Interview and Giveaway: Kathryn Magendie on the GRACES Trilogy, SWEETIE, and an Exciting Opportunity – Part I

This post is Teresa Frohock’s fault. She’s a magnet for “nice” authors, and having performed fascinating interviews with them on her blog, compels you to purchase their fiction. Good thing, too. That’s how I discovered the lyrical voice of the woman you guys get to meet today.   

Kathryn Magendie — Kat to her friends — follows many creative paths. She’s a photographer, poet, short-story writer, editor, and co-editor/publisher of the Rose and Thorn Journal.  I mostly know her as the author of the two, already-written books of the Graces trilogy, probably best described as literary fiction in the Southern tradition.

She joins us today from her log home, deep in the Smoky Mountains, and though we’re celebrating the release of her third novel, Sweetie, I can’t start there. Sorry, Kat. I have too many questions about Tender Graces and Secret Graces. 😉

Jan: Want to begin by describing the trilogy’s premise? 

Kat: The hardest thing for me is the premise talking or synopsis writing. I tend to babble out something incoherently while the person stares at me with a perplexed and slightly bored stare. Dang. But, I’ll try: The Graces Sagas are southern/Appalachian family sagas. Through urging by the spirit of her Grandma Faith, Virginia Kate storytells hers and her family’s lives using letters, journals/diaries, photographs, whispers from ghosts, hopes, dreams, desires.  VK sets to write down everything because her Grandma Faith asks her to. There are “themes” of Home, Belonging, Family, Place, and Displacement. I love writing about “home-coming” or “reunion” or being displaced and then finding Place. See? I told you I suck at synopsis/premise talking! *laugh* Double Dang. 

I think you just endeared yourself to many of my readers. <g>

Much of the Graces trilogy is told through flashback, and I’m curious about the reasoning behind that decision. Was it an intuitive choice or deliberate? What were the advantages to telling Virginia Kate’s story out of strict chronologic sequence? 

I can never deliberately go into a story a certain way, but instead allow the black hole in my brain to open up and provide—this is both a fascinating and frustrating process, for it would be nice to be able to write from plots sometimes without my brain shutting down but it is also wonderful to find out what happens as it happens.

I like the idea of this woman going back home, thinking she’d spill her mother’s ashes, and then hurry away to forget all of it, forget her childhood, her momma she loved so much but couldn’t understand or couldn’t get to know as she wanted to. Instead, she’s goaded by her Grandma Faith’s ghost to go to the attic of her childhood home. Once she does this, she begins to fall backwards in time. But I like bringing her back to the present every so often so people can remember she’s still in the West Virginia holler, she’s still a woman here and now who even though she is a grown woman is still trying to understand her momma and why she didn’t want to keep her kids.

When I’m parted from my work-in-progress for big chunks of time, I struggle to recapture my characters’ voices. You’ve written VK’s books over a period of years, with projects between; her story spans decades, meaning her voice must mature even as you remain true to her character. What tips can you share with the rest of us about maintaining continuity, given those challenges?

I really have to listen. One way could be to read back over the book(s) before I write the next one to hear the character’s rhythms and hear their voices in my head more acutely. But mainly I just begin writing and soon Virginia Kate emerges. She has such a distinct voice that it’s not hard to tap into her language, her way of speaking. I know when I am out of her voice—it’ll be like discordant tones in music.

I suppose there is instinct for this? But if you really pay attention, you can listen to the cadence, or rhythm, or unique way of a character and soon you are lost in the story; you lose yourself and the characters are allowed full reign.

There are a ton of era-dependent cultural cues that contribute to setting in your books: songs, clothing, cars… You’re a complete pantster when it comes to the writing itself, but how did you keep on top of all the data? How long did it take you to research?

Some of these were accidental and I’d notice them only in reading for edits/re-writes. Some, I’d be writing along and some memory would poke at me—like listening to Timmy calling, “Lasssssieeee!” Or, the smell of Dove soap my Maw Maw used (though I ‘gave’ the Dove soap to Momma).  Or how my adoptive mother would listen to Elvis on the turntable record-player.

I always want to make sure I have everything correct, so I double and even triple check my references. I can’t stand lazy writing. If I do have something incorrect, it’s not for lack of double/triple checking from different sources, and I can only ask for forgiveness if I fumble it!

But, I do write it first, check it after. I have to spill out the story first. The researching does take some time, but it’s not so bad, and it can lead to interesting nuggets that can be used later. Those things said, I never ever use these things as shoe-horned-in “devices”—if they don’t come naturally to the storytelling, they don’t need to be there.

Do you know when I became putty in your authorial hands? I’d been falling in love with Virginia Kate already, but in the car, when she knows bad news is coming by how her father taps the steering wheel… That told me you had both original detail and psychological accuracy. How do you write with such confidence about children who cope with multigenerational abuse, alcoholism, and abandonment? And do others say the same thing, particularly those from 12-Step programs?

I seem to have a knack for writing from children’s points of view—have their voices grow up or grow stronger as they age chronologically, or even if they don’t age chronologically and only ‘mature’ due to circumstance.

I’ve received heartbreaking emails from readers who said I nailed a lot of things about daughters and mothers, or fathers, or turbulent childhoods, or alcoholism, or abandonment. What made me feel good is how they also said the book/characters somehow helped them—because of Hope. Because Virginia Kate is strong and hopeful.

Maybe some events in my own life led me to be hyper-aware. Or, maybe I’m just a really good writer—laugh—but, whatever I write does come out of me very quickly, and so those details come from something I must know either instinctively or from watching others or from how I perceive my own world or a combination of all those.

Never underestimate those tiny little details that say so very much.

Maybe a young character focuses on the little things as a way of survival when everything else is just too big.

As for professionals’ comments on my work—I have had therapists, including alcoholism therapists, tell me I did a good job; I was glad, for as I said, being authentic, true, real, correct, is important to me.

You’ve become a runner and I’ve witnessed your sense of wonder about all that exercise does for your body. Have you noticed any relationship between creativity/productivity and fitness?

I used to be a personal trailer and have loved fitness for some time. However, my specialty was weight training—I hated aerobics. So when I began experimenting with running this April, at 53, I couldn’t believe how good it felt; how my body responded so quickly; how strong I am becoming in a way I didn’t expect from running versus weight training. And as well, my heart has responded—both physically and metaphorically. I feel strong; a strong capable woman; a woman who could kick arse if she had to (laugh).

What running has also done is helped with the stress of constantly working. GMR and I walk the dogs most every morning, but I still thought about work. The running helps the stress more because I am not thinking: I have the music going very loud in my ears and I run run run until I’m dripping sweat; work doesn’t bleed through easily.

But what makes me laugh is how my characters in the Graces Sagas never seem to exercise and they eat a lot of food!  Always eating eating eating! Lucky them!

Speaking of lucky, peeps, there’s a copy of Tender Graces with your name on it IF you comment in the space below, live in continental North America and have your name drawn by the lucky RNG. Should you wish to have your name entered twice, retweet this post, post a link on your Facebook page, or a link on your blog, then make sure to post the url below. Contest will be open until midnight MST November 7, 2010. Please join us for Part II of the interview and another giveaway next week, when we actually get around to discussing Kat’s latest release, Sweetie

Many thanks to Kat for an enjoyable part I! If  you have a question for her, please ask away. She’s promised to pop in and asuage your morbid curiosity. You do have morbid curiosity, yes? For further enquiries, Kat can be found at her website, her Facebook page, or on Twitter.

32 thoughts on “Interview and Giveaway: Kathryn Magendie on the GRACES Trilogy, SWEETIE, and an Exciting Opportunity – Part I

  1. I take full responsibility and I love it! I love Kat with her fresh, sparkling voice and her lovely novels. Wait until you read Sweetie! It’s darker than the Graces Sagas, but it’s no less vibrant.

    I love the depth of your questions, Jan! Excellent job both of you. (Oh, and don’t include me in the drawing. I’ve got Kat’s books, and I’d love to see the giveaway go to someone who has never read her work.) ;-D

  2. Nice interview, Jan. It’s fascinating to have a window into a writing process so different from my own. My efforts to write without a firm plan were strictly disastrous.

    1. Great interview – I also l ove to read about others writing process. I like the idea of recapturing the voice btween projects. Something I struggle with often.

  3. Yes, great interview. I’m ready to read all three books!

    I loved Kathryn’s response to the research question. I don’t want to be a lazy writer either, but I don’t want to force details.

    Thanks for hosting her, Jan!

  4. Teresa, ooh, lucky you to have read SWEETIE already.

    Kellion, I think Kat is on the extreme end of pantsing, but it seems to work for her. I’m midway between plotter and pantster, myself.

    Jennifer, the voice thing is a challenge for me, too. I know some people find collages and soundtracks help for those challenges.

    Tracey, well your production is impressive, so outlining seems to work for you!

    Christi, thanks for stopping by! We’ll see if the RNG works to your favor. 🙂

  5. I agree with everyone above — wonderful interview, both questions and answers. I love how Kat said, “Never underestimate those tiny little details that say so very much.” This is what I tell myself to justify my people watching, er, research tendencies. And, it does pay off. Thanks for sharing!

  6. great to hear how another pantzer does it, because it reassures me that pantzing really does work, if that is the way your brain is wired.
    I admire you plotters and I wish I could plot, but it just won’t work for me.
    Jan: thanks for the introduction to Kat. I will look for her Graces.

  7. Sounds like a great series! I’m interested in how Kathryn keeps her character’s voice consistent across time, and also how she allows that same character to develop and grow. Sounds very difficult!

    1. Liz, I can comprehend a character a discrete ages, but the idea of following them and speaking through them over decades… *boggles*

      Anyway, Kat’s travelling today and doesn’t have access to a computer, but I’m sure she’ll respond.

  8. Hi Y’all! — I’m home from my travels from Oregon back to my little cove in the Smoky Mountains where we may get a little snow tonight, already!

    THank you for your comments and for reading *smiling* – Nice nice to come home to. I’ll tell you what happened when I first wrote the first draft of what would become The Graces – it was this monster manuscript and I had the kids growing up and all that jazz — well, when I went back to read over what I’d written, I had the ages all messed up — for example, Bobby, VK’s youngest brother, became a doctor at about 16 – oops . . . One thing I would have done differently is force myself to plot out the ages and corresponding years for novels that span the 50’s through present time. I had to do that after the fact – writing down the years and what ages the kids would be through the years – then go back in and change so much detail – as it turned out, I changed a whole lot more from that original document, but still – it was a pain in the arse to fiddle with the kids’ ages after I’d written so much on that first draft. Other than that, everything just kind of came naturally — because I love these characters and their voices are just stuck in my pea-head.

    Did I miss any other questions? if so, call me on it Ms Tart!

  9. Kat, welcome back! I don’t think you missed any other actual questions, so you’re good. You can have a chance to breathe. I can definitely see how a pre-plotted timeline or a series bible would ease the workload. Have you done that prep work for the 3rd VK novel?

    Darrelyn, thank you, but I don’t think Kat changes her voice in any locale on the internet, LOL. Appreciate you coming by!

  10. thanks for a great interview with a wonderful and funny author. i can’t wait for part 2 – or to start reading the series. i’m a sucker for a good series – although i hate to see anything end.

    you know, i’ve been thinking more and more about how our bodies respond to writing and what we need to do to keep them tuned up. thanks for making that part of the conversation.

  11. Have I done the prep work for VK III? A little – meaning, I consulted my age notes when I could find them tossed somewhere in a pile of stuff I need to go through and then I said, “uh huh, there they are….” then I igorned them and just started writing *teehee* – of course, it’s easier now that I’m in the final Graces book where everyone is adult age! . . . except for Adin, whom readers really haven’t met yet and maybe will meet in the final book unless I don’t get into detail about her in this final book. Some other voice is barging in with this book, demanding VK, and I, tell some of her side.

  12. Great interview! Kat, I envy your characters eating so much food and never exercising. Sounds like heaven to me. LOL I enjoyed reading your process, and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy your books. 🙂

    1. I love how both the interviewer’s and the interviewee’s personalities come through. Nice! And my morbid curiosity question: Kat, is this what you thought you’d be when you grew up?

  13. Great interview from both sides of the keyboard, y’all!

    I can vouch for Kat’s organic, authentic, perceptive writing ability and process…and also the wonderfully unique black hole of a brain. Above and beyond all these skills, she is the very best friend a person could hope for. 100% real and true.

    You think the Graces are great? Wait til you read SWEETIE! (I’ll have to hold a blog contest to refund any readers who don’t weep over certain parts of it.) 😀 Hugs to both.

  14. Stephanie, I’ve personally found my writing goes better when I make time for exercise. I’m not sure which is the chicken and which the egg, but they definitely go hand in hand.

    Kat, you make me laugh with your honestly. Yup. You’re a pantster through and through. 🙂

    rosaria, yay, glad if you’re inspired on two fronts. 😀

    Donna, is it just me, or does it seem more common for writers to incorporate food porn in their fiction?

    MJ, ooh, good question!

    Angie, aw, what a nice tribute! And you make “black hole” sound so attractive, LOL. I won’t take you up on any weeping bets, however. I come from a family that tears up easily. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of SWEETIE.

  15. MJ – You know, when I was little in the 60’s (dang, that sounds OLD) all little girls usually said they wanted to be a nurse or a teacher – that was about what our options were or seemed to be–though sometimes I’d wish I could go skiiing with Barbie since she had this cool ski outfit. Yet from a young age, I was a HUGE reader – always reading a book, but I never thought I’d write them. Not until I was a bit older did I think of becoming a writer–5th, 6th grade maybe? In 7th I won an award for a short story, so I must have been thinking about it and doing it by then or before then–my black hole pea-head has a hard time calling forth memory and times and dates. Even then, it took a long journey to find a point where I began writing novels—my late 40’s! It’s never too late to realize a dream or to find out what you were meant to do and then have the opportunity to do it. 😀

    ANgie – *hug* you de bes’

    I’m enjoying all of your comments – Thank You so much for taking time to comment and read and fiddle dee deeing!

  16. Wonderful interview! I’m one of the lucky ones who calls Kat a friend & neighbor and I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her. She’s as wonderful in person as she is on Internet pages! I’ve read both of her books and can’t wait for more! 🙂

  17. Kat, I’m so glad MJ asked you that question. I’m glowing now. 😉

    Small Footprints, you sound lucky indeed, but because of locale and neighbors. I think I want you all to adopt me. 🙂 Thanks for coming and commenting.

  18. Great interview. I love Kat’s blog and am looking forward to Part 2 of this interview.
    Kat, I also “hear’ the characters. Honestly, they tell better stories than I could ever think up.

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