As writers we love stories – and I love my “sort of” personal story about Kat Magendie. I was at breakfast with a girlfriend last year and she said, “I just read Tender Graces. I loved it. I hope there’s a sequel. You have to read it.” And I said, “I know the author!” (And then I always go on to give my little spiel about Backspace and online writing connections.) I hadn’t yet read Tender Graces but did so in the next week and found out that indeed, there was a sequel, Secret Graces. Jackpot! I had the inside scoop for my friend AND I connected online with Kat Magendie. Kat is generous and hilarious — and her books are unputdownable. (I think that word is going to be in the urban dictionary soon.)
No matter what you read that Kat has written — whether it’s a novel or a Facebook comment — you’re sure to be entertained and inspired.
Please welcome Kat to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Interview with Author Kathryn Magendie
ASN: First, tell us a little about yourself and your books Tender Graces, Secret Graces and Sweetie.
KM: Dang. This is always hard for me. I become all discombobulated. Afraid I’ll babble. Go all teeheehee on you. Here goes—I live smack in the Smoky Mountains in a quiet mountain cove at Killian Knob in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. I love puppies, chocolate, and long walks on the beach—okay, not really, well, yes I do love those things, but there are beaches here, however, I do adore my long walks on the old mountain log trails where I do much of my thinking about things—like chocolate and puppies and sometimes the beach.
A short blurb about the Sweetie and the Graces novels:
Mountain girl Sweetie is wild, rough, almost feral, yet brave and endlessly honest, a symbol of pride and strength. When Melissa, a shy stuttering town girl, befriends her, the two enrich each other’s lonely lives. But there are some in the Appalachian community who regard Sweetie and her peculiar heritage as sinister. This poignant and haunting story takes readers deep inside the bittersweet heart of childhood loyalties.
Virginia Kate Carey, daughter of a beautiful mountain wild-child and a slick Shakespeare-quoting salesman, relives her turbulent childhood and the pain of her mother’s betrayals. Haunted by ghosts, her Grandma Faith’s violent death, and by buried family secrets, Virginia Kate struggles to reconcile three generals of her family’s lost innocence—she is the storyteller of their lives.
ASN: When did you first have the idea for creating Virginia Kate? Did she come to you fully formed or in bits and pieces?
KM: What started it all was a Wyeth print I had/have in my bedroom that I often stare at, “Chambered Nautilus,” where the woman is gazing wistfully out of the window while the bed curtains billow around her (and you can’t see her face, which intrigued me how I still think the word “wistful”). I wondered if she was remembering “all her yesterdays,” and that was the start of Virginia Kate’s journey to storytelling about herself and her family. The character and story took a big turn from where I’d first began because Virginia Kate’s real voice became stronger and stronger, and for that I’m glad. However, that woman in the painting still intrigues me and she has her own story, and one day I will get back to her.
Originally, VK was to be a short story only because I truly thought I could not write a novel. Luckily, my bestest friend Angie Ledbetter said, “Write it. You have to. Get to it, girl.” She was correct. Angie, if you are reading—you are my hero! I need to send you a nice present right now. And folks, just think about it—if I had not sat down and just simply given it a try, would I still be angsting that I couldn’t write a novel? Sometimes you just have to take a risk on something instead of saying “I can’t;” I wonder how many “I can’t’s” have kept people from their dreams?
ASN: Aspiring authors like to know about “the journey.” What was your journey from the birth of VK to seeing your books in print?
KM: I went through what lots of writers do—I wrote a whole bunch of words, fiddled around with them, and then flailed about querying some agents—except, I did that before the manuscript was ready (although, I didn’t recognize that it wasn’t ready because I didn’t want to think about that possibility—denial!). I received rejections from the agents; however, there were “themes” in those rejections from 95% of the responses: that I was a gifted writer, had a strong voice, and the story was intriguing. I put VK aside and wrote an entirely different novel (what would become Sweetie), then went back to VK months later. I deleted thousands of words and tightened her up.
So, I was sitting on my couch watching Christmas shows with my laptop on my lap (Oblahdee! Obladah! My laptop on my lap! . . . oh, sorry, teehee), and a little voice urged, “Google ‘Southern Fiction Publishers’ Kat.” BelleBooks popped up. Something about them resonated with me, and before I lost nerve, I fired off my pitifully written query.
Within a few days, BB editor Deb Smith asked to see the entire manuscript. I sent it, my brain going “boinga boinga boinga.” Then I waited—cue twiddly thumbs, jittery eyeballs, a shot of vodka or two—and less than two weeks later, BelleBooks offered me a contract for Virginia Kate’s story, with an option to publish a trilogy *happy frenetic dancing ensued.* They have been wonderful to me, and Deb Smith is the coolest editor ever—I just love her and she can never ever leave BelleBooks.
So, you never do know. If you feel a prodding voice slap you upside your pea-head as I did, then why not see what comes of it? You are going to receive rejections; you are going to hear “No!” You are going to feel like crap, like you are nothing, like you are the worst writer in the land, like you suck. Pick yourself up off the floor.
If you really really want this, then you have to keep plowing ahead. Will “never giving up” get you a contract? Honestly, I can’t say that it will, and that’s the Big Fat Frustration in this business. But, again, if you really really want this, then you won’t be able to give up—instead you’ll dig in deeper and see if you can figure out why you are being rejected: is it your work? Is it the places/people you are querying? Is it the “State of Publishing” right now? Be honest with yourself until it hurts and then if you can fix it, fix it. If the problem is external, that’s a little more difficult to control.
ASN: How much of you is in VK? And, what parts of VK are definitely not you? And of those parts — any traits you wish you had?
KM: VK’s name came from my adoptive mom and from my name: I’m Mary Kathryn and she is Ruth Virginia. I wanted to honor my adoptive mom and all mothers who “take on other mother’s children.” So the name means something special—the intertwining of adoptive- or step-mother and daughter—a “theme” in the Graces books.
VK and I share the “whirly world” thing—I go off in my head all la tee dah’ing around. We also both have a sense of “justice” and what is “right;” we don’t understand liars and cheaters and people who intentionally hurt others, because we would never intentionally hurt someone else. We watch people and figure them out pretty quickly—which is sometimes a burden.
But VK as a better friend than I am, because she remembers details both important and minor, and I can forget details important and minor about people/friends even if I’ve known them for a long time. VK is also more optimistic, while I can be too cynical (which by the way, I couldn’t think of the word “cynical” so I called out to my husband and asked, “What’s that word I am? Not negative or pe—” and before I could finish, he shouted out the word “cynical!” harrumph!).
VK has great hair. Dang, I wish I had her hair! And she’s so level-headed—I’m crooked-headed. She also has this unique way of speaking that I find myself picking up sometimes, but it’s her interesting voice not mine. She doesn’t care what she looks like, either, and will wear out of style clothes—she’s just in her own kind of space, lost in her own world and her own time—I love that! And she’s a bit naïve, but in an endearing way that I love and wish I were more like. There is more, but that’s enough yammering!
ASN: One thing I loved about VK was her need to figure things out and understand things (or at least that’s how I saw it) – sometimes things she might not have been meant to understand. Sometimes folks are lazy and just let things be and take it all at face value. What made VK so brave in TG?
KM: She had no choice but to be brave. Well, everyone has choices, but if one’s choice is to lie down and cry and feel sorry for oneself and let life run one over repeatedly, then that’s not much of a life, is it? VK needs to have some kind of control over the chaos, and she needs to understand the why’s so she can figure out the how to fix its, and she needs to put names to things so they make sense to her. That’s her way of coping. VK never gives up on hope and love and honor, except when it comes to men, then she can be kind of chicken-hearted because of her momma’s legacy.
ASN: We’re all about Women’s Fiction on this blog (although we do not discriminate, we just prefer). How do you define women’s fiction?
KM: When I read that question, I had a sudden image of this wonderful Club, and in that Club were all these amazing women who love a good story, who love reading about characters who may struggle but somehow they find strength—even if things don’t always work out as they’d hoped. Because these women in the club have had the same things happen and same feelings happen to them in one fashion or another.
Women have a wonderfully unique way of seeing the world and in responding to it, so when a fiction character mirrors that in some way, we are intrigued, we want to see how it all turns out, we want to see if the character handles it differently or handles it just as we did, or somewhere in between. We have high hopes for those fictionalized women. If they possess traits we wish we had, or if we recognize ourselves in them, their choices can help us to understand our own choices. And if the character makes bad or questionable choices, we identify with them, and want to protect them, help them along until they are all right again. We all like knowing that we don’t suck so bad, that, dang it all, we’re really just human, after-all.
ASN: What makes a book your perfect read?
KM: If the character engages me, I will follow them wherever they take me. If the character falls flat, then I probably won’t enjoy the book, no matter if it has a thrilling plot. I tend to write character-driven fiction, and I read a lot of that, as well. Though, I’ll read just about anything if the character is well-written/intriguing/interesting/Real—I hate fake one-dimensional wooden characters, don’t you? They leave splinters in my brain, ungh.
I read an awful lot, every night, sometimes finishing a couple books a week. So, I always say my perfect read is the book I’m enjoying right now. I am now reading a brilliant debut novel entitled “The Secret of Lies,” by Barbara Forte Abate.
I want to also note that I just finished reading another amazing debut novel, “The Reason is You,” that isn’t out yet and I’m very excited for the author: Sharla Lovelace (Sharla Scroggs as many know her).
Two great debuts who I expect more great things from!
ASN: You have another book coming out, will you tell us about it? And, what else in the works?
KM: I have two things coming out this year. This summer, “Petey” is a novella that will be in the anthology “The Firefly Dance” with authors Sarah Addison Allen and Augusta Trobaugh. Petey is set here in Western North Carolina and she, along with her brother Hill who thinks he’s a canine more than a boy, have to move to Texas, which seems like a foreign country to them. It’s a story of displacement (a favorite theme of mine), loss, love, and second chances. It’s such a sweet story.
The final in the Virginia Kate “Graces” trilogy will be released this fall—I’m working on that now. I am hoping readers like what I’m doing because this novel is structured differently from the other two Graces. There are darker aspects— I can’t seem to stop the darkness peeking in and I’ve just had to go with it—the first chapter near broke my heart to write because it is Grandma Faith speaking through Virginia Kate about her last five days on earth—but as always there is hope and light. Rebekha, Momma (Katie Ivene), and Adin (VK’s adoptive daughter) will all speak through Virginia Kate in this last book, since VK is the Storyteller—that is if everything goes as planned and my editor likes it!
Beyond that, there is a character who keeps poking at me so maybe she’ll be my next project because I am intrigued by her. We’ll see!
ASN: You know why we’re here, on this particular blog. So, what is your best advice for writers of women’s fiction?
KM: Support other writers/artists/musicians—we could all use each other’s friendship and support—another’s success does not take away from what we have, we can only take away from ourselves the wonderful feelings of our own accomplishments when we compare ourselves to others’ successes in a negative way instead of a “let’s be inspired” way.
Appreciate and acknowledge your readers. If at all possible, answer your reader mail and/or engage on Facebook/Twitter or whatever is your thang. I adore my readers and am grateful for them more than they may ever know—they think I am giving them something, but they are the ones giving me the greatest gift of all.
I’m not a good advice-giver, and what works for one may not for another. However, if I tried to give someone writing advice, I’d say to write what feels like Truth to you instead of writing what you think someone wants to read. Write with happy-go-lucky abandon and re-write/edit with a fine-toothed critical eye. Trust your instincts—those little naggy pokes should not be ignored, because if you are feeling bored, restless, “something isn’t quite right,” impatient, etc., your reader will most certainly notice even more so, and so will anyone you query to.
And finally, when I first began writing, there was such a sense of urgency to get it done and out for query—I realize that is a mistake, that stepping back and taking some time is prudent; however, I also recognize how I am writing this advice from the distance of having three books published and more on the way, so it’s an “easy for me to say” kind of thing, you know? But it is still a truth, and like all truths, they sometimes are hard to listen to, especially, too, when there are always exceptions to every Rule and every Truth it seems!
Thank you Amy! This was fun.
Indeed, Kat. It was fun! Thank you!!
Kathryn Magendie is the author of Tender Graces, Secret Graces, and Sweetie. Her novella and novel are forthcoming summer and fall, respectively, of 2011. You can find out more about the author at www.kathrynmagendie.com, or her blog www.tendergraces.blogspot.com. Follow her on twitter @katmagendie, or Facebook at kathryn.magendie. Her publishers, Bellebooks, are on Facebook and twitter, too – for more information go to: http://www.bellebooks.com/ You should see Kat’s face right now, because writing her bio in third person makes her mouth quirk up and it looks funny, especially when one eye is kinda squinchy.