Behind the Quill is back!! Today we are chatting about memories, mysteries, pooches, and pancakes with author Kassandra Lamb. She is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer and is responsible for the fantastic Kate Huntington series, which includes the books Multiple Motives, Ill-Timed Entanglements, and her newest release, Family Fallacies.
Here’s what Kassandra had to say:
Me: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
KL: I’m not real sure. I think as a kid, I assumed that everybody liked to write things down like I did. My mother was a natural-born writer as well, and she worked in public relations, which involves a lot of writing. So I thought the whole world was like us. You have ideas, you write them down.
My first attempt at a novel was during college. I remember it was inspired by James Taylor’s song, Fire and Rain. It was pretty awful, although the concept wasn’t bad. I just hadn’t had enough life experience yet to know what I was talking about.
Throughout my adulthood, I’ve started so many stories that never got finished. I’d lose my momentum and life would get in the way. But somehow I knew that the one about Kate Huntington was going to happen one day.
Me: Multiple Motives is the first book in your Kate Huntington series. What was the first thing you did when it was published? How did you feel?
KL: Well, when you’re self-publishing e-books, I think it’s a little different experience than traditionally published authors might have. You fill in all the information on Amazon’s and Barnes and Noble’s online forms, and then you click on ‘publish.’ It felt a little anticlimactic, after all the hard work to get the book as polished as I could get it.
And then you wait several hours for the computers to do their thing, and suddenly a page flashes up with your book cover and your book title and your name as author, and wow! I think I shouted, “Yeehaa! I’m published!”
Me: Your protagonist, Kate Huntington, is a psychotherapist, which is what you did for a living, so obviously a lot of her experiences come from your own. What part of her character and/or her life is more from your imagination?
KL: Yes, Kate’s professional experiences are based on my own, but her personal history is very different from mine. She grew up in a big Irish-Catholic family in the 1970’s so she is a member of Generation X, the generation that is in their forties to early fifties now.
I’ve never cared for the X label; I’ve thought of them as the Tweeners, the generation between my own–the Baby Boomers–and the young people in their twenties to thirties today. The Tweeners’ parents were still traditional, as were the parents of the Boomers. But the Boomers, during the 1960’s, had changed the rest of society considerably. There was this disconnect for that Tweener generation, between life at home and the outside world.
For example, in the outside world, women were theoretically liberated, but many of their mothers were stay-at-home moms, not necessarily by choice but because that was the traditional female role. The Tweeners, or Gen X’ers if you prefer, had to learn to balance those two somewhat disparate worlds.
I didn’t set out to write about that generation. It just kind of evolved that way, and once it had, I decided that I wanted to explore the struggles of that cohort. I don’t know that our society has really made enough effort to understand how tough it was for them to be such a transition generation.
So that’s the aspect of Kate that is more… well not so much from my imagination, but more what I made up, based on the experiences of many of my clients, who were members of that generation.
Me: Besides Kate, who is your favorite character in the series?
KL: There are several that I’m quite fond of, but the one that I totally adore is Rose. And she is such a great example of one of the fascinating things about the writing process.
At a certain point in Multiple Motives, I decided that it would seem strange if the authorities didn’t offer some police protection, since there had been all these attempts on Kate’s life. So I invented this rather short but quite solidly built Hispanic female cop with a reserved personality, who would be the primary officer assigned to protect Kate. I never intended her to be anything more than a minor character, with just a few lines.
Then somehow, when I wasn’t looking, she morphed into a secondary character who plays a fairly crucial role in the plot. And by Book 4–Celebrity Status, which is coming out in the fall–she’s a major character! I just find it so amazing that characters truly take on a life of their own. And their lives go wherever their experiences take them (just like in real life) whether that’s where we, the authors, originally intended them to go or not.
But back to Rose Hernandez. She is one kick-ass young woman. She is highly principled and extremely loyal to her friends. Shows of affection make her squirm but underneath that reserved, cop demeanor is a very warm-hearted person. She’s calm, cool and collected when everybody else is falling apart; and when it’s time for action, her compact little body is right there in the thick of things. Rose is truly awesome!
Me: Is there any particular author or book that has influenced you significantly as an author?
KL: Not one in particular, but there are a whole bunch of female mystery writers, with female protagonists, who have influenced my work. I am an avid mystery reader. I read a book or two a week, and when on vacation, that’s more like a book a day!
Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwall, Laurie R. King, Elizabeth Peters, J.D. Robb… yeah, yeah, I know she’s really Nora Roberts, but I love her for her mysteries.
Let’s see, most definitely Janet Evanovich; Lisa Scottoline, Nevada Barr, Mary Daheim. There’s probably another dozen that just aren’t coming to mind at the moment., J.A. Jance… I love her Joann Brady character. And Laura Lippman probably influenced me to set my books in my native Maryland even though I’ve lived in Florida for a decade now.
I like male protagonists too and I read male authors’ work. But the female detectives, whether amateur, PI’s or police officers, have created an image in my mind of this strong woman, determined to protect those weaker than herself.
And, as you can see, I love series. I like being able to revisit the same characters over and over, and watch them grow and change through their life experiences.
Me: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? And what has been the best compliment?
KL: One of my closest friends and my daughter-in-law are my two toughest critics. My daughter-in-law is particularly good at calling me on things that are too ‘cheesy.’ But I’ve found that I actually love feedback, even supposedly negative feedback, because it challenges me to make the story better. And I’ve come to realize that I don’t always have to take out or significantly rewrite something. Sometimes I can just work around the problem, once I know it’s a problem.
In Family Fallacies, my new release, there were a couple places where my daughter-in-law said the characters were being too cheesy. But I felt they were crucial moments for the plot and character development, so I had the characters acknowledge that they were having a cheesy thought, feeling, whatever. Although I usually substitute the word corny which would be the one Kate’s generation would be more likely to use.
The greatest compliment is when someone I know reads one of my books just to be polite and supportive, and then they come back and tell me they really liked it, and there’s a note of surprise in their voices. That tells me that they truly did like it. They didn’t expect to, but they did!
Me: What would you like your readers to know about your books or you in general? What do you want readers to see in your books?
KL: I write mysteries because that’s the genre I know best. But my books, to me, are more than just entertaining whodunnits. They are also very much about relationships and how ordinary people deal with the stress of extraordinary events in their lives.
I’m also trying to help readers understand the field of psychology better and what various mental disorders are all about. And each book tends to highlight one or more issues in our society that I think are important. I try to show how certain beliefs or practices can affect people. In Book 2, ILL-TIMED ENTANGLEMENTS…
I always have to put that title in all caps so Ill-Timed doesn’t end up looking like 3-Timed. Something to keep in mind, fellow authors, when you chose a title. 🙂
In that book, I’m trying to address the issue of ageist stereotypes. In Multiple Motives I explored the impact of a common practice by the police. When someone is murdered, the first person they look at is the spouse. I know most police officers handle this with much more sensitivity, however, than my obnoxious detective in Multiple Motives does.
I joke all the time about smothering my husband in his sleep if he annoys me enough. I can’t help wondering what would happen if he ever does die in his sleep. I’m in big trouble!
Me: Tell us more about your current release. What inspired it? And can fans expect the Kate Huntington mysteries to keep coming?
KL: Most definitely, the series will continue for the foreseeable future. I’ve already written the first draft of Books 4 and 5, and I’m working on the sixth one for the series, which is about a 9/11 hero who falls on rough times when he develops delayed PTSD.
This was right at the beginning of the “false memory” movement, which was essentially a backlash to society finally letting sexual abuse survivors come out of the closet and talk about their experiences. The folks in the “false memory” movement claimed that all these memories of abuse that were “suddenly” surfacing must be because inexperienced or unethical therapists were planting false memories in clients’ heads. There were even implications that we were doing this to keep clients in therapy longer and make more money, which was incredibly insulting to those of us in the trauma recovery field.
So my mother’s idea was to have someone sue Kate for planting false memories. Then her lawyer friend, Rob, who understandably wouldn’t quite know how traumatic amnesia works, would not totally believe that perhaps she hadn’t done something, maybe inadvertently, to bring this legal mess down on herself. This would cause tension between them as friends. Mother had even thought through how the book would end.
I agreed that it was a great idea and I would tuck it away for the future, once I got the current book done. Well, it took me fifteen years–I had to retire myself–to find the time to finish Multiple Motives. And then I decided to write a somewhat lighter story in between. Ill-Timed Entanglements is about a series of murders in a retirement community. It almost qualifies as a cozy mystery, although it definitely has some tense scenes.
Once I set out to develop my mother’s idea, I realized that a lawsuit, by itself, wasn’t very exciting. So I had to find somebody to kill off, since it is a murder mystery. Then I found a few other exciting elements to throw in, like anonymous, threatening notes. And there’s also a romance to lighten things up, and at a couple of points, heat things up! 😉
Me: Do you have any particular quirks in the way you approach writing?
KL: I don’t know if this would qualify as a quirk or not. Again, I thought all writers operated pretty much the way I did. But I discovered at a conference a few months ago that quite a few self-edit as they go along, and they are happy if they produce five or six carefully crafted, well polished pages at the end of the day.
I’m sitting there thinking, ‘That would drive me nuts!’ Then another presenter on the panel said that she writes the first draft very quickly, then goes back and edits it to death. She called that first draft her “vomit” draft, which cracked me up!
Because that’s exactly how it feels for me. When my mind starts rolling with a book idea, I have got to get it down on paper! I hardly do anything but write, just the bare minimum that I’m required to do to be considered a responsible adult, until that first draft is done. Then I take about a year to polish it, with the help of my beta readers.
Book 4, I wrote in a week! I happened to be at our summer home in early June, but my husband was still in Florida, to attend a high school reunion. So it was just me and the dog, with no obligations! I wrote, ate, wrote, ate, wrote, slept, wrote, ate… and the day before he arrived in Maryland, the vomit draft was done. Of course, it still had a long way to go before it was ready for public consumption, but I expect to have it out by sometime in the fall. I also wrote Book 5 last summer, but it took the rest of the summer. That one is now in the hands of my ‘alpha’ beta reader that I mentioned.
Me: You mentioned your dog? What’s his or her breed and name? Do you have any other pets?
KL: Just the dog. It’s too hard with pets, traveling back and forth between two houses. And before anybody starts thinking I’m this rich person because I own two homes, the one in Maryland is this tiny cottage that was a fixer-upper when we bought it ten years ago, just before we moved to Florida. We got it dirt cheap and have put a lot of sweat into making it liveable.
But back to Amelia. My poor sweetie gets car sick! So we have to give her Dramamine when we travel.
She’s a Humane Society rescue mutt, but we think she’s mostly Alaskan Husky. She’s got a bit of German Shepherd in her as well, and probably some Chow Chow. She has a dark spot on the end of her tongue. Purebred Chows have a completely dark tongue, I’m told. And she also has a light patch on her nose, although most of her nose is black. So it looks like she’s licked some of the coloring off her nose and it stuck to her tongue.
Here’s a picture of her. I actually use this as my profile picture on Facebook. I’m not very photogenic so I figured it was good to distract people with a cute doggie.
Me: What is your favorite food? And what do you like to cook? Would you mind sharing a recipe?
KL: Actually I don’t like to cook, so my favorite food is anything that somebody else prepares! My husband does 99% of the cooking. But there is one day of the year when I cook, and that’s Christmas. Of course we have a traditional dinner, turkey with all the trimmings.
And for breakfast, we have pancakes, made from a family recipe that started with my father, who also never cooked except on Christmas. I’ve tweaked his recipe a bit to make it more healthy. His involved white flour and Crisco–not oil but solid from a can. It was essentially lard. I don’t think they even make it anymore.
It’s a very simple recipe. You combine one cup each of whole wheat flour and corn meal, add a teaspoon of baking soda and two tablespoons of vegetable oil (instead of the lard). Then one or two eggs… I like two, makes them taste richer. And start adding milk and stirring until the batter’s the right consistency.
I always start out with it too thick, not on purpose, but I forget and err on the side of less milk since too thin is harder to deal with. So the first round looks like a pile of small frisbees, but everybody scarfs them down anyway.
We now have Christmas at my son’s house, since that’s easier for them with small children, and he has continued the tradition. We’ve dubbed them the Christmas morning pancakes because neither one of us ever seems to get up the motivation to make them any other time of the year.
And they are good for you. The proteins in the whole wheat and corn combine to make a complete protein for humans, so they’re good for vegetarians like my son.
Me: They sound yummy, too! Tell me, before you go, is there any piece of advice you would give to aspiring authors?
KL: Keep writing, keep doing anything you can to hone your skills and never give up on getting your writing in the hands of readers. Don’t let all the negative stuff you hear about how hard it is to get published stop you, like it did me for so many years.
Try the traditional publishing route if you think that’s a better set-up for you, but keep in mind that self-publishing is now a viable fallback plan. And I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a writer!
Me: Kassandra, I agree completely. There are so many options available now and with the guidance of people like Kristen Lamb and WANAtribe out there helping us connect, it really is a great time to be a writer.
It was wonderful chatting with you today, Kassandra!
Thanks for having me, Jennifer! This was truly a delightful end stop on my blog tour.
And if anyone has any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Oh, I almost forgot… The contest!
Today’s the last day for people to get their names in the hat to win a free three-book set of the Kate Huntington series. Anyone who comments here will be entered, and you can get your name in the hat a second time if you go to www.misteriopress.com and read about another example of how a character took over a bit, when I wasn’t looking. Except this one’s a ghost… maybe. Comment there and you’re entered again, and there’s also instructions there for a way to get a bonus entry.
The winner will be drawn at midnight tonight and announced at each of the stops on my blog tour, and also at misterio press.
Again, thanks so much for letting me hang out here today. It’s been fun chatting with you, Jennifer!
Here’s a little more info about my guest today:
As a retired psychotherapist, Kassandra Lamb knows it’s not a good thing to have voices talking in your head. But when they are the voices of your characters and you’re a writer, that’s okay. When she isn’t at her computer, dreaming up new messes for her protagonist, Kate Huntington, to deal with, Kass hangs out with her husband and her dog, Amelia. She is a ‘reverse snowbird,’ living in Florida for ten months of the year, and spending her summers in her native Maryland.
So, what did you think? Have any questions for Kassandra today? Feel free to post them below. And don’t forget, your comment gets you an entry for the contest too!