Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Interview with Kathleen E. Kovach

Today, I'm featuring one of my very best friends, Kathy Kovach. I met Kathy several years ago at CCWC. They had just moved back to Colorado and were going through some difficult circumstances. We renewed our friendship as several years passed and we continued to meet up at CCWC and later at the ACFW conferences. When I retired from teaching, Kathy invited me to try out her critique group . . . and the rest is history. Since then we've spent a lot of time together—playing, critiquing, working, and praying (not necessarily in that order!).

How did you get started writing, and where has that journey taken you that you may not have expected starting out?
I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pencil in my hand. And before that I was telling stories in my head. My mother recently told me that I would tell her something, and she would ask, “Kathy, is that a story or is it real?” She said I’d always fess up.

As I was honing my craft, I wrote newsletters for various organizations. When we were stationed in Germany during our Air Force days, I started a newsletter for American women living off-base in our little town. This gave them a touch of home and brought all of us together as a community. This was probably the biggest surprise in my writing walk. I’ve always been a fiction writer, and to write articles was definitely a God-thing. From there I became the newsletter chairperson for the local chapters of two national organizations.

Read more about how I started out at www.gracereign.blogspot.com

How do you balance family life with writing?
This is a funny question since you, Margie, are my crit and prayer partner! However, for the sake of the interview… Currently I’m having a hard time balancing the two. My son has moved in with his three kids and two pets—and I’m Granny Daycare. Balance? There’s six of them and one of me! However, the handiest tool I have is my AlphaSmart, a word processor that looks like a computer keyboard, but it doesn’t hook into anything until you want to upload into your computer what you’ve written. It runs on AA batteries and has a memory and a life beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Several times now I’ve taken it to the library (after my son comes home from work) or out to a quiet restaurant and plunked my story in there.

Right now I’m in a season of “not yet,” even though I’ve been instructed to keep my hand in writing. Soon, I’ll be back to “go for it” and be able to write full time again. Please, God, please!

How does your walk with the Lord affect your writing? And how do you balance time with the Lord with your writing schedule?
Ouch. You hit me where it hurts! I know when I get a chance to write, I have to force myself to stop and ask God for direction. I’ve heard of writers who say they never write that first word of the day until they’ve soaked in God’s presence. I often don’t feel I have time for that. But I do believe it’s an important part of my job as one “going forth and spreading the gospel.” I answered the last question first—perhaps a bit ambiguously. I’d like to go on to say that my walk affects my writing a great deal. If it didn’t, I’d probably be writing bodice-rippers for Harlequin. As it is, I know that any good stable romance needs that spiritual thread, just as any strong real-life romance needs the Lord. This is where that “three-cord strand that cannot be easily broken” applies (from Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Since my blog is geared to writers who want to improve their self-editing, could you briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision?
Briefly? It took me 23 years to write my first novel! Let’s see. Now that I know a bit more about the craft, this is how my last few stories came to be.
  • I get an idea, maybe from a show I’m watching on television, or something in the news. Just a tiny spark. If it dances in my brain for a while, I know the Lord is ready to write that with me. Unfortunately, He makes me do all the work!
  • I’ll have several false starts, maybe play with tense, like first person or third. I always know who my POV character is, though.
  • Once it begins rolling, it’s almost as if the words bypass my brain and head straight for the keyboard. I try not to edit as I go, but as I start a new day, I’ll read what I wrote the day before to get me into the story again. I’ll often fix what’s bothering me, but not on a large scale. I’ll also make notes if I want to move on and not get bogged down on research or grammar, etc.
  • Once I get the first draft down, I wait a few days and then print the whole thing out. I curl up with red pen in hand and read it as if I’m seeing it for the first time. Now, in this whole process, I’ve had my crit groups look at it, so I’ve already fixed what bothered them.
  • After I go through the whole thing with my red pen, I make the changes in the computer and do word searches for “weasel words” like “that,” any word ending in “-ly,” repeated words, and favorite words or phrases that I overuse.
  • I fix these and then turn on my grammar check. I don’t have it on when I’m writing because I have ADD and all those squiggly lines are too distracting for me! I do keep the spell checker on though because if I see something I know is not right, it drives me nuts until I look it up. Can we say OCD, too?
  • When all that is done, I print it out again and give it to “readers”—people who aren’t writers. I may take this opportunity to send it to people who helped me with research, too, just to be sure I got certain things correct. I did this with Merely Players, but I only sent excerpts that pertained to the research material. The “non-writers” will be members of my family and maybe someone from my church. I ask them if they’re confused by something, or if something just doesn’t read right.
  • I take their suggestions, put them in the computer, print the thing out a third time and tackle it with a fine-tooth comb. I’ll look for anything I may have missed in that first read-through. If it’s too long as Merely Players was, I’ll look for places to cut. Sometimes whole scenes that can be eliminated or filtered back into another part in shorter form. Always, in the course of all the read-throughs, I’m playing with phraseology. If I say it this way, it will have more impact than if I say it that way.
  • When I finally have the perfect manuscript, do I send it off? No! I print it out one last time because in addition to ADD and OCD, I’m also a perfectionist. If I don’t have a close deadline, I’ll let this copy sit for a week or more, a month would be even better. Then I curl up again, and read it as if I’m a “reader.” The longer I’ve been away from it, the more detached I can become.
  • Then, I finally send it in and wait until the editor sends it back. Then I make their changes. The editing process never ends until I see it in print. Well, that’s not quite true. After I read it once the book comes out, I’ll writhe in pain at every goof I make because by this time, I’ve grown a little more as a writer.

What kinds of things do you have to revise once the editor at a publishing house gets done with your manuscript?
So far, I’ve been blessed. I have two awesome critique groups that have people with various talents. I have had very few edits. In Merely Players there was a scene that the editor didn’t feel was realistic. She asked me to change it and I was able to come up with a much better scene than the original. I also had to cut even more because shortly after I sent Heartsong Presents my manuscript, they changed their guidelines from 55K maximum words to 50K. This meant I had to cut fifteen pages. PAGES! I panicked, then called my good buddy, Mary Davis, who is a Heartsong veteran. After she calmed me down, she taught me a trick. Since I now worked from the galleys (the story printed out in landscape and positioned in two columns to look like the actual book), I was to find the pages with the fewest sentences on them, then work to make them disappear from that page. So, if I found a page with only one sentence, I only had to get rid of enough words to eliminate that one sentence. This was do-able. I received my galleys the day before a camping trip and my husband and I both worked on them in lantern light. We found lines of text that only had one or two words and cut those down to eliminate the line. This often was as simple as saying something in a more concise manner than I had said it before. Eventually we whittled away enough lines of text to eliminate the fifteen pages. I was pleased with the outcome.

Would you tell us a little about your future projects?
I’ve decided to try my hand at a cozy mystery. The Brothers Grimm have intrigued me ever since I saw a movie when I was young, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. Then, after seeing the absolutely horrid movie with Matt Damon, I had a spark (remember my sparks from above?). Therefore, the Sisters Grimm series is about two sisters who believe they are descendants of the Brothers Grimm and they solve mysteries using their unique knowledge of fairy tales. The first is called Big Bad Wolf. The sisters search for a missing girl in a red hoodie and believe a chef named Wolf is responsible. Book Two is Mirror, Mirror where a beautiful frozen corpse is found in a mineshaft. Book Three is Stroke of Midnight where the less talented sister in an acting troupe disappears, leaving behind the glassblower who loves her.

Since these stories aren’t fantasy, there will be a lot of fairy-tale metaphors and symbolism. I can’t wait to be able to lose myself in these stories.

For more on symbolism in my stories, go to http://godusesbrokenvessels.blogspot.com

Finally, would you discuss Merely Players? The research, the idea, and the scope of the project?

I had three research challenges in Merely Players. One was the hero’s world as an actor. There wasn’t much in the way of books that helped me other than the technical jargon. I called Kim Van Meter, the film commissioner in Mariposa County, California, and interviewed her. I also talked to fellow ACFW member Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton who works for actress Jane Seymour. (Tiff will be interviewing me on her blog at www.ambermiller.com on July 9.) They both helped me with my location shoot scenes. My son, Joey, a professional stage actor, provided an insider’s view of the community theater where the heroine, Bethany, spends her off hours.

Bethany is also a dolphin trainer, and I knew NOTHING about that, other than what I’d seen as a spectator at the Gulfarium and other aquariums. I gleaned most of what I needed from the Internet. My son came through again, though. He had worked at Busch Gardens in Florida in some of their entertainment shows, and would sometimes fill in with the animal shows. Joey had once pet a dolphin and could tell me what they feel like. (Read the book if you want to know about that sense of touch!)

And the third type of research had to do with challenged kids for the therapy scenes. Again, the Internet provided a wealth of information, and I also ran these past people who had children with these disabilities. I also called the therapist at the Gulfarium for an interview. She was very sweet and asked me if I’d been following her around because my questions proved that I had done enough research to sound like I knew what I was doing.

In all my research, I copied links, and made note of books I’d read and people I’d talked to. This was important because I may have had to defend a particular scene if it didn’t ring true with the editor.

I talk more about research at www.rachelhauck.com/blog.htm

Thank you so much, Kathy! We appreciate your time and the opportunity to spotlight your work.

If you haven’t read Merely Players yet, why? LOL You can get a copy of the book here or it’s part of a collection of stories, Florida Weddings.


Kathy Kovach... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy Kovach... said...

Margie, thanks for the interview. I'm learning more about myself everytime I give one of these!

If your readers would like to see the entire blog tour, they can go to:

** "Take Your Passion and Make It Happen" - 6/11 at www.gracereign.blogspot.com

** Interview where I focus on research - 6/17 at www.rachelhauck.com/blog.htm

** "A Kiss is Just a Kiss...Or Is It?" (Symbolism) - 6/22 at http://godusesbrokenvessels.blogspot.com/2008/06/guest-author-kathy-kovach.html/

And the rest of the tour:
**7/9 - www.ambermiller.com/

**7/19 - www.pattishene.com

**7/21 - www.megandimaria.blogspot.com/

Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton said...

Wow, Kathy. Only 7 stops on your tour. With my first tour starting on July 7th and consisting of no less than 27 stops (not including the CFBA list of 87 blogs participating)! Am I cruising for punishment or what?

Great interview, tough, Kathy and Margie. And I'm flattered you mentioned my help with research for ya. I don't have much knowledge but glad I could offer what I had to help. :)

Looking forward to having you on my blog next week.