in it. With my first book, Dark Turns, it was my daughter that spurred the fear-related obsession. She was three and enrolled in a serious ballet class–at least relative to all the cutesy baby ballet classes in the area. My child seemed to enjoy the discipline and the private attention that came with the group’s small enrollment. However, I worried about the physical demands of the class and all that rigor destroying her burgeoning love of movement and expression. One day, the teacher excitedly showed me my daughter performing a saddle split. She had her press against a cement wall and then pushed her pelvis against the concrete until both legs stuck out on either side. My kid smiled at me proudly and then her eyes started to water because achieving that extra inch of flexibility HURT. (This pic was a precursor to it.) I had a well controlled panic attack. Questions ran through my brain as I smiled and clapped. What does it do to a person taught to push herself beyond the limits of her physical comfort from age three? Should my child be this serious about anything at this point? If she continues on this path, what will all the rigor and pushing do to her psychologically?  The book that resulted is an exploration of the worst answers I could think of to those questions. The next year, I enrolled my kid in a more fun dance class that focuses on flexibility, though less intensely. If she still has a passion for ballet at eight, she can return to a more intense version. (Meanwhile, I hope I didn’t destroy the next Sara Mearns.) For my new book, The Widower’s Wife, it was fear of our new mortgage that spurred my writing.My husband and I had purchased a house in the suburbs and paying for it was (and is) dependent upon his salary. I began worrying about what would happen if he lost his job in another financial crisis/housing crisis/Great Recession. It would be difficult for him to secure employment immediately and, if the house declined in value at the same time, we would find ourselves extremely overburdened in a year or so. My salary would never make the payments. How would we recover? How easy would it be to downsize? How would my husband stomach downsizing?  I like to think that we both would be fine. We’d move away from the city. We’d use our skills differently. But… The characters in The Widower’s Wife–particularly the husband figure–are nothing like me or my spouse. As a result, the answers to my concerns are much more dramatic than they ever would be should the worst strike my family. Still, the initial fear lead me down the rabbit hole in which I found my story.           

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Turning Myself In, Getting The Word Out

I flip back the calendar page. I’m late with these things. For me, the month does not officially change until the Monday following the first. Already, August is marked. A circle surrounds the box for the ninth. Scrawled inside in my ever-evolving shorthand are two words: “Launch day.”  My second book, The Widower’s Wife, comes out Tuesday.  For me, a book launch is a painful metamorphosis. I am someone who hides out for hours in the sparsely decorated office above the garage, hunched over a laptop, listening to the wind beyond the window and the voices in my head whispering of mysteries and murders. Now, I must transform into an author who talks about her book, blogs about her book. Sells her book.  Certainly, I’m proud of my new thriller. But I was raised, like most people, not to brag or grandstand. If you do something you’re happy with, be humble, don’t say, “look at me and what I did. Have you seen the reviews!!!??? Check it out.  Buy it now!”  Yet, if you’re an author, that’s part of the job description. You can be, perhaps, a bit more subtle. But you have to get the word out about your work. There are radio interviews, blog tours, visits to book clubs, conferences and, if you’re lucky (read: famous), a publisher-paid-for bookstore tour. If you don’t do these things, you run the risk of being labeled a “writer”–not an author. Someone who fells trees in the forest and is happy to have no one hear the sounds.  So, how do you get the word out? Well, blogs are one way. There are different opinions on how often to blog. Daily seems to be the minimum. Search Engines check for fresh content. And, while hacking Google’s search algorithm is akin to cracking MIT’s time-lock puzzle, everyone knows that stale web sites tend to drop in the results.  But how do you write and still have time to get the word out? One way is to team up with other writers and divide up the work. Missdemeanors is a group of great women writers all seeking to share personal anecdotes and tips on the writing process, publishing and the writing life. We switch off weeks so that no single person has the burden of finishing her latest novel and keeping a daily blog up-to-date.  I am happy to be included in this bunch. And, so, I’m turning myself in and getting the word out:  My name is Cate Holahan. I write mysteries, invent murders and imagine all sorts of twisted scenarios. And if those are misdemeanors, well, guilty as charged.   

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