Sunday, March 3, 2013

Payne and Misery by Catherine Leggitt: Interview and Excerpt



How did you start your writing career?

PAYNE & MISERY was born out of despair. After my parents passed away, my newly retired husband moved us to his dream house on fourteen wooded acres in Grass Valley, California. Leaving my children, grandchildren and friends was bad enough, but then health issues began. Allergies went wacky. I spiraled into a menopausal funk. In desperation, I sat down at the computer one day and a story poured out my fingers. It started with the gray house down the hill from us. We had been in Grass Valley two years by then and had never seen people in that house, although lights appeared in the windows every night. I made up a story about why the people never came out, never knowing where the story would take me. I wrote about what I knew: my husband—renamed Jesse Sterling—myself (Christine), our wonderful dog, Molly, our lovable black-and-white cats—Hoppy and Roy—and a big black Morgan stallion named Ranger.


How do you develop your plots? Plotter or Pantser?

As I stated above, PAYNE & MISERY grew on its own, what we call writing by the seat of your pants. The characters told me what they would and would not do. I know that sounds a bit crazy—well, a lot crazy. But it is the best way I can describe what happened. For example, I wrote a scene in which Christine breaks into the neighbors’ house. Then I read what I’d written and was horrified. A respectable middle-aged woman simply cannot do such a thing. Besides being illegal, it isn’t dignified. So I deleted the whole scene and sat starring at the computer screen. Christine protested. She must get inside that house to find out what’s going on. So I let her.


But I vowed that I would not be bullied again. The second book in the series, THE DUNN DEAL, was plotted on 3”X 5” cards. I put one chapter summary on each card. This method allowed me to shuffle ideas around if it made sense to do so. (I learned this technique at a writing workshop.) This proved to be a faster approach to writing. I wrote the second book in about two years instead of the seven years for Payne & Misery. But the character’s continued to bully me into changing things. Easy enough to do with this system. Just tear up a card and write a new one.


After taking a class with Angela Hunt at a writers’ conference, I discovered that good stories follow a pattern. Who knew? I tried Hunt’s plot skeleton with book three in the Christine Sterling Mystery series, PARRISH THE THOUGHT. Wonderful planning tool. I made a few modifications and used it for another book, as well. Guess I am a plotter.


Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.



How do you react to a bad review of your book?

The majority of readers can’t be bothered to write a review. Oh, I suppose if they read the very best book or the very worst book, they might be motivated, but in general, they read for entertainment, not to review.


Reviewers fall into two categories: the generous and the grudging. Mostly they are generous. That’s why you see so many five-star reviews. There aren’t that many books truly worthy of five-stars, but there are many helpful people who value the effort required to crank out a book. Then you have the grudging. These people have an agenda. If you push the wrong button, it triggers a bucket of venom. The name curmudgeon fits them well.


Most of my reviews are good, pointing to the positive aspects of the books. But I’ve had a couple from the dark side. To begin with, when I read them I am insulted. Someone just called my baby ugly. So I wait a few days and read it again to see if it has any redeeming value at all. Even if just a smidgeon. Surprisingly, after a cooling off period, I do see some value. An occasional negative review reinforces the integrity of the positive ones. Not everyone will like vanilla ice cream. So you need someone now and then to express that. In addition, it might be that what the reviewer pointed out was spot on. Although the review is painful, it might also be instructive. When I realized that concept, it changed the way I view negative reviews.


Do your friends think you are an introvert or an extravert? Why?

Depends on how well they know me. The truth from my vantage point is that I am an extreme introvert who learned the value of interacting with people. Some people who know me in a teaching, speaking, leadership role are surprised when I classify myself as an introvert. As a child, I was painfully shy--hardly spoke at all except at home. Even today, I desperately need alone time to de-stress. It takes a amazing lot of energy to create that extravert façade.


Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?

Two things immediately come to mind. The first happened after I completed PAYNE & MISERY. A woman in my Bible study told me to submit it for critique at The Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. The critique was excruciating, but a desire for excellence was birthed in my heart. I will continue learning about my writing craft as long as I write, constantly pushing toward excellence.


The second crucial advice I received in a clinic at Mount Hermon taught by the incredible mentor, author, speaker, teacher Karen Ball. She said sometimes we must “drown our babies” if it would be best for the story. In other words, even if I’ve written the absolute best sentence on the planet, if it isn’t right for that story or that paragraph, I must be willing to sacrifice it for the good of the whole. Many times editors or critiquers redline my favorite words or sentences. I learned not take it personally. Usually, upon reflection, I realize they are correct.

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.



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All that glitters is not gold for Christine Sterling.
The luster of her shiny Golden Years dream fades when Christine’s newly retired husband, Jesse, becomes obsessed with a hobby requiring extra time away from her.
Christine develops a bad reputation for conjuring wild tales and being chief complainer. Then she meets someone who has true reason to complain, if anyone does.
Lila Payne’s life is the mirror opposite of ideal. The plight of this seemingly abused woman gnaws at Christine, but the authorities turn a deaf ear to Christine’s pleas for help on Lila’s behalf. Spurred into action when her beloved dog Molly and Lila both disappear on the same night, Christine dives into a scary pool swirling with muddy secrets and misery. Sensing God at work in the situation Christine continues to search and pray, but even with God’s help, can they save Lila and Molly before it’s too late?

Dark—the word fit him like a bad guy’s black hat—complexion, glasses, expression, knit cap pulled low over his ears, tufts of curls poking out underneath. I concentrated on memorizing his suspicious features as I observed him through the plate glass window of the Humpty-Dumpty Restaurant where my husband Jesse and I often ate brunch after Sunday morning church. The man’s lurking worried me.
“Maybe he’s an Arab.” Not that I’d know an Arab if I bumped into one on the streets. Except for Hispanics, Grass Valley, California, maintained a mostly snow-white population, much like most small towns in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Around us, flatware scraped stoneware, glasses clinked, voices swelled and ebbed interspersed with occasional laughter swirling through the appetizing breakfast smells, but I couldn’t pry my eyes off the shady man in the parking lot. Nevertheless, I would guess Jesse didn’t so much as look up from his breakfast when he answered. “Who?”
“Out there.” I jabbed a finger toward the culprit.
I let out the anxious breath I’d been holding in and pointed again. “See the man hiding behind that forest green car?”
Jesse frowned as he chewed a few more bites of chili bean omelet. “Honestly, Christine. If he’s behind a car, how can I see him?”
“He keeps popping up. There he is! Look, look. Now.”
Jesse dutifully followed my pointer and then sustained a long stare before turning his attention back to his food. “Okay, I see him. So?”
“He staked out that car. He’s been waiting the whole time we’ve been here. He paces behind it, trying to stay out of sight. When the driver comes back, he’ll jump out and mug her—take her cash and jewelry and who knows what else. Bet he has a gun or a knife in that pocket where his hand is. Watch him.”
Jesse rolled his eyes. “Give it up, will you? You’re jumping to conclusions again. How do you know a woman drives that car? Even if there is a man driver, maybe he’s in a hurry to get home and his wife is taking too long in the restroom.”
“Then why doesn’t he unlock the car and get in?”
Jesse stopped chewing and blinked.
Ha! I got him there. I went back to studying the perpetrator in case I got called on to identify him in a line-up.
Jesse’s delayed answer mumbled out between chews. “Maybe his wife has the car keys.”
After being married to this man for thirty-five years, I should expect Jesse’s reaction to my gift of observation. He never took it seriously. “You’re going to be sorry when you read in tomorrow’s paper that some poor woman got murdered in the Humpty-Dumpty parking lot while you gobbled down a chili omelet.”
Jesse didn’t look up, just harrumphed and kept on eating.
I returned to surveillance, thankful for last year’s laser surgery, which had given my vision razor-edge clarity. The man stood in the shadow of an overhanging oak, but from the direction of his head, I could tell his eyes remained fixed on the front door of the restaurant. My stomach knotted into a pretzel. Danger! I narrowed my eyes. Would Jesse run out to save the woman when the man attacked her? Jesse, my hero, the love of my life. I’d be right behind him, swinging my heavy purse.
Just then, a woman in a leopard-print Spandex dress exited the restaurant and minced across the parking lot toward the man. I held my breath and then whispered, “Jesse!”
Neither of us moved while the woman’s rectangular bag flopped from side to side on its thin strap in rhythm with her swaying hips. Like a lamb to the slaughter, she sauntered closer to her fate without a trace of fear in her walk.
A gasp escaped my lips when the dark-complexioned man popped from the shadows directly in front of his victim. After a short verbal exchange, the woman opened the door of the green sedan and slid in. The mysterious villain hurried to the other side and settled in the passenger seat. Back-up lights flickered. The automobile reversed out of the parking space and sped away.
Without so much as a punch or a yell. He didn’t even grab her bag.
I leveled my gaze at Jesse and blinked.
He opened his mouth.
I held up one hand. “Don’t say it.”
Instead, he shook his head and grunted again before returning to his omelet.
I gulped coffee and fidgeted with my napkin. “He did look suspicious. You can’t deny that.”
Jesse buttered his biscuit, took a big bite, and chewed. I felt the lecture building in his brain like a sudden summer thunderstorm. He stared at me with a curious expression—as if I’d grown a second head—swiped his mouth with his napkin and sighed. “You never give up, do you? There’s something sinister happening everywhere we go. Face it, Chris. This is an ordinary small town in northern California. Good people live here. Bad things don’t happen. That’s why we retired here. Remember? Extremely low crime rate. But you insist on seeing evil everywhere we go. You won’t stop snooping into other people’s affairs. Looking for ...” His shoulders sagged and he waggled his head once more. “If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny.”
“Funny? What would?” Do I dare ask?
“Your imagination.” He leaned forward and pointed his fork in my face. “Someday, that wild imagination of yours is going to get you into real trouble.” 

1 comment:


Lovely. Thanks so much, Laurie. I appreciate you taking time to put up this interview and excerpt.