CK: I started writing in the eighth grade. I won’t tell you how long ago that was, but I will say that Mother Estelle-Marie encouraged me. I wrote a play which she produced, with most of my classmates as actors and the rest of the school attending. Also, I wrote a poem which she entered in a national contest run by the Catholic Daughters of America. I won second place nationally and ended up with prize money of $69.
PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?
CK: Eighth grade, I guess, thanks to Mother Estelle-Marie. In high school, I won another poetry prize in the annual Pegasus contest sponsored by the San Antonio Public Library.
PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
CK: Yes and no. In the eighth grade and before, I read old books strewn around my grandmother’s house, including one by Bennett Cerf. I imagined writing life as taking place in New York, with dinner every night at the Algonquin restaurant, talking with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. That’s where I thought I’d end up. I didn’t realize those days were already over.
On the other hand, I thought I’d be a novelist, and at last I am.
PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?
CK: By this point, after I spent years at journalism and other creative pursuits, I don’t expect authors, singers, dancers, musicians, artists, etc. to make a lot of money. Just a few lucky ones who manage to reach the top rake in the dollars.
Others, who are successful to a moderate degree, may earn a moderate income. We’ll see.
PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?
CK: I am thrilled about being published as a novelist at last, but my focus hasn’t really changed. I’ve been published for years in journalism. What’s new is finding time and a genre that work for me as a novelist. I’m writing a series of mystery novels set in rural Texas near San Antonio, in an area settled by my father’s family.
My first book, Cemetery Whites, draws upon family characters and stories to some degree. Some are totally fiction and others are fictionalized. I loved writing the story, and my focus is really to find readers. I love to hear from readers who tell me how much they enjoyed my book.
PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?
CK: The first thing published was my prize-winning poem in the eighth grade. I wrote a newspaper article in high school, too. It focused on racism and integration, and was published by the Catholic newspaper in San Antonio.
PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
CK: No, I don’t think I would have much reason to do things differently. For example, I earned my bachelor’s degree in creative writing, but then I followed that with a year of journalism classes so I could find a job and make a living. My creative writing circled around poetry and short stories—no money there.
PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?
CK: It’s not easy. I tend to separate writing time from publishing time, but I’m trying to combine them—somewhat successfully. I’m working on my third mystery right now.
PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
CK: There have been lots of exciting things. With my first novel Cemetery Whites, at a writer’s conference, I conferred with a literary agent who asked me to e-mail him the first three chapters. I almost swooned. When I left the meeting, I collapsed into a chair in the hallway, and my heart beat like it was ready for an attack.
PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?
CK: This happened early. Back in the eighth grade, I wrote a short story. I handwrote it on notebook paper, fastened it with a bobby pin, and sent it to the Saturday Evening Post.
To my surprise and heartbreak, they returned it! They didn’t give me an A or a prize, and I didn’t understand their kindness in enclosing a nice rejection slip and supplying the envelope and postage. I didn’t know about the stamped, self-addressed envelope I should have sent with the story.
PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?
CK: So far, that would be a speech I gave to a book club here in Houston. It was well-received and many books were sold. Then a member approached me and asked if I belonged to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. I wasn’t, but we agreed I might qualify. She sponsored me, and I did the research and application, which was recently approved. I’m a member now.
PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
CK: I believe everybody’s work is different, reflecting their experience and views of life, their ambitions in writing, their personalities.
My mysteries reflect my interest in Texas history, sociology, culture, habits of living, and language, as I have perceived them during my life. They have interesting, unusual characters who are portrayed with some humor.
I’m delighted to hear from readers of Cemetery Whites who tell me they enjoyed reading it. That’s my goal. I want readers to enjoy my books.
PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?
CK: That often happens, even to very good writers who ultimately achieve bestseller status. If writing is important to you, keep up with it. Keep sending it out. Find a writer’s group whose critiques are useful. Consider what you could do to improve your work, and try to find a publisher or literary agent who like your kind of book.
PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?
CK: Two independent Houston bookstores come to mind: Murder by the Book, and Brazos Bookstore. They’re right down the street from each other. I’ve had book-signing events at both.
PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order.
CK: Cemetery Whites is the name of my novel now being published as an eBook. It’s my debut novel, with the second one ready to publish and the third one in progress.
PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title.
CK: In Cemetery Whites, Caroline Hargrove Hamilton and her cousin Janet Judson solve murders from 1875 and 2010. They find Professor Harrison, a black man, lying dead in a patch of white irises in the Hargrove Family Cemetery in DeWitt County, Texas. He lies close to a grave where it’s rumored a second body is secretly buried.
Caroline and Janet become amateur detectives, uncovering half-a-dozen family secrets related to both murders. Research involves trips to historical sites in San Antonio, a night at a country bar, and another one at a rooster fight. Letters, journals, and oral histories reveal more and more information.
There’s a day when Janet is stuck in an oak tree surrounded by a herd of wild javelinas. She’s rescued by Josh Gaines, related to Professor Harrison. They’d met at the professor’s funeral in San Antonio.
The two of them look for Caroline, who is missing. With the help of Constable Bob Bennett and Uncle Cotton’s hound dogs, they find Caroline—in the clutch of the man who murdered the professor.
When the murders are solved, a treasure is found. It answers a question no one—except Professor Harrison—knew to ask.
PJ: Where can we buy it?
CK: Starting on Friday, May 3, it’s scheduled to be available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and other online book retailers. It will be published by Maple Creek Media.
PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?
CK: I think everybody with any interest in the topic knows about me and my work, because I talk a lot about it. The last thing I should say is, Thank you for listening.
Thank you for stopping by, Connie! I’m looking forward to reading Cemetery Whites and hope a lot of people will buy copies and enjoy a virtual trip to the San Antonio area in another time!