Catherine Lundoff


20 QUESTIONS IN THE HOT SEAT

1. Why do you write, what is it that compels you?

I write because I can’t not write. It’s what keeps my soul intact and keeps me (moderately) sane. I love to work with words and create stories.

2. What’s the hardest thing, for you, about writing?

I think that would be the amount of time that I have to take away from it in order to deal with professional writing and editing tasks like promotion, following up on contracts and so forth. Promotional tasks alone take a lot of time to do well, and if you have a day job as I do, it makes it difficult to juggle them along with actual writing.

3. What genre do you feel most comfortable writing in?

I have written in several genres—erotica, science fiction and fantasy, romance—so I’d like to say I’m comfortable with them all. I enjoy writing erotica and science fiction and fantasy the most but would love to develop a great idea for a mystery and would like to write more romance.

4. How do you like to approach your writing when starting a new project? Do you do outlines, and breakdown scenes, or leap straight into writing the narrative?

I tend to leap straight into the narrative. I usually don’t start writing a new story until I have the first few sentences in my head. Once I’ve gotten that far, I’ve got an idea of how the story’s going to go. My endings often come as a surprise, however. I am trying to learn to do more outlining and planning as I write longer pieces, so that’s been something new.

5. How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?

Definitely work them up as I go along. Once I have an idea on what the opening few paragraphs will be I have a good idea of how the POV character or character(s) will turn out.

6. Do you talk to your characters at all?

Not exactly. I can put myself in their heads but I usually don’t have conversations with them.

7. Do you have certain writing rituals that you like to perform?

I put on my favorite writing CDs and often unwind a bit with Mahjongg to get started.

8. Writers quite often work through personal issues in their narratives. Do you, and how do you handle that?

Since much of my published work is erotica, I try not to do that, at least not overtly. I’m sure I do all kinds of things I’m not really aware of though. A lot of my stories deal with change and transformation, but I don’t think I’ve got the corner on that. Apart from that, I like to explore new things: voices, characters, plots, settings, genres—so that each story is distinct from that last.

9. Do you have people read your work as you write, or do you wait till a project is complete? What would you say were the benefits to either approach?

When I finish a nearly final draft of a story, my partner is my beta reader. She’s very good at telling me when I’ve lost control of the plot and when things don’t make sense or don’t ring true. I don’t generally give her drafts in progress to read; I find it works better if I’ve worked it out pretty thoroughly for myself before I let anyone see it. Otherwise, it’s too easy for me to get derailed from the story I started out to tell.

10. Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I draw a lot of inspiration from music, from the brief periods of time when I’m completely relaxed and even from editorial guidelines. I get a lot of story ideas from reading both what editors/publishers are interested in seeing as well as what they’re not. I find that it can be kind of a fun ‘What If?’ jumping off point. Taking showers and going to concerts (but not at the same time) are also quite effective for triggering new ideas for me.

11. Do you like to write to music, and if so, what kind?

I always write to music! I love folks ballads set to rock, the blood thirstier the better, regardless of language. I do a lot of writing to Scandinavian bands like Garmarana, Hedningarna, Hoven Droven and Frifot as well as U.K musicians like Steeleye Span, Jah Wobble, Kate Rusby and Fairport Convention. I also like eclectic dance and folk musicians like Fiamma Fumana, Boiled in Lead, Richard Thompson, Shooglenifty and the Oysterband.

12. If you didn’t write, what would you do?

Drown my sorrows in absinthe and bonbons? I’m sure I’d find something but I’m not sure what it would be.

13. What’s your favorite story that you’ve written?

Like most writers, I have to say the one I finished last is almost always the favorite. Honestly, though, there are exceptions to that, stories that I wrote a while ago that still resonate for me. It’s hard to pick one favorite child but I’ll stick with tradition and pick the newest one. I’m really excited about a novelette called “Silver Moon” that I just finished for a lesbian werewolf anthology. I created a town protected by menopausal werewolves and ended up falling in love with them; hopefully the editor feels the same way. I have the feeling that that story isn’t done with me yet.

14. What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? What works best for you to improve how and what you write?

I attend the occasional class or workshop and try to attend writing related programming at the conventions I go to. I also read books on writing, such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. In addition, I apply for residencies when I can. I’ve had several writing residences, including one with writer Samuel Delany, that were quite helpful in pushing me to interact with other writers and develop new approaches to my own work. I find that meeting with other writers is excellent for improving my understanding of writing as a business, while reading their books is better for improving my writing.

15. As a writer what do you look for in a prospective publisher?

Integrity, communication and commitment to the work they publish. And distribution, which is equally essential.

16. What, from your perspective, are some of the most common mistakes authors starting out in the business make with regard to approaching a prospective publisher?

I end up having a lot of contact with new writers between editing, teaching the occasional workshop, judging RWA contests (I do one a year) and going to conferences.

The mistakes I’ve seen (and occasionally done!) include the following: jumping at the first chance to get published without investigating the publisher; overselling their work (This is the best book ever!); not polishing their work sufficiently before submitting it; not being open to constructive criticism; taking all criticism to heart and doing too much rewriting. The criticism/feedback issue is one of the trickiest obstacles to becoming a professional writer and one of the most essential ones to learn to deal with.

Not sure I have all the answers to these by any means but I will say that it’s always worthwhile to look at a publisher’s catalogue and read a few of their books to make sure that they’re for you. That goes double for signing the contracts. Make sure you’re not losing more than you’re gaining.

17. What are some of the things you do to build up audiences for your work? What do you think are some of the most effective things an author can do to advertise him or herself?

I have a substantial online presence (Myspace, Facebook, a website, Livejournal, a mailing list, etc.), plus miscellaneous promotional materials. I do a lot of readings and live appearances of various kinds, including panels, readings, interviews and the occasional writing workshop, which I also think are helpful. I’m not sure that any one of these is necessarily much more effective than the others but I think anything that helps you build a readership and gets your books out there in a good way is worth pursuing.

I do know that all self-publicity takes time and effort to do well. I try not to let that overwhelm the actual writing, but sometimes it does. The key is to try and balance it and not burn yourself out.

18. How do you feel about e-publishing and e-books? Would you go that route?

I have had one ebook published – my first collection of lesbian erotica, Night’s Kiss. I can’t say I found it to be an entirely successful experience. It’s quite difficult to get many e-book publishers to consider lesbian work in the first place and then there’s an uphill battle to get it reviewed and get it sold. Amazon will only take e-books in their proprietary Kindle format, for example, so they stopped taking all other e-book formats awhile back. Other venues for selling -ebooks, such as Fictionwise, don’t have the same reach. E-books also haven’t evolved to the point where a lot of people read them outside of certain genres. They often don’t have a lot of street credibility for either awards or reviews, which is problematic from a sales perspective. I don’t know that I would completely rule out doing another e-book in the future since my print books are selling reasonably well in Kindle format, but I think I’ll wait and see how things look down the road apiece.

19. What were your best and worst experiences with an editor?

Well, there are the classic rejection letters. My favorite of these was a form letter that said something to the effect of “I don’t accept work that makes me want to lose my lunch.” Then there are things like unauthorized changes. I once refused to sign a contract giving an editor carte blanche to make substantive changes to my story without letting me see them first. I had seen some of her writing and it did not inspire confidence in her ability to rewrite anyone else’s prose.

As for the best, there have been a lot of them. I’ve been very fortunate in the editors I’ve written for, people like Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Hanne Blank, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Steve Berman and a bunch of others. I think the best editors are the ones who combine the ability to give feedback with good prompt, communication.

20. And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer? And what, for you, totally sucks about it?

I love almost everything about being a writer. Something sucks about actually writing? :) My least favorite things are all around not writing: managing writing time or having to do writing-related things like publicity instead of actual writing. Beyond that, I love creating new stories and wish I could do it all the time.

Our thanks to Catherine for taking time to hang out with us here, at Kissed By Venus.


Author Profile:

Catherine Lundoff is the author of two collections of lesbian erotica: Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing (Lethe Press, 2007) and Night’s Kiss (forthcoming, Lethe Press) and editor of the fantasy and horror anthology Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over 60 publications including So Fey: Queer Faery Stories, Time Well Bent: GLBT Alternate History, Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, Farrago’s Wainscot, Khimairal Ink, Tales of the Unanticipated, Caught Looking, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6, Sex and Candy, Best Lesbian Bondage Erotica and Best Lesbian Erotica 2008. You can see what she’s up to at www.visi.com/~clundoff.

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