Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Interview with Cait London

By Darlene Ryan

USA Today best selling author, Cait London, has seen more than 60 of her books published in her twenty-year writing career. She’s written romance, westerns, romantic suspense and now she has a new trilogy with a paranormal element. A Stranger’s Touch, the second book in the series will be released on March 25.

The Aisling triplets, Tempest, Leona and Claire have each inherited psychic talents. Descendants of a Celtic seer and a Viking Chieftain, the three contemporary women are connected by their senses, so intimately they can’t live together. First-born, Leona, is a powerful precognitive. Tempest can soak up the history of an object held in her bare hands. And last-born, Claire, is an empath, able to read others feelings.

Q: Your new series is part suspense, part paranormal. How did the idea for the series evolve?

Cait: The idea for this trilogy evolved several years ago. It was quite challenging because there is a story arc with multiple threads flowing through each book until the last. Yet each book has its own independent plot and subplot, the threads weaving along the story. To actually begin writing the different dimensions was thrilling. I have three daughters, so the relationship between the siblings and between them and the mother came easily. Writers have much research built into them, ready to be tapped and you’ll find much of me in my books. I’m basically an artist, so I understood much of what Claire (At The Edge; Claire for clairvoyant) would feel about texture and color when creating her handbags. Tempest (A Stranger’s Touch; Tempest for her fast-moving personality) is a sculptor, and I understood the visualization there. Also, I’ve read Viking history for years, and my sister and I like to think we have some psychic abilities. I’d
met a couple of psychics, who were extremely interesting, and one had worked with police. The pieces of the fabric were there, just waiting to be brought to life. BTW, I interv
iewed a tremendous amount of resource people while creating this trilogy.

Q: Could you explain the basic set-up for this trilogy?

Cait: The story arc begins with the first book, develops through the following stories, and ends in the last book. While each book has an individual story, the threads that flow through all books will end in the third book. For writers, an arc could be dangerous: If the first book does not launch well, that could be detrimental to sales of the succeeding books. I knew I wanted to write the stories. But I also knew the dangers. Thinking back, this trilogy may have evolved naturally from the eerie suspense of Flashback and Silence the Whispers two of my favorite books. Quite a lot of work went into this set-up, including a very careful chart of all the names and their meanings. Not only story threads, but important items particular to this family are highlighted. The same newspaper article flows through all three books and is critical in explaining the actions of the triplets. BTW, the name Aisling dates back to that Celtic seer and it is a professional name assumed by the triplets’ mother, a professional psychic. These books are NOT paranormal in the sense of shape-shifters, vampires, etc., rather the stories involve telepathy between the siblings, etc.

Q: At the Edge is the first book in the series. Claire is the last born of the triplets and she’s an empath. How does that affect her life and the story?

Cait: As the youngest, Claire is more sensitive and protected by her older siblings. She’s very delicate and must live an isolated existence, away from too much contact with others. She lives in rural Montana—one of my favorite places to visit, and her life gets exciting and complicated when Neil Olafson (Viking name) moves in next door. An extrovert, Neil is an intrusion into her quiet, secluded, creative world. The conflict of the personalities, her need to help Neil seek his abducted son, causes Claire to venture out of her safety zone. The story thread in this set-up book begins when Claire is attacked. Throughout the story she becomes stronger, and faces her own past. At the Edge is the launch book and introduces the family.

Q: A Stranger’s Touch, the second book in the series will be out the first of the week. This is Tempest’s story. What are her abilities?

Cait: Tempest’s gift (or curse) lies in her naked hands. When the “middle-born” holds an object in her naked hands, she understands its history: who held it, what they were thinking, and a little of their history. Therefore, Tempest must always wear gloves. She’s a metal sculptor and exceptionally curious. She’s also very physically active, on the go, and one who lives on challenges. Tempest is able to flow between all the strong personalities in her family, because she is not that sensitive—unless she takes off her gloves. A Stranger’s Touch has several mysteries, plus that ongoing thread, and Tempest is set to discover all of them as she seeks to unwrap a cold-case murder. Tempest is a hunter, in danger from her past, the present, and the thread circling her family. Set near Lake Michigan, one of my favorite retreats, and also the setting of With Her Last Breath.

Q: The final book is the trilogy will feature first-born Leona. Can you give us a preview?

Cait: For Her Eyes Only (10/08) is based on Leona’s resentment of her inherited abilities. She is determined not to be like her professional psychic mother, or her grandmother. She refuses to live her life in fear of the dangerous threads that have wrapped around her family. Not until her family is endangered does Leona come into her namesake’s protective mode. Since childhood, Leona has been labeled as the potentially strongest of the clairvoyants. And she comes into her own in For Her Eyes Only. Leona, the lioness, will have to enter abilities she’s denied all of her life to save herself and her loved ones. This is set in Lexington, KY, a place I visit often.

Q: Do you consider settings to be characters?

Cait: Yes, definitely. I chose each one of these settings very carefully. One of the threads has to do with water/fog and/or the lack of it. Settings are very important to me and I’ve actually visited all of them, or fictionalized where I’ve been on site.

Q: Is there the possibility of more books about these characters?

Cait: Readers have already asked that I continue this series, using the mother, Greer, the psychic who often works with police. At this time, I have no plans for a prequel.

Q: You’ve been writing romantic suspense for several years now. Do you plan to continue?

Cait: I always love stories that have many layers and a little bit of the psychological. Romantic suspense is the perfect place for that. My books aren’t for everyone. Romantic Suspense can be defined as anything, and there are many tiers. My writing leans more to emotional conflict and play between the characters, rather than forensic and police involvement. I write to my personal preferences as a reader: less graphic, less detective/police/military. As a writer, I’m highly involved with my career and have changed sub-genres several times.

Q: What is it about suspense that appeals to you as a writer? Is it the struggle between good and evil? The opportunity to write in depth about people facing life changing events? Or just the chance to make sure the good guys win in the end?

Cait: I love unwrapping the story, the causes, the journey and the end. I love writing about people who are not always perfect and who do make wrong decisions. Perhaps the flawed interest me more. The writing challenge comes from creating a balance between the protagonists and the worthy antagonist. I love exploring the characters’ doubts and how they make their life-decisions. What happens next, dropping twists/dead bodies, red herrings, I love them all. I suppose exploring the motivations of characters interests me the most. I’m prone to write about small town secrets.

Q: You’ve written romance, westerns, romantic suspense and now paranormal suspense—more than 60 novels by my count—is there a genre you haven’t tried that you’d like to tackle?

Cait: I’m working on that one . (Smiles.)

Q: Before you became a writer you were an artist. What skills as an artist do you feel you bring to your writing?

Cait: Callouses. When I started writing to sell, I understood that not everyone is going to be happy with my story ideas. I’ve come to believe that writing to sell is very different from the love of writing alone. Writing to sell can mean a lot of compromises within the storyline, these requested by the buying editor. Basically, when painting a canvas, or writing a story, you’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and creative energy into the piece. When trying for publication, you’re sending your child out into the cold cruel world. You may get back that arrow through the heart, or interest. But writing is like painting in that there are different POVs, and perhaps another critic will like your work. It’s a matter of luck, of endurance, of regimen, and realizing that not everyone will love your baby. Or perhaps your baby is flawed J. After a certain amount of publication, you gather more balance between what story you want and what the editor may want to change. Writing and painting are the same in that there is a background fabric and highlights brought forward. The background emphasizes and textures the foreground, which would be the main story line.

Q: What’s your writing routine like?

Cait: I write rough draft very early in the morning. It’s like my nest is uncluttered, no phone calls, etc. Take a break, answer e-mail, business stuff, etc., and pretty much editor or do business the rest of the day. I ran a straw poll some time ago and questioned professionals how much time they spent in writing, and how much on the business end. The average was about 75% on business, which included promotion, networking, groups, etc. So that 25% writing time is very dear. When I am on deadline, I can write throughout the day. I am more regimented and work on a writing schedule, but there are always life-interuptus situations or galleys or copyedits, etc. I do my own website and blog and ad layouts and bookmarks, mailing addresses, etc., so that all takes a tremendous amount of time and breaks in my schedule. A story usually begins to really palpitate at the end and then I edit constantly to streamline.

Q: How have you managed to be so prolific? Do you have any writing advice to share?

Cait: I’m just full of it. Of stories, I mean. I’ve studied plotting and conflict and keep a ready supply of words that incite stories. I also keep story ideas in my toybox, called Nuggets. I’m big on lists and databases, so there is always something simmering, so far as story ideas. I can get them from anywhere, i.e. a windmill missing a paddle in KS, an Amish girl riding a paint pony alongside the road, my own background, items around the house, and I keep a lot of visuals around.

And I have lots of advice you can find at my website, http://caitlondon.com or my blog, http://caitlondon.blogspot.com. Here’re some basics:

  1. When considering an offer, never answer immediately. Brand this into your brain: “Can I get back to you? I’d like to think about it.”
  2. You get out of writing, what you invest into it. Energy spent equals proportional results.
  3. Write every day. Write something. When I started, I sent out queries or thank-you notes (for rejections), or a reader letter every Monday.
  4. About thank-you notes and courtesies: Always thank editors for their time, even if you aren’t exactly happy with them. Stay pleasant. The professional writing community is actually very small and networks.
  5. When receiving criticism, do not chop up your story right away. Stand back, let your ideas cool and then come back to the piece.
  6. Accept that all writers have different levels of talent. Spark and Talent play huge parts in career professionals. Therefore, do not compare someone who has had years of publishing behind them, several editors and tons of experience to your own work. This can be defeating. Do not defeat yourself by reading an acclaimed author amid your own creative struggles.
  7. Write the piece straight through. Then edit. But push the story out with all of its vibrancy, before editing. When editing, balance the weight of the characters. Very important.
  8. I have never been involved in critique groups. I think they work for some writers, but not for others. It’s a different strokes thingie. But remember that publication moves really quickly, and you may be contacted by an editor for an overnight rewrite. You should have some confidence in yourself alone, without consulting with a group. Your group may not always be available within a night or a day, so be prepared to write on your own.
  9. If you don’t know how to write clear, effective business letters, practice. Work on business language, and use business language in e-mail when addressing an editor. This seems basic, but unfortunately, many writers do not possess good business language/writing.
  10. Address Revenge, Possession, and Escape. I got those fine items from Jayne Ann Krentz. Add Needs. Who has it? Who wants it? Why? What?

20 comments:

Stella MacLean said...

Dear Cait;
I'm a great fan of yours, and I use your website as a source book on issues related to writing. I know this trilogy will be a huge success.
I could really identify with your comments about working early in the day, and on finding critique groups not an easy way to gain feedback. I too love to write in the morning before the day invades my life, and punches a hole in my creative state of mind. For me, critique groups have always been very intimidating. It wasn't until after I was out of a critique group that I was able to listen to my inner world, the one that truly represented me as a writer.
And thank you for your article in the Heartline Herald about writing books that make up a series. Very interesting.
Stella MacLean

Cait London said...

Stella! My mother's name and coming back into popularity. I'm so pleased you posted. I worked really hard on the NJRW article and you're the only one who's commented, but I thought it was an important article. Writers are very different in their lives and preferences. Cookie cutter books are without that inner spark. Stories have to be built from the "basement," else they are generic. My series took an immense amount of work to keep the threads growing and correct, not for every writer. And that's okay as we're all unique or should be. The psychic triplets was an unusual stepping off the norm for me, but I've enjoyed the journey and think we should take new experiences to challenge ourselves.
So glad you wrote, Stella and that you mentioned the value of the NJRW article. I write a lot of these and hope they will help someone.

Darlene Ryan said...

One excellent piece of advice Cait gives is practice writing business letters. I hate writing them, but since I've been practicing they don't seem as intimidating.

cait london said...

Darlene is right. Business letters demonstrate a professional grip on words and messages. They are not easy to construct, and sometimes the shortest ones take the most time. Sometimes I write a first draft, let it cool and then come back to polish, just as we would write fiction. The ability to write business letters is a skill every writer needs to develop, even when writing business e-mail.
Hey, Darlene, thanks for taking such good care of me in this interview. Nice job.

Gardagami said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I enjoy your books and found the interview very interesting. Best wishes for your continued success!

Jacqueline Seewald
THE INFERNO COLLECTION
Five Star/Gale

Anonymous said...

Cait, good luck with the new book. I'm going to look for it and the first book in the series.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for a great interview. I especially liked the advice at the end. I was surprised you have to spend so much time on the business side of writing but can remain so prolific.
Susan Evans

cait london said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview and hope you'll follow my blogging schedule at http://caitlondon.com for the next few days. Writing is a business, in fact, publishing our books is an industry (well, we love writing, too.) Writing to sell is definitely different and the more professional presentation, the better. I did a straw poll not long ago with other pros who say they spend about 75% of their professional time on business related issues. Most of us would just love to write, but there is a lot more to being published than the "good story." :)
While I am promoting A STRANGER'S TOUCH on sale March 25, my guest blog appearances do have much about writing, getting ideas, using yourself (Yes, I include a little bit of me in each book :))
Thank you all for writing. This new trilogy venture, AT THE EDGE, A STRANGER'S TOUCH and FOR HER EYES ONLY 10/08 was truly a pleasure.

Velda Brotherton said...

Dear Cait, As a friend of many years, I've always admired your willingness to share your writing expertise with other writers. And I've gained so much from your advice.
This interview is a good example of good advice shared.
As a leader of a successful critique group, I however do agree that they aren't for everyone. We've found some writers gain so much from our group while others find nothing of interest there.
Your latest suspense trilogy is intriguing and I plan to read the books very soon.
A super interview.

Cait London said...

Thanks, Velda. These books were special to be, but then every book should be the "book of our hearts," right? :)I think because this trilogy was based closely on my own family relationships sans psychic elements, that it might have been a little dearer. I'm working on the copyedits now for 10/08, FOR HER EYES ONLY, and I'll be sad to see the sisters go. I wish the article on Are You a Series Writer? was available to more people. Thanks for writing, Velda.

Cait London said...

BTW, everyone.
Thank you for taking time away from you Saturday and Easter preparations, etc. to post. I appreciate it, and isn't Poe's Deadly Daughter's neat? I love a touch of the eerie.
BTW2: I'm not responsible for the great questions, those are Darlene Ryan's of this blog.

Pat said...

I didn't get in until late today. But, Cait, thanks for sharing your writing life.
I see I need to work on my scheduling. Also I didn't know how little writing time vs. the business.
I'm going back to look at your article as the Heartline Herald came in while I was under the weather and I set it aside to read.
Thanks again for sharing.

Cait London said...

Hi, Pat. I bet you had the flu. I did, too. Not fun. I'm hoping that article helps someone. My psychic triplet trilogy took a lot of set-up, keeping the threads straight in each book, growing them, and completing the story arc. I hope you follow the news of A STRANGER'S TOUCH throughout my blogging tour, because there is lots of writer stuff included. If you're looking for writers tips,there are a lot of them at my blog, http://caitlondon.com

Sarah Lander marks said...

Dear Cait and Darlene,

I found the article on PDD very insightful. You are an inspiration (60 books in 20 years, OMG!) I am just starting my fiction career and your stats blew me away. I look forward to reading the trilogy and more.
Sincerely,
Sarah Lander Marks
aka: Lander Marks
Author of Artist's Proof
releasing 4/08 by Stephens Press.

Cait London said...

Best of luck on your new release, Sarah. I see it comes out in April. (I'm an artist, btw, and you can see my paintings at my website's Studio.)
But there are plenty of writers who exceed my numbers easily, so I am not outstanding at all.
Again, best of luck on your career.

Cait London said...

Sarah, go look at my website's Career Benchmarks and other writer articles at my website. The Benchmarks article due a lot of attention.

Laurie said...

I'm interested in how you keep track of the details and storylines through a series. Do you use notebooks, a spreadsheet or maybe a white board?

Cait London said...

Laurie, I've used everything to keep track of details, index cards, notebooks, etc. Generally, I print out pivotal scenes and keep them in a file, also any good descriptions of necessary items, towns, settings, characters. So that helps.
But at my blog, http://caitlondon.blogspot.com in the older posts, I list software for writers and include PageFour Outliner. I got a discount version at bitsdujour.com and am using it to rebuild notes on an older 9-bk series that I may add other stories. It really is good for proposals, articles, etc., too. Now, as I look back at the psychic triplet trilogy, I see small things I could have changed at the first, but generally I'm happy with the flow. I was very careful about setting up the calendar, and you can find more about the set up of the series as we go through my blog tour. I hope you'll come, too :)

Danielle said...

Cait London is a national award-winning, bestselling author who fully enjoys the perks of her career, like traveling and meeting readers. Cait London is a national award-winning, bestselling author who fully enjoys the perks of her career, like traveling and meeting readers.