Hello Katherine, it’s a pleasure to host for you an author interview at BestBooksy, we’re huge fans! Congratulations on your latest title,Things You Save in a Fire, we were captivated throughout this meaningful and emotional story.
What do you feel was your highlight when writing Things You Save in a Fire?
I loved getting to interview my husband and get him to re-tell all his firefighting stories—because this time, as I geared-up to write a story from the perspective of a firefighter, I got to listen to those stories in a whole new way. It was a surprise delight to listen so closely and try to put myself in his shoes in those moments. I felt like I got to know him better—and we’ve been together 25 years, so I didn’t know I could know him better!
How long did it take you to write, Things You Save in a Fire?
About a year. It usually takes about a year to write a novel, and then the book spends about a year in production before it hits the shelves.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Oh, that’s a very intuitive process! You feel them more than anything. Sometimes I try several names before one feels right.
What was the most difficult scene to write?
There’s a scene near the end where Cassie tells another firefighter about the worst thing that’s ever happened to her. I dreaded writing that scene for months. I guess I just didn’t want it to be true—and I knew that once I’d written the scene, it would be. I never want to hurt my characters or make them unhappy. But they have to face hard things. In fiction and in life, it’s the only way to grow. When I finally wrote the scene, I took it so seriously and worked on it so hard that it turned out to be one of my favorite moments in the book.
If you had to describe Cassie Hanwell in three words, what would those three words be?
Brave. Good-hearted. Resilient.
What do you hope that readers take away from this remarkable story?
I always hope that people will come away from my stories feeling inspired. I always try to write stories that notice and appreciate the human spirit—the ways that we bounce back over and over and try like hell to be the best versions of ourselves. It’s easy to write depressing stories. It’s much harder to write authentic stories that are genuinely hopeful. I think the only compass you can follow as a writer is to write the stories that you, yourself, long for—and I always long to be inspired.
How many books have you written to date and which would you say is your favorite?
This is my seventh novel! I love them all in different ways, but I do think that I get a little better with each book. At least, I try to. My two most recent ones—How to Walk Away and Things You Save in a Fire—were the ones I had to stretch the most to write. They required vast amounts of research and empathy, and I feel like I grew as a person writing them. So I’ll pick them—but I love the others, too! 🙂
We’ve seen some of the painted signed copies of Things You Save in a Fire, those were beautiful! Please share with us your range of artistic talents.
I am endlessly crafty! I almost went to art school after college—but then I went to graduate school for creative writing, instead. For a long time, I thought I had to be either an artist or a writer, but not both. And even though that’s broadly true (I’m a professional writer and an amateur artist), I’m so happy that I’ve found a way to bring art into my writing life. I designed my website, for example, and I make most of my own graphics, which I love. I’m just always happy when I’m making things. I get into the most blissful state of flow. I make things all the time.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
It’s vital to know how to make scenes appear in people’s minds—to evoke images and sounds in a streamlined way that comes to life for the reader. But it’s also vital to make sure that all those scenes are in service of a story that’s compelling and has a fire at its core. Some writers don’t like to talk about plot, but I think it’s absolutely crucial to good storytelling. Knowing how to go somewhere with a story—and how to structure that journey—can make all the difference.
Describe how your typical writing day looks?
It’s pretty random! I do a lot of mom stuff and housewifery! I answer a lot of emails. I don’t do nearly as much writing in my everyday life as I’d like to. Life just tends to get in the way! When I have a deadline, I schedule chunks of time when I can leave town—step outside my life—and go down to Galveston Island to spend a few days doing nothing but writing. I can get a huge amount of writing done if I’m not interrupted!
Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
I often try moments of dialogue out loud to myself and test out different facial expressions and gestures. If anyone could see me, I would look completely bananas.
What is your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
For the most part, I love everything about my job—and I feel profoundly lucky to get to write stories for a living. My favorite part is always the writing. The writing is always joyful. I like editing, too—hat process of making things better. It’s very satisfying. I love speaking at events and meeting readers. I just came back from a delightful book tour. So much of my job is just pure enjoyment. But there are stressors, too: disappointments, delayed flights, time crunches. There’s a lot of delayed gratification in building a novel-writing career! A lot of uncertainty, too. But it’s worth it. It’s all worth it. Getting to write stories means getting to make magic—and I thank my lucky stars every day.
Is writing your full-time career or would you like it to be?
It is my full-time career!
Are you working on anything at present that you would like to share with your readers?
I’m writing my novel for next year right now. Just finishing it up. It takes a minor character from my novel Happiness for Beginners—Helen’s little brother, Duncan—and lets him be the main character. In Happiness for Beginners, he was a lovable goofball who really needed to grow up. In the new story, it’s ten years later, and he’s grown up a lot—but maybe too much. I’ve always adored Duncan, and I am loving giving him his own story.