Interview: Catherine Lanigan

Catherine-Lanigan-AP-100x152Jen: Today we welcome Catherine Lanigan as the last of our guests for the Summer Lovin’ Tour. Catherine, will you share a short bio with us?
Catherine: Catherine Lanigan is the international bestselling and award-winning author of forty published titles in both fiction and non-fiction, including the novelizations of Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, as well as her Angel Watch trilogy of real stories of angelic intervention in human life.

Currently, she has published five novels in the Shores of Indian Lake series for Harlequin Heartwarming: Love ShadowsHeart’s DesireA Fine Year for LoveKatia’s Promise and Fear of FallingSophie’s Path pubs July, 2016.

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Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Catherine: Sophie’s Path is the sixth book in my “Shores of Indian Lake” series. When I began the construction of my mythic small town of Indian Lake, I had a list of over twenty characters that I sketched out. Sophie was one of those people. Sophie was the subject of gossip all her life and labeled the town “flirt” when she was in first grade when Scott Abbott kissed her on the playground. Because she was teased about it and people gossiped about her, when she matured she went through attractive men like they were gumballs. She enjoyed them for a day, a few hours and then spit them out. Catch and release. In my second novel in the series, Heart’s Desire, Sophie, who is a cardiac surgeon’s nurse, goes after Nate Barzonni, the hero. Sophie cuts and streaks her hair and crash diets off eight pounds to look more like Maddie Strong, the heroine. Nate, of course, has never loved anyone but Maddie. In A Fine Year for Love, Sophie flirts with Gabe, Nate’s brother. Though Gabe has not yet met Liz Crenshaw, he’s not interested in Sophie.

I wanted Sophie to be the opposite of what the gossips have said. She isn’t shallow, nor is she “damaged” by some childhood trauma. I wanted her to be so serious and nearly obsessed with her career, that until Jack Carter smashes into her life one night in the ER when he is her patient,  she’s never considered a serious relationship. Romance and happily-ever-after is something that Sophie intends to “get around to someday.”

One of the misconceptions about a small town is that everyone knows everyone. Perhaps that’s true where the population is five hundred or less, but in my small town of thirty thousand,  it’s possible to go one’s entire life and have been one or two degrees of separation away from the right person, (translate to hero) all one’s life. I recently went to an eightieth birthday party for a man I’ve known since I was a kid. There were a hundred plus people there from my small hometown. I only knew two couples. Even my friend who is involved in just about every civic organization in town didn’t know anyone either. Sophie, then, who works at the hospital, and  volunteers on her days off in the ER, would have kept her “sphere”, her orbit of habitation quite small.

In SOPHIE’S PATH I also wanted to tackle a serious issue facing small towns and big cities alike. Drug addiction.  Sophie comes at the problem from inside the ER where she is seeing heroin overdoses and deaths on a monthly basis. The body count is rising in Indian Lake. She is passionate about making a difference and volunteers at a new “crisis center” in town, hoping to get therapy and education spread to the town. It’s an uphill battle and in the process, she needs Jack Carter’s help, yet he blames her for the death of his young assistant who was in the car with him that fatal night when he was hit by a heroin-addicted driver. Jack believes Sophie should have done more to save Aleah. Yet, their growing attraction to each other gives them both pause to reconsider many of their positions and attitudes about their own lives, choices they’ve made and what they truly want for their futures.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing? Tell us your call story.
Catherine: I was one of those children who knew when I was young what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had visions of myself being a writer. Actually, I wanted to be like Brenda Starr in the comics we read every Sunday in the newspaper. Journalism and travel was “it” for me.

All through high school, my teachers told me I had talent. They encouraged me to go into journalism at college. And I did. My second semester of my freshman year, the Head of the English Department recommended me for a creative writing seminar that was only open to Senior women (all girls school). The professor was a “travelling professor” and was only at our school for one semester. The head of the English Department believed I should be in that class, though I was only a freshman. The other women in this class all had jobs waiting them upon graduation. This was simply a “fill-in” course for them.

The day before I was to present my short story to the class for a critique (Read this as: Throw the Christian to the Lions), the professor called me into his office for a private meeting. I KNEW he was going to tell me how great my story was. That I had promising talent. (Read this as: over-the-top naïve.)

I stood outside his office, door open…I knocked.  “Come in, Miss Lanigan,” he boomed. (He didn’t speak. He boomed.)  I sat down. He tossed my (very thin) manuscript on the desk, (angrily) and as it skidded into my lap, he said, “Frankly, Miss Lanigan, your writing stinks.”

He continued, “How you were recommended for MY class, I’ll never know. You have no idea about characterization or plot structure. I’ll give you that your description is nice.. However, you are a fortunate young woman, because I have caught you at the crossroads of your life. You will never earn a dime as a writer. You need to change your major.”

By this time I was in tears. After a few more choice, biting words on his part, I left. I went to my dorm with my manuscript, got a metal waste can and matches. I went to the sun roof, burned the manuscript and looked to the sky. I promised God I would never, ever believe in dreams again. If I couldn’t chew it, taste it and spit it out, it wasn’t real and not worthy of my time.

I didn’t write for 14 years. I met a journalist in San Antonio who was covering a national news story.  He encouraged me to write. That summer, I sat down and wrote– in long hand, in my son’s three ring binder an historical romantic spy novel set against WWI.

I had no typewriter. My girlfriends on my cul-de-sac typed the pages at the end of each day after I’d written them. After I had 400 pages, I sent the unfinished manuscript to the journalist.  He told me he thought it was “damn good” and sent it to his agent, (without me knowing about this). She called me and said, “Cathy, you are startlingly talented.”  She explained that she wanted to sign me up and asked if I wanted to go hard cover or trade. I thought she was talking in a foreign language. I simply kept saying “yes” to all her questions, being so naïve, and uniformed about publishing. When it was over and I agreed to sign with her, she asked if I had questions. I said, “Yes, just one. Does this mean you liked the book?”

I finished up the story 600 plus pages and in two months she had two publishers bidding on the book. That was over 35 years and 40 published books ago.

Jen: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Catherine: I am much more of a plotter today than ever before. I think it’s because SHORES OF INDIAN LAKE is such an undertaking. I spent over a year devising the town, with maps, buildings, the street names and industries. Also, when I first “laid” it down, I had over thirteen  “secondary” characters both male and female, which I still haven’t used. These are my eccentric folks who will walk in and out of stories.  However, from this group has emerged Mrs. Beabots, my octogenarian land-lady of sorts, who rents out her third floor ballroom, now remodeled into a lovely and massive apartment. Her home and her life intertwine with many of the heroines as each story builds on another. Mrs. Beabots is caring, thoughtful and civic-minded. She is also elegant, stylish and has a past that holds many, many secrets. In each book, I intend to bring out just enough of her past from her “closet of treasures” to keep curiosity piqued until, hopefully, one day, I will write Mrs. Beabots’s Secrets. That will be the final book in the series.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Catherine: Years ago, I worked with NotMYkid foundation out of Scottsdale, Arizona. I interviewed over 55 addicts and their families and friends. I spent a year on that book. These were not only drug addicts, but cutters, anorexic and other eating disorder addicts; heroin and hard drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol.  They were all young people and had started using or developing their addictions in grade school. Although in SOPHIE’S PATH, my editor, Claire Caldwell and I chose not to expound too much on heroin addiction, by using Jeremy as a vehicle to demonstrate the harsh truth and reality of life for an addict, we hope to shine a light on this ever-growing concern of drug addiction. There is no family that is safe enough. The pain the family endures is heartbreaking. More heartbreaking is that for too many addicts their only release is death. The statistics are mind-boggling. I’m now researching from the legal and law enforcement side of drugs—the gangs and how the police often feel powerless against this tidal wave. There are many web sites that people can go to but, truly, is one of the best.

Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Catherine: I chose this question because I’m often asked if I had any input into the movie, for which I wrote the novelization, Romancing the Stone. Michael Douglas was the producer of the movie and as such, he flew me out to Los Angeles for a week of photo sessions on the set of the movie. They were doing re-shoots  in early January. It was fascinating for me to see a real movie set, but even more interesting were all the people I met, including many of the crew, the studio executives and of course, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.  I had lunch with Kathleen and Holland Taylor my first day on the set. Kathleen was absolutely luminous and beautiful and so friendly. As I approached her with my “entourage” who were taking me around the studio grounds and to meetings, Kathleen was sitting on a stool and having her makeup put on. When the executive with me introduced me, she jumped off her chair (excitedly) and said “I’m so glad to meet you! First they said you were coming last week. Then they said you were not coming till next week and here you are! This is wonderful. I’m dying to talk to you.”

“Really,” I said (truly tongue tied, I promise).

“Yes,” she said. “I’m having a fight with my director and only you can settle this argument.

I thought,  Great. I fly across the country to get in between the leading lady and the director.  I’m doomed. “What’s the disagreement about?”

Kathleen put her hand on her hip and said, “He wants me to cry at the beginning of the movie and I don’t want to do it. I can’t believe that a romance writer or any writer would get so emotional over a story.”

Literally, I laughed. “Gee. I do it all the time,” I said.  “I was sobbing in the hot tub only last night over a scene in which I had to kill off my favorite character.”

Kathleen considered my answer deeply.  Later, at lunch she said. “When you get your ideas, do you catalogue them on three by five cards like the screenplay writer said she does?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I’m not that organized at all. My ideas come like torrents sometimes and always at the oddest times. I write them on Kleenex, paper towels. Toilet paper. Bank deposit slips. Any scrap of paper I can find.”

Next time you see the movie and Joan Wilder goes to the kitchen after crying over her finished book, and you see her unable to find any tissues, toilet paper  or paper towel and then blows her nose on a post-it-note…that’s my answer to this question of how I remember my ideas.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Catherine: Honestly, I think I’m a throwback to the Edwardian era. I love giving lavish dinner parties. During the winter months, the holidays in particular, I really go all out. Never less than 24 candles on MY table. Flowers. Gifts for my guests. The food is the main attraction, of course, and I was blessed with a mother who was a fantastic cook –though not a chef….and I’m not chef material…but the food is always the best I can do at the time. My sister thought food was a competition and upped the ante when we entertained. I loved her for it. She kept me on my toes.  I’m always looking for something to change up or challenge myself. However, if I’m on deadline, forget being inventive. The old stand by recipes will have to do—but I still throw the party. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always given parties. Much of this seemingly genetic inheritance comes from my mother who was the essence of “Southern Hospitality”.  Our door was always open. She could whip up veggies and dips, cocktails on the patio at a moment’s notice and trust me, my father often didn’t give her more than twenty minutes “head’s up”.  My father, after surviving WWII in the Philippines always said that every day he lived after that was a gift. He never took a day for granted. He was always ready to greet friends, hand them a beer and stand around the piano and sing. All those happy memories spur me on to keep their traditions alive.

I also read, read, read. Garden. Weed. Garden and see my friends.

BTW.    To further feed my addiction to parties, I love putting characters in party situations and then stir things up with the villain walking in, a former bad-chick girlfriend or the announcement of war, a stock-market crash or a death. Something to rattle everyone’s bones. Hmmm. That gives me an idea——

Jen: What’s next for you?
Catherine: I’m working on the next three books in the series. DANGER ZONE is nearly finished. This one involves Cate Sullivan, the realtor in town. She is one of the “core” girlfriends in Sarah Jensen Bosworth’s group.  I adore this story.  The kernel of the story arose when I was fleshing out Sophie’s character. Just as Sophie was “not what everyone thought she was”, I wanted Cate to truly be a surprise.

Cate has been living in Indian Lake for six years with her six year old son—in disguise. Everything about her is an illusion. Even her very best friends, Sarah Jensen Bosworth, Maddie Strong Barzonni, Sophie Mattuchi and Olivia Melton haven’t the first clue that Cate is actually a blonde, not a dyed dark brunette. She has worn brown colored contacts all these years. Her real name is Susan Kramer and she’s been hiding from her drug-dealing, psychopathic ex-husband, Brad, since the night she ran away from him on foot when he threatened to kill her. Her son, Danny, believes his father is dead, because that’s the story Cate’s told everyone in town.

It’s all worked out beautifully—until the night Brad shows up outside Cate’s kitchen window. Brad also has an alias now—Le Grande—and he’s the new drug kingpin that Trent Davis, detective on the Indian Lake Police Force has been hoping to smoke out for months. When Trent learns of Cate’s past, he urges her to become his bait for a trap he’s set for Le Grande. Trent knows he’s responsible for putting Cate in a danger zone, but without her, he won’t get his criminal. When Trent falls in love with Cate, not only is he terrified that Le Grande will murder her, but Trent’s own demons of PTSS from his stint in Afghanistan as a Green Beret, make him impossible relationship material. Trent believes they can never be together.

2 thoughts on “Interview: Catherine Lanigan

  1. JoAnne Weiss says:

    Wonderful interview. I’m so glad to see that there will be more books in the Shores of Indian Lake series.

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