Cathryn is the author of fifteen psychological thrillers, including THE FAVORITE CHILD, ALWAYS REMEMBER, and THE OTHER COUPLE. She is also the author of the ALEXANDRA MALLORY series, featuring a sociopath you can’t help but love. Cathryn Grant’s fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines, The Shroud Quarterly Journal, and been anthologized in The Best of Every Day Fiction and You, Me & A Bit of We. Her short story, “I Was Young Once”, received an honorable mention in the 2007 Zoetrope All-story Short Fiction contest. Her psychological suspense fiction reveals the motives and desires that lead to suburban crime. She’s obsessed with the “why” behind human behavior. In real crime, too many times, the why is left unanswered. Cathryn’s fiction tells the stories of ordinary people driven to commit murder.
Let’s get started with a quick rapid fire.
Q1. If you could be transformed into one animal, which one would you choose?
A humpback whale, cruising through the ocean, surfacing with magnificent splashes, humming an eerily beautiful song.
Q2. What time do you usually go to bed at night?
9pm, because I get up at 4:30am.
Q3. Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Q4. Who is your favorite Disney character?
Micky Mouse—always surprised by life.
Q5. Would you rather travel to the past or to the future?
Ancient Egypt, although I imagine I’d deeply regret the loss of modern conveniences.
Q6. What is your last Google search?
The secret bunkers of the super-rich.
Q7. What object do you misplace or lose the most?
I’m constantly leaving my cotton scarf in restaurants or dropping it on sidewalks.
Q8. What is the kindest thing someone ever did for you?
My husband wholeheartedly supported my desire to quit my job to write fiction full time.
Q9. Learn by watching or learn by doing?
By doing, much to my despair, because I stubbornly fail to learn from others’ experiences.
Q10. Expensive presents or homemade presents?
Neither. I prefer experiences over objects—a day at the beach or a long walk.
Q11. What is one missed opportunity that you wish you could have a second chance at?
I wish I’d learned to surf, but I’m guessing I like the idea more than the reality.
Q12. What is not a big deal to most people but is torture to you?
Back to the introvert question—parties. I want to have an in-depth conversation with every single person. (It’s an introvert thing.)
It’s time for a more detailed conversation, Cathryn.
You’ve answered our rapid fire exceedingly well, Cathryn. Now, it’s time for our readers to know more about the person behind the book.
Q. Tell us something about yourself that’s going to make us wonder more about you.
I loathe violence, but I’m addicted to crime—fiction and true crime.
Q. Well, that will keep you in our thoughts. So, what books did you grow up reading?
When I was a child I read quite a few books handed down from my grandmother as well as a few stray copies of the Judy Bolton mystery series from my mother. I loved the Secret Garden, Beverly Cleary, and almost everything I bought from our monthly book club at school. I read nearly all of Agatha Christie and as I got older, all of Ruth Rendell. I was drawn to crime at a young age!
Q. Interesting. What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
Characters that feel like real people and challenges that are larger than life. I also love prose that carries me to another world so that I’m not thinking about the fact that I’m reading.
Q. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No, but now you’ve given me something to think about!
Q. Now comes the most anticipated question that every author must answer. How do you process and deal with negative book reviews?
They used to gut me for days. Now, I see them as information for other readers, not authors, and I try not to read them because glowing, meh, or negative, they get into my head and take me out of the creative zone.
Q. What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
The characters come first. I think that’s because characters are why I read fiction. I love imagining others’ interior lives and how they would respond to extreme circumstances in life. I love to read about human quirks and flaws and the journeys we all take. I love seeing how characters survive difficult, and in the case of psychological thrillers, often horrific situations, and come out with a new appreciation for life.
I’m also fascinated by the dark side that we all have and find exploring that endlessly intriguing.
Q. How do you develop your plot and characters?
I have a bit of a split personality for this. I work with a developmental editor through my publisher, Inkubator Books. I pitch the characters and premise and then build an outline through a writer’s room process that involves several brainstorming sessions.
I also self-publish a series about a sociopath who is a vigilante killer. For those books, I do very little planning beyond identifying the person she will kill in each book. The characters appear on the page and take shape as I write. Because the stories are linked, I sketch out a few ideas around what needs to carry through to the next 1-2 books in the series, but that’s about it.
Q. What does literary success look like to you?
Hearing that readers are excited when I have a new book coming out. I’m lucky enough to have experienced that and it’s a thrill that’s impossible to describe. It’s also pretty amazing to be able to do what I love all day every day, and I’m disappointed with myself when I sometimes notice I’m taking that for granted. I feel very, very fortunate.
Q. Let’s talk about your book. Tell us about it. No major spoilers.
My latest novel is The Favorite Child. It’s the story of a woman, pregnant with her first child, who returns to her family home for the annual family holiday. Her sister, who was the obvious parental favorite growing up, goes missing. None of her siblings seem to care and her parents also seem rather indifferent.
As Annie tries to put together her strange dreams and distorted memories while trying to find out what happened to her sister, dark family secrets come to light. Soon, she realizes she and her husband’s lives may be in danger.
Q. What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
The most challenging part was the slow revelation of Annie’s past through dreams and memory fragments. I wanted to make these feel like authentic dreams and memories, but also reveal clues without giving away too much too soon.
Q. Would you and your main character get along?
Yes. Her primary flaw was that she wanted to keep a close relationship with members of her family despite some very dysfunctional and horrific behavior. I tend to cling to family connections no matter what, so I think we would connect over that. Also, she owns a nursery and I love gardening, even though I don’t do a very good job of staying on top of the weeds.
Q. What are the essential characteristics of a hero you can root for?
Honesty, loyalty, a desire to do the right thing. I also root for characters who fight hard for something they want, or believe in, especially against seemingly impossible odds.
Q. Let’s talk about the process of writing. When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?
I don’t need to set the mood with anything external, but I do need to be able to tune out environmental noises. I use noise-canceling headphones and listen to either nature sounds or Chopin. Then the scene unfolds in my imagination.
Q. What was your hardest scene to write?
The hardest scenes in The Favorite Child (and in every novel I write) are scenes of physical altercation. I have a hard time visualizing the right movements and reactions. I’ve been told they turn out quite realistically, but I always take a very long time to get started on the days I’m writing those scenes, and I second-guess every other sentence.
I also have a hard time writing violent scenes. My books have minimal graphic violence, because I’m very squeamish.
Q. It’s been fun. Now, before we wrap this up, do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Read a lot, write a lot without censoring yourself. Write short stories because they can help you learn characterization, plot, and structure before wrestling with the 250-300 pages of a novel!