Today we meet Cathy Dougherty, whose debut novel, In Polyester Pajamas, just came out in print. Or, if you prefer the e-book version.
We know this is the most exciting time, having your first novel out for sale. So we asked Cathy a few questions about her work.
Q.- So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin of In Polyester Pajamas.
Cathy- In Polyester Pajamas started with one idea—two middle-aged women, opposites in every way, who couldn’t avoid each other. Having been involved in real estate for many years and knowing the trade, I decided they would be realtors. It took a life of its own from there.
Q.- Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
Cathy- It started with one idea and there were no structured outlines. But, many times when I was at a standstill in the story, I’d go through a particular scene over and over again in my head until I caught a glimpse of what would happen next. I’d then write it down on any scrap of paper I could find, not wanting to forget it. As soon as I could, I’d get back to the computer to add it to the novel manuscript and it would pick up from there—the writing block would be gone. Often I’d be surprised by what was revealed to me through those brainstorm sessions.
Q.- What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
Cathy- Believe it or not, I’m still to this day discovering more and more about the main theme(s) of in Polyester Pajamas. What I’ve realized so far is it’s about taking down walls we tend to build up around us in life to protect us. It’s also about being brave enough to become vulnerable again and having faith enough to carry on. Sounds like a hard thing to do, taking down those walls, but it’s necessary for all of us in order to be happy and free. Oh, it’s also about loss, friendship, family, and love—very important stuff!
Q.- Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
Cathy- It all boils down to living life to its fullest before it’s too late and not letting the bad things bring one down. It’s about accepting change and making the best of it. And, of course, it’s about the importance of having a best friend at any age and moving forward in faith to wherever life is leading. Everything happens for a reason, I always say. But I don’t want it to sound like this book is a heavy read, it isn’t. It’s a fast read and is very entertaining.
Q.- What makes a good book or engaging story?
Cathy- It takes guts. Strange answer, I know, but the author has to be willing to go beyond just writing a well-structured story, with carefully polished words, and be brave (“ballsy”) enough to expose their unique self through their characters. I call this “the magical stuff between the lines.” If it’s not there, no matter how well written the book is, it’s missing what’s going to make it stand out and stay with the reader for a long time to come. It’s a scary thing for an author to do, especially the first time, but that’s what it takes.
Q.- Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
Cathy- I’m influenced by ordinary people most of all. In fact, ordinary isn’t the right word, everyone is extraordinary and unique in their own way. I’m always observing people and am constantly blessed by just watching them and seeing how they react in any given situation. Women around my age (middle-age) are especially amazing and that’s why I enjoy writing about them.
We are all so dynamic and yet, in many ways the same. Ordinary life is fascinating when you really look at it and open up to it.
As far as artists influencing me, there are many—too many to list. I especially like authors that have quirky characters. Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors and all of her characters are quirky. I just love her books.
Q.- Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
Cathy- For me, storytelling can be entertaining only and I can enjoy it on that level, but anything I particularly like to read, and all I write, has to have some inspirational or revealing message within it.
Q.- Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
Cathy- I’m working on the sequel to in Polyester Pajamas and hope to have it finished and in my publisher’s hands within the next couple of months.
Also, I’m concentrating on a good marketing plan to get my name known and my book(s) read.
Long-term plans are to continue writing novels for years to come. There are at least 4 more floating around in my head right now. With any luck, they’ll all be published.
Q.- Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise?
Cathy- I tend to write fast once I get started, but I go over it again and again after the first draft. I would still be revising if I didn’t know already to listen to that voice within me. When it says to me “Stop, you’re done,” I do just that and let the editor(s) take it from there. Any further revisions are at their suggestions.
Q.- When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
Cathy- I’m never tired of it and I’m never completely happy with it. Happy enough, I would say, and I know once the editing process is done, it will be a really good book readers will enjoy and remember. That’s what’s most important to me.
Q.- Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things?
Cathy- This is my first novel so I’ve worked with two editors so far at Briona Glen Publishing.
Lisa Christopher went through the entire novel and fully reviewed the story. Her comments and suggestions were very helpful and, as a result, I created a new first chapter, added more details in places, and merged a few scenes together. The process was stressful and took a lot of time and effort, but it became a much better story when I was finished.
Allison Rainville did the line editing, and also offered helpful suggestions making the story even better.
I couldn’t be what it is today without both of their comments and suggestions. I feel very fortunate to have worked with them and hope to again soon.
Q.- Do you have different people for different editing levels?
Cathy- Yes, as I mentioned, one for the content of the story and one that concentrated primarily on the line edits.
Q.- If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
Cathy- Well, first of all, I would tell them to take any unnecessary“that” words out of their story. Believe it or not, I didn’t know about “that”when I was writing my first novel and thanks to great advice from another Briona Glen author, I was able to go through the manuscript once more and omit some before publication. It made a difference! I’m so glad she wasn’t afraid to give me “that” advice.
As for other advice, I’ll share what I wrote in the acknowledgement of in Polyester Pajamas:
“It’s an amazing thing to have a life-long dream come true, so I acknowledge all writers who also share the dream of being published someday. You’ll discover along the way that it takes many hours of writing and, even when the first draft is done, it is nowhere near finished. But if you really believe it can happen, it can.”
Q.- Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.?
In Polyester Pajamas would make an awesome film or series. I hope someone in the film industry comes across it and realizes that. It would be highly entertaining. The quirky characters are easy to fall in love with and women would especially love it! Anyone know of someone in the business?
Q.- How would that alter the telling?
Cathy- I don’t think it would change it much. The story is written in a way that you could envision it as a series or film right from the start. Many readers have already told me so.
Q.- What's the next step in your writing world?
Cathy- As I’ve mentioned, I am currently finishing up the manuscript for my next novel. It’s titled Woolen Bikinis and is a sequel to in Polyester Pajamas. It’s almost done and I’m very excited about it.
Plans are to publish at least a novel a year. Otherwise, I enjoy volunteering as editor/writer of a newsletter for The Greater Lakes Region Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and hope to continue with that. It’s a very worthy cause.
Q.- Any other information you'd like to impart?
Cathy- Yes, I’d like to thank you, Dale, for this interview and for all of the help and advice you have given me these past few months. I’ve loved reading both of your books published by Briona Glen Publishing—A Memory of Grief and A Fall from Grace. I look forward to reading the next in the series when it is released.
Readers, please be sure to visit my blog/website at http://catherinedougherty.comto find out more about me. And check out my debut novel in Polyester Pajamas. It has just been released by Briona Glen Publishing and is available online at Amazon and Smashwords.com. Within the next few weeks, it will also be available in bookstores and other online sites.
I’d also like to mention to your audience that we both will be participating in the New England Author Expo on July 18th at the Danversport Yacht Club in Danversport, MA. Find out more about it at: http://peartreepublishing.net/events/2012authorsexpo.php
If anyone is in the area, please stop by and say hello. Admittance is free to the public. Hope to see you there!