A Conversation with Carol McKibben

Carol McKibben

I’m so pleased to introduce my latest interviewee, Carol McKibben, author of Riding Through It, Luke’s Tale, and the newly released, Snow Blood. As an avid advocate for animals, and a special love for dogs, Carol’s latest books are written from the dog’s POV. Weaving tales of unconditional love, commitment, and the bonds that form our closest relationships, Carol reminds us of the valuable lessons we can all learn from the animals who share our lives. With 30+ years of experience in publishing, marketing, public relations, business management, education, and project management, Carol also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her writing. Join me in welcoming Carol McKibben!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Q: Who has been the greatest mentor in your life on a personal or business level and why?

A: It’s impossible for me to just pick one. I’ve had so many. My daddy, brother and husband Mark have all had equal parts of encouraging me to be independent, strong and true to myself. But, three others particularly stick out in my mind. The first was G. Glenn Cliff. He was the editor of the Kentucky Historical Society and one of my early bosses. He encouraged my writing talent and pushed me to go back to college and complete my education. The second was another boss, a dean at Rollins College. He encouraged me to get my Master’s Degree. The third is my publisher, Stephanie at Troll River Publications. She has encouraged and supported my writing for years. The loveliest part of that relationship is that she also happens to be my daughter. And while we’re on that topic – she’s my harshest critic. So, when she finally likes something I write, I know I’m in good shape!

Q: Dogs and humans have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for eons, which is seldom replicated between other species. What would you say dogs and people give each other, and why has this bond held true for so long?

A: The reason the bond has held true for so long is that dogs give humans unconditional love as only a dog can. No other human will love you, no matter your mood, your circumstances or the amount of attention you pay to them like dogs will. All dogs are descended from wolves. Man gave wolves food and warmth, and they evolved to be our companions and give us what we needed in return – unconditional love.

Q: You obviously have an interest in the paranormal, as evidenced in your last book, Snow Blood, about a vampire dog. Have you ever experienced anything of a paranormal nature in your own life, and if so, what was it?

A: I haven’t personally had a paranormal experience, but I have observed them in my family. Both my mother and my daughter are what I call “sensitives.” They are open to things that others can’t see. When my brother was thrown from a horse, he was unconscious for three weeks. My mother never left his side until my father forced her to go home and refresh herself. As she stretched across the bed, she felt a weight next to her and a hand touching her forehead. She looked up into her father’s blue eyes and his voice telling her that everything would be all right. Her father had passed away one month before my brother was born! At that moment, my father called to tell her that my brother was out of the coma. Years later, when my brother was in a car accident, I was sitting next to my mother who kept rubbing her leg, saying that she was in pain. When the phone rang to tell her that my brother had been in an accident and was in the hospital, she didn’t even say “hello.” The first words out of her mouth were: “I know my son has been in a horrible accident. Where is he?”

My daughter has that same uncanny ability.

Q: As a writer who has vast (30+) years of experience in publishing and editing, what advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this journey?

A: Use your passion to fuel your writing. Write about things that you love. Write every day. Hemingway believed that the only way to become a great writer was to practice, practice, practice every day. The more you write, the better you become. And understand that if you want to get published, that the writing is just a quarter of the effort you’ll need to make. Getting the book published and then marketed will be the majority of your effort.

Q: What has your writing journey taught you about yourself?

A: Most of my career, I wrote non-fiction for business purposes. After finishing my memoir, Riding Through It, I approached writing a novel for the first time with a bit of fear. I knew that I had an active imagination, but I had never written pure fiction. To my amazement, my stories just seemed to pour out of me onto the keyboard. What has amazed me after almost three novels (Snow Blood Season 2 will be out this summer) is how my main character leads the way. William Faulkner said, “It almost always starts with a character. Once he stands up and starts to move, it’s all I can do to run along behind him jotting down everything that he says and does.” And this is so true for me. So, my writing journey has taught me to trust myself.

Q: What would you say are your personal strengths and weaknesses, and why?

A: My strengths that are beneficial to being a writer: I’m organized; I’m persistent and stick to a schedule. I enjoy the time alone to write. I write every day. My weaknesses: I’m a bit selfish with my time – I need to get over that. Bad reviews still bother me, even though I try not to show it. (I’m a writer, so I’m insecure!)

Q: How have you used your strengths and weaknesses to good advantage in your writing?

A: Organization, persistence and enjoying, no loving, what I do allow me the luxury of being creative and getting a lot written. Being selfish with my time means again that I get more done as a writer. Because I am sensitive to what others say about my writing, it makes me strive harder to be better.

Q: What are your thoughts on traditional vs self-publishing in today’s writing landscape?

A: I co-authored a business book back in 1996, and it was traditionally published (by a very well-known publishing house). I didn’t feel that the publisher did much to promote the book. My writing partner and I were the ones that went out and got all the sales. Then, I self-published Riding Through It. Again, I had to market and sell it myself, but I didn’t have to give up so much of the revenue like I did with a traditional publisher. (Minus distribution, printing, etc.) For Luke’s Tale and the Snow Blood Series, I am working with a boutique publishing house that really produces for its authors – marketing plans, actual marketing, covers, editorial support, etc. And, I feel like the commission TRP takes is fair for the work they do. Let’s face it, unless you are John Irving, Stephen King,  or one of the big name authors, you won’t get that type of attention from a big publishing company. And now, there are lots of companies out there that will work with authors to self-publish. I think there’s room for both. Much of it depends upon whether you want to hold your new book in your hands in a short time span (self-publishing) or if you don’t mind going through a longer process (traditional publishing.) Then there’s the boutique publishing option, for which I’ve opted.

Q: Writing and publishing take a great deal of time, more than most people can imagine, and tenacity. How do you structure your day to fit in everything you need to accomplish?

A: I spend 50% of my day working with my clients (other authors and companies that require my writing/editing/marketing skills.)

I spend 25% of my day writing for myself, and another 25% marketing my books.

I use a DayTimer, schedule my work by degree of importance, and work through it until everything gets done. Please keep in mind that I don’t work an 8-hour day! It’s more like 12-14 hours.

Q: What would you say are the three most common mistakes new writers make when starting out?

A:

  1. Lack of Editing. The best writers re-write and re-write. New writers tend to think that editing merely means a brief read through for typos and spelling errors. That’s the very last thing to do. New writers tend to want to submit a first draft if they have an editor. Don’t do it. Put it aside for a week, then go back to it and rewrite. The first draft of a story needs to be sharpened, reworded, and it needs a professional editor when you have given it your all. I usually am up to Draft 6 or 7 before it goes to my editor.
  2. Poor Dialogue Skills. Dialogue in fiction isn’t real but it must sound real. It has to be sharp. No long confessional speeches. Engage your characters with each other. Reveal plot through dialogue and action. Use it to provide essential information and above all to show character. It’s critical to “show” and not “tell” and the proper balance of dialogue and action does that.
  3. No attention to Language. Too many writers are so busy telling a story that they don’t choose their words carefully enough. Writing should always be clear. Use intriguing language in new ways. The wind doesn’t only blow, it whips, rips, roars … really wordsmith … go over your draft for that specific purpose.

Other things newbies do are: include irrelevant detail; they rely on clichés and don’t use imagery; they don’t “set the stage” and leave out the details of the setting. They leave out taste, smell, etc. They also don’t have structure or know how to pace a story – when to give and when to withhold information, how to create tension, speed up or slow things down. This is all done by choosing the right words and the length of syllables. They sometimes shift point of view, without carefully introducing it. Finally, lack of technical knowledge (grammatical errors.) They need to learn the reasons behind the rules. Only when you know the rules can you break them! How do you learn them? By reading published fiction.

Q: What has been your most difficult lesson to learn in life so far, and why?

A: That everything changes. I tend to want to pre-plan and control my environment, my life, my situation. Change is inevitable. It always happens. Being the organizational, slightly OCD person that I am, it takes me a few minutes to warm up to changes!

Q: Rescue dogs are a lot like foster children. They often come with a whole host of emotional and physical scars. What can people who are considering taking in a rescue dog (or any animal for that matter) do to help ensure their home is the best fit for themselves and the dog?

A: I work with a great organization, LA Animal Rescue (LAAR). I suggest approaching a reputable rescue like LAAR and letting them work their magic. They take in to consideration your lifestyle, your living situation, your comfort levels and the needs of the dog. If you are a runner who wants a dog that you can take out on the trails, or a couch potato who wants a cuddle buddy, you need to be paired with the right dog. Organizations like LAAR put emotionally and physically scared dogs with fosters who will work to help them overcome their issues. They won’t pair a dog with issues to someone not willing or capable of working with them, and they never place a dangerous animal.

Q: What’s next on your plate, Carol?

A: I’m working with my editor to complete Snow Blood Season 2. I hope to have it out by this summer. (We’ve been editing since before Christmas, so you can see how important editing is to me!) After that, I plan to do the third installment in the Snow Blood Series. Then, I hope to write a novel based on quirky characters who love each other unconditionally. This is inspired by my author idol, John Irving.

Where to find Carol McKibben:

 

Website: http://www.carolmckibben.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolMckibbenAuthor
https://twitter.com/@carolmckibben

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/carolmckibben

Amazon Link to Snow Blood Season 1: http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Blood-Episodes-Carol-McKibben-ebook/dp/B00JOWG05O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-2&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Link to Luke’sTale: http://www.amazon.com/Lukes-Tale-Story-Unconditional-Love-ebook/dp/B00ASZNBW6/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-4&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Link to Riding Through It: Paperback version: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Through-Memoir-Carol-McKibben/dp/1598009419/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-13&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Kindle Link: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Through-Memoir-Carol-McKibben-ebook/dp/B00E2C0OR6/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-5&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4046806.Carol_McKibben

 

 

 

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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

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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!