Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Kathryn Magendie

Since you couldn't come to my book club,
I thought I would share some of my interview
with Kat Magendie about her writing process. 

(from Kat's website -- her fancy "author" photo)

So here are her answers to questions I posed.

Meri:  How did Virginia Kate and the other characters come to you?

Kat:  I knew I wanted to write about a girl or woman whose mother had given up her children, in which the girl and her siblings would have to leave their home and live elsewhere, but I wasn't sure of the details. As with all my characters, I just had a wavery image of a girl or woman who was entreating me with her dark sad eyes. As for the name Virginia Kate, it is a combination of both of my mothers' names (Ruth Virginia and Katherine Sue), not because they are like the characters Rebekha and Katie Ivene, but because I wanted to honor the sacrifices of both of my mothers.

As to the rest, one day I was staring at a print of Chambered Nautilus by Andrew Wyeth. The woman sits in bed, as the curtains blow into the room, and she stares out the window, her face turned away from me. That image prompted the first paragraph of the first draft of what would become Tender Graces, although in later drafts and the final edit, I didn't use that paragraph or setting, but that image does come up in various ways in the novel. 

Aside from Virginia Kate's two brothers, who I knew would be involved in the story from the start, the rest of the characters just appeared. 

I never know where a character is going or who will be in his or her life, much as can happen in real life!

Meri: Were parts of various characters inspired by people you know? Did you have any qualms about incorporating incidents, mannerisms, characteristics of real people into the "real people" of Tender Graces

Kat: Characters are usually an amalgam of people I unconsciously write about.  They are unique creatures who have their own mannerisms and lives and wants and desired. However, crazy old Mee Maw is one character I can say is strongly based on my own Maw Maw - my paternal grandmother, who was such an interesting and crazy woman. She's the only real identifiable character my family can point out and say, "That's our Maw Maw!" When my family reads Tender Graces, they know it is fiction, even if a few of the situations feel familiar. For example, the Great Moccasin Incident was based on a real event -- my brother used to play snake polo with big fat moccasins on his Huffy Bike. It's much more fun and interesting to make up characters, places and events; yet there's no way most writers can get away from having things or people from real life slip in.

Meri: What was your novel-writing process?

Kat: First I'll say that I get to know my characters as I write them. It's just as any friendship where you meet and begin to talk and do things together. As time goes on, more is revealed, unless the character is very private!

I start working in the morning and finish in the late afternoon or early evening. Then I stop and let myself rest from all the goings-on of my characters -- for they can be quite demanding and tiring with all their shenanigans and drama. I can work seven days a week, but I do try to take time off and go hiking or shopping or just sit on my butt and stare at the Smoky Mountain view.  

I never know the ending to my stories or novels. My brain lets out the images and story a sentence or event or paragraph at a time. Out of some black hole comes everything. When I try to think about it or force it to come, my brain revolts and won't provide. It's a bit frustrating at times, when I think I want to write something plot-driven instead of character-driven, but I am who I am and and I've come to accept my limitations. People seem to like my writing and my characters, so I guess I'm doing okay. 

Meri: Did you write from what you know or was there a lot of research involved?

Kat: Tender Graces spans time, mostly from the early sixties to the present and I am very careful about placing things where they belong, so yes, I do research. I want to make sure the details are correct -- I don't allow myself to rely on memory, for memory can be tricky. Clothing, food, television shows, places I've not been but want to write about, jargon of the time, music, even the weather for a particular year -- all of those are things I research.

Tender Graces is set in West Virginia and South Louisiana. I was born in West Virginia, but left there as a small child, so much of what I wrote about W. Virginia was from research and two short visits as a teenager. When I was working on final drafts, I visited my biological mother and could tweak some of the landscape. I lived in Louisiana many, many years, so that was easy. Although I never say where they are in South Louisiana, people who live in Baton Rouge recognize the place. 

Meri: How did you go about getting Tender Graces published?

Kat: From the beginning, I always envisioned I'd have a small independent published because that seemed to fit me. People said I should have an agent, so early on I did query a few agents but didn't find one. What happened is that one evening I was online and did a Google search for "Southern Fiction Publishers." Bellebooks came up. I read their website and just loved how they sounded. That very night, on a lark, spur of the moment, I sent them a query. They emailed me the next day, "Send us the manuscript." I did and it wasn't very long at all before I had a contract. They loved, and still love, Virginia Kate.

As for that agent, people are still prompting me to find one, so early this year, I'll look into the possibility of getting an agent. I'm not unhappy with Bellebooks because they're wonderful! But even my publisher knows that having an agent opens doors and opportunities that might help us all.  

Meri: How does the process of writing the new book (Secret Graces) compare to the writing of Tender Graces?

Kat: The first draft of Tender Graces (the Virginia Kate saga) was huge and took maybe five or six months to vomit out. The writing was fast and furious. It needed to come out, I guess. I'd never written a novel and never thought I would. There was much editing and re-writing needed because I had no clue what I was doing. The finished produce of Tender Graces is much, much different from the original big fat manuscript that blew out of me.   If I compare that process with Secret Graces, the "sequel," the latter was a much faster and smoother process, for I knew better what I was doing and could write the novel and do the edits much more quickly. The total time expenditure was less than a year, perhaps two months or so to write it and a couple months for the first edit and a couple months for additional editing. With Tender Graces, by contrast, I had to edit and edit and edit to chip away what shouldn't be there, to find Virginia Kate's true voice (and my own), sort of like sculptors do when they start with a big block of marbe and keep chipping away until the finished statue appears. 


One other question my book club posed
 the other night was this:
who wrote the Book Club discussion questions
at the end of the book? Did you have any input? 

Thanks, Kat !


Kathryn Magendie said...

Hi Meri! *smiling*

The answer to that question is - Mary Ann Ledbetter of Baton Rouge, Louisiana - a teacher and literary brilliance - wrote the reader's guide-she's writing the one for Secret Graces, too -- I am lucky to know her and that she took the time from her busy schedule to do it....

Thank you so much Meri . . . and again, thank your lovely book club.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

so neat that you could interview kat and add a special dimension to your bookgroup discussion....the snow storm has postponed my bookgroup meeting = crossing my fingers that we'll be meeting next week, same time, same place!!

Yamin said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


kt said...

thanks for sharing the book and then getting an interview with the author, i am going to look for the book now.

kj said...

meri, thank you for stopping by my blog, especially since it brought me to yours!

what a wonderful insightful interview. i am a writer also. i also meet my characters as we spend time together and i also could write all day with hardly a moment to come up for air.

please come visit me anytime! the pleasure is mine!

♥ kj

kendalee said...

I bought and read Tender Graces on your recommendation las year and loved it. How lovely to gain this insight into the person and the process responsible for it... thank you!!!