When and why did you begin writing?
I confess that I started out writing about my pathetic life, which had spiraled into a hideous menopausal funk. I was far from my family and friends in a new home my husband promised would be our dream house. It was a beautiful place, but I was focused on my own personal misery. We had a dog named Molly, two cats named Hoppy and Roy, and a horse named Ranger. Beyond that, the similarity between Christine Sterling and me mostly ends. Okay, maybe I’m snoopy but I promise you, I never broke into the neighbors’ house like Christine did. Her adventures were her own and I merely wrote them down. (May I go on record here? I informed Christine that respectable middle-aged women do not go around breaking into neighbors’ houses. In fact, I deleted that entire scene once. But Christine insisted that she must. So she did. She is rather headstrong.)
What inspires you to write and why?
I am inspired by human foibles, mostly my own bad character traits or those of people I love. When I struggle over loving the unlovable, for example, that battle plays out in a story. In the third Christine Sterling Mystery, Parrish The Thought, Christine Sterling discovers prejudice in her heart that she never knew existed. When substance abuse derails my child and he refuses to take responsibility for his own actions, a story forms in my brain. That’s where the idea for my current work in progress came from. I am exploring how often a person has to hit bottom before they really get to the real bottom.
The writing process informs my subconscious somehow, opening layers of understanding. If I didn’t foist these struggles onto fictional characters, I don’t know how I would discover what I need to learn about myself and others and why we do what we do. Or how change occurs.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began?
During the writing of Payne & Misery, I read a lot of Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich and Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout. Both these series feature characters endowed with sparkling repartee and wit. I think that informed much of what Christine Sterling said. I have a diverse reading taste. Can’t really describe what my favorite books have in common other than compelling characters and a captivating storyline. I adore a good mystery, but mystery is not the only genre I read.
Going back way earlier in my life, I’d say my Mother had a great influence over my writing as did two outstanding high school English teachers, Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Saxon, who adored fiction and encouraged every word I wrote.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?
An entire book could be written on what I learned during the seven years it took me to write Payne & Misery from start to publication. I learned about myself, about what a complainer I am and how my complaining impacts my husband. Viewing the grumbling from the eyes of Christine and Jesse Sterling made a huge difference in my own behavior. I learned about story elements, plotting, character development, voice, point of view, and other technical aspects of writing. I learned to “drown my darlings.” Even if I wrote the absolute best sentence on the planet, if that sentence doesn’t move the plot ahead in the story, it must be cut. I learned to accept criticism with grace and thankfulness (even when it is wrong) and even to anticipate it without anxiety. It takes a village to write a book. No one does it on his or her own. Working as a team player makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.
Have you developed a specific writing style?
The other day my mother told me she thinks my writing is maturing. She said it flows more naturally and seems to be more comfortable to read. Maybe she’s right. My writing seems to be evolving into a conversational style–kind of free association, only not as frenetic. I’ve noticed this myself. I remember early on when I began going to writing workshops and taking online courses. There was a good deal of talk about finding your voice. I had no idea how to do that, but I wrote it down on my list of goals because it seemed a worthy objective. If indeed I’ve come to find my own writing style, I think that I understand now how that may happen.
Writing every day, even if just an email, gets the fingers and the brain working together in a new way. It’s that constant practice, constant revising, reviewing and refining the thoughts that begins to stretch the ability to find the just-right word choice. As a person gains power over word choice, the writer begins arranging them in new and different ways. It’s flexing and stretching that creative muscle that makes the difference. The more you do, the better you do it. (Don’t you hate when your mother was right about practicing?)
Thanks for the opportunity to give this interview. I hope you enjoy reading Payne & Misery.
Catherine Leggitt is an author and inspirational speaker. A native Californian born in the Bay Area, she raised two daughters, taught school, and cared for her aging parents in southern California before retiring to the north end of the state. Proud grandmother of six brilliant children, Catherine studies the Bible, reads, serves as a leader in Bible Study Fellowship, and sings in the church choir.
Catherine wrote a trilogy called the Christine Sterling Mysteries, which include PAYNE & MISERY, THE DUNN DEAL, and PARRISH THE THOUGHT. The first book won 2nd place at the Orange County Christian Writers Conference in May, 2010. It was published by Ellechor Publishing in 2011. THE DUNN DEAL and PARRISH THE THOUGHT were published in 2012 by Ellechor Publishing. PARRISH THE THOUGHT made the quarterfinals in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.
In addition, Catherine has completed a fourth novel with different characters called DYING TO BE NOTICED and coauthored a memoir for Sam Contino called STREET SMARTS.
When called upon to share her story, Catherine’s main themes come from Christine’s struggles in her books, which also happen to be some of the things Catherine struggles with. Thus, since PAYNE & MISERY addresses complaining, the first message, titled Always Choose Joy, centers on how to be thankful and choose joy instead of misery. The spiritual theme of THE DUNN DEAL exposes with the nature of truth. Merely having faith is not enough. What we believe matters. Catherine named the second talk, Always Choose Truth. In PARRISH THE THOUGHT, Christine learns to love unlovable people, so Catherine calls the third message, Always Choose Love.