Vision: A Resource f

 Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Interview: 

A Multitude of Catie: An Interview with C.E. Murphy

By Lazette Gifford
2005,
Lazette Gifford


C.E. Murphy is not a name you'll have seen much of yet, but you will soon.  Her first book, Urban Shaman, is due out in June.  And you'll see her on the shelves in her other incarnation, Cate Dermody.  She has leapt into publishing with the kind of avalanche of contracts that most new writers only dream of getting.

So, how did she do it and how is she handling the work?  Catie took the time to answer a few questions for Vision.  Be sure to also check out her website at: http://cemurphy.net/

  

Vision: First let's talk about your novel, Urban Shaman, which is due out in June. Tell us a bit about it!

Catie: Joanne Walker is a Seattle cop with no use for the mystical. When a near-death experience introduces her to the Native American trickster Coyote, he gives her a choice between a shaman's life or death. The life she chooses plants her neck-deep in a facet of the universe she's never acknowledged before. URBAN SHAMAN is Jo's trial by fire. With Coyote as her guide, Jo begins to learn about a shaman's responsibilities, solves a series of apparently unrelated murders in the Seattle area, and goes up against an Celtic god or two....

URBAN SHAMAN is what happens when my friend Jim Butcher says, "Write a book to bring to World Fantasy Con and I'll introduce you to people," and my husband Ted looks out an airplane window and says, "Wouldn't it be interesting if you were up here and saw somebody running down the street with something after her?" The "something" became the Wild Hunt, and the story was largely born from there.

I had some pretty clear ideas of what I wanted to do, when I wrote URBAN SHAMAN. Urban fantasy, like the Anita Blake books and Jim's Dresden File series were really coming into their own when I wrote the first draft of URBAN SHAMAN, and I looked at those books and thought, "Ok, we have characters here who are already at home in this world of Other, where things go bump in the night." What I wanted was to have a character who didn't know about the things that went bump, and who in fact actively resisted the very idea that those things might exist. I wanted someone who was brand-new to this world, so that the reader got to be there with her from the very first moment of, "What the...?" It was a fantastic way for me to get into Jo's world, and I certainly hope it'll be as much fun for the readers.

Vision: What were the steps you took to make your first sale? What do you think helped or hindered you?

Catie: As far as my first sale is concerned, I sort of look like one of those overnight success stories, although like most of those stories, it was about a dozen years in the making. I wrote and submitted my first novel when I was nineteen, then spent the next many years writing, writing some more, and then writing some more after that, in all sorts of forums and genres.

I wrote the original draft for URBAN SHAMAN in 2000. It was my third solo manuscript (I wrote one with a friend), and I knew at the time that it was saleable, but I didn't really do very much with it beyond a couple of rewrites that strengthened the story. Then in 2002 I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Conference because I'd finaled in their contest with a different manuscript, and that conference honestly made all the difference to me. It really lit a fire under me: if I was going to be a professional writer, I needed to get my act in gear and *pursue* that.

So I went away from it with the goal to get a book contract in 3 years, and before the next month was out I had a request for the full manuscript from a small press publisher that was just getting started. It was fourteen months (almost to the day) after the RMFW conference that I sold the first three books in the Walker Papers series. URBAN SHAMAN will hit the shelves four months before my three-year "get a contract" deadline is up. :)

Aside from that conference being *enormously* helpful to me, another thing that I really think made a difference was that, within the bounds of reasonability, I didn't pay too much attention to what publishers were specifically looking for. LUNA was looking for traditional fantasy with a strong female protagonist and a romantic subplot. Well, I sent them an urban fantasy with a strong female protagonist and nothing more than the vaguest hint at a romantic subplot, and they loved it. So being a little daring really helped there.

But let me re-emphasize: I worked within the bounds of reasonability. If a house is looking for suspense or horror and you send romantic fluffy bunnies, you're working outside a reasonable extrapolation of what the house might publish, and that's not going to do anyone any good.

Vision: You've made an incredible number of sales in a short time. Tell us about them and how you managed it.

Catie: Whew. Okay.

Harlequin contacted me about buying URBAN SHAMAN in November of 2003. They offered a three-book deal; URBAN SHAMAN and two sequels. I was floored and thrilled to bits.

In March or so of 2004, I emailed my editor with a very brief idea for a book for Harlequin's new Bombshell line, which was debuting in July 2004.

She liked the basic idea but asked if I could make it not have a Happily Ever After ending so that it could become a potential series.

For me as a writer, this was like manna from heaven. I spent a few months working out a proposal for not just the first book, but for an entire series, and submitted that to my agent in about August 2004.

September 2004 my agent contacted me and said that Harlequin was curious to know if I'd be interested in writing a Walker Papers novella to be part of an anthology that would be released in November 2005, five months after URBAN SHAMAN's release date. The other two authors featured in the anthology, she told me, would be Mercedes Lackey and Tanith Lee.

Not being a great fool, I said yes.

In November 2004, Harlequin made an offer on the first two books in the Bombshell series that I'd proposed. The upshot: I have four books and one novella coming out in the next twelve months.

Honestly, I think I've been tremendously fortunate. I'm a good, solid writer, and my stories are entertaining, but in being bought by Luna, I gained access to the Harlequin publishing machine, and that's allowed me opportunities that I might not have otherwise had. I'm very, very excited and very, *very* happy!

Vision: Why did you decide to go with two pen names?

Catie: Ah, yes, the pen names. At the moment, I'm writing under both C.E. Murphy and Cate Dermody.

Something I've watched happen with the Luna line is that authors for the line who are already known for their romance writing have often been shelved under the romance section in bookstores, rather than being in the sf/f section where the storyline is probably more appropriate.

So, because I'm starting out in two genres right away, I've opted to write under two names. It allows me to brand the pen names to a genre: when readers pick up a C.E. Murphy book, they'll know they're picking up a fantasy novel. When they pick up a Cate Dermody book, they'll know to expect action-adventure romance.

There's nothing sneaky about this approach: catedermody.com resolves to the same website as cemurphy.net. I'm not trying to hide who I am, only to define expectations and make certain the right kinds of books are shelved in the right places. That said, I really do think anybody who enjoys my writing at all is going to like the Murphy and the Dermody titles equally.

Vision: What has been the biggest change since you sold your first book, and what has been the hardest part of the transition to published author?

Catie: Honestly, the biggest change is probably that I got laid off from my day job at the end of November 2004, so suddenly writing *is* my job. I'd been planning on working for another year, so that was quite the whammy. On the other hand, I'd also just been offered contracts for 3 books (the Bombshells and the novella), so the timing couldn't have been more fortuitous. I ended up with four books due in the first half of 2005, and I get a little whirly-eyed about the idea of trying to pull that off while I was still working full time. :)

But boy, I tell you, that first sale is both incredibly exciting and incredibly scary. Let me quote a bit from my blog, here, from April of 2004: 

It's all cool!

I tell you what, though. It's also all very scary. Everything's happening very fast, from my perspective. I mean. It is and it isn't. On one hand is the glacial pace at which the publishing industry moves. That's not the part I'm talking about.

The part I'm talking about is the part where I went to the RMFW conference in September 2002 and ... fourteen months later sold my first book. That's *fast*.

I have, I think, done my time as far as developing my skills as a writer go. (Which is not to say I'm done, but rather, that I've written enough to have gotten a lot of those million bad words out of the way.) But during most of the time I was doing all that writing, I wasn't submitting books. So having started sending things out and having suddenly and abruptly *sold*, I feel... sort of like I cheated, somehow. That I got picked to go to the head of the class without going through the ritual hazing, and man. It's scary.

I knew when I wrote US that it was sellable. Popular genre, entertaining protagonist, all that. But to have more or less turned around and *sold* it shortly after deciding it was time to do that is ... overwhelming. It's *fantastic*, it's *incredible*, and every time I'm faced with another aspect of its reality (contract, cover art, revision letter), I get all balkish and skittery and shy. The only thing I can figure is that it's a fear of success, more or less.

It's not not that I don't think I deserve to be published, because I'm a good writer and I tell good stories. I'm talented, but I've also been *tremendously* fortunate. I know an awful lot of people for whom it hasn't been so easy, so ... yeah. Some feelings of lacking entitlement, maybe, and some panic about having actually *succeeded*. I mean, this is one of those lifetime goals, you know? And whoomp, there it is. Palpable. Actually happening. Scary as all hell.

So there you go. Actual observations from the trenches. *That's* what the transition's been like, for me. :)

Vision: Your writing workload is pretty high. What kind of schedule do you keep to stay on top of all this work? What is your average day like? Do you write every day?

Catie: I write most days, but not every day. My goal is 1100 words a day, but most days I write more than that, sometimes considerably more. I wrote the rough draft for "Banshee Cries", which is a 30,000 word Walker Papers novella due out in the Luna anthology WINTER MOON in November, in 3 days: 10,000 words a day. That was a personal best for me!

My *ideal* day, which isn't exactly the same as my *average* day, gets me up around 6:30 or 7am and has me writing by 7:30 or 8. I write for about 3 hours, then take a break to walk the dog, have lunch, check email, find other ways to procrastinate, and then return to writing for another hour or two around 1pm. If I actually do that, I can get 4 or 5 thousand words written pretty easily, and that's essentially how I stay on schedule: I write fast. :)

My *average* day looks a lot like that, but with only a couple hours of focused writing instead of 4-5.

Vision: What differences do you see between writing for the Luna Imprint and the Bombshell Imprint?

Catie: The books are shorter and there's no magic in the Bombshells! Well, not in mine, anyway.

Okay, that's the flippant answer, although part of the real answer is in fact that the books are shorter. There's a heck of a lot of difference in what you can do between a 90K story and a 110K story. There's less time to develop everything, so you have to write tighter and be more focused in order to get your story told.

You know, this is a hard question for me to answer! There's quite a lot of action in both my series, and the relationships between characters are equally important in both sets of stories. Alisha, the main character in the Bombshells, is a totally different personality from Jo; she actively seeks out adventure, where Jo would really, *really* rather just be working on her

1969 Mustang. Jo's got some real emotional stunting problems, whereas Alisha tends to fall hard and fast (and often for the wrong guy), but those are personality differences, rather than differences in writing for Luna vs.Bombshell.  :)

Vision: There's been a lot of discussion lately about whether romance novels are 'only about the sex.' Since you have so many books coming out from Harlequin imprints, what is your take on the level of sexuality in their books? Is there some sort of guide or level you would suggest writers aim for if they want to sell in the romance market?

Catie: Bear in mind I'm writing for the Bombshell and Luna lines, both of which are pitched as having romantic subplots, rather than being straight romances.

Luna's fantasy with romantic subplots, and Bombshell's action-adventure with romantic subplots. That said:

They tell you to write the amount of sensuality or sex that's appropriate for your story, and I honestly believe that's the right thing to do.

Certainly there's room in romance for eroticism, and there are readers who are all about that. There are also readers who skip the sexy bits and go forward to the next part of the story. I really think that what works for the characters is the most important question in determining how much sexuality is in a novel.

My books tend to focus more on the tension in relationships rather than the sexual fulfillment aspects. As I respond to these interview questions, I'm in the midst of writing THE FIREBIRD DECEPTION, which is the second book in my Bombshell series. My heroine, Alisha, *might* have sex in this book.

Might. It's in the synopsis, but I won't find out whether that actually works out as being right for the story for another twenty or thirty thousand words.

Jo, the main character in the Walker Papers series, hasn't had so much as a boyfriend in years, much less a lover. She's got a lot of emotional issues, and working those out over the course of the series is one of the things I get to do as the writer. It wouldn't be believable to throw that character into bed with somebody just because that's what's "supposed to happen" in a story with romantic subplots.

Vision: Are there any mistakes you see new writers making? What suggestions would you give them?

Catie: Oh, gosh. When a publishing house says, "Make your manuscript stand out," they don't mean send it on pink paper or perfumed paper or to send a box of chocolates with it. What they mean is, "Write a great story that jumps off the page that we can't resist." The manuscript itself should be on white paper with 12pt Courier font, 1" margins on all sides, .3 inch tabs set, widow/orphan control turned off, exact spacing to 25pts. That's what you do to make a manuscript stand out *physically*: follow the rules exactly. To make it stand out as a story, write the absolute best thing you possibly can.

Show, don't tell. This is one of those axioms I never thought I understood, until I began critiquing and realized I did, in fact, know the difference between showing and telling. I'd learned it somewhere along the way. A very small example, with all due apology to J.K. Rowling (who did not write the first example!): 

Harry ran up the stairs. There was a painting on his left. It had a fat woman in it and she watched him as he walked by.

versus

 Harry took the stairs three at a time, swinging around the railing's corner post to keep himself from overstepping into empty space as the next set of stairs settled into place. The seneschal fat lady leaned out of her frame, watching him as he leapt over the gap and continued up the stairs at a run, then settled back with a huffy sigh. Young people, always in a hurry, never able to just stop and say hello.

Vision: What genres do you write in, and why? And would you like to try your hand at any others?

Catie: Well, I write in fantasy and romance, clearly. I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction (after I exhausted the horse books and children's' mysteries in the library), and it's where my heart is, as a reader.

I've got several partial manuscripts of epic-sized stuff, sort of sci-fantasy, although the one I'm hoping to work on toward the end of this year is pretty much pure near-future SF. I have two or three mystery series I'd like to develop, and I've got one young adult fantasy novel being shopped around and I fully intend to write more in that genre. And a great big goal of mine is to write comic books someday. I may be the only person in this generation whose desire to do that is *not* influenced by Neil Gaiman, but I want to write comics anyway. :)

Vision: Who has influenced your writing?

Catie: Boy. Who hasn't? I developed a love of poetry because of the late 80's TV show "Beauty and the Beast", and became a great fan of Ranier Maria Rilke and Tennyson and countless others through that, so clearly influence can come from anywhere. Honestly, everything from comic book writers to the classics have taught me something. There's a current Marvel writer, Brian Michael Bendis, who makes me laugh out loud with his patter on the comic page--probably impossible to reproduce in a fully prose medium, but fun to read and try to figure out how to do it myself. Reading the Iliad (aloud) in college taught me what wonderful things cadence and repeated phrases can do to bring a story to life. Modern-day science fiction masters such as Heinlein, police procedurals by J.A. Jance; both of Anne Perry's major mystery series are wonderful examples of how to build a community of characters that your readers will become friends with. I just discovered fantasy author Judith Tarr recently and her books leave me glowing and squirming to see how I can adapt some of her skills to my own writing.

Influence is everywhere! 

Vision: Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers? How should they be using it, if it is?

Catie: Having spent an inordinate amount of time creating interactive fiction in online games, I'd be hypocritical to say I didn't think the net was a great tool for learning your trade. I think it's awesome. I also think it can be a complete disaster.

There are fantastic online resources: Editors & Preditors (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/), the OWW for SF/F writers (http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/), and, without trying at all to be smarmy, Forward Motion (http://www.fmwriters.com). You can learn huge amounts on the net.

You can also be led badly astray. Kind, generous, well-meaning people will tell you that your work is golden, and they may be completely wrong. It's much easier to find unreliable critiquers who will heap praises upon you and make you feel good than it is to find reliable ones who'll tell you what you don't want to hear. If all you're getting is glowing accolades, you probably need to find somewhere else to get critiques, because pretty much nobody is a flawless writer. :)

Vision: How has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there themes that matter most to you?

Catie: Well, I spend a lot of time thinking or saying, "Ooh! I could use that in a book!" when people say or do things, but beyond that, mm. I'm not sure how writing's changed me, largely because I've always written, so I don't really have a "before" to compare to. :)

As for themes, I think I'm probably the worst person in the world to ask about my own themes, but I do know I'm a real sucker for a good redemption story. If I've got a theme running through everything I write, it's probably that: everybody has a shot at redemption.

Except, you know. The people who don't. :)

I also believe (don't tell anybody this, it's embarrassing) that love conquers all. Except, of course, when it doesn't, in which case it should be horribly agonizingly perfectly right that it can't, and probably somebody should die nobly of it all.

There are other things that come to mind, but I'd hate to give away all my secrets right away!

Vision: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Has your career progressed the way you thought it would?

Catie: I was having this conversation with my husband the other day, and he said something to the effect of, "Yeah, but by the time you were nine, you knew you wanted to be a writer, right?"

I said, "That's kind of like saying "By the time I was nine, I knew I wanted to breathe regularly." I'm one of those people who's always written and who can't really imagine not writing. As young as eight, I started a mystery series with five kid protagonists, because I'd read all the Bobbsey Twins and the Trixie Belden books and the Nancy Drew books and all of those, and I knew the way to get published writing children's mysteries was by writing an ongoing series using the same characters. So there was really never a time in my life where I didn't have the intent and expectation of being a published writer someday.

My career has progressed, I think, at exactly the rate and in exactly the way that I was prepared for it to. I suspect I could've been published years ago if I'd put myself into it, really gone for it, but the *need* to do that only came on strong a couple of years ago, and when it did, I hit the ground running. I'm absolutely satisfied with where I am as a writer right now, and delighted beyond words with this first year.

Vision: What do you have coming out that we should look for? What sort of things do you plan, or hope, to write in the future?

Catie: *laugh* Well, let's see. The things that are actually scheduled, in order of

appearance:

  • URBAN SHAMAN by C.E. Murphy, June 2005

  • WINTER MOON by Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee & C.E. Murphy, November 2005

  • THE CARDINAL RULE by Cate Dermody, December 2005

  • THE FIREBIRD DECEPTION by Cate Dermody, Spring 2006

  • THUNDERBIRD FALLS by C.E. Murphy, May 2006

As for the future, I've got another urban fantasy series I'm working on selling, a young adult fantasy that I'm really hoping sells this year, and with any luck this fall I'll finish up a partially completed science fiction manuscript that I think of as being the Matrix Meets The Inquisition.

Those are my short-term goals. I'll keep you posted on the longer-term ones as they come up. :)

Vision: Thank you for taking this time for this interview. Any thing you'd like to say to our readers?

Catie: What, haven't I said enough? :) Actually, yes, there are a couple more things I'd like to say. They're both movie quotes and therefore perhaps silly, but I also think they're important.

The first is, "There is no try, only do." You either are a writer or you are not. It's pretty easy to tell the difference: writers write, and people who want to have written talk about wanting to write. Maybe your goal isn't publication, but just the sheer joy of putting words down on paper (or pixels). That doesn't matter. If you're putting the words down, you're a writer, and if you're not, you aren't. There are times when life gets crazy, but if your goal is to be a published writer, even in those times, you have to make the time to write. It's hard work. There aren't any handouts. But I really believe that if you put your heart and all your skill into it, you'll make it.

The other thing is, "Never give up. Never surrender." If you want to be a professional writer, you have to hold on to that idea for all you're worth.

It's hard work. It's a long road. You'll get rejections and you'll see people you don't think are as good as you are get published and you'll have to smile and applaud them. You'll have bad days and you'll have days where you think you're awesome. Hold on to your dream, because nobody else is going to hold onto it for you.

And good luck.

-Catie

  Visit Catie's website at: http://cemurphy.net/