Interview with Cathleen Holst
Q: You are a new writer. What made you want to start writing, and how long have you been at it?
Writing is something I’ve always loved doing. Even as a young girl I remember writing stories, but it was something I always kept very private. I remember writing a short story for my history class during my sophomore year of high school that was based on the Salem Witch Trials. Ms. Ray, my history teacher, returned the stories and had written a note on the top of my paper that I will never forget. In red ink she wrote, “You’re a great writer.” The seed was officially planted, but I never thought seriously about writing until I read a book (that I will leave nameless) in 2009 that I really enjoyed. The story was great and highly addictive (I literally could not stop reading). The writing, however, was mediocre at best, and I thought if writing like that could get published, than certainly mine could. J
Q: What have you found to be the most difficult so far in your journey?
I would have to say that the most difficult thing, for me, is finding good blocks of uninterrupted writing time. My mother-in-law has been so helpful in that respect and watches my four year-old a couple days a week for me. That is such a huge help. But on a technical note, that would have to be the outlining process. I find it almost impossible to outline before I start writing. I will get an idea and just start writing like mad, but inevitably stall around the third or fourth chapter. That’s when I start outlining or really what I like to call my “what if’s”. I’ll take my idea and twist and turn it in as many different directions as I possibly can until I get something I like.
Q: Your debut novel is The Story of Everleigh Carlisle. Where did that inspiration come from?
I wish I had some type of prolific answer like how the story came to me in a dream, or I was sitting on train and had this sudden burst of inspiration, but sadly I have none of that. I literally had no idea what I was going to write about when I began. All I knew was that I had this burning desire to write something…anything. I had no outline, no plot ideas, not even the name of a character. I just started typing the first thing that popped into my head. And that’s how Everleigh was born.
Q: Are you currently working on another novel, or some ideas for a plot or characters?
Yes. I have the basic plot and a few characters outlined for my next novel. I began working on it while waiting to hear if Everleigh was going to be picked up for publication. After working and reworking that story for so long, I had to walk away for a while and begin something new. I’m excited to get back to it.
Q: How were you able to secure a publisher? Can you walk us through the process?
My experience in that is probably different than most. I took the same path that hundreds of other aspiring novelists take by sending out queries to agents by the dozen. But where mine differs is how I met my publisher. After joining a new online networking site for writers I read the profiles of several members, but when I came across a profile belonging to a publisher my interest was piqued and I visited their website. After reviewing the type of material they were interested in, I was curious about why they were not interested in one particular genre. I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure if a fledgling novelist like me should bother a publisher with my little question. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I took a chance and emailed my question to her. She was very kind and answered my question right away. I’m not sure what I did (but I’m glad I did it), she then later took an interest in me and asked to see my manuscript. Even though she’s not an agent, I still had to submit a query letter, synopsis and the first two chapters. And I fully expected her response to be the same as every other agent I submitted to; something along the lines of “Your story sounds interesting, but unfortunately we’re going to have to pass and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.” Imagine my surprise when she said she wanted to publish it! After countless rejections, someone actually liked it. I really couldn’t be happier with my publisher, and couldn’t ask for a better first experience.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Honestly, I hope that if the reader is having a bad day or if they find their life isn’t going exactly the way they expected that they are able to relate to Everleigh—she gets thrown a curveball in her life as well—and realize that even though by all appearances we have everything we want, we still need to listen to our heart. Because if our heart’s not happy then we never will be, no matter how much money we have, what neighborhood we live in, our car, our social status, or even our job title. None of that defines who we are as people, and that is something Everleigh struggles to remember. As we all do at times. But even more than that, I just hope they enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Q: What is the best part about being a “Georgia Peach?”
Now that’s an original question. J There’s nothing like good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality, sweet tea, barbecue, and fried green tomatoes, all of it. I just love the South. It’s my home. Oh, and the weather, I can’t forget the weather. It’s nice to be able to experience all four seasons, and sometimes we experience all four in the same week.
Q: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
I don’t really know if I’d call it a risk because I didn’t have anything to lose, but deciding to share with everyone that I was writing a book with the intent of becoming published was rather terrifying for me. As I said earlier, I kept my love of writing private so to announce to my family that I was seriously writing was scary. They’ve all been incredibly supportive.
Q: Being a new writer, what would be your advice to aspiring writers?
Never stop writing and don’t let rejections get you down. It’s all part of the business. John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and countless others…they’ve all received rejection letters and after receiving mine I was now a member of that club. That’s some great company to be in. If you want it bad enough, it will happen. Don’t let a few “no’s” stop you from pursuing your dream. Another piece of advice I would give is to take your time when writing your first novel, and get as much HONEST feedback as you can. That means stepping outside your comfort zone and sharing your writing with others who are not close friends or relatives. It may be painful sometimes, but believe me it will help you grow as a writer. I received a comment about my writing once that almost had me in tears, but once I calmed down I realized everything this person had pointed out was spot on. It was the best comment I’d received.
Q: What is or do you think would be your favorite place to travel?
Oh my…there are so many places I would love to visit. I would have to say Paris or Tuscany. Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my all-time favorite movies, and after watching that I said, “I want to buy a villa in Tuscany and hire the muscular descendents of Roman gods to help me rebuild it!” Hey…a girl can dream, can’t she?