Thursday, July 18, 2013

Up close & personal with writer CATHERINE ASTOLFO

                                      A special treat for my blog readers.
CATHERINE ASTOLFO is here in Los Angeles discussing her new bestselling novel

I was fortunate to be one of the first readers of SWEET KAROLINE.

"In Catherine Astolfo's chilling new novel Sweet Karoline, things aren't always as they seem. Anne, the multifaceted anti-heroine in this noir tale takes a fateful journey into her forgotten past, uncovering the painful roots of her childhood. While furrowing for answers, a mystery unfolds, truths swirl to the surface, a heinous murder occurs. Who's the killer? Caught in a tangled web of greed, lies and deceit Anne must come to terms with her past, present and future, and the bleak realization that those we hold close may be the last ones to trust. Compelling, visually descriptive, deftly delivered…Catherine Astolfo's got the goods!"

So welcome, Cathy. Nice to have you back in sunny California. Even though we met breifly, it was a pleasure sharing wine and good conversation. Let's get right down to the questions: 

     Sweet Karoline is a confident novel. Your creative voice is strong. There is something new, something different working here. Can you explain it?

That’s a great question, something I have been mulling over ever since I began Sweet Karoline. The answer is kind of complicated. When I started SK, my main characters, Anne and Karoline, were enigmas. I seriously couldn’t decide if they were good or bad “girls”.  Then my publisher   asked me if I could make Sweet Karoline part of the Emily Taylor series (you know, to help with that branding thing – important to marketing). I told her I’d give it a try. Months later, Anne and Karoline were still rebelling. Finally, I let Imajin Books know that SK would just have to be a standalone. Thank goodness, they understood. And then – I let go! I allowed my subconscious to take over. No Editor sitting on my shoulder, no solid outline – just a flow of thoughts and emotions and experiences. It was the best feeling ever. Plus I think it has changed my writing forever. I am going to be less rigid, planned and perfectionist in my writing from now on (at least during the creative flow part).

     What gave you the idea for Sweet Karoline? What triggered your imagination to weave this story?

My Emily Taylor series has some elements that are found in Sweet Karoline, namely the native influence, small town Ontario settings and complicated relationships. I wanted to write a story based on my children’s heritage. My kids are part black, part white, and part Native, with an undocumented connection to Joseph Brant. The combination of my own descendents and my children’s paternal family was just too weird to resist. Characters abound on both sides. So I took a little bit of the history, romance, tragedy and twisted relationships, added a whole lot of imagination, and out came this story.

     Sweet Karoline is a one-off, not part of your ET series. Do you prefer writing a continuing character or one-off’s?

For the longest time, I wondered if I could actually write a book without Emily Taylor in it. I thought I’d be in mourning for a long time. Not that I killed Emily or anything, but I did say the fourth book was her last. In some ways, I think I want to leave her alone, happily ever after so to speak. Now that I’ve finished one standalone, there are a whole bunch of others seeking my attention. So I honestly don’t think I’ll write another series. That doesn’t necessarily make my publisher happy re promotion and branding – but I guess the brand will just have to be me LOL. 
     How much research do you do for one of your novels?

I’m not that fond of research to be honest, but it’s a fact of life. Everything I write needs some kind of fact behind it. For instance, when I was writing The Bridgeman, I realized I had to know something about lift bridges. If I can go out and look at something, I do. I headed to Merrickville and studied their locks and the lift bridge. For the rest of my books, I’ve had to research wrongful convictions (Seventh Fire), Ojibwa philosophy (Victim) and legends, puppy mills (The Bridgeman), gold mines, the law in small town Ontario (Legacy)…you name it. However, I always caution my readers that I adhere to the old adage, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Although the research has been done, I often manipulate the details for my own purposes. For Sweet Karoline I even got to travel to Los Angeles and meet one of my favorite writers, Douglas Wickard.

     Do you use real people when you create characters for your novels?

I do – sort of. I think my characters are amalgams. A little bit me, some people I’ve known in the past (or present), characters I’ve read about in newspapers, someone I met in passing. I put all of that together, mix it all up, and make somebody entirely new. Also, I find names in the obituaries. I put different first with different surnames and so on. Part real, part fiction!

     Let’s talk about sex! Are you comfortable writing sex scenes?

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I LOVE writing sex scenes. It’s my daughter, who’s always my first reader, who gets very uncomfortable! This is what one of my reviewers said about the sex scenes in Sweet Karoline, “The novel hits its heights as the best lovemaking scenes and the ones that are just 'rocks off' sex as any I've read. The writing jumps off the page. The main character is real, frail, strong, seeking, manipulative, scared and secretive.” I really, really like that blurb, I must say. I think I do have the most fun with the characters during a sex scene. That’s when they’re naked, not just in body, but vulnerable to either be loved or used. Sometimes that’s when you can take a peek into their true natures.

     I felt your ET series maintained a certain safety, a bit of you holding back. Sweet Karoline does not, in my opinion. It felt visceral, raw, edgy. Noir. Do you notice the difference? Was the writing process different for you?

You are so right. I think because Emily is a school Principal, there’s a certain expectation that she won’t be entirely off the wall. Since she is integral to the books, she held me back a bit, I think (sorry, Em, but it’s true). Plus Emily is under a certain constraint throughout the novels. Her life didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to, and she has to hold back a lot of secrets. The writing process was quite different with Sweet Karoline. Far more stream-of-consciousness than with the Emily’s. The visceral parts were the best, when I could feel what Anne was experiencing. Honestly, if I could write like that every minute of the day, I’d be in heaven. It was a terrific experience. I hope I can continue to apply that process to the next and the next.

     We often are asked what our writing process is…but I would like to know how you tackle the editing process. The rewriting.

I’m a bit of an obsessive editor. I think it’s the bane of all ex-school teachers that we notice grammar and spelling errors. I have to admit that I edit as I go. Not so much with Sweet Karoline, however – and that was a good thing. Maybe I’m finally old enough or have been retired long enough to let go of that. Sometimes when I can’t get going on the manuscript, I allow myself to spend a few minutes editing. Believe it or not, that can get the muse flowing again. I reread a section that’s particularly good and all of a sudden, I’m off again. Once I get my Beta reader responses, I rewrite according to their suggestions. I don’t keep every suggestion, but if more than one person points out a flaw, I seriously consider changing the passage. I don’t know about you, but I could probably rewrite until the story disappears. At some point, I have to say: OK, done. Now on to the publisher and professional editors. Usually, if I’ve done my job well and followed my beta readers’ advice, I don’t have a lot of rewriting to do at that stage.

     Waiting for Beta reader’s responses can keep us in an altered, anxious state. How do you choose your Beta reader’s and how do you use their feedback?

I am so very lucky with my Beta readers. I have seven of them. Four are all retired teachers; one is a former book editor; one is my daughter and one my daughter-in-law. The last two are in the film industry and have read hundreds of scripts. The former are extremely good with the mechanics of the novel. But they’re also all voracious readers. So they can tell me about consistency of character or setting and words or phrases that are out of place or jarring. I listen to them very carefully and often make the changes they suggest, particularly if several of them make a note of it.

     What’s next?

I’m working on two books. One is a young adult mystery novel. The second, an adult mystery, is a “black comedy”. Right now I’m calling the adult book a cozy, but it’s probably a bit edgier than that. Next, I think I’ll be writing a general fiction novel about a couple of generations of women. It’s germinated, but I’m still not sure if I should throw in a mysterious death. I’ve also got two anthologies of short stories coming out around Christmas. Obsessed? Ya think?


Find out all about Catherine’s books at her website: You can join her on lots of social media there, too.


Thanks for the chat, Cathy. Looking forward to seeing you again, real soon.

1 comment:

  1. Really wonderful having Cathy here for this interview...always so inspiring to learn how authors create! Many thanks, Cathy. XOXO