Interview with Kathy Herman
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Kathy Herman, author of the new suspense title, Never Look Back, a few questions about the writing life.
1) What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you write everyday?
My writing day Monday through Friday begins after my husband leaves for work around 8:00 a.m. I start by editing what I wrote the day before because it helps me get back in the flow. Plus I always notice areas that need revising or polishing. My goal is to write two thousand words a day, but it doesn’t always happen. I’m not like many authors who write whatever comes to mind and then pare down later. I edit as I go. And for some reason, I have the ability to write a story from start to finish without changing the sequence of scenes or chapters. I find that amazing since I’m so random in my thinking process. Occasionally I will add a scene. But when I write the story, it seems to come out in the proper sequence. Also, I’m a “seat of the pants” novelist and don’t follow an outline or adhere to any sort of plot and structure technique. I use the synopsis I give my publisher as a guide and then let the characters drive the story and wait for the unexpected twists and turns to show up. I absolutely love being surprised by the direction my story takes.
Most weekdays I’ll write from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and then stop to fix dinner (Yes, I actually cook!). It’s amazing how fast the time goes when I’m “in the flow” of the story. I never stop to break for lunch. I grab something I can eat while I write. Saturday is sometimes my most creative day because I’ll get up at 5:00 a.m. and work until noon without any distractions because my husband Paul is there to run interference for me if the phone rings or someone comes to the door. I set aside Saturday afternoon and evening to do something fun with Paul. On Sunday mornings, I get up at 5:00 a.m. and work until it’s time to get ready for church. Then I turn off the computer until Monday morning.
2) How long did it take you land your first contract?
One hour. Well, that’s not exactly true. But my experience is so different from most authors that I almost hesitate to share it. I need to backtrack a little for this to make sense. In 1999 joint problems forced me to leave my job managing the children’s department in our family-owned Christian bookstore. Even though I had never aspired to be a writer, I had specialized in children’s books for eleven years and thought perhaps I could write them. Was I ever wrong! I sat in front of a blank computer screen for two weeks. My husband could tell I was getting depressed and said, “Honey, write something—anything—it doesn’t have to be a children’s book!”
So the next day I wrote a scene describing a detective sitting on a park bench in front of a lake, a quaint little town with a clock tower behind him. He was waiting for something to come up in the lake. I didn’t know what he was waiting for, but not knowing was extremely intriguing. Paul liked what I wrote and said it would be perfect in a novel. I said, “No! No! No! I’m not writing novels. They’re too hard. You have to have a substantial plot and true-to-life characters, and there’s research involved. I’m not cut out for all that. I just want to write children’s books.”
But the following morning, I found myself staring at a blank computer screen again. I finally started to pound out another scene which ultimately became the prologue to my first book, Tested By Fire. Once I started down that path, the words never stopped coming. In fact, I wrote three novels in eight months and realized I had created a series. Paul let his bookstore employees read my manuscripts and they devoured them and wanted to know when I was going to write another one. At that point, we were convinced that it was not a fluke that I had written those three novels. We prayed about it and decided we should seek a publisher. We knew nothing about the process involved in getting published, but we did have a friend, Jeff Pederson, who was a former bookseller now working in marketing at Multnomah Publishers. Paul decided to call and ask Jeff if he could give us some pointers on how to go about getting published.
But when Paul called Multnomah to talk to Jeff, he accidentally got the voice mail of the president, Don Jacobson. He had met Don several times and Don had even visited our bookstore, but Paul had never intended to bother him with our inquiry. He started to hang up and then decided that since we had put this in the Lord’s hands, he would at least leave a message. Long story short, Don Jacobson actually called back and made mention of the visit he had paid to our store and what a wonderful time he’d had. Paul told him about my three books and gave a brief overview of the storylines, and asked if he could give us direction on how to go about getting published. To Paul’s amazement, Don said he was interested. He scheduled us to spend one hour with his publishing board at the upcoming Christian Booksellers convention. Opportunities like that don’t just happen. We accepted it as a door the Lord had opened, and we went through it well prepared.
Our hour with the publishing board was very positive, and it was obvious that the VP of editorial, Bill Jensen, was sold on the series. A week later, we got a call from Bill, who said that it was highly unusual for them to publish unsolicited manuscripts, that of the three thousand manuscripts submitted the previous year, they had published only one. But they would take all three of mine! Then Paul, being the eternal optimist, said, “Oh, Kathy has at least two more in her,” to which Bill replied, “Great. We’ll take all five. I’ll have a contract out to you in the next ten days.” Paul and I hung up the phone, tears of gratitude trickling down out cheeks, realizing that we had just been given an amazing gift—an opportunity that I consider a privilege and never take for granted. I wrote two more books in the Baxter Series and have now written a total of thirteen novels with Multnomah, including the Seaport Suspense Novels, the Phantom Hollow Series, and a stand-alone novel, Poor Mrs. Rigsby.
3) What authors had the greatest influence on you as a writer?
That’s an interesting question since I never aspired to be a writer. Though I love a good book, I don’t devour novels the way many authors claim to. I’ve always felt a little embarrassed about that and hesitate to admit it. But so many times I get bogged down in detail and slow-moving novels that I often don’t finish them. Maybe that’s why Frank Peretti was a powerful influence. I loved This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. My favorite was The Oath. They were suspenseful, fast-paced, and entertaining. And they made me think deeply about some aspect of my faith.
My husband and I were privileged to talk with Frank over lunch when he was on tour and did a book signing at our Christian bookstore. I remember being far more enamored with his talent than his notoriety. Most of the questions I posed to him were related to how he came up with characters and the unique storylines. Frank influenced me in ways I didn’t realize at the time. But it’s interesting that the novels I write more than a decade later are also fast-paced, suspenseful, and entertaining. And they’re designed to make us think deeply about some aspect of faith. Yet my writing style and storylines are nothing like Frank Peretti’s. I found a way to incorporate the components I loved about his writing into mine but without emulating him. Many of my readers admit that they have normally found it difficult to finish a novel, that they often felt bogged down—until they discovered mine. Now they’re fans and can’t wait for the next book. THAT’S exciting and very humbling.
4) What’s the most important advice you would give an aspiring novelist?
Prepare to work hard. And stay teachable. You will never “arrive.” The most successful authors continue to learn better ways of writing and storytelling.
5) Now that you have multiple books under your belt, what do you do to hone your craft, to continue the learning process?
I’m linked in with other novelists and we exchange ideas online on a daily basis and also meet once a year for a working retreat. We learn a great deal from sharing ideas and asking advice. And even from reading and endorsing each other’s books.
But I have to say that having had Rod Morris (the senior editor at Multnomah Publishing) edit my first ten books was a learning experience few authors ever have. Since Multnomah began publishing my work before I really knew what I was doing, I had a lot to learn—far more than I realized. Rod was like a mentor to me. He was gentle enough not discourage me, yet steadfast in leaving no sentence unturned. He pored over the nearly one million words I submitted in those ten manuscripts, and skillfully cut, rearranged, revamped, or made suggestions for revisions. How blessed I was to have someone with his experience working with me from the onset of my career. Rod certainly helped me hone my craft. And now I’ve been blessed to have Diane Noble edit the last two books in the Phantom Hollow Series. Thankfully Rod’s influence on my writing has made her job easier. But it’s amazing what she sees that I don’t. Her watchful eye continues to help me hone my craft. Editors are often the unsung heroes that make us look better than we are.
6) What’s one thing you want readers to walk away from NEVER LOOK BACK with?
This may seem surprising coming from a mystery/suspense writer, but it’s my hope that the truth of Psalm 103:12 woven into this story—“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,”—will come to life in the heart of every reader, and that not one will be left carrying the guilt of sins the Son of God died to remove.
Excellent! Thanks, Kathy.