By Lynn McPherson
I've had the privilege of getting to know one of my fellow Stiletto Gang members a little better over the last few weeks.
Cathy Perkins is not only an award-winning author, but also a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writer's monthly publication. On top of that, Cathy has worked on the blog and social media for the ITW Debut Authors, and coordinated for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
While I’ve had a life-long love affair with reading, I didn’t start writing until fairly recently. This probably isn’t how most people start, but I had a lengthy consulting job in a city about 90 miles away. I’d listen to music and daydream during the commute. Pretty soon the daydream had dialogue and I thought, hmm, this is turning into a good story. That particular book lives in a box in the closet, but I was hooked on writing, creating worlds and characters.
I’ve always loved mysteries and suspense—figuring out the who-dun-it puzzle, delighting when the author keeps me guessing or on the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen next. When I started writing, my stories and characters had secrets, obstacles, and a race to uncover the villain. I’m going to slide a second favorite part of writing in here. I love bringing the characters to life, figuring out what makes them tick, and throwing the challenges of the plot and relationship at them. So much fun. It’s probably the best part of writing.
What is your writing process and how much time do you spend planning your books?
Like most authors, my stories start with a “what if.” Once an idea takes hold, the plot and character evolve together. I’m a plotter, so the first thing I do when I think the idea has possibilities is sketch an outline of the plot. That outline grows and evolves as my characters’ personalities and motivations flesh out. Things that of course they’d do, add layers or subplots as the story unfolds.
How important is setting in your novels?
I’ve been told the setting in my stories is another character. My goal is always to place the reader in the scene, to create a place readers can see and feel, even if they’ve never been to South Carolina, eastern Washington, or the Cascade Mountains. The challenge is to create that bubble without slowing the pace of the plot.
Toni McGee Causey has been a fabulous mentor and offers a terrific perspective on setting and point of view. What the character sees in the place says more about the character than the physical location. I try to keep that in mind—how my characters react to their location/setting and why it matters—as I write.
You are a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writer's monthly publication. Do you find yourself editing as you write? Or do you write first and edit after?
I have a rather strange way of putting my stories together. If something isn’t working when I’m sitting with my computer, I switch to pen and paper. Writing by hand uses a different part of my brain and I can roll with the scene. When I type those handwritten pages, I make a first edit pass for flow and word choice. But I generally finish the first draft before doing my heavy-duty editing passes. Of course, my wonderful editor will always have suggestions on how to make the story better…
Do you have a favorite author you read for inspiration?
So many favorites!
This may sound strange since I’m currently writing at the lighter end of the mystery spectrum, but right now, I’m reading at the introspective end of the mystery/suspense/thriller genre – Jonathon King, John Hart, and pushing even further into women’s fiction, Mary Alice Monroe and Kristan Higgins. Of course, I always have dozens of books on my e-reader to choose among.
I’ve been battling an aggressive cancer with an equally aggressive treatment regime. Chemo brain is a thing. As a result, not much writing has occurred this summer. When all this hit, I was halfway through Peril in the Pony Ring, the next book in the Keri Isles series. (Keri organizes her first event for the town of Liberty Falls and of course there are complications.) I also had the next Holly Price novel outlined (Holly is back in the Tri-Cities. Her best friend Laurie pulls her into another mystery that naturally has financial overtones.) My editor nudges me periodically about turning that one in…. Once I can string a few coherent sentences together, it’ll be a challenge deciding which one to work on first.