Kate Dolan began her writing career as a legal editor and then newspaper columnist before she decided she was finally ready to tackle fiction. As the author of more than a dozen novels and novellas, she writes historical fiction and romance under her own name and contemporary mysteries and children's books under the name K.D. Hays. When not writing, she enjoys volunteering as a living history interpreter and riding roller coasters with her daughter.
Her latest book is the cozy mystery, Roped In.
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Can you tell us what your book, Roped In, is about?
In terms of genre, Roped In is an inspirational cozy mystery, but like most books, the story goes way beyond that. It's about a divorced woman trying to forge a new identity for herself, to develop a career, to survive dating again and figure out how to deal with kids on the brink of teenager-hood. Roped In is told through the eyes of Karen Maxwell, who is just starting to take on investigative work at her brother's private investigation firm. She was fired from her first two cases, so she's willing to
Why did you write your book?
Roped In is the third book in the Karen Maxwell series, which I started nearly ten years ago for Barbour Publishing. The publisher cancelled the mystery line before I had written much of this one. The story takes Karen into the world of competitive jump rope, which I had just discovered at the time I wrote the book proposal. As the years went by, my daughter grew so involved in the sport of jump rope that we actually started living some of the life that takes place in the story. So I decided I really needed to go back and finish the book. I even worked on some of the first draft while we were at a the USA National Jump Rope Championship in California one year.
Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
As I mentioned, Karen Maxwell is divorced and still trying to rebuild a life for herself. Her 12-year-old daughter Alicia is a drama queen — she studies acting and loves to perform and is anxious to play a part in Karen's undercover investiations (whether Karen wants her to or not). Her son Evan is almost 10-years-old and like most younger siblings, strives to show that he can be as independent as his older sister. Karen recently started dating Brian, one of the suspects from the first book, George Washington Stepped Here. He's very involved in his church, so Karen tries to get involved as well so that they can share that aspect of lifetogether. But it doesn't work out the way she'd planned.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
My characters all have personality traits from people I know (starting with myself) but I never base an entire character on a real person unless I'm writing historical fiction and the real person is actually inthe story. In the case of this series, one of Karen's defining traits came from a friend of mine who lamented that she had become so busy with her children's lives that she had lost most of her own. To a certain extent, that happens to all parents, but it can be a real danger. I imagined that for Karen, when her husband left and her world fell apart, she really clung to her kids. She lost faith in her ability to relate to men romantically or to friends, since her best friend had been having an affair with her husband. But she knew she was a good parent and that went from being the most important thing in her life to being almost the only thing in her life. Now with her kids growing older, she's even losing faith in her ability to make the right decisions as a parent. It sounds pretty negative and it can be. But like other women who've lived through this type of emotional trauma,Karen approaches life with humor and determination—and large quantities of caffeine—to keep depression at bay.
Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?
For the Karen Maxwell mysteries, I had a strict word limit and within that limit had to include a small-town mystery, romantic elements and a Christian message. So to fit all that in, and to create a marginally plausible mystery, I had to outline every scene pretty early on in the writing process. But before I wrote these books, I was much more of a "seat-of-pants" writer who proferred to let my characters run away with the story. It can be very exciting to write that way - like watching a movie unfold in your head. It can also be pretty scary when you have no idea where you're headed or if you'll ever get there! I think probably using a process somewhere in between works best for me. But this is my tenth full-length novel and I still don't have a set pattern with approach to plot. I now realize that my work is character-driven rather than plot-driven, which makes sense because that's what I prefer to read. If you give me a character I like, I'll follow her into a crazy situation, or even no situation at all (like Seinfeld). But even a story with brilliant plot twists will lose me if I don't want to follow at least one character through that maze.
Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
I hope so. The town itself is not particularly important. But cozy mysteries are often known for their "small town" quirky characters. Though I use the real town of Ellicott City for my story, I want to create the sense that this could be almost any town, and that everyone is a quirky character once you get to know them. If you look for the unique qualities in every person around you, life becomes a lot more interesting.
Is it hard to promote a cozy mystery and where do you start?
I don't think it should be because it's a very popular genre with eager, loyal readers. But I am wretchedly unsuccessful at promoting my own work. It feels like bragging to attach any positive adjective to my stories, so I just don't. It also feels like bragging to announce that I have a new book coming out, so I don't do that much either. I'm sort of a publisher's nightmare when it comes to promotion. And unfortunately that's what publishers want these days - they don't want good books, they want authors who promote their books well.I do post information about my books and upcoming appearances on Facebook, Twitter and my website, and I try to write a blog with information that is interesting for its own sake, not because it might have any connection with my books. And I enjoy participating in interviews and writing guest blog posts, but I don't enjoy the notion that I need to badger people to read and comment on them. Am I lazy? Shy? Insecure? Probably all of the above!
What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
Ride roller coasters with my daughter!
What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life?
For me, it was finishing the first draft of a full novel. It took me so many years to get to the point where I could write more than a chapter or two without getting thoroughly annoyed with my characters. That was a real landmark for me—I knew then that I could actually finish a book. Of course, that doesn't mean I was good at it, but just knowing I could get that far was a huge moment for me. And that's something that anyone can experience. We may not all write best sellers, but every writer has the opportunity to experience that thrill of finishing the first book.
What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?
Make an effort to get honest feedback on your work. It's helpful to have a family member or friend read it and tell you what they liked, because most of us tend to doubt our ability and we need encouragement. But we also desperately need criticism. We know what we mean to convey in our stories, but often the words we put on the page fail to pull everything out of our heads. Having someone else read those words shows us where we left gaps. And it also shows us where our stories don't make sense. Or maybe where we included unnecessary information. I've been working with a group of critique partners for many years and I know I can trust them to be honest and tell me when they don't like something. And they can help me figure out how to make it work. But it's really scary to share something you've written and open it up to criticism because it's a part of yourself. Force yourself to do it anyway. For Roped In, I even hired the same content editor who edited the first two books in the series (back when the publisher was paying for the editing). It was tough to pay someone to tell me where I'd failed! But I'm so glad that I did—her feedback improved the story tremendously.
Thanks so much for sharing your time with me today!