Dear WFW Friends,
I’ve interviewed quite a few Bell Bridge Books authors and it’s always a treat!
Katherine Scott Crawford’s historical novel, KEOWEE VALLEY, is steeped in Katherine’s personal history. She took a setting, an idea, a notion, a feeling, a passion — mixed it with research — and wrote a novel. What a wonderful reminder that everything around us can be fodder for our stories, if we remember to pay attention (and take notes)!
Please welcome Katherine Scott Crawford to Women’s Fiction Writers.
Author Katherine Scott Crawford Says “Women’s Fiction Is, Simply, Darn Good Fiction”
Amy: Congratulations on the publication of Keowee Valley! Your website says your novel is an historical adventure and romance set in the Revolutionary-era Carolinas and in the Cherokee country. Can you tell us how you got the idea for your story?
Katherine: Thank you, Amy. And thanks so much for having me–I’m delighted to be here!
The idea behind Keowee Valley had been percolating in my mind for years, but it really began when I was a kid. I grew up in the South Carolina Upcountry, and I’m lucky that my parents have a lake house in the South Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. The lake sits right at the foot of those mountains, in the middle of the countryside, and it’s bordered by national forest. It’s a gorgeous place, my favorite in the world. All throughout my childhood and into my teens (I went to college nearby) we explored the whole area, camping, hiking, river paddling. It was heaven.
In the S.C. Blue Ridge (all all across the Southern Appalachians, really), every mountaintop, creek or river, just about every road—really any pretty spot—has a Cherokee Indian name. So as a kid I became obsessed with Cherokee history. I couldn’t believe that an entire people had lived in this place I loved, and were gone.
Well, there’s this spot near my parents’ lake house. It’s really just a pasture (usually filled with cows), and at the crest of the pasture near the tree line, there’s an old stone chimney. The house must’ve burned down around it years ago. Whenever I’d pass that spot, I couldn’t shake the image of a woman standing there. She had long hair, wore an 18th century dress—and it seemed like she belonged, but didn’t at the same time. I just couldn’t shake that dream woman. I felt like she loved the land as much as I did. I had to write about her.
Amy: Will you tell us about your journey to publication? It can be such a long and winding road for some! Was it like that for you?
Katherine: Absolutely! People have been asking me this a lot lately, and every time I say it I shake my head in wonder: From starting to write the novel until the day my publisher made an offer, the whole thing took about six years. Add another year plus if you consider the time from the day of the offer until it was released! So it was definitely a long and winding road, and there were times when I thought I’d have to scrap the whole thing, that no one would ever read what I’d written. Thank goodness, that didn’t happen.
I went about the publication process in the traditional way: wrote my novel first (took me about two years, total, to research and write it), then queried literary agents. I queried LOTS of agents—around 200—and still have all the rejection letters. But I was lucky: after about three months of querying, I ended up with four offers of representation. I did some research, then went with my gut and chose one.
Because the agent thing happened so fast, I thought, “Man, I’m on a roll! My novel will sell quickly.” Ha. It took my agent three years to find a publisher. He’s a pretty reputable guy, has been in the business a long time, so I trusted his process. We started with the “Big 6” publishers, and actually got pretty far into the process with one of them, but it fell through. I was devastated, of course. All of them seemed confounded by the genre-bending Keowee Valley does: it’s certainly got romantic elements, but it isn’t totally a romance, and it’s a Cherokee-Indian-frontier-story of the Revolution, sometimes literary, sometimes commercial. Several editors said they just didn’t know where Barnes and Noble would put it on the shelves. One even said, “If she writes about the queens of Europe, let us know!”
I suggested to my agent that we seek out smaller publishers, and I knew about the one that would eventually be mine (Bell Bridge Books) because Deborah Smith—the VP—is one of my favorite Southern authors. So my agent submitted, and they bit. And they’ve been wonderful to work with.
Amy: I always assume the writers of historical fiction are plotters — do you fall into that category or do you do any writing by the seat of your pants?
Katherine: How I wish I was a plotter! I am so envious of those writers who can map out a novel and then make it happen. I think it’s a special talent, but it’s one I don’t have. I’m definitely a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of person, in life and in my writing. Usually my stories begin with an image or a scene—something I dream up or just see in my mind, usually when I’m traveling—and then I go from there. My research and the story itself seem to build organically around each other. Though I am a history nut, so I guess I do already have a store of knowledge about certain periods, and that definitely helps.
With Keowee Valley, it all started with that dream woman who eventually became my protagonist, Quinn. I knew I wanted to write about the 18th century in the South Carolina backcountry, because it was a wild and dangerous place, and the Cherokee were at their most powerful. I thought, why not take Quinn from a sheltered life and drop her into all that danger and mystery, and see who she meets?
But I’d still love to be able to plot. It’s something with which I really struggle. But I couldn’t do it in 9th grade English class, and I can’t seem to do it now.
Amy: Are you working on something new? Can you share anything about it?
Katherine: Well, I have big plans for a sequel to Keowee Valley. When I wrote it, I actually dreamed the story in a series of three novels, culminating with the American Revolution. And I still plan to do this. But because there was such a long stretch of time between when I began writing Keowee Valley and when it was actually published—and I thought no one would ever read it—I began work on something new.
It’s another historical novel, set in Charleston, South Carolina, in the year leading up to the Civil War. And it’s based on the descendants of Quinn and Jack, my heroine and hero from Keowee Valley—really, on their great granddaughter. She’s a lot like Quinn: independent, smart, stubborn, adventurous. And she lives in a gilded world she’s always questioned—a world that’s literally about to explode with the opening shots of the Civil War.
Amy: What is your definition of women’s fiction?
Katherine: That’s a tough question, because I’ve always found “definitions” in general to be sticky and often limiting. And, like a lot of women writers, I get frustrated by the publishing industry’s definitions of what we write—or can write. But I think, maybe, that women’s fiction is fiction centered on women: on our lives, our wants, our many paths, our dreams. And, since as my husband says, “Women are the center of everything,” those paths inevitably spider out, touching everyone.
I read stories with male protagonists all the time, but no one’s calling them “men’s fiction.” (The history dork in me could hop up on my soapbox right now, get rolling on history and politics and gender roles and all that good stuff. But I won’t do that to your readers!) I will say, though, that I think the times are changing, and readers are changing along with them. And don’t we all want a rousing story, something that transports us, that moves us, that stays with us? With a character at the center of it all who we can love?
One of my husband’s friends, who happens to be a man, told me he’s reading a chapter of Keowee Valley every night in the bathtub. I think this is hilarious and wonderful. So, I guess, to me, women’s fiction is, simply, darn good fiction.
Amy: Can you share with us your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Katherine: I know it’s been said a thousand times, but PERSISTANCE. Unwavering persistence toward your goal of writing is imperative. There’s no way it’ll happen otherwise. And maybe persistence partnered with patience (that and humility). It’s okay if it takes you a decade, if you’re sidetracked by work, school, kids, grandkids, illness, change—all the tough and wonderful things that make a great life. Just keep at it. These are the things I continue to tell myself.
Oh, and find yourself a partner-in-crime. Someone—a buddy or a lover—who believes in you and what you’re doing. Who won’t let you back down, no matter what. Those folks are priceless.
Katherine Scott Crawford was born and raised in the blue hills of the South Carolina Upcountry, the history and setting of which inspired Keowee Valley. Winner of a North Carolina Arts Award, she is a former newspaper reporter and outdoor educator, a college English teacher, and an avid hiker. She lives with her family in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where she tries to resist the siren call of her passport as she works on her next novel. Visit her website at www.katherinescottcrawford.com for more information, or to connect with her via Facebook and at her blog, The Writing Scott.