Interview with Kathryn Mackel
Kathryn Mackel, pioneer of the supernatural subgenre “Christian Chiller” and author of THE DEPARTED, THE SURROGATE, THE HIDDEN, OUTRIDERS, TRACKERS, and her newest thriller, VANISHED, was so kind to answer a few questions. She also offers spiritual insight into the world of dogs and thier human companions at her blog, God and Dog-Walking.
What is your writing schedule like? Do you write every day? Do you have a set schedule you write by?
Some writers have no problem getting in their hours or their pages but if the cat meows or the dog scratches at the door, I can be distracted in an instant and take a lifetime to get back to the computer.
I try to write every day, a couple hours in the morning and in the afternoon. On Saturday morning I like to go to church to write, to give my husband a chance to have the house to himself. With every book, I try to find a place to go for a week or so for uninterrupted writing because it’s too easy to fold laundry or walk the dog when I should be wrestling with a chapter.
Right now I’m at my sister’s home in Connecticut while she and her husband are in Florida, and trying not to put on ESPN or toss peanuts at the squirrels!
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book?
Finding the characters’ voices. Until I do, I’m absolutely miserable. Two-thirds of my writing a book is spent on discovering who they are. The last few weeks are a delight because the characters are finally speaking for themselves.
Who are some authors who have influenced you the most?
Eric Wilson has the most amazing yet succinct style. Angela Hunt is rich without being wordy, and so wonderful in her research. Ted Dekker is great with the action scenes and Nancy Rue writes with a lot of heart. I love Jonathan Kellerman’s mysteries and John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport books. Madeline L’Engle and Robert Heinlein were my favorite authors as a kid, and I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird at least 30 times.
This is a surprisingly hard question because I don’t write—and can’t write—like any of these wonderful writers.
We can use authors as a model for how to introduce a new character or set a scene or write action, but it all comes down to finding our own voice. So I refer back to my answer to your previous question. A writer has to pour his or herself out onto the page and then rip away all the dross to find the flesh-and-blood of a story—and the life in their own voice.
Are you a plotter or seat-of-the-pants writer?
I plot the main events. I don’t outline every moment. My film background requires that I know where my story is going and why, or I don’t feel comfortable writing. It occurs to me that a seat-of-the-pants writer would not go through the exhausting process of discovering characters’ voices because he or she would relax and let their creativity flow. I’m all about pushing the story…not because that’s the way to do it but because that’s the way I’m built as a writer.
What are a few good habits aspiring authors can incorporate into their routine to become better writers?
Consistency. The physical aspect of finding a time and place to write is key. I was more disciplined before I became a full-time writer. Every night I would shut myself in a room that was little bigger than a closet and write while my kids did their homework. I use music in my earphones now as a way to shut myself off, and get into the story.
A plan of attack. Set a goal, either in word count or pages written per session. Make sure it’s very reasonable or you can become quickly discouraged. Also, decide how you will approach editing. Some authors go straight through a draft without going back to pick. That’s fine. I’m of the group that has to pick-pick and that’s okay too as long as it doesn’t keep me from writing new material. Unless you’ve got writers’ block, you should sit down at the keyboard with some idea of what the day’s work looks like.
Daydream. Build in time to sit in the sun or drowse in your recliner and let your story drift through your mind. Disengage from what you’re planning and see what plays out on the movie screen of your imagination.
You have a new book out. In a sentence, what do you want readers to walk away from VANISHED with?
Disaster—either man-made or natural—can come on us in a flash. We need to stay close to God in the good times so we can grab His hand in the bad times and extend His grace through our service and encouragement.
Thanks for taking the time, Kathy!