Thursday, August 25, 2022

Katherine Fast's debut novel and her wellspring of ideas

 

HALLIE EPHRON: Whether it’s a short story of a novel, each begins with an idea that comes bubbling up out of somewhere within the author. It’s a form of alchemy.

Today I’m thrilled to host Katherine Fast, a fellow New England author who’s a crackerjack alchemist. She’s published more than 25 short and flash fiction stories, and now she’s stepping up to the plate with a debut novel, The Drinking Gourd, and she has another novel in the pipeline. And no doubt another one noodling around in her head.

Kate confessed to me that one of her favorite questions that readers ask is “Where do you get your ideas?” Her answers are as good as her tales…

KATHERINE FAST: Sometimes, I look at a story I’ve written and wonder where such a dastardly idea came from, given that I’m such a gentle, loving soul!

So where do my plots originate? Mostly, from some personal experience that triggers a response––I begin to play with possibilities. That’s when What if… kicks in.

Here are a few examples.


At Christmastime, in Pacific Grove, California, folks along “Candy-Cane Lane” try to outdo their neighbors with over-the-top holiday displays. Seeing this reminded me of driving around Oberlin, Ohio, with my mother, evaluating Christmas decorations on a tackiness scale, one to ten, with a “ten” the most outrageous. I remember being drawn to an old creche scene in which Balthazar and Joseph were propped up and patched with duct tape and Mary had been repainted. In Ohio, one could get away with this repair job if it were covered with snow… or ice from sprayed water. Hmmm, “material.”

How about creche with a realistic “Mary” hosed down by a vengeful, cuckolded husband? What if, at the end of the story, the frozen “Mary” blinks!*


At a family gathering, I overheard a man talking about “… a full body, ripe and velvety … soft and supple … racy, yet refined with a long, elegant finish.” Naughty imagination. My cousin, a wine snob, was bragging about a prized bottle of wine. He would ask dinner guests to sign the labels of his most spectacular wines after which he’d affix labels, like trophies, across a varnished coffee table. Hmmm, “material”?

Later that evening, another man commented, “Wine ages well. Women, not so much.” Pig. I morphed that jerk into an insufferable psychopath who wined and dined young beauties, matching their characteristics with features of fine wine and music. Of course, the lovelies wouldn’t survive the evenings, although they would be immortalized in the signed labels affixed to his coffee table, “trophies” never to be ruined by age and familiarity.

One more. When some people learn that I’m a handwriting expert, they shove their signatures across the table for an instant reading. My response: “The truth costs money.” When a friend demanded I identify which of three sales candidates would be the most aggressive closer, I demurred until he became really obnoxious. Therein lies a fictional golden nugget. He wanted to know about a single trait. But what about all of the other nasty traits in the writing?

Free Advice? Hah, he’s gonna to pay!

So where do I get my ideas? Mostly by association and by playing with What if ...

Many of the themes in my debut novel stem from personal experience. I’ve done most everything Casey does in The Drinking Gourd except go to prison for dealing cocaine.

Now, tell me all about yourself. I welcome fresh material!

53 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your debut novel, Katherine . . . perhaps you’d tell us a bit about it?

    Tell about myself? I’m an identical twin . . . .

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    2. Rats, I used spell check on the novel! Murder! Do you tell delicious stories about adventures of a twin?

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    3. Here's the comment I wrote originally without the misspelling of "murcer."

      Ah those golden words, "Tell me about your novel." Casey Cavendish returns to her hometown of Oberlin, Ohio after serving time for dealing cocaine, a crime she didn't commit. Her arrival coincides with an upsurge of drugs on campus and the death of her childhood friend from an overdose. Casey must find the real killer before she's railroaded a second time, this time for murder.

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  2. congrats Kat, I'm so excited for you! I'd love to hear more about the book, but also how you enjoyed writing the long piece compared with all your short stories?

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    1. I enjoyed writing it so much that I spent over 10 years coming up with a coherent plot. A Jungle Red Writer said the first is the hardest and takes a lifetime to write; the second is much easier. I just submitted the second. Sure helped to have the deadline of one year!

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    2. Deadlines! The magic ingredient!!

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    3. Hallie, you may not remember, but at about 8 years into writing The Drinking Gourd you told me, "Never give up!" at a Crime Bake. Thank you again.

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  3. So many congratulations, Kat! I love all those instances of "material."

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    1. Thanks, Edith. You write in so many voices, I have to wonder where all your devious plots come from. You are an inspiration to us all. How can you drive with all those characters talking to each other in your head?

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    2. I get my devious plots just like you do. A snipped of awful person here, an instance of ridiculous behavior there, a totally unlikely news story pops up, and bingo!

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  4. Congratulations Kat! Looking forward to hearing more about your novel. Do you anticipate it as a series, or are you writing stand alones?

    About me? Hum, I never met an adventure I didn't like. I think I was overly influenced by Auntie Mame. "Life is a banquet and most poor slobs are starving to death!"

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    1. Yes, after my protagonist Casey literally burns her bridges in Ohio, she ventures north to New England searching for the man she believes is her father. She lands in an antique train station in Welton, MA which clever readers will recognize as a combo of Wellesley and Weston. I'm 800 miles from Oberlin and feel safe writing about it...but need a little camoflage so close to home.

      Love your spirit of adventure. "Our lives are rafts; risk happiness." (Peter Fallon, "The Heartland."

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    2. It's smart to base your fictional town on a real one - you don't have to kill yourself to get EVERY LITTLE DETAIL right (because you will hear from readers if you don't) and you can make up stuff that suits your story.

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    3. Just heard from one of my high school classmates who whined that there were no Davids in the story. Gah!

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  5. Welcome to JRW, Kat. Your new book is going straight onto my TBR list!

    Fact: I once delivered an impassioned speech at a rally at the State Capitol against the confirmation of Justice Alito to the US Supreme Court. I probably still have it in a drawer somewhere. In it, I warned the crowd that Roe could be overturned by religious fanatics with lifetime appointments to the federal bench. Oy. I was not wrong.

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    1. Love to be on your list!
      Ha! Seeds for a novel such as...The Handmaids Tale? You were spot on, dagnabbit.

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    3. Atwood says that there isn't anything in THT that hadn't already happened in the real world. These days, she has a mug that says "Told ya'"

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    4. Amazing (and often discouraging) how many dystopian novels turn out to be prescient!

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  6. Hank Phillippi RyanAugust 25, 2022 at 7:54 AM

    Hurray! And what an absolute joy fo welcome you here! Tell us about the title of your wonderful book-/having read it with much delight, I know it’s multi-layered and important. Congratulations!

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    1. Hank, thank you for your invaluable advice, encouragement and fabulous blurb which I use daily!
      During Abolition, fugitive slaves sang "Follow the Drinking Gourd" to navigate by the stars in the Big Dipper--which they called the Drinking Gourd--north to freedom. In the novel, action takes place in Drinking Gourd, an antebellum inn that once was a safe house on the Underground Railroad, which is now far from safe.

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  7. Oberlin--just down the road from my neck of the woods, Kate! Do you know the shop on the square with the fabulous clothes for sale? The back of the store is filled with beads and beading supplies. I love browsing through all the exotic beads and what ifs always pop into my head. What if a tiny slip of paper was inserted into one of the beads? A message--someone local? From the country of origin?

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    1. The seeds, or beads, for another story! There you go, one association leads to another. I used to make and sell jewelry on the side with a little company called Hopelessly Homemade--silver, polymer clay and loads and loads of those fabulous beads! Now, how about a story where an old lady wears a necklace, and each bead reminds her of...we're off again!

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    2. Etch a letter into each bead which is a coded message, but alas, the string is broken and...

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  8. Congratulations on your debut. Another Ohio writer! I live in Cincinnati but my books are set in a small Ohio college town similar to the town where I lived in NE Ohio. A family had a magnificent blue spruce tree strung with lights year round. The lights were on for the Christmas season and every family member's birthday during the year. And for the birthdays of selected friends. But what if the selected friends started dying off after their special birthday lights?

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    1. Submit it for the Holiday season! Now I'm looking you up to find more stories that take place in sleepy little college towns. (One could have a themed anthology of stories about Ohio college towns.) I'm curious. Did you name the college, or was it fictional?

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    2. Great idea, Margaret!

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    3. search Margaret S. Hamilton in "Tales" on kingsriverlife.com, an e-zine. Another is in Kaye George's eclipse anthology and "Double Crust Corpse" in mysterical-e, reprinted in Rhonda Gilliand's fourth anthology, Cooked to Death: Cold Cut Files. My website has the links:
      https://margaretshamilton.wordpress.com/

      My debut amateur sleuth mystery, Curtains for the Corpse, is in final revisions. I pitched it at Killer Nashville last week. I like Old Testament place names and Ohio has many of them, so the fictional town is Jericho, home of Jericho College. With the body count mounting, it's definitely not a sleepy college town!

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  9. Congratulations on your novel. I love this look into the imaginative process. What it tells me is that you need to be able to pay really close attention. This means a deep interest in other people and their actions and motivations. This way you notice things that might be useful in a story and your imagination takes over from there. So interesting!

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    1. Thanks! I'd really love for this to be true, but I also wonder if it's my penchant for distraction. My mother used to look me in the eye and ask, "Where are you, Katherine?" when something said, seen or done would send me off into a different universe. I think the dim-witted, glazed look was a give away.

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    2. About me: Like Joan, I'm an identical twin. We often end up wearing identical clothing without planning it. I'm a single mom and retired 9-1-1 dispatcher and supervisor--lots and lots of stories there. One of my former co-workers (and former friend!) ended up robbing banks after he left 9-1-1 (and failed to get his novel published). I think he figured he had 'inside knowledge' about the best time of day to commit a crime (shift change for the police officers). Just google "waddling bandit".

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    3. Ha ha! Seriously?!? Some stuff that really happens is simply too unbelievable to put in a novel.

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    4. Absolutely.. he was a handsome young Italian American when I first met him and so smart. Sad that he turned out to have no moral compass.

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    5. Hmmmmm, at a shift change you might have double the number of police officers about as they come in and go home. Wonder how many of you twins write your stories. Such natural material.

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  10. Good too see you here, Kate. I very much enjoyed our conversation on the Guns, Knives & Lipstick podcast and your insights into handwriting.

    About me? I'm the eldest child. I think that explains so much of my personality. I feel responsible for EVERYTHING.

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    1. My twin is a minute older than me. She has those patterns too.

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    2. So interesting. I'm the third of four - always felt like I had to stand on tippy toe to see what everyone else was eating.

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  11. Thank you, Liz. You all made the podcast relaxing and enjoyable with your questions and participation.

    Of course, you are responsible for EVERYTHING! Personally, I'm the nicest and funniest and youngest without a care in the world. Seriously, there does seem to be some truth in theories about birth order.

    I'd also like to explore what's in a name, because I think associations with a person's name shape who they become. I have strong reactions to names. I grew up Kathy, became a Kat, was Katherine when naughty, will also respond to Kate and Katrinka, but no one has ever dared call me Kitty.

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    1. I think every child in existence knows to duck and cover when a parent trots out the full name. Even worse if you get all three - first, middle, last.

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    2. Duck and cover--wow does that bring back the 50s!

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  12. My oldest sister is a scientific type. She is flabbergasted with my use of the tried and true mantra "don't let facts get in the way of a story." A long time ago, I stayed at her home in Keene, NH while I was recovering from surgery. One day, we went to the movies. Kevin Kostner in some bad Robin Hood flick. I was still on pain meds, so I laughed my way through the movie. Anyway, when we pulled into her driveway after the show, there was a white Honda Civic parked in her neighbors driveway. It was the only visible car in this row of boring white driveways and cookie cutter townhouses. She says to me, "OK, tell me a story about that!" My medicated brain came up with this.

    "He just pulled in. The car is still warm and he intends to go back out. His girlfriend is coming into Logan this evening from overseas. They are planning dinner in Boston, so he needs to be nicely dressed. But something is keeping him from leaving. Maybe it is her dead body in the mud room.
    And there are the sirens. So much for a quiet night."

    She did laugh!

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    1. Uh, medicated brain or active imagination? Sounds like a good example of a normal situation plus followup with imaginative responses to "What if?" and "Then what?" questions. A couple walks along the road together. What if he ties her up? And then lays her on the tracks. And lo, along comes a train! (Maybe I should try medication.)

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  13. Great post, Kat. I'm always fascinated by where authors get their ideas. In my case, it can be a form of revenge: ie. I love putting people who've been nasty to me in my books, as in neighbors, an ex-husband, and even an especially obnoxious dog. I figure I'm safe because it's been said that people never recognize themselves if you paint a bad picture of them, only if they look good. Still, I change enough details about the incident or character so that I don't run the risk of them coming after me.

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    1. Gentle readers, Leslie has been a valued member of my writers group for the past 50 years and a co-editor when we published Best New Crime Stories anthologies.

      Just in case, I remember her birthday and edit any potential snarky remarks from her critiques. However, it may be time for me to reread a few of her character descriptions...

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  14. Hi Kat,

    I must look up your stories! I like the way your mind works!

    A little about me: People tell me I’m a good listener. Even strangers confide in me about things I really don’t want to know!

    DebRo

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    1. Thanks! Troubled minds, unite! Check out katfast.com.

      You are a treasure--good listeners are so rare. I'm sure many are thankful for your gift, although for you, some of their unwanted confidences must weigh heavily. If they are just boring you blind, try lowering your eyelids to half mast and nod occasionally. They can't see where you're looking and your mind can wander anywhere it pleases.

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  15. Katherine, I'm glad you specified you missed out on going to jail for drug smuggling - otherwise we might have wondered :-D

    I do the same thing - a turn of the phrase, an odd sight, a story in the newspaper and my imagination is foo to the races. I always thought it was some sort of offbeat mental illness until I discovered I was a writer!

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    1. I find the offbeat mental illness to be quite useful.

      Thanks again for ferrying me around the subway on the way to Malice. I enjoyed meeting and speaking with a pro!

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  16. Katherine, welcome to JRW. Interesting to see where the imagination comes from. I have been using my imagination for many stories. Currently writing a movie script based on a biography and two novels (cozy mystery and Rom-Com)

    Diana

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    1. I've never tried scripting--a different challenge for sure!

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