Today, my special guest is Cathy Gohlke, published by Tyndale. I'm currently reading her latest release, and I thought an interview might be a good way to let you get to know a little more about this awesome author.
Cathy, welcome to Dishin' It Out. I want to help my visitors get to know you and your latest release a bit better, so I've prepared a few questions, I hope you won't mind answering. I've started reading Promise Me This, and I must admit, I'm captivated by the time period and your writing style.
Thank you for inviting me! I’m delighted that you’re enjoying Promise Me This.
1. I'll start with the standard question we've all been asked: What prompted you to become an author?
As a child, I believed that the wonderful stories in books appeared by magic. But at the ripe old age of five, my grandmother revealed to me a profound secret: real people write books! From that moment I knew, no matter what else I did in life, I wanted to be one of those people to create the magic between the covers of books. Little did I know that the best stories are born of pain and their lessons—rarely simple—are gifts. Writing helps me understand the world and allows me to share the stories God lays on my heart.
2. Tell us a little about yourself and your family. We all like to know a little more about your personal side...where you live, what you like to do besides write and read. Feel free to add anything you'd like us to know.
My husband, Dan, our English Springer Spaniel, Reilly, and I live on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland. We have two grown children: Elisabeth, who is happily married to Tim (both living and working in Virginia), and Daniel, who lives and works in China.
I love gardens, campfires, swapping stories, travel and research—especially exploring attics, ruins, archives, all the places time forgot. I love hands on ministry, experimenting with new recipes, and riding my bike on flat roads on sunny days. I love sharing time with family and friends.
3. I see from the literature your publisher sent with the advanced reading copy that you've been a Christy Award winner twice. Can you tell us a little about the award, like the criteria used to determine the winner and what works earned you the honors? The Christy Award is the Catherine Marshall Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction. Books (published in the previous year) are submitted by publishers in nine sub-genres of fiction, then read, evaluated, and judged against a ten-point criteria by an independent seven member panel. My first two books, William Henry is a Fine Name and its standalone sequel, I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires earned the award.
4.What prompted you to write Promise Me This? Do you have a personal history with the Titanic and the time period? Relatives, perhaps?
Titanic has always fascinated me—the romance of the era, the “ship of dreams,” but especially the staff, the passengers—those who perished and those who survived—and the family members left behind. I wondered how those who’d been miraculously saved in lifeboats coped with having received such grace when hundreds around them had died. How was it to have decided who lived and who died? I wondered what sacrifices were made that fateful night that others might live, and how those gifts were remembered. In that I saw the perfect opportunity to picture Christ’s love story to the world, and our response to His unmerited gift.
My great-grandfather emigrated from England a few short years before Titanic sailed. He was unable to find work in Canada or the United States as the gold-leaf artist he was, so he became a gardener for a wealthy Buffalo family.
When I first saw a copy of Titanic’s manifest I found a young man listed, Owen George Allum, a gardener who’d sailed third class from Southampton, England. A little research led me to details concerning his life and the recovery of his body.
From all of that I wove a fictional short story, “The Legacy of Owen Allen,” which grew into the full length manuscript, Promise Me This.
5 Of the books you've written, do you have a favorite? Why or why not?
I’d always assumed my first book would be my favorite forever—I’d walked around with that story inside me for so long, and it addressed the horrors of slavery, the courage required in standing up for what we believe, and the Underground Railroad, which has long fascinated me. But, I must say that Promise Me This has won that place in my heart. It’s a picture, in story form, of Christ’s love for us and our response to His unmerited grace. It’s a story that demonstrates, through characters, unconditional, sacrificial love and the joy that brings. I’m so thankful the Lord laid it on my heart. Writing it was my love gift to Him, and though the research, especially of WWI, was sometimes dark, the story became a song of praise.
6. Are you are plotter or a pantser? What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages to your style?
That’s a great question! My wonderful agent, Natasha Kern, is convinced I’m a “pantser.” I’ve thought of myself as a “plotter by force.” Over time, I’ve learned to plot enough to write a synopsis—but it’s like ripping teeth from their roots. I fear losing the passion for and organic nature of my story so am hesitant to commit or share details before writing a first draft. I’d much rather write a story and then severely revise and edit. But I’ve come to see that that is not always an efficient process—not for me and not for my agent or editors. The thing that’s helped me most is Michael Hague’s Six Point Plot Structure as he describes it in the DVD, The Hero’s Two Journeys, as well as Stanley Williams’ book, The Moral Premise.
Now I write a long and detailed—sometimes rambling—synopsis, then put it away, and only take it out if I find myself wandering off track. The finished product is often quite different from my original notes.
7. I'm sure you realize there are many of us who envy you being published by Tyndale House. How did you form an association with them? What advice do you have for authors looking to get a foot in the door?
My agent, Natasha Kern, contacted Tyndale House with my completed manuscript. Stephanie Broene, acquisition editor for Tyndale House, caught the vision of the story and championed it through the contract stage. Stephanie and Sarah Mason have been wonderful editors to work with, and the entire team at Tyndale House is amazing. I’ve learned much and feel entirely blessed and thankful for this relationship.
My best advice to authors is to write a great book—the very best book you can write at this time in your journey. Then realize that your book is not your calling alone. Just as God has gifted writers to write, He’s gifted and called agents to agent, editors to edit, and designers, marketers, publicists, sales reps., retailers—everyone—to do what is needed to bring an idea and a book to the hands of readers. Embrace that team approach and be willing and eager to learn from each member of team.
8. What has been your best promotional strategy?
I’ve most enjoyed giving readings and face-to-face sharing with readers—book clubs, libraries, churches, women’s groups, schools, bookstores, etc. There’s nothing like seeing in a reader’s eyes that you’ve made a connection.
9. If someone just starting their writing career came to you for advice, what info would you share with them?
The tried and true is still true: read all you can, write all you can, learn all you can. Write the best book you can. Be eager and willing to learn from others but remain true to the voice and vision God gives you. He gave it for a purpose. We’re not all Mark Twain. The world needs only one Twain and it needs one you. Embrace the opportunities within your reach, and persistently place one foot in front of the other. Help others along the way. Be generous and gracious.
10. Because my critique group has been focusing on the growing list of rules involved in penning a novel, care to share how your internal editor works and if mistakes you read in the works of others annoy you to the point of distraction?
My internal editor is so severe I must show her the door in order to write my first draft. Once I get my heart on paper (or in computer) I invite her back in for tea and a critical reading.
I cringe when reading actions or speech of characters that do not ring true to that character’s nature, or if the plot sounds contrived rather than organic. That’s true, whether reading the work of others or my own.
11. How much importance do you place on cover art? Do you have input at Tyndale?
Cover art is very important, for many readers decide whether or not to buy a book based on its cover—front and back. Yes, Tyndale has graciously included me in the process from the beginning, although they have final say in the cover art. They have an extremely talented design team, able to envision so much that I cannot. I’m thrilled with their cover for Promise Me This.
12. If you could go back and change one thing you've done or not done since you started writing, what would it be and why?
I’d work just as hard to learn the writing craft, but would not wait until my first book sold to begin another. In faith, I’d immediately begin researching and writing that next book.
I’ve learned that publishers are not interested in “one book wonders” but want to invest in authors that will continue to produce works of quality. By waiting to begin my second book I found the ensuing timetable a real challenge.
I’d begin networking and learn how to promote books even as I wrote that first book, understanding that that is all part and parcel of sharing the stories and gifts we’ve been given.
Most of all I’d believe in miracles, knowing that with God all things are possible, and that He will equip us in every way for every work He calls us to produce.
To get your own copy of Cathy's Novel, it's available at Amazon. I know after this, you'll all be excited to read more.
I'd like to thank Cathy again for being my guest, and I look forward to finishing her captivating story.