Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author and poet Kathleen O’Dwyer. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Kathleen. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Kathleen: As is the case with most writers, I have been writing all my life but for the most part the writing was related to my corporate work. In 2010 I abandoned the corporate cubicle for life on a ranch in southern Arizona. My days consisted of working on the ranch and catering to the guests. My evenings were devoted to capturing my adventures and thoughts on paper.
Morgen: You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Kathleen: It’s all about perspective. The ordinary is really quite extraordinary if you regard it in a different light. As I go about my day I often come upon something I’ve seen before but on that particular day I through a new filter colored by thoughts, emotions and experiences. For instance, the other day I encountered a rather large Sonoran Desert Toad in my garden. He was quite attentive to my work and I realized that my curiousity about him was exceeded by his curiousity about me! And the writing began!
Morgen: How funny. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Kathleen: Since publication of my first book I married for the second time and changed my name. I still write under my previous name of Kathleen O’Dwyer for consistency. My first book is entitled Breathing Blue. I’m a blogger for the past three years at www.breathofblue.com and have had several short stories published in a local magazine.
Morgen: You’re also self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Kathleen: In a word, impatience, I am 59 years old and figured I was running out of time! The difficulty of getting a foot in the door with an established publisher prompted me to go with a self-publishing house.
Morgen: Oh dear. 59 doesn’t sound old at all to me. I’ve interviewed authors who are in their 80s and 90s. Mary Wesley (of The Camomile Lawn and others) was 74 before she had her first book published so plenty of time. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Kathleen: My book is available as an eBook on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble online. I do read eBooks but still enjoy cozying up with a book.
Morgen: Most people do. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Kathleen: I had complete control over title, cover, back page, everything. To me that was incredibly important. Writing is an intensely personal act. The writer is ripping herself open and exposing her underbelly to the world. I had the title in my head before I wrote the book. I took the cover photo myself.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kathleen: Currently I have several things going. I continue to blog and I am gathering pieces for my second book. An idea for a fictional novel is also kicking around in my head and I have been playing with that too. In addition to writing I lead writing groups, something I have been doing for the past three years. Those weekly writing groups have since expanded into writing workshops. Most recently I led a half-day workshop at a local state park and will be following that one up with a second. I also have two other half-day workshops scheduled for the autumn.
Morgen: A very busy life. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Kathleen: Life gets in the way sometimes so I may not always write every day but I do make a point to sit and write at least five days per week. I have never suffered from writer’s block but at times I lose my motivation a bit. That is where the writing group kicks in. When you lead a writing group it challenges you and makes your own writing better.
Morgen: I belong to three groups and knowing they’re expecting something from me is motivation indeed (although I did cheat on Thursday and take my Story a Day May 2011 stories and read a couple of those. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kathleen: The more I write the more I like what I write yet I still edit. Typically when I finish a piece I read it out loud. That works well in catching grammatical mistakes and is helpful in determining if something truly flows.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Kathleen: From time to time I do some research. For instance when I wrote the short story about the Toad I researched the species on the internet the better to understand its habits.
Morgen: Isn’t the internet wonderful. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Kathleen: Oh my yes! In fact that reminds me to look for them and throw them in the firepit!
Morgen: No! Old pieces show us how far we’ve come. I’d never throw anything out (including rejections). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Kathleen: A friend of mine recommended me to a New York literary agent. He has been sitting on my book for awhile now promising to get back to me. He sent me a link to a site to do the book as an eBook. Great advice except my book is already an eBook. I believe agents are so swamped they cannot see the light of day. And in today’s digital marketplace, they are a bit obsolete. It’s a DIY world.
Morgen: It’s certainly becoming that way. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kathleen: Marketing myself is something new for me and it has taken me awhile to get my feet wet. I handle my own marketing. Someone told me “do everything you can”. It sounds like good advice yet I have to do what is comfortable for me. The writing workshops, which always include a book signing and advance promotion, have been great as are book signings. Even with the digital marketplace, there is still something to be said for face-to-face. With that said I am going on the road with other authors in the summer of 2013 for a book tour.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Kathleen: That moment when you finish a piece, read it back to yourself and you immediately know it is good is the best feeling in the world. Conversely when you read something and you know it’s a bomb…. What I tell my groups is that no one can consistently write jewels every single time.
Morgen: So true. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kathleen: Write. Join a writing group. Read your pieces out loud to others. This gives you confidence. Send pieces out into the world. Blog, submit articles. The more you do, the more you will do.
Morgen: It’s funny what a difference reading out loud makes. We should all do that as we’re editing. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kathleen: For the raindrop, joy is entering the river. Rumi
Morgen: Do you write fiction? If so, are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Kathleen: I have written some fiction but have not endeavoured to publish any of it. But I feel drawn to it strongly for when I write fiction I find it very freeing. The chance to play with the setting, the characters, and the plot line is extremely enticing. When I write fiction it always surprises me how easily it comes.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Kathleen: Miss Kitty, my cat, was quite the character in my first book Breathing Blue. Oftentimes when I go to lead a workshop there are participants who have purchased and read my book in advance. They always ask about Miss Kitty.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kathleen: Run, run, run! That is my favourite approach.
Morgen: Me too. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Kathleen: I am most comfortable with first person or third person. Haven’t tried second person but now I feel the gauntlet is thrown!
Morgen: Oh yes, please do. 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Kathleen: From time to time I write poetry. I like the challenge of conveying an idea or emotion in as few words as possible. A few of my poems have been published. I have been leading writing groups for the past three years and have expanded into leading half-day writing workshops. My husband is extremely active in our community and I often find myself assisting him with writing projects.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Kathleen: I am a Reiki Master and provide Reiki treatments to folks upon request. Reiki, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a form of energy healing.
Morgen: I’ve heard of it but haven’t practiced it. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Kathleen: Yours! As for books, it is my opinion that the best book on writing is Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Ensouling Language. He encourages looking at things from two perspectives, yours and the person or object you are interacting with, and then merging the perspectives in a way that dramatically conveys emotion.
Morgen: Oh, thank you very much. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Kathleen: I am still getting my feet wet in the arena of social media. At first I was a non-believer, but the more I get into it, the more I recognize its value. My 34-year-old daughter has been instrumental in leading me through the maze.
Morgen: A maze it certainly can be. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kathleen: Once someone finds out I am a published author, they immediately begin telling me about the book they are writing or the book they want to write. I encourage them to write and also tell them that is the easy part. Writing is a joy but I’d wager marketing is a foreign skill for most of us. You have to love it, you have to do it, and you have to understand it might be awhile before you recoup your investment.
Morgen: I do, I do when time allows, ah yes, still working on that one. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Kathleen: My blog is www.breathofblue.com. It is also linked to my Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Kathleen: Simply thank you! I feel very fortunate to have stumbled upon your site.
Morgen: :*) You’re very welcome. I love it when people stumble upon it (although I’m waiting for a challenge about my Health & Safety!). Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Kathleen: Your blog is so extensive. How did it come about?
Morgen: Back in March 2011 I’d heard it was a good thing to do so I set it up, posted oddments and a couple of months later was invited to do an interview, enjoyed it (and saw how easy it was) then put word out that I was doing them and have been flooded ever since. It’s been hard work but also a great pleasure in getting to know so many authors. Thank you, Kathleen.
I then invited Kathleen to include an extract of her writing…
By Kathy O’Dwyer
In the seconds before the plane’s wheels touch ground,
So much tonnage hangs in the air,
Hovering inches above the concrete.
A conquering of earth and sky all at the same time,
A time of magic.
Akin to falling in love.
Resisting, longing, pushing back
Circling, spinning, dizzy with excitement
Holding on to the seat in anticipation
Of final surrender.
A return to Heart, a return to Earth
As the wheels touch down, I realize
I have been holding my breath.
Life changes everything. When comfort turns to restlessness it can make you itch. In this personal memoir Kathy O’Dwyer recognized the itch for what it was: the need for a more fulfilling life. Shocking family and friends she abandons her comfortable Chicago lifestyle trading in her corporate high heels for a pair of steel-toed boots to take on management of a small ranch and retreat center in the wilderness of Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona. Encounters with rattlesnakes, javelinas, scorpions and coatimundis are nothing compared to the challenge of isolation and loneliness. Following an unconventional path takes courage yet Kathy soon finds it is necessary to bring about intense transformation. She stumbles along the way, strays from the path yet ultimately sheds the skin of her old life and embraces a new beginning.
After more than twenty years of writing for corporations, at the age of fifty-six Kathy O’Dwyer threw her comfortable Chicago lifestyle up in the air and moved to Arizona to take on the challenge of ranch management and writing her first novel, a memoir of her experiences during her life transition. Three years later Kathy continues to write and is working on her second book. She also shares her passion for writing by leading workshops designed to spark the creative fire in others.
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