Sunday, November 19, 2006

Unveiling Cathy Elliott

Do you like a good mystery? So does Cathy Elliott. That's why she writes them. Follow me as we go inside her world.

Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.

It seems as though there is something of me in every character. I can’t seem to stay out of their lives! But overall, the characters are compilations of traits that work for their role in the story. They are not based on anyone in particular, not even me.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?

There are quirky characters in my cozy mystery, so you can imagine I have a few quirky experiences of my own. Once, I left a friend/colleague on hold while I answered another telephone call. (This was before call waiting, etc.) After finishing with the caller, I punched a flashing light and picked up what I thought was my friend’s waiting phone line. I answered using a crazy Swedish accent, “Yah, sure, and kin I help yer?

The voice that answered wasn’t my colleague, but a stranger calling my workplace. I panicked. How could I explain I was just joking at work? So I stayed in character, still speaking with my faux Swedish accent, and completed the call. Somehow, I got away with it, then fell apart laughing at myself.

Still, I should offer my apologies to the Swedes.

As a person from Swedish extraction, I also think it is hilarious. So you're forgiven. When did you first discover that you were a writer?

When my friend and writing mentor, Mary Vaughn Armstrong, told me I had the heart of a writer, I dared to believe her. It was many years before I had my first published piece in my hands, but Mary’s words carried me until then.

I'm glad you listened to her as I'm sure your other readers are, too. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.

I love the classics and most types of mysteries, though they can’t be too graphic or gory for my Care-Bears heart. Some literary fiction, historical romance, and classic children’s books like The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. I also love to read non-fiction encompassing a variety of subject matter. Lately…pioneer diaries. I enjoy many genres, as long as the writing is good.

We must be sisters under the skin. I love pioneer diaries, too. I get some information for my historicals from them. What other books have you written, whether published or not?

I’ve written thirteen children’s books for an educational company; ten titles have been published to date. Most of these books were scientific in nature and I had to do a lot of research so the facts would be correct and the experiments would work. Two of the books were fiction, using a word list. All were challenging to write.

I understand that. I wrote videoscripts for the School of Tomorrow. The scientific experiment ones were tough. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?

I struggle to slow down, so much to do. But what works for me is to take it day-by-day, chip a little away at my word count, or my unanswered email, or the plethora of projects bearing my name. I have to come back to what really matters – my relationship with Christ and with others. When I focus on this, things come back into perspective.

How do you choose your characters’ names?

I love this part! Often, the characters will just come to me already named. I knew Thea James was Thea James when she introduced herself inside my head. I like names to mean something as well, so Thea is short for Dorothea, one of the main characters in George Eliot’s classic work, Middlemarch. There are reasons why Thea has her name, but that’s a wee mystery.

I try to think of several things at once. If I have a common first name, I might choose an uncommon last name. Instead of Bill Miller, I’ll choose Bill Kapolski. Or Winston Miller. For the most part, the names should start with different letters. If I have a Jenny, I don’t want a Janet and a Jason, too. I try and mix it up: some names that sound like the backwoods of hill country, some that sound like the lord and lady of the manor, a nickname or two, and I’ll sprinkle in some that just make me laugh.

Twice, I’ve had to rename characters. Once, the original name looked too much like the heroine’s name on the page, though it sounded different said aloud. But still, that sort of thing confuses me as a reader. The other time, the character never came alive in my head. When I renamed her, she got real spunky!

What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

I’m not sure how to answer this. Writing my book comes to mind, of course. But I had a lot of support. Raising a wonderful daughter? Hmm, I had so much help. In truth, I think it would be that way with any accomplishment I wanted to name. God has always provided that which is needed to achieve anything good.

If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?

Maybe a Labrador retriever. I love the idea of being useful, like a guide dog or company for someone who is lonely. Labs are beautiful, smart, loyal, and relational. That makes my heart smile.

My favorite dog from childhood was a golden Lab. What is your favorite food?

God forgive me, I’m an ice-cream gal. In my defense, I come from a long line of ice-creamaholics. I didn’t have a chance.

What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?

If I’ve had a roadblock, it was the onset of a care-giving season for my parents. I was afraid that I would have to give up my writing for a time, and would have done so. My folks needed me. But it wasn’t required after all. Instead, God has used my writing to give me joy and to bring healing in a difficult time.

What would you like to tell us about the featured book?

I’d love to tell you a bit about my first book, a cozy mystery titled, A Vase of Mistaken Identity. It was published in April of 2006 by Kregel Publications, who have been a delight. Here is a brief overview:

Antique dealer, Thea James, acquires a vintage vase with an old list of familiar names tucked inside. At first, she is just curious. But after the first woman on the list has a freak accident and the second goes missing, Thea gets nervous. Then she gets involved, because her name is next!!!

When I first started to write Vase, many people, including some editors, asked, “What is a cozy mystery?” It was a new term for a number of folks. I offered a definition that I especially liked: “Cats and quilts and not a lot of blood.” The murder happens off stage. Since this was my first cozy, I added a quilting theme and my protagonist, Thea, is actually making a quilt for her cat as she lives out the adventure. As a little bonus, the quilt pattern is in the back of the book, so the reader may make Thea’s “Kitty in the Cabin” quilt, as well. Enjoy.

Thanks, Lena, for providing this opportunity to meet your readers in the blogging community. It has been great fun to answer your insightful questions. If anyone else has a question, please feel free to contact me at: - have a great day!

Thank you, Cathy. I know the readers enjoyed getting you a little better. However, I think it's time to come out from behind the book and let us see all of you.

Remember, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of A Vase of Mistaken Identity.


Carol Collett said...

Very fun interview. Thanks Cathy for sharing some of yourself. Your book sounds fun.

Laura said...

I tried to rename a character once, because my crit. partners hated my heroes name. But he stopped talking to me when I did, so I changed it back. Fascinating interview. Thanks, Cathy and Lena! I would love to read the book (and will post a review, if you pick me!)

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Great questions, Lena. Intriguing answers, Cathy. You've piqued my curiosity already for Vase. Loved your idea of printing the quilt pattern on the back of the book. Great "hook"--er, needle!

Donn said...

Interesting interview about an interesting book, Lena. The mystery sounds fascinating, the kind of thing my wife and I have been looking for. More (creative) power to you, Cathy!

Jennifer Y. said...

Another great interview! This sounds like a really good book!

Cara Putman said...

I loved hearing how you name your characters. If I can get the right name, it helps so much when I'm writing. Sounds like a fun read!

Sheryl said...

Wonderful interview Cathy and Lena!

Vase is on my TBR list already. I'm afraid I wasn't able to read it when it was an ACFW bookclub selection. I would love to be entered in the contest to win a copy :-)

Lara Spiker said...

Thank you Lena for bringing this interview with Cathy to life. It sounds like you two had fun with it. The phone call incident sounds like something I would do, but probably with an Irish accent (sorry to all the innocent Irish that would be hurt by my poor immitation. ;))

Heidi Kortman said...

Mixing types of names is a good thing. One group of critiquers couldn't stand my hero's name, but the name and it's spelling are how he introduced himself to me. I like them. I took a critiquer's comment, and made it the basis of a running "joke" in my hero's life, instead of changing his name.

Ruth Dell said...

Hi Cathy and Lena
Many thanks for an interesting interview.

Now I'm intrigued- I'd love to know what the mystery behind Thea's name is!

God bless
Ruth Dell

Cathyspen said...

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and commenting on my interview with Lena. She asked such great questions!

It's exciting to "hear" your interest in Vase. I had such fun plotting, planning, and writing it...may each reader find it a delightful afternoon adventure!:-)

Bless you all! And thank you SO much.

Cathy (Elliott)

Anonymous said...

This sounds really interesting. I especially like that she has the quilt pattern in the back of the book. That draws you in a bit more and helps the characters become more real.

A. Noël said...

I love the idea of a cozy mystery! I've never heard that term before - but it perfectly describes the kind of mystery I read most.

aBookworm said...

Cozy mysteries make the best reading for the holidays, a delicious combination of the fun and the macabre! I look forward to adding Cathy's books to my growing TBB list. Thanks and Happy Holidays to you all.

Molly Noble Bull said...

As an author myself, I know charming, and Cathy sounds as charming as her mystery novel. Even the title is cute. I would love to read about the vase--I mean case. And I hope she reads one of my historical novels.

Michelle said...

Im so glad i visted this blog,I love mysterys!And I so look forward to checking this book out!Thanks for sharing

Cathyspen said...

More thanks from the heart for your kind interest. Love it!

Also, just to give a bit more info, regarding the quilt in the back of the book, my talented cousin, Linda Gholson, made the prototype quilt for me out of 1940's reproduction fabric to give it that nostalgic feel. She hand quilted it and it is darling!

I always take it with me to book signings. Folks enjoy seeing/touching the finished product, and it seems to give one an inner hint on a gift for a quilter, or a mystery lover, or an antiquer, too. I also own the vase that is in the mystery. Visual aids help. Or maybe they just help me!

And Molly, I do love a good historical. I'm in, lady.

Blessings to all! Cathy

Lindsey Freitas said...

This one is going on my wishlist (unless of course I win a copy)! :-) Thanks for a great interview and God bless!