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Interview With Cathy Elliott

1) Introduce yourself to us. Name, info on your family, number of books authored, etc...

Thanks, Staci. What a thrill it is to have reason to be interviewed at last. And to talk a bit about things that are so special to me: my home & family and of course, my book.

I live and work in Northern California; my town is nestled in the upper Central Valley, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and only minutes away from two large lakes. It’s a wonderful spot really. I’m a mom without much mothering to do these days since my daughter, Heidi, is now wife to my new son, Eric. Maybe one day I can do some grand parenting, if God is willing. I hear it’s the best!

Before the April 2006 publication of my first novel, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, I authored thirteen children’s books for an educational company. One won’t find them in the bookstore, just in the classroom. Still, the experience was helpful as I wrote Vase, a cozy mystery. I was quite used to meeting a deadline by then.

2) Do you write full time? If yes, can you give us a glimpse into your daily writing life? If not, what is your day job?

My day job as a Library Information Technician couldn’t be more perfect for an author. The skills I have honed there – the art of research, communication, a grasp of online strategies and web design – are all tools I can use in my writing. Plus, the students and staff and situations are so interesting, I find lots of fodder for my characters.

Normally, I don’t write every day. When I’m moving forward with a book, I do write daily after work, sometimes late into the evening. If I’m going to hang with family on the weekend, I’ll take my laptop and get in a little writing between other activities. I write when I can.

3) Tell us a little bit about your road to publication.

Writing had been a dream of mine for more than twenty years, but I never followed up. Every so often, I joined a writer’s group; but then I’d fall away. A few years later, I’d do the same thing. It became a pattern - until the year 2000 when my daughter became engaged. All of a sudden I had a knowing that it was my time. My time to write.

So I joined my local Christian writer’s group, Quills of Faith, and began with devotionals. I also wrote book reviews and articles for a small but professional periodical called The Christian Library Journal. Those exercises taught me to write concisely. Our group had some well-published folks in leadership – Dave Meurer, Cindy Martinusen, and Kimberly Shaw – and I tried to imitate them. Eventually, I decided to write a cozy mystery and my novel, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, was born. Though I wrote and published other things along the way, it was the cozy that became my pet project. The characters were always having a party in my head.

On the advice of my mentors from the writer’s group, I went to my first writer’s conference at Mt. Hermon in 2001 and soaked up all the instruction I could. There I met the wonderful woman who would later become my agent and sell my cozy mystery to Kregel Publishing in 2004. Since that conference, I have attended ten others – both CBA and ABA. They have all been valuable in my writer’s journey.

4) What was your biggest obstacle in regards to writing and/or getting published? How did you overcome it?

I can think of a couple situations where my writing was threatened by family tragedy or lifestyle that made it seem my writing would have to be set aside for a time. But God didn’t require that after all.

So I would say - falling into the habit of NOT writing. Allowing months and weeks of no actual production to take place. I look back on that time and think, “What was I doing that was so important?” Thinking about writing is not writing. Talking about writing does not produce a book.

I am trying to write more often. One day, I hope it will be daily, even without a book deadline on the horizon.

5) What has been the highest moment of your writing/publishing career?

I have a tie for the highest moment. First: Receiving such enthusiastic affirmation at the initial Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference was unbelievable. I felt like a real writer. And the other First: Holding my newly published book in my hands. What a blessing.

6) How do the ideas for your stories spark?

Often I hear someone else talk about a family event or a newspaper article and think, what if? I keep a file of possibilities; many are articles that have intrigued me in some way. And some ideas either come floating or zinging into the brain at the oddest times. But I usually need to get together with my core group and have a plotting session. Their comments and ideas get my own stirred up and soon, I’ve got a plot.

7) Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer, or do you plot extensively before your fingers hit the keyboard?

I like to have the plot in place first, though I have started without it. But I don’t get too far that way. The plot begins to reveal itself and then I’ll stop and write up a synopsis. Once I have the plot (even loosely written), I can just write toward the next plot point, allowing things to happen to my characters that I didn’t plan. At that stage, I am pretty much a seat-of-the-pants writer. I’ll be typing along and all of a sudden, a character will just do something unexpected. I’ll think, “How rude of you, Glenda!” But I know it will make all kinds of trouble for Thea. It makes me happy because, for the story’s sake, that’s a good thing.

8) I’m notorious for *snacking* while I write! Do you have any favorite munchies you wouldn’t mind us knowing about?

Actually, I hate to get crumbs on my keyboard. (I seem to always do that!) So I just have a beverage instead – usually hot tea made with PG Tips tea from England (introduced to me by author Laura Jensen Walker), with Half & Half and sweetened with Splenda. Although, if I spilled that onto my keyboard, I’m sure it would be much worse than a few crumbs!

My other favorite writing beverage is 1/2 iced tea and 1/2 lemonade. Yum.

9) How do you strike an agreeable “balance” between your writing time and other responsibilities?

I can’t say that I have found the balance yet; I’m finding my way. It was my hope that my writing wouldn’t cause me to fall down on my already established responsibilities. To provide extra time, I gave up some pursuits that I enjoyed (like playing my violin in a local orchestra) and plunged ahead. I try to fulfill my responsibilities first, writing second. Unless I am on deadline. Then I ask for help.

10) What has been the most surprising thing about your adventure in publishing?

How lovely and caring and supportive the folks have been at Kregel Publishing, my publishing company. I didn’t expect to make friends there, though I don’t know why. A publishing house is a business and I am a new author, a blip on the radar at this point. But my experience has been a perfect blend of professionalism and personal attention. What a great place to start!

11) How do you deal with publisher rejections? Crawl in bed under the covers for an entire day? Indulge in double-fudge chocolate? Or just brush it off?

Most days, I can brush it off. “Oh well, that just wasn’t the right place for my book.” I try to think of it as redirection instead of rejection. Like a treasure map with a lot of X’s marked here and there. One must dig at each spot, hoping for treasure. If not this time, maybe next time.

One thing that helped me a great deal was this advice from author Cindy Martinusen: there is a lot to be enjoyed on the “pre” side of publication. Once you are published, that brings new concerns of its own. So I did try to linger in that state of anticipation – rather a nice place to dwell. That worked for me. On those days I felt disappointed, my wonderful agent would give me a word or a line that brought me back…like, “No wine before its time.”

12) Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

Probably retired from my day job and writing books and enjoying it immensely, God willing.

13) These have been fairly standard questions. What is one thing you’d like to share with up-and-coming writers that they may not even know to ask yet?

That if you long to write, you are probably called to do so. And once those little doors of opportunity begin to open, don’t be afraid to walk through. Just say “yes!”

14) You have a new title coming out, right? Tell us about it.

If you are asking about the cozy mystery, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, just released a couple weeks ago, let me give you the “pitch.” When an antique dealer finds a list of familiar names in an old vase, she is curious. But her curiosity turns to fear when the first person listed meets with a freak accident and another person disappears. Thea gets involved because…her name is next!

Thanks so much for the opportunity to share about my writing, Staci. It’s been a pleasure.

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