Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Author Interview: Katie Gates (and Giveaway!)

I am pleased to welcome Katie Gates, who wrote The Somebody Who to Always With a Book.  You can read my review of her book and enter a giveaway for the book here.

About the author: Raised in rural Virginia, Katie Gates attended Barnard College in Manhattan and remained in the New York City area for 15 years before moving to Los Angeles in 1990.  Currently a resident of Los Feliz, she serves the nonprofit sector as a nonprofit development consultant.  Her writing credits include a satirical gift book that she co-wrote with Tim Knight -- Stuck on You:  Do-It-Yourself Dating Patches for the Single Girl (Penguin, 2005), and her debut novel -- The Somebody Who (Channel Press, 2008).  Her second novel has not yet been published.  Katie posts her Stories and Opinions on her blog at, and she maintains a fine art shop at

Thanks to Katie for answering a few questions.

What inspired you to write this book?
A series of moments.  Through a staff job I had in the early 90’s, I met a wonderfully eccentric older couple – Mort and Sue.  In 2000, after our keeping in touch often  sporadically, Sue asked if I would be interested in working with her on a book about her collection of asymmetrical male/female earrings.  We did that book, and by the time we were done, we had bonded.  Mort had been showing signs of dementia since the mid-90s, and I think it helped Sue’s coping to have someone like me around.  So, to keep me around – and because her personal assistant was leaving to have a baby – Sue asked if I would help her with administrative stuff.  I became her Gal Friday who comes on Thursday beginning in 2003, and so I continued to observe Mort’s increasing dementia as well as the impact that made on the household, on family, and on friends. 

In early 2005, Sue told me about a woman in her bridge-playing circles.  A woman whose husband had Alzheimer’s.  What Sue had learned that week is that the woman had begun dating.  I immediately grabbed my day-runner and made a note.  I didn’t know what I’d do with this idea, but I believed there was a story in there.

On a Thursday a couple months later, I was back at their condo.  Sue and I had completed our work and begun the portion of the evening we refer to as “team-building.”  This means a cocktail.  At the time, Sue was still allowing Mort to have a drink.  In spite of his acute cognitive challenges, he was generally in good spirits, and he was safe in the condo, so why not?  Mort went to the kitchen to freshen his drink, and when he returned to his usual chair at the table in the office, Sue didn’t immediately see him.  But I did, and his “cocktail” made me do a double-take.  It was meat sauce on the rocks, in a tumbler glass.  He held it as you would a cocktail and sipped it as you would a cocktail.

I caught Sue’s attention and did one of those eyebrows-raised, look-over-there head movements.  She turned, she looked, and then she turned back to me.  “Uh-huh,” she said, dully.

That moment was pivotal.  Her resignation and the exhaustion behind it were heavy and profound.

After dinner (you guessed it, we had spaghetti with meat sauce – straight up and heated, thank you very much) and as I was heading home, a book began writing itself in my head.  And during the next few weeks, the first few chapters poured out of me.  I was careful to create a family that was quite different from Mort and Sue’s, and I placed them across the country where their fiction could unfold.  But, still, my observations at Mort and Sue’s would always inform the thoughts and interactions of my characters.  In fact, that pivotal moment I mentioned a minute ago was responsible for this line, in the very first chapter:  “And she feels, as she has come to feel a million times daily, the type of exasperation that churns in the soul when one is no longer shocked by nonsequitur.”  The “she” in this line is Evelyn, the story’s protagonist.

What gets you started on a new book? A character or story idea or ...?
In the case of The Somebody Who, that idea about a woman dating even as her husband has Alzheimer’s was the story idea that got me started, I guess, but as the novel unfolded, and as I got to know Evelyn, she drove the story.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the narrative voice I used is called third person limited omniscient.  And that means essentially that, although the story is written in the third person, the protagonist is present for absolutely all the action.  I often felt like I was taking dictation, when Evelyn or when anyone spoke.  I didn’t plan a lot of what the characters would say, but as they spoke (and as I typed), more plotlines unfolded.  It was an extremely fluid process.

I should mention, too, that just as I often do when I read a novel, I assigned several of the roles to actors and actresses (and several other roles to people from my life).  I put Meryl Streep – 10 years from now – in the role of Evelyn, and so I could picture her physically, hear her voice, and imagine her carriage.  Remembering the mother-daughter scene in The Hours, I let Meryl have a reunion with Claire Danes, putting Danes in the role of Joy.  I envisioned Dianne Weist for Angie, and I pictured an actor whose name I don’t even know for Ed.  Some of the non-actors in the “cast” included an intimidating East European cook with whom I worked back in the early 80’s, when I was a waitress in Manhattan.  The minute I introduced Mrs. Krosky to the story, that cook showed up and assumed the role!

When I wrote my second novel (not yet published), I wanted to see if the formula would work again.  I entered into it with a few simple lines:  “regaining hope; the s--t hits the fan; see what happens.”  I wanted to have a male protagonist this time, so I gave the role to Greg Kinnear.  (I think he’s a remarkable actor.)  His character, Martin, is in a really bad, mid-life place at the beginning of the novel, but – again using the third person limited omniscient voice – I got him through it.  And some amazing, unexpected things happened along the way.

As a child, did you ever dream that you would be a published author? As a child did you like to read and write and if so, what were your favorite books?
I had a second grade teacher who, today, would probably be arrested (or at least suspended) for her methods of discipline.  When I didn’t read the assigned pages of my “pleasure reader,” she shook me quite violently.  (And she did this repeatedly.)  This led to the first act of rebellion I can recall:  I became a very slow reader and was unwilling to find the “pleasure” in it.  In fact, with few exceptions, I didn’t really enjoy reading until I was in my 20’s, when I began to read voraciously. 

That being said, I always had an innate attraction to pens, paper, and the act of joining those tools.  When I was a kid, our family joked that, in the event of my sister or me needing to be punished for misbehavior, my sister’s punishment would be no television, whereas mine would be no pen and paper.  I remember sitting in front of a legal pad, pretending to write.  This was before I had learned what we used to call “real writing” (i.e., cursive penmanship).  So maybe I was five or six.  Anyway, I would cruise the pen across the paper, dotting this and crossing that.  I was pretending to write, and I could fill pages. 

It’s an interesting combo, now that I think about it:  the teacher who took the pleasure out of reading and my desire to put something – anything – on the page.  Hmm…

What's your writing routine? Do you write every day or just when the mood strikes?
With the two novels, the writing routine ultimately illustrated the nocturnal being that I am.  It also came after a delay.  In the late spring of 2005, after I’d written the first three chapters of The Somebody Who, I got caught up in anticipating the publication of Stuck On You:  Do-It-Yourself Dating Patches for the Single Girl, a cheeky gift book I’d co-authored with my neighbor and friend, Tim Knight.  We’d been lucky to get an agent and a division of Penguin, and we thought we were home-free.  Lots of adrenalin.  Lots of “waiting for Oprah to call.”

Many months later, our gift book was going nowhere (Tim and I hadn’t understood that – even with a bonafide publisher in our court – the marketing would be on our shoulders).  Regardless, I needed to get back to my novel.  In June of 06, I realized that if I did not put “me” on my list of clients (note:  I’m a nonprofit consultant and so, each week, I have several clients for whom I have tasks to do), I’d never finish the novel.  So:  I put me on the list.  Nine weeks later, I’d finished my novel!  It was always my nighttime activity, and having it on my list helped me get through my client tasks.  Writing The Somebody Who was my reward for a day of getting work done.  And I would be so excited to get to it.  Since I often didn’t know what would happen next, I would return to it as I would a novel I’m reading.  What will the characters say?  What will happen tonight!

When I started writing my second novel, in early April of 09, I set up the routine again.  My reward at the end of the day.  It was another gratifying, creative ride.  I finished the first draft of that novel in early June, I think.

What are you reading right now?
I just started Brazil, by John Updike.  I actually hadn’t heard of it, but Sue received it as a birthday gift recently and, having read it, she was curious as to my take.  I haven’t read enough to know what I think, but what I’ve read so far has stayed with me. 

Are you currently working on another book?
I can’t wait ‘til the next novel says, “Write me now!”  I’m not sure when that will happen or if I’ll have to nudge the muse before she nudges me back.  In the meantime, the essays I post on my blog are keeping the juices flowing.  

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Love the process.  Write for yourself first.  Write the novel (essay, short story, whatever) that you want to read.  

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for this amazing book!


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