I recently interviewed Kathy Herman, author of the fantastic Seaport Suspense series and the beloved Baxter series! Kathy is not only a sweet woman with a heart for God, but a wonderful story teller!
Betsy: Kathy, thank you so much for joining us today! My starter question is, when did you first feel the call of God on your life to write?
Kathy: Until six years ago, I didn’t even recognize my flair for writing as a talent God could use, much less a calling. I toyed with the idea of writing a children’s book since I had spent a decade as the buyer and manager of the kid’s department of our family-owned Christian bookstore. I read every children’s book I stocked in the department and wrote book reviews, made recommendations to parents, did radio interviews, taught seminars—and promised myself someday I would try writing one.
That someday came in July of 1999. I had said goodbye to my career at the bookstore. And after finishing months of rehab following double knee replacements, I was now eager to try my hand at children’s books. So I sat—and for days on end stared at a blank computer screen! My husband Paul could tell I was getting depressed and finally pleaded with me, “Honey, write something—anything—it doesn’t have to be a children’s book!” So I turned my fingers loose on the laptop, and at the end of the day I’d written an intriguing scenario that sounded much like a scene in a novel. I took pause. A novel?
I had never once considered writing a novel. Crafting lengthy stories involving multiple characters and multi-layered plots (and heaven knows how much research!) was a job for those in a different league. It seemed overwhelming to me. But my curiosity was piqued, so I kept writing and the words kept flowing. That scene turned into a prologue, which led to my first novel, which expanded into a series of five books. And now, after writing a dozen novels, the words still haven’t stopped! However, I didn’t realize my writing was a “call of God upon my life” until after the positive responses from my readers kept coming in. And the first time a reader came to Christ as a result of the Holy Spirit prompting her through the words in my stories, I was at the same time thrilled and humbled to realize God had allowed me to be the vessel. It’s an amazing privilege, and I never take for granted the gift the Lord has entrusted to me.
Betsy: Oh wow! That’s so inspiring. Tell us a little about your own spiritual journey.
Kathy: I was raised in a Roman Catholic home with both parents and four siblings and attended parochial school thorough the twelfth grade. I didn’t question anything spiritual I had been taught until I turned nineteen and began to experience an ongoing emptiness that attending church on Sunday couldn’t fill. I tried going to church on Wednesday mornings, thinking it might be more satisfying since anyone attending would have come simply because he wanted to be there, not out of a sense of duty. But that didn’t help. I took my spiritual questions to a priest and didn’t feel satisfied with his answers and eventually stopped going to church altogether. I never left God. But I rejected the church’s authority (with the indignation of a know-it-all nineteen-year-old, of course).
I set out on a quest to decide for myself what I believed. I naively began to dabble in the occult, completely ignorant that the Bible (which I had never read) warned against it, and that it would lead me deep into enemy territory. By the grace of God, some strange things happened that scared me to death and made me realize that I needed to stay away from the occult. Right after that, a couple of eccentric neighbors presented me with frightening details from the Book of Revelation about the Antichrist and the end times and tried to get me to confess my belief in all of it or face the fires of hell. They told me that the peace symbol decals on my car were a broken cross and I that had to get rid of them or the devil would claim me. Honestly, they scared me worse than the occult.
Some time after that, I started going to a protestant church, and things leveled out over the next several years. I got married and didn’t think too deeply about spiritual things until I was pregnant and some couples in our Lamaze class kept “whispering” among themselves about spiritual things I didn’t understand. I asked them what they were talking about, and they asked me if I was saved. I told them I believed in God and went to church. What was it I was supposed to be saved from? (I was very serious). They gave me an answer I didn’t understand and never mentioned it to me again.
Then when my daughter was almost two (and I was 27) I observed a couple from church as they underwent a dramatic transformation. They had been rough around the edges, even crude at times. All of a sudden, they were gentle. Loving. Giving. Excited about life. And passionate about God. I asked what was going on, and they said, “Jesus. We’ve found a relationship with Jesus. And it’s made all the difference.” I knew in my spirit that whatever it was they had found was exactly what I had been looking for. A couple of weeks later, after some further explanation and soul searching, I surrendered my life to Jesus and invited Him into my heart. That was thirty years ago. I didn’t understand at the time how dramatically it would impact every day of my life.
Betsy: What a wonderful story. So, Kathy, why do you write Christian novels?
Kathy: Because there really are biblical solutions to life’s problems. And by giving voice to characters who are caught in the struggle, the message of the gospel becomes real and applicable. My stories are highly suspenseful and entertaining, but I write them with a higher purpose. They deal with real life issues and could be pulled from today’s headlines. But the ultimate solutions to things like temptation, doubt, despair, slander, bitterness, worry, failure, fear, etc. line up differently than the world’s.
Betsy: How many books have you had published in all?
Kathy: I have ten novels published. Number eleven will release this spring (2007), and my twelfth novel will release in the fall (2007). And I’m currently writing number thirteen.
Betsy: Fantastic! Which was your favorite to write?
Kathy: There are actually two—and for different reasons:
My favorite published novel is #3 in the Seaport Suspense Series, All Things Hidden. I thoroughly enjoyed developing the storyline and fell in love with one of my characters, a darling little four-year-old girl. It was also the one book that caused my usually stoic editor to tear up—and that was after he had read just the synopsis!
Then again, Never Look Back, #2 in the Phantom Hollow Series (pub date fall 2007) was also a favorite book to write because I was racing toward an impossible deadline, and God intervened and the book came together in 51 days. I’m not sure if it was the storyline or the characters or the fact that I experienced God’s power almost tangibly during the writing of it that made it a favorite. Perhaps a combination of all those factors.
Betsy: I can see how it would be hard to choose! And your Seaport Series has been quite a success. Where did the idea for such a fun small town originate?
Kathy: I choose settings that I’m somewhat familiar with and start to build a fictitious setting around that. My mother lives in Ft. Myers, Florida, and I’ve spent a lot of time there and in surrounding areas. And my husband and I have been all over the Caribbean on our deep-sea fishing adventures.
When I decided on a Florida coastal setting, I looked for a place (or a combination of places) that matched what I had pictured in my mind. But it was actually a neighborhood near the coast of Biloxi, Mississippi that looked EXACTLY like what I had imagined the small fictional town of Seaport, Florida would look like. Also, I pick locations that appeal to me because I “live” (in my imagination) in that setting for the entire time it takes to finish a series.
So for the two years it took me to write the four Seaport Suspense Novels, I felt as if I were living right there. It was wonderful. And even today, the town of Seaport is as real to me as if I have actually been there.
Betsy: Do the characters in Seaport possess any of your own family's qualities or quirks?
Kathy: I don’t intentionally pattern my characters after anyone I know. But I sincerely doubt I can keep from including some of my qualities and quirks—or those of people I’ve met along the way.
Betsy: Do you love the beach as much as Ellen?
Kathy: Yes! I haven’t spent all that much time on the beach, but I love being on the ocean. I think it would be wonderful to run on the beach, breath in the salt air, listen to the gulls, and watch the sunrises. Something few of my readers know is that from the time I started writing the Seaport Series, I’ve been unable to walk. So getting inside Ellen and being able to do the things I can’t is also very freeing.
Betsy: Tell us, Kathy, what excites you most about the process of writing fiction?
Kathy: The element of surprise! I don’t have an outline to work from, and even though I give my publisher a synopsis a year ahead of the pub date, my characters invariably know far more than I realized. I just get inside them and let my fingers do the talking. The story is always much better than I originally anticipated. It’s great fun!
Betsy: Can you share any advice for aspiring authors? Any do's and don'ts?
Kathy: I believe that if God has gifted you with writing talent and you want to use it for His glory (not yours), He will show you exactly how He wants you to use it. If you have a passion for writing, don’t stop trying to get published. But don’t stop writing in the process! Keep those fingers moving and those ideas flowing. Your writing muscle can only be developed by using it.
Don’t give up writing just because your work is rejected. Getting published can be a long, tedious process, and some remarkable works were rejected many times before they were published (The Living Bible is a good example). Publishers decide at least a year in advance which books they’re going to publish to fill X number of slots. And when the budget is spent, they often aren’t interested in acquiring anything else. Their rejection doesn’t necessarily mean what you’ve written isn’t good.
Don’t try to emulate anyone else. Let your individual style evolve naturally.
And stay teachable! No writer ever arrives. It takes a lifetime to hone the craft.
Betsy: That’s great advice. Thank you, Kathy. What are some of your personal favorite books/authors?
Kathy: I read for pleasure when I can, but so much of my reading these days is for the purpose of considering an endorsement for a colleague’s book. Here are a few favorites that have stayed with me:
Deb Raney—A Nest of Sparrows
Randy Alcorn—Deadline, Dominion
Frank Peretti-The Oath, This Present Darkness
Paul Maier—A Skeleton in God’s Closet
Francine Rivers—Leota’s Garden
Bill Myers—Blood of Heaven, The Portal (A kid’s novel! It was brilliant!)
Victor Hugo-Les Miserables
Emily Bronte-Wuthering Heights
Charlotte Bronte-Jane Eyre
C. S. Lewis-The Screwtape letters
Madeline L’Engle—Walking on Water
Mark Buchanan—Your God is Too Safe
Max Lucado—Gospel of the Second Chance, The Crippled Lamb (A kid’s book that speaks more deeply to adults), You are Special (another kid’s book that speaks more deeply to adults)
Sheldon Vanauken—A Severe Mercy
Betsy: What a great list. I also understand that you love traveling. What places have you enjoyed visiting the most?
Kathy: I think Alaska is the most awesome place on the plant. The rainforest of Costa Rica is a close second. My husband Paul and I have enjoyed cruising to the Baltic and particularly enjoyed visiting the palaces in St. Petersburg, Russia. And we most recently took a cruise up the west coast of Norway and saw spectacular snow-capped fjords, and then continued on past the Arctic Circle to the polar ice cap. That, too, was an amazing trip.
My favorite place in the lower 48 is Rocky Mountain National Park out of Estes Park, Colorado.
Betsy: I bet that was fun! Kathy, you have a beautiful family! How do you manage your time around being an award winning author, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother?
Kathy: Thank you. I think my family is pretty special. Truthfully, balancing my time is the hardest thing about writing full time.
My office is in my head, so it’s not as though I can just walk away from it. And I work with overlapping deadlines, so I never have total closure—ever. I plan any traveling around deadlines and galleys. And I maintain a daily routine. I start writing on weekday mornings when Paul leaves for work between 8:00 and 9:00. I usually write almost nonstop until around 6:00. I cook dinner almost every night (believe it or not), which is probably the way I stay disciplined to call it quits for the day. On Saturday, I get up at 5:00 and work until around 1:00. Then I try to leave the writing alone for the rest of the weekend (not always easy when I’m on deadline).
My husband Paul and I are both talkers, and we allow ourselves ample time over long dinners and during the evenings to share our day. Also, he gets off work early on Fridays, and we often go to a matinee. Plus we both enjoy bird watching, stargazing, and fishing, and those hobbies draw me out of the book and help to clear my head.
Two of three of our adult children (and four of our five grandkids) live in other cities, so we schedule planned visits with them and work at having quality time. I never attempt to mix grandchildren and work. The little ones get my undivided attention whenever I’m able to see them.
All that to say it’s a balancing act. I’m not sure any author has it completely mastered. How well I’m able to balance my time also depends on whether my wip is flowing, or whether I’m hung up with writer’s block.
Betsy: You definitely sound busy. Kathy, what can your readers look forward to seeing next?
Kathy: The Phantom Hollow Series is next. Book one, Ever Present Danger, is scheduled for release in Spring 2007. I’ve posted a sample chapter on my website at http://www.kathyherman.com/.
I am thoroughly enjoying writing this series and can hardly wait till you have the chance to meet Ivy Griffith. I thought it was going to be difficult leaving Seaport and going to a new series. But truthfully, after bringing Brandon Jones to this series from Seaport, the transition wasn’t hard at all. And I’m really getting attached to these characters!
Betsy: I bet so! Well, Kathy, it was a joy visiting with you! Thanks again for stopping by!
To read more about Kathy and her novels, visit her website at http://www.kathyherman.com/!