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.
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?