RAW: Tell us all about you, the author. And then tell us about the person behind the author.
CAT: I'm an author and an editor, sometimes I'm and editor and then an author. My background is as a book editor with Random House for 6 years specializing in books of black interest. For the last 10 years I've been the editor for the BROWN SUGAR, 4 book erotic black fiction series, and most recently the WANDERLUST erotic travel anthology. I've just finished my first novel THE EX CHRONICLES (March 2010).
RAW: How long have you been writing and what has the experience been like for you?
CAT: I've been in book publishing for over 16 years, first as a book editor and then as a freelance editor, writer and anthology editor. The experience has been great for me, probably because I have an inside track. I know agents and book editors from my work as an editor so in most cases the work and the clients come to me. I also know what a book proposal and finished manuscript should look like and have contacts within the industry who knew my work and were willing to take a chance on me as an author when I was just starting out.
RAW: What is your writing process like and how did you come up with your style of writing? Do you write full time or part time?
CAT: I write full time. Editing and writing have been my primary source of income for the last 10 years, and within that time I've published a book a year. My writing process is pretty straightforward and a combination of my experience as an editor and as a writer and doesn't really vary despite what I'm working on, whether it's a book proposal, editing a manuscript, writing fiction for a magazine or working on a piece for a relationship column. I work out the deadline and schedule and then work within the overall "tone" of the magazine or in the author's style, if I'm editing someone else's work. My fiction writing in my anthologies is very different from my nonfiction writing because it's casual and tongue-in-cheek, with lyrics, book titles, and slang mixed in. My fiction style just happens. Maybe because I write a lot like the way I speak, which can be formal or in the vernacular.
RAW: How do you come up with the titles for your books? What about the character names?
CAT: Titles come easily to me because my background as a commercial editor lets me think in a commercial way, which means to reach the largest possible audience. BROWN SUGAR was perfect for a collection of erotic black fiction because brown sugar stands for so many things. It is also D'Angelo's hit song and it explained the anthology better than any other title or phrase. WANDERLUST is the perfect name for my latest anthology of erotic travel tales because of the play on words: "wander" and "lust," and "wanderlust" means "a strong desire to travel," which works for an anthology about erotic travel tales. THE EX CHRONICLES is a chronicle of the lives of four women living in New York and their relationships with each other and themselves. The characters in my writing are composites of people who may have inspired the story or parts of it, as well as parts of myself.
RAW: What motivates you to write?
CAT: Everything motivates me to write: People I know, my relationships, situations I'm in or hear about, current events, books, songs, and of course editors and agents who contact me about projects. I also write to work things out or through. Writing can be very therapeutic. It's funny how easy it is to have a character work out a dilemma that you can't to work out yourself. Sometimes walking a character through a problem helps me to work out my own issues.
RAW: How does writing affect every other area of your life?
CAT: Writing is my life; other areas affect it, not the other way around. Almost everything I do is influenced by writing; my work, since I write for a living, and my personal relationships because I meet a lot of writers through my work, and my day to day life because I interact with writers, agents and editors all the time.
RAW: Any advice you'd like to pass along to other writers? What about to readers?
CAT: As a writer you should be able to write in any genre about any topic. Edit yourself and research the material and the market. Try to work organically and systematically no matter what you are writing. When you have an idea, think about the best way to conceptualize and package that idea so that there is a possibility of turning it into a series. That way you sell a few books and not just one, which makes for a longer career. Always take pride in your work, deliver clean copy to your editor or agent, be grateful for suggestions to your work whether you take them or not, be open to revisions and be easy to work with or people won't want to work with you. Publishers, agents and editors talk to each other, if you are difficult your career will be short lived, unless you are a best-selling author. Even then, it doesn't pay to burn bridges because what goes up must come down. You may be riding high today, but eventually you'll be starting from square one again and it will pay to not have alienated anyone in the industry. I can't tell you how many times referrals have come to me from the most unlikely of places because I treat EVERYONE with deference and respect, from publishers to people just starting in the industry. Most important of all, don't take yourself too seriously. To the readers: Please keep buying books because you determine the direction of the publishing industry by what you buy. So please, take chances on new writers. They need your help most of all, or only the same 20 black writers will continue to be published.
RAW: What's coming up next for you? (Upcoming books).
CAT: I am working on a follow up to THE EX CHRONICES. I would love to keep writing that story because there is still a lot of it to unfold. I'm also trying to bring EX CHRONICLES AND BROWN SUGAR to television or cable. Overall, I'd like to continue to publish anthologies that highlight and celebrate different aspects of black America, and showcase some of today's finest writers; well known, and up and coming, in every genre. At present, I'm working on a collection of my own erotic short stories and an erotic mystery as well as several collaborations.
RAW: Now, the Just for Fun part of our interview.
CAT: Favorite author: Quentin Crisp, Angela Carter, Iceberg Slim, The Marquis de Sade, David Sedaris. Favorite books: THE 48 LAWS OF POWER by Robert Greene and OUTLIERS AND THE TIPPING POINT by Malcolm Gladwell. Don't ask just get them. Favorite TV show: The new Battlestar Galactica series on DVD and True Blood. I don't watch Network TV. It takes up too much of my time and it's too much direct marketing. Favorite sport: I like to dance and do yoga, I also play racketball once a week. Food you can't do without: Any fruit in season. What time do you go to bed? Between 10 PM and 11PM. What time do you get up? I wake up around 6:30 AM and I get up around 7:00 AM and sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee. I'm done 5 or 6 hours later. Character you'll never forget in a book: The narrator in LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov, because he is a grown man who is so completely undone by this very young girl. Nabokov's writing is also gorgeous and subversive. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? That I was as smart in my twenties as I am now. Something really funny, that no matter how many times you see/hear it, it's still funny. A joke that cracks me up every time and I don't know why: A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says: "Why the long face?"
RAW: As we close out the interview, share some words of advice or inspiration that has been shared with you that you always hold onto?
CAT: I'm a hard worker, but sometimes it's possible to work too hard or try too hard. When I was a baby editor my boss told me to "work smarter not harder." I took his advice to heart and left Random House and was able to make my dreams of becoming a writer and working for myself come true. It's also important to work organically, to let things happen in the order they should happen. It's not always necessary to make the work happen, sometimes if you work on other things and just go about your business the work or inspiration will find you. If your success and achievements seem effortless people will have confidence in you and your work.
RAW: Any last words or things I may have missed that you'd like to share?
CAT: I always tell writers to write what they know, and then elaborate on that. The stories will then be convincing without them having to try too hard or to make up too many things. In my stories I combine details of my own life with fiction and often that's just the starting point I need. Also, travel outside the country and outside of your regular circles. It's important to mix it up, to network and to practice the social arts. You'll meet new people and be inspired in ways you can never imagine. As a writer trying to be published or about to be published you should have a clear idea of your book because the process of selling a book and delivering that book to the publisher for publication can take many, many months. It can be two years between contract and finished book. Many things can change in that time, editors leave houses and the marketplace changes. If you don't have a firm grasp on your book—its look, concept and package—it can be changed for the worse. Be prepared to promote your book. Don't expect the publicity department to take care of your publicity or promotions. Nurture and utilize all your contacts, pitch your book to magazines, producers and newspapers and network with other writers and always return favors so you can keep going back to the well. "Quid pro quo" loosely translated means "something for something." Getting something of value in return for giving something of value is very important in the publishing industry and in life. It's also important to keep tabs on the production of your upcoming book: reviewing your copyedited manuscript and galleys, the cover, the book specs, and the final book as well as any promotional materials such as press releases, postcard mock-ups and the like to make sure it looks exactly how you want it to look, or something close enough. Pick your battles. This is an important lesson. Know when to fight and when to concede. Most important of all: Give back when you make it. Teach, mentor, network, give free advice. It'll reward you in ways too numerous to detail here. Last but not least, don't forget to have fun. You're a writer; don't forget that, no matter how hard it gets sometimes. Persevere and you will achieve your goal.