Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Lake George, New York—one of the most beautiful places on the planet! My mom was a teacher at a local school and my father was a well-respected lawyer in town. They provided a unique balance in parenting that enforced high expectations while instilling unconditional love and trust. I had one older brother, with whom I’m still close. I am a lucky girl.
I’m ashamed to say I was a late bloomer when it came to reading. My mother, a high school English teacher, would try to encourage me to read, read, read…but I always felt drawn to put pen to paper and create my own words. If I had known then that reading would make me a better writer, I would’ve taken her advice. But alas, what tween wants to admit Mom is right?
In seventh grade I caught on to Lois Duncan and I couldn’t get enough of her books. When the movie of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” came out several years after I read the book, I felt so protective of the story—as if I’d written it myself. I actually refused to see the movie because I didn’t want to taint my memory of the story. Silly, right?
Tell us about your book. How did it get started?
Years ago as a student teacher at Andover High School, my mentor handed me a VHS tape of an old Dateline video that featured Mark David Chapman’s fixation on The Catcher in the Rye and its influence in his murder of John Lennon. Every subsequent year I taught Catcher, I would play that video for my class—and found myself equal parts enthralled and horrified with the tragedy again and again.
This book was born from that fascination of mine—how a novel could move someone to act in such an extreme way. I also couldn’t help but wonder what Holden would have thought if he knew what his words triggered. One of my writing teachers once said it is sometimes easier to outline your novel from the “crisis” backward. In order to place Alden (Holden) where Lennon was shot, I had to publish the report he wrote in the mental clinic (his journal aka The Catcher in the Rye) and somehow have him meet Mark David Chapman. As the book evolved, it no longer became about this incident, but how three siblings had to overcome serious familial issues.
How do you create your characters?
Great question! I usually start with quick character sketches, and flesh them out throughout the process of writing and revision. The goal, of course, is to create complex characters. No one completely good. No one completely bad. However, this complexity usually comes as the book evolves. If my goal is to endear readers to a specific character, I usually channel the spirit of someone I love and respect in creating a scene. In Catcher’s Keeper, Fiona’s experience with the disastrous PR meeting is based on an actual meeting I witnessed between a good friend and a former coworker. The example Alden gives to show Teresa’s altruism is based on an interaction I witnessed between my husband and a sick little boy (a memory that still brings tears to my eyes).
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
When asked how long I’ve been writing, my standard answer is: “Just over a decade.” But truth be told, I have been writing ever since I can remember, filling childhood journals with poems and existential, prepubescent musings.
I didn’t consider being an author until my late twenties, when I had gotten in on the ground floor of a web design firm in 1996 and thought I’d make millions by the time I hit thirty. That didn’t happen. But the experience was so tumultuous, I started writing about it as a way of catharsis. That became my first novel (unpublished), entitled Giddy-Up, Start-Up. I may go back to it someday.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write?
As a mother of three young boys (one not yet in school)—it’s hard to fit writing time into normal life. I grab writing time whenever—and wherever!—I can get it.
When my boys used to nap, I would use that time to write. Sometimes I get up at 4 or 5 a.m. to write. My little one now goes to pre-school two days per week. I use as much of that time as possible to write. On weekends, my husband often sends me to a coffee shop for a few hours to write while he takes the boys for special daddy time. For this novel, I was so anxious to get it down, I would wait until my entire family was asleep before sneaking down to my computer where I would write until 1 or 2 a.m.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
I’m often inspired by events in history. I love books that offer an alternate perspective of a classic piece of literature, such as Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys or Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Catcher’s Keeper is similar to these books, offering an alternate history and giving a voice to characters we all want to hear from. I have another book idea that’s been brewing for years that places a classic, enigmatic female character at the Salem Witch Trials. Stay tuned for that one!
What do you like to read?
Besides those I mentioned above, I love reading slightly dark, thought-provoking novels. I’m currently reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which fits this description. I’ve always been part of a book club, and I enjoy books that garner good discussion, perhaps with a moral question. The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman or Body and Bread by Nan Cuba come to mind.
I like to mix it up with some non-fiction now and again, such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot or Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe by Jim Davies (who also happens to be my brother!)
My advice to budding authors is to read everything! Newspapers, classic literature, tabloids, poetry, try free e-books in different genres, etc. Not only does it help your writing fluency, but you never know when inspiration is going to strike. Jenna Blum’s Stormchasers portrays a protagonist that is desperate to save her troubled brother. That book inspired the complex sibling relationship between Fiona and Alden in Catcher’s Keeper.
What other advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write what you know and what you’re passionate about. Your story will have to sustain you through several rounds of revisions and edits and rereads and then marketing… Love your story!
Nurture your craft. I took an online class on creative writing a few years ago, and I hate to admit this, but at the time I didn’t think I was going to learn anything new. Boy, was I wrong! I learned so much! I still use techniques I learned from that class. I know now, I always have something to learn. A solid critique partner is priceless. Writing groups can help give you motivation. Try publishing shorter pieces in local press while pushing on with larger pieces. That instant gratification can be so helpful.
Don’t give up! Keep writing. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s amazing how generous other authors have been in offering help as I published my debut novel. And it’s my pleasure to help other writers whenever I can.
If you go the self-publishing route, invest in a good editor. I decided to publish through Amazon and CreateSpace. My experience has been very positive and the actual publishing process was extremely simple (almost too easy!). It’s almost like attaching a document to an email, and—voila—you’re published! The important thing was to get my manuscript absolutely perfect prior to uploading because it is published exactly as is. A flawless manuscript is key. A good editor can not only help fix typos but also ensure your story works. As Mark Coker of Smashwords says, “A good book sells itself.”
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
By the end of the year, I hope to publish my next book—a Young Adult Magical Realism entitled LOCK 12. A young piano prodigy becomes seduced by a magic potion that gifts athletic prowess. The struggle she endures addresses timely issues such as staying true to yourself in the midst of heavy peer pressure. It also addresses performance-enhancing drug use that has been so prevalent in the news lately.
I am just starting to outline another novel, which has an element of mystery…and a very cute hedgehog.
When my youngest begins full-time school, I will tackle my Salem Witch Trial idea. Can’t wait for that!