When I restarted my writing life a few years ago, I was hungry to hear from a published author. How interesting it would be, I thought, to learn from a writer who had worked hard to fulfill her dream. So I reached out to a friend.
Katherine “Katie” Cushman is the author of seven women’s fiction novels. Years ago we were discussion group leaders in a community Bible study, and when I reconnected with Katie and asked for an interview, she offered to meet me for Saturday brunch. Somehow, between chauffeuring her daughter, caring for an ailing relative, and thinking about her current book’s editorial deadlines, Katie managed to get to the restaurant first. With wide-open arms, she welcomed me. She had the french toast and I had the pancakes. We both had a good time. Here is the interview from 2012, when Katie had five novels under her belt.
DM: When did you first call yourself a writer?
KC: I’ve always planned to write a novel, but I figured there would come a day when I’d have time. Then my uncle was diagnosed with an incurable cancer and I thought about how that “day” might never come for me. So I began to pray about it, but I didn’t talk to anyone about it. One day, during a phone conversation, my mother asked me what happened to that novel I was going to write. I hadn’t mentioned it to her in years. I knew right then I was going to pursue my writing career. But I didn’t call myself a “writer” until I had a contract. I wrote in almost total secrecy and only a handful of people knew about it, until I announced my first sale. That’s not to say I think you shouldn’t call yourself a writer until you sell something. This is just what I did.
DM: What’s the earliest memory you have of writing a story?
KC: It wasn’t until I had a computer that I actually wrote down a story, besides what I did during my school years. My mind worked too fast for longhand or journaling. I always kept the stories in my head. I’m a fast typist, though, and a computer made it easy to put down all my thoughts.
DM: What is your least favorite part of the writing process?
KC: Outlining, the first drafting of the story. I’d rather write the story, finish, and then take the big picture from that. But my editor has helped me to see how important it is to do this.
DM: How do you work with an editor without the pride thing getting in the way?
KC: My editor is a genius, so I’m okay with what he says. Ninety percent of the time I have no questions with his advice and edits. I remember one time when we disagreed on the motivation. After polling six people, five of them agreed with me. I won that time!
DM: What technology do you use for writing?
KC: I use Scrivener and love it. I have a MacBook Air for all my writing and emails. I used to use PC’s, but I only use Macs now.
DW: How do you keep from resenting your duties when you have to stop writing to take care of them?
KC: I’ve really only been a full-time writer since January . With both my daughters being older now and one at college, I have the whole day to write. So there’s nothing pulling me away from my writing anymore. But when I started writing [around 2005], I wrote whenever I could. While I was writing my third and fourth novels, my daughter was very ill, hospitalized for weeks at a time, and we were driving her back and forth to appointments in Los Angeles. My dad died during that time as well.
DM: Describe your writing style in 10 words or less.
KC: Very succinct and to the point. I went into writing thinking I need flowery language that sounded so “literary” and all that. But my editor kept telling me to cut, cut, cut. I learned how to say a lot with just a few words.
DW: When you hear from your readers, what do they say?
KC: They tell me they shared the story with someone or that it was meaningful. I hear from them at perfect times, like when I want to quit. I used to read my book reviews, like on Amazon. The one bad review out of 10 is the one I’d remember and know word for word. “There’s four stars, there’s another four, oh, good! There’s one star … yuck.” The one star would stick with me. But reading them helped me understand that people are different and you won’t please them all. I don’t read them anymore.
DM: How do you use social media to promote your writing?
KC: I don’t use it. When I’m at a conference and hear about [social media], I get stressed out thinking about the time it takes. I’d rather be writing, so I do. I have a Facebook account for book announcements and events, but I don’t use Twitter. I’ve heard of the author promotion on Twitter where it’s all they do. Too much promo. That’s a turn-off for me.
DM: How is this world a better place because of your books?
KC: I hope my books help people, inform them, and make them think. I don’t write just for entertainment. It’s a calling for me. Writing is what God has called me to do.
(The following questions came from readers of my blog who submitted questions for Katie.)
What’s the biggest mistake new writers make?
KC: Thinking they are better writers than they are. When I started out, James Scott Bell was my mentor, so I got a lot of great advice. Early on I attended a conference at Mt. Hermon and had 12 pages critiqued. When I got home, I spread them out, saw all the redlining, and went to work. The next year I brought the same text back and it received a better critique. With new writers, half of them will take direction. Those will eventually succeed. The other half won’t take help and they will not succeed. They go in with an attitude rather than asking for guidance. I was at a conference and there was a man who was so sure of himself and wouldn’t accept help. Later, I saw him all wide-eyed and humbled, asking what classes he should take. At another conference, I recognized an author sitting in my class as a student. It was Jerry Jenkins, who has sold millions of books. Never think you’re finished with learning.
How on earth do you write an effective synopsis?
KC: Make it short and to the point!
How do you balance the craft of writing with the business of writing?
KC: I am so thankful for my publisher [Bethany House]. They tell me to “write great books and leave the selling to us.” That is unusual in publishing. Very few publishers do that. My publisher wants me to spend my time writing.
The best part about meeting with Katie was seeing humility in action. The woman has a contract with a reputable publisher, yet there was no hint of pride during our conversation. She was the same Katie I worked with who happened to be a writer, living her dream and sharing what she learns. Katie’s seventh novel, Finding Me, was released in April 2015. Visit her website at KathrynCushman.com.