A Conversation with Patricia Fry

Patricia Fry

Of Ms. Fry’s varied achievements (40 books to her credit, published by traditional and small presses, in the business for 40 years and the Executive Director of SPAWN [Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network] www.spawn.org), she is entering new territory as a fiction writer with her “Klepto Cat mystery series”.

For me, Ms. Fry’s greatest achievements lie in the things she won’t see, and the things that can’t be counted; the power of self-confidence gained from minor successes, and from knowledge; the warmth of someone reaching out and honestly wanting someone else to succeed; and the natural Pay-it-Forward sequence that occurs when someone finds their wings and wants to help others fly.  She is open to receiving email: PLFry620@yahoo.com.

Interview by Joanna Celeste


Q: With your latest story, Catnapped, a Klepto Cat Mystery, you are entering new fictional territory. How is your writing process for fiction different than nonfiction?

A: As you said, I’m a beginner when it comes to fiction and I’m still finding my way in this genre. As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that my process and approach isn’t a whole lot different between writing fiction and nonfiction. Both must be written with the audience in mind, both require a sense of organization (of material—of plot/story), both require a beginning, middle and end. The author must be consistent when writing both fiction and nonfiction. And both require attention to detail—grammatical, punctuation and factual. I guess where my process differs is in the building of the story for fiction, as opposed to the gathering and compiling of facts for my nonfiction articles and books. With both fiction and nonfiction, I find that I can start with a basic premise (story or theme) and I can sit down and let it develop as I write. Only occasionally do I need to refer to a storyboard or an outline. I do keep a character log, however, so I don’t forget what color hair someone has or if they’re rotund or stick thin, for example.

Q: Smart tip! How did the idea for the Klepto Cat series come to you?

A: I’ve wanted to try writing fiction for a long time. I enjoy reading cozy mysteries and especially those with a cat in them. I’ve lived with cats for years. I currently have a sweet cat who carries things around in her mouth—her toys, teddy bears from my collection and so forth. My mother has a large grey-and-white cat with a huge personality. So when my daughter told me about seeing some guy walk up on her porch and take off with her cat, I decided that cats being catnapped would make a good plot for my first novel and I expanded on our kitty’s habits and my mother’s cat’s confidence and demeanor and created Rags, a kleptomaniac cat. I figured it would be a fun exercise coming up with ways that a cat with this habit could help to solve the various crimes in the series. In the second book—Cat-Eye Witness—coming in October 2013, Rags actually participates in a police line-up, of sorts.

None of the cats, dogs or horses in my stories talk. They’re as ordinary as most animals, some with more interesting quirks than others. The people in the stories are the focus, with the animals charmingly making appearances and, of course, revealing important clues.

Q: I like how you give the cat such a sense of character within the normal traits of kitties. How do you have a second novel ready for publication in October, when Catnapped has just come out?

A: I wrote three starting in June of 2012 all one right after another. I am doing my final self-edit for book two now and will turn it over to my proofreader next week. Also I have engaged a few test readers. Then I’ll start the final work on book 3. I have book 4 sketched out and am eager to start actively working on it. Of course, my progress with writing new books will slow down now that I have books to promote.

Q: In a previous how-to, Talk Up Your Book (http://www.spawn.org/blog/?p=2326), you give many options for promoting one’s work, even if someone is shy (who would likely imagine they could never become self-promoters). What do you find is the greatest misconception of marketing?

A: Probably that someone else is going to do it for you. The truth is that no matter which publishing option you choose (landing a traditional royalty publisher, paying a “self-publishing” company or establishing your own publishing company), the author is required to promote his or her own book.

Q: Good point. When and why did you join SPAWN?

A: Mary Embree started SPAWN in 1996, before the Internet was so active. She had in mind bringing authors, artists, illustrators, cover designers, printers, publishers, agents, editors, etc. together to meet face-to-face for the purpose of networking and possible collaboration. I joined Mary early on in her vision as President for many years and I am now the Executive Director of SPAWN. We are online only now. Our mode of networking is via an online discussion group and we still keep our finger on the pulse of the publishing industry and continue to provide information and resources through the website and two e-newsletters.

Q: Over the last two decades you have helped authors, artists and publishers find their way, through your engagement and care (as an editor, Executive Director of SPAWN, with your books, etc.) When did you know this was your life’s passion?

A: My passion is and has always been writing. I began writing articles for magazines early on as a way to justify spending time writing. If I’m being paid for my writing, then I can justify continuing to write. And for decades, all I was interested in was writing. Over the years, I had people asking me to help them with their writing projects. I declined—I was completely absorbed in my own work. Finally, I decided to teach a workshop for local writers. It was such a success and I felt such satisfaction for having helped other writers, that I wrote my first book for freelance writers. It was about then that I began accepting manuscripts for critique and editing. Along with this, I began speaking to authors and writing articles and books for authors. I discovered that I loved this work—again, it felt wonderful to be able to help authors to succeed in the highly competitive field of publishing. So yes, I still have that passion for writing, and I am passionate about helping other authors. Now, I am also passionate about developing stories from my own head and heart as I attempt to move into the realm of fiction-writing.

Q: Awesome! Is there a particular thing you find coming up as a challenge among the people you guide and mentor through your various works?

A: Many new authors today are writing for themselves. There has always been this faction—I mean before technology and the various service companies that have cropped up within the publishing industry, people wrote for themselves. Now, everyone wants to publish and not every book is suitable. Authors need to think about their audience before ever launching a book. They must keep that audience in mind through the entire process of writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. They need to understand the publishing industry and how to navigate it. Most new authors do not understand that, while writing is a craft, publishing is a business—an extremely competitive business.

Q: In all your years as a self-published author, is there a moment you could pinpoint where you felt like “a real writer”?

A: This is an interesting question—I do recall hesitating to consider myself a writer back in 1973, even after I was writing regularly for a few magazines and I was a columnist for a newspaper. I guess it was when my first book came out in 1978 that I felt comfortable introducing myself as a writer. Today, it seems that people apply the term author or writer to themselves as soon as they finish typing out their first draft of their first manuscript. Really, does it matter?

Q: It’s something that I’ve run into as well; I feel I always have to qualify myself with “I’ve been published a lot but my only paying gig was as a Teen Reporter” or “But I’m not like published with my own book yet”, so I wanted to see your thoughts on it. I wonder if all writers run into the need to qualify what kind of writer they are. Like how you would define “a real writer” by today’s standards, when it is so easy to get published and the lines between traditional and self-publishing are becoming blurred so that both carry their own weight?

A: I must say that sometimes when I introduce myself as a writer, I find myself qualifying this statement by saying, “I’ve been writing for publication for four decades,” or “I have 40 books to my credit.” I do this in order to separate myself from those who claim they’re writers just because they have an idea for a book and are spending a few hours each week working on it. Again, it doesn’t really matter how we represent ourselves to others, does it? The proof in the pudding is what we produce, right?

Q: Yes, definitely. Though to me, it wasn’t the way I represented myself to others, it was how I saw myself. You’ve seen a lot of changes in the publishing industry; from your experience, what has been the most important?

A: One of the most important changes is probably the one that has made it so easy for people to become authors. And this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Successful authorship is not easy. And it does not have to cost a lot of money, either. Another important change is the way we’re reading books—via Kindle, Nook and other e-readers. And the way books are being sold. Some authors, who have not studied books such as my Publish Your Book, still hope to sell beaucoup books through major bookstores. And this is just not happening for anyone I know. People are selling books online and through personal appearances. Some books sell well at specialty stores related to the theme or topic of the fiction or nonfiction book. It’s through the author’s efforts that books sell. For a greater understanding of book marketing, read my book, Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Technique for the Enterprising Author.

Q: I’ll check that out. What, if anything, do you feel the industry has lost in its myriad evolutions?

A: Integrity (too many “self-publishing” companies making outrageous offers and promises) and quality books (too many companies and authors in a huge hurry to get their books out and not taking time to work with a good editor). There’s also the issue of individuals having come out of the woodwork to jump on the lucrative publishing services bandwagon in hopes of getting a slice of the pie. It’s almost impossible for authors to weed through all of their options and make the right choices on behalf of their books.

Q: Where do you see the industry going from here?

A: I believe that things will level out at some point—left standing will be savvy authors and credible companies.

Q: It will be interesting to watch that unfold. Which of your books would you recommend to anyone starting out?

A: Publish Your Book, Proven Strategies and Resources for the Enterprising Author. Available at Amazon.com in print, Kindle and audio—also at most other online and downtown bookstores.

Q: Thank you. How do you manage your time and resources so you don’t burn out, and yet are so productive and successful?

A: I’m afraid I’m a bit of a workaholic. I put in 8 to 12 hours per day at least 6 days a week. And yes, I do suffer burnout sometimes. But I find that a brief respite in the yard or at the beach helps. I walk every day and I enjoy getting out and doing a little photography. I find that I sometimes need a creative outlet from my main creative outlet—writing. Go figure.

 Q: I know what you mean; for me, it’s baking or cooking. As a last note, you say that an author is their own brand. How would you define yours?

A: I’m an author and an editor dedicated to teaching and guiding other authors through the treacherous publishing waters. I’m reliable, professional and I have a passion in my heart for writing and the written word.



Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time

Driving with Cats Cover_Driving with Cats

“I believe cats to be spirits come to earth,” wrote Jules Verne. “A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.” In her recently released memoir, Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, author Catherine Holm offers a lovely and poignant collection of stories and lessons about journeying through life with feline companions. As any lover of cats might be inclined to agree, nine lives will never be quite enough to fully get acquainted.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: For a sneak peek teaser, what is Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time all about?

A: Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time is a memoir of life, love, and the human/animal-companion bond. There are three things going on in this book. The overall book is framed by the story of my 21-year-old cat Jamie’s amazing last two months of life. Other chapters tell the story of milestones in my own life and the lives of the unique cats who have joined me on the journey. Also, interspersed through the book are short essays, both thoughtful, humorous, and informational. (Several of these essays were expanded and adapted at catster.com, where I blog.)

Driving with Cats is about the amazing things our companion animals teach us and bring to our lives. It is also a story about learning to move through the letting go process, and appreciating the gifts that this transition brings.

Q: What was your inspiration to write this book?

A: I wanted to write a memoir, but obviously, just focusing on “my life” seemed a bit huge, and not real compelling. I love cats and feel strongly about the human/animal-companion bond. When it occurred to me that I could write a memoir slanted through the bond I share with my cats, I got excited.

Q: Did you start with a formal outline or did you make things up as you went along? Why did your chosen process work well for you?

A: I tend not to outline. I wrote as I went, having no idea how it would turn out. Strangely, that seems to work best for me.

Q: As a long-time dog lover, I’m curious: what is your personal connection to cats?

A: I think this is a result, for me, of spending lots of time around cats. I love dogs too, but feel I understand cats better. I spend a lot of time observing my cats. We’ve always had more cats than dogs in my adult life, due to space and the layout of our household.

I did start out as a dog lover when I was a child. I knew all the breeds, devoured dog fiction, and visited every dog I could on the way home from school. I still love dogs, and there are a few references to and mention of dogs in Driving with Cats.

Q: Besides the obvious physical differences, what do you think differentiates cats from other animals insofar as being companions to humans?

A: That’s a good question. I’m not sure I have an answer, or if there is an answer. I’ll just say that I think cats’ personalities are uncovered differently than dogs’. A cat may reveal herself more slowly, and more subtly, than a dog. It’s just the difference between the two animals. I don’t know enough about all other animals to compare them to cats.

Q: What’s so special and significant about the death/dying/grieving process that you go through with your pets?

A: For me, death has often been a tender and profound process. (This goes for the people in my life that have passed on, as well.) I think that if there’s time to say goodbye (such as in a hospice situation, or an instance where you know an animal will be terminal, but you’re providing palliative care and trying to make them as comfortable as possible), that some really deep and tender bonds can grow and become stronger. The goodbye experience, in these cases, has been as wonderful as it has been sad. The animals, it seems, have really gone above and beyond to say goodbye in the best way possible.

Q: What can companion animals teach us about how to become better human beings?

A: I think any of us who share a household with a companion animal will have an answer for this! To me, they teach us how to be better people. They teach us to love unconditionally, and to receive unconditional love. They teach us to live in the moment, because their lives are usually shorter than ours. They teach us responsibility. Learning that I could love completely and unconditionally was a big realization for me.

Q: What do you believe is the strongest takeaway value from Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time?

A: We only have the present (not the past, not the future), so get good at truly appreciating the present moment. This applies to loving your companion animal, or loving anyone. Also, there’s opportunity for love, and loving behavior, everywhere.

Q: A former friend of mine once had no less than 22 cats in her household, many of whom were living long past their expiration dates. No matter their age or state of decline, she felt it would be too hard on her to ever have them put to sleep. Given that we are the stewards to domesticated animals, what is your response to a situation like this?

A: I try not to judge without knowing all the variables. Of course, there are many cases where animals may live too long because the person can’t let go. There are also many cases where an animal may be put down too soon — for many reasons. I know of a woman who has (I think) 19 cats, but she has the resources to care for them well. I don’t. I’m stretched at five or six at most.

Putting an animal to sleep can be a very difficult decision. On the other hand, it may be the better solution than a painful death. On the other hand, I have had animals die peacefully, on their own, at home. Every situation is going to be a little different. When I’ve had to take an animal in to be put down, the anticipation and dread has been worse than the actual experience. The actual experience, in my case, has been positive and peaceful.

Q: Describe your work space…and are cats involved?

A: Sometimes I work in the house, but I usually end up distracted by the cats, who love to lay over whatever I’m doing. I do have a separate small office building next to our house, that we put up ourselves. It provides distraction-free space. Sometimes I will bring a cat out, but haven’t done this for a while. Jamie (the 21-year-old who frames the story in Driving with Cats) absolutely loved being taken to the office and spending time with me there. It was one of his favorite pleasures.

Q: How do you shape your life to facilitate writing?

A: What works best for me is to write first thing in the morning. My mind seems more amenable to creative writing at this time. I try to not let other life factors press in until I do the writing (such as promotion, social media promotion, and the freelancing I do from home). I try to make my life as flexible as possible so that the writing gets done.

Q: Tell us about the decision process that went into finding a publisher.

A: It was really pretty simple and fairly fast. I approached my first publisher, but they were not interested in a cat-themed memoir. Then, I sent it to a bunch of agents, got rejections, and some encouragement. I sent it to a midsized press, who also rejected it with some encouragement. I sent it to a regional small press, who asked me to contribute funds to publish it (I didn’t want to go that route). Then, I sent it to North Star Press, another regional small press. They got back to me very quickly, saying that they wanted to publish Driving with Cats.

Q: What did you learn about publishing that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: This is my second book. I tend to really throw myself into things. My first book taught me what hard work promotion is. It is continuous. My second book, hopefully, is helping me refine the process more and make better decisions about which opportunities to go after, and which to not pursue. I’m learning that a published writer must work hard at promotion, but also not let the promotion consume the creation of new writing. It’s a tricky balance.

Q: You also write cat fantasy fiction under the name of Ann Catanzaro. What prompted you to go with a pseudonym and how did you go about choosing this particular one?

A: The cat fantasy fiction is self published and I wanted to distinguish between these self-published chapbooks and my traditionally published work. Both names are family names and names I like — of course, I also like the “Cat” in Catanzaro!

Q: What’s your best advice to someone who comes to you and says, “I want to become an author”?

A: Develop a sustained practice of writing and reading. Think long term. Getting better as a writer takes time. Be prepared for the difference between “writer” and “author,” though it may not really be possible to understand this until you step into the author role. (I blog about this here.) Read Stephen King’s On Writing — I found it really inspired and resonated with me.

Q: What would fans be most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m not sure…I have done a lot of different things. I taught voice and piano, I teach yoga now. I love to travel, I love wilderness camping. I’m generally pretty calm, or I try to be. I’m pretty passionate, but that’s probably not a surprise. I think what may surprise people most about me is an inner strength that is not immediately apparent. I’m pretty quiet unless I need not to be.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m in the middle of a novel about a mother/daughter relationship. I have also outlined and am ready to write another cat-themed memoir.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website is http://www.catherineholm.com and it also links to my facebook page and my LinkedIn page. I blog occasionally on my website (mostly announcements and that type of thing). I blog quite a bit at http://www.catster.com— one of my freelance jobs. Read any of my writing — I’m really pretty transparent!