Today, I’m honored to welcome Kate McLachlan, author of time-travel romances such as her latest release Return of an Impetuous Pilot and of historical mysteries such as Murder and the Hurdy Gurdy Girl.
Let’s start with some warm-up questions:
Chocolate or cookies?
This is supposed to be an easy question? Really? How am I supposed to answer that? I guess the obvious answer is chocolate cookies, but it’s not that simple. I really prefer my chocolate in candy, and it all depends on the milk anyway. Cookies with milk is the best, except for chocolate covered toffee, especially with macadamia nuts from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Oh, now you’ve done it. Be right back.
E-books or paperbacks?
The convenience of e-books just can’t be beat, especially when I’m looking for something to read or trying a new author. I love the feature of downloading a free sample to see if I like a writer’s style. I can’t tell you how much money I wasted pre-e-books buying paperback books that looked interesting but that just didn’t keep my interest when I read a little further. Now I only buy books I really want to read. When it comes to a familiar and well-loved author, though, I really want to read the paperback. It’s easier for me to focus, I think, when I don’t have an electronic device in my hand. And I’ve been trying to read Nicola Griffith’s Hild on Kindle, and it’s nearly impossible. I’m hooked, but it’s a tough read. I keep wanting to flip back to something I read before, and I can’t easily do that. I think I’m going to buy the actual book too.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Uh, neither. I know I write time-travel, but I’ve never been into sci-fi much. I don’t think of time-travel as sci-fi. Time-travel is really about self-discovery, relationships, and history.
Beach or mountains?
All right, I’m trading in my non-answer to the ‘Star Wars or Star Trek’ question for a double answer here. Both.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a pretty busy girl. That candy isn’t going to crush itself, you know! Oh, and I work full-time, so that takes up some time too. My wife and I are fanatic Gonzaga Women’s Basketball fans, so during the college season we go to every home game and watch every away game on the computer or TV. We go to Las Vegas every March for the WCC championship, and sometimes we follow the team on their post-season journey as far as our finances and my work schedule will allow. We have 2 dogs and 2 cats and they like a bit of attention too. We don’t have children, but we have lots of siblings and nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews. There’s never too little to do.
I started writing novels in the mid-90’s when I was a middle school teacher. Unfortunately, at that time I still thought I was straight. I tried to write about straight relationships, and I couldn’t get them off the ground. It makes sense. My own real life attempts at having a relationship never got off the ground either. So my attempts to find an agent or a publisher for my books at that time all failed.
When I did finally figure out that I was a lesbian, I realized I didn’t want to teach middle school anymore. I wanted to be out, and I couldn’t see that happening – not safely, anyway – while I was teaching 12 and 13 year olds. That was fifteen years ago, and the world was a different place for gays and lesbians. Now there are LGBT groups in middle schools, but back then gays and lesbians were still suspected of being pedophiles. Shortly after I left teaching, I told one of my best teacher friends, someone I’d thought of until then as being open and tolerant, that I was a lesbian. Her first response was that she didn’t want me to be around her children.
Sorry, digressing! You asked about the road to publishing. I’m getting there, I swear. I left teaching and went to law school, and for the next few years I just didn’t have time to write anymore, not what I wanted to write anyway. I got back into it in 2007-08 when I wrote Rip Van Dyke. I tried at first to find an agent, since that was the route I’d learned in the 90’s when I was writing straight books. I knew nothing about the lesbian publishing industry, I only knew that I needed to write lesbian stories. I received a few rejections from agents, and then I decided to submit the books directly to publishers of lesbian fiction. That’s when I learned about Bella and Bold Strokes and Regal Crest. I still have my rejections from the first two, but my acceptance by Regal Crest is carefully preserved in a special folder in my in-box.
You write in many different genres, time-travel, mystery, historical fiction, all with subplots of romance and typically a lot of humor. Do you have a favorite genre as a reader and as a writer?
I write what I want to read. It’s less about the genre than it is about the writing style. I like some adventure in my books, a hint of danger, at least some romance. I don’t read much contemporary romance because I usually need something else to keep me engaged—a dead body, a hidden treasure, a historical setting, time-travel – pretty much anything as long as it’s not too violent, gruesome, or scary. One of my favorite authors (non-lesbian, as far as I know) is Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels. Every book has romance, but the romance develops as the characters try to achieve some goal, like solving a mystery or finding a treasure, even putting a spirit to rest so it will stop haunting people, and there’s always a lot of humor in her books.
How much research and what kind of research did you do for your historical mystery, Murder and the Hurdy Gurdy Girl?
I did a ton of research. I first wrote Murder and the Hurdy Gurdy Girl as a straight novel back in the 90’s, and that was before everything you needed to know was at your fingertips on the Internet. I went to the library and checked out books and read them cover to cover. I looked up old newspaper articles and copied them from microfiche. Ah, the good old days! I also visited the location where most of the book took place, an old mining town in Idaho called Burke (I changed the name to Needles Eye for the book). Burke is a ghost town now, and it was a lot of fun to explore it, but it was a little scary back in the 90’s when I went there by myself.
I rewrote the book a couple of years ago as a lesbian romance, which made it way better. I used the Internet to supplement and double-check the research I had done with the original version, and I visited Burke again, this time with my wife and a friend so it wasn’t so scary.
I still had a lot of story to tell after the first two books in the series. I’d kind of left Van and Bennie and Patsy hanging without a romantic resolution after Rescue at Inspiration Point, but I needed a time-travel story to move them along. Jill was never intended to be a main character in the series, but she’s the one who invented the time machine, so she was in charge of what happened next. She learned in Rescue at Inspiration Point that she had the ability to go back in time as well as forward, so I put myself in Jill’s head to try to figure out what she’d want to do with that ability. Amelia Earhart popped into my head. There were a lot of similarities between Amelia and Jill, and I knew Jill would be aware of that and want to meet her. The original story had Jill going back to meet Amelia, and I thought maybe she’d get stuck back there and the gang would have to try to help her return to the present. But then Amelia came to life and had some ideas of her own. She decided she wanted a taste of the future, and when she got there, she didn’t want to go back!
The titles of your time-travel series all follow the same RIP pattern. How did you come up with that?
When an author writes a book series but also writes stand-alone books, like I do, it’s important for readers to be able to identify at a glance if a book is part of the series or not. A is for Alibi and One for the Money were already taken, unfortunately, so I had to think of something else.
That’s the serious reason. The real reason is that I’m drawn to goofy titles. Rip Van Dyke started it all. I can’t remember where that first came from, but I remember designing the name of Jill’s time machine, the Rapid Intertemporal Projector, so that it would fit the title. When I was exploring the grounds of Expo 74 for the second book in the series, I learned there was a spit of land there called Inspiration Point. It was an excellent location for Bennie to land in ’74, so I thought it would be fun to stage the rescue there, and Rescue at Inspiration Point was born. I really thought of the R.I.P. pattern as kind of a private joke, maybe too subtle for anyone to notice. People did, though, and I realized I’d created a problem for myself. It’s not that easy to create titles with words beginning with R.I.P.!
What would you say is the most important theme in Return of an Impetuous Pilot, and what personal meaning does that theme have for you?
What a fun question! I love themes. I never start a book with a theme, but by the time I’m finished with it I can tell you what it is. The theme of this one is captured in a quote by Amelia Earhart that is printed at the beginning of the book: “It may not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.”
It sounds strange, but I wasn’t born knowing how to have fun. I was fourth of nine children, and some of my earliest memories are of taking care of the littler kids and trying to keep them safe. I was an anxious little worrier. Fun was for other people!
I’m still learning how to have fun. My wife, Tonie, helps a lot. I think she was born knowing how to have fun. Her philosophy is more “If it’s not fun, why are you doing it?” Good question.
How long did it take you to write Return of an Impetuous Pilot?
It normally takes me 9 months to write a book, just like having a baby. Return of an Impetuous Pilot took a little longer because I got stuck around 60 pages in and switched to working on Murder and the Hurdy Gurdy Girl. Once that project was done, I was chomping at the bit to get back to Return of an Impetuous Pilot, and it went quickly then. All I had to do was push. Do I know how to use a metaphor or what?
How do you find enough time to write, even though you have a day job? Any tips for how to be productive as a writer who can’t write full time?
You know, I always wonder how people have time to keep their houses clean or to golf every weekend or to ski in the winter. We all make time for what’s important to us.
Still, I have three basic tips for people who are serious about writing. First, avoid the TV. I watch very little television, though I do like American Idol and The Amazing Race¸ and now The Fosters. When Tonie starts to tell me about a new television show she thinks I might like, I stick my fingers in my ears and sing.
Second – this is a tough one – don’t read so much. I know that’s contrary to most advice for writers, and you do need to read a lot to become a good writer. But if you’re reading all the time, you can’t be writing. I used to read 3 or more books a week. Since I became a serious writer, I read 1 or 2 a month.
Third, get your wife to start writing too. Seriously! Tonie started writing a year or so ago (her first book, Struck! A Titanic Love Story, is being published by Regal Crest next year!) Now that she writes too, we both spend our spare time writing. It’s become something we do together rather than something that prevents us from spending time together.
Oh, and I just thought of a fourth tip. Don’t start Candy Crush! I wish someone had told me…
What’s your favorite scene in Return of an Impetuous Pilot?
Another fun question! I think my favorite scene is when Bennie finds herself in a speakeasy in 1933. She feels like she’s in a movie, and I just let her go to see what she would do, and she didn’t disappoint me.
Which scene in Return of an Impetuous Pilot was hardest for you to write?
Spoiler alert!!! This scene occurs near the end of the book and might spoil the ending for some. I’ll try not to give too much away. The hardest scene to write was the scene where Patsy catches Van with Bennie. I wanted to convey the pain that Patsy felt without telling it from her point of view. This is the first book in the series that doesn’t have any scene told from Patsy’s point of view. People love to hate Patsy, but I love Patsy. She’s a victim in this book, and I feel bad about that. I need to write Patsy’s story and make people see her the way I see her.
What sort of Starbuck’s coffee would Van, the main character in Return of an Impetuous Pilot, order? Black coffee? Soy-sugar-free-non-fat-vanilla latte? Double chocolate chip Frappuccino with whipped cream and chocolate sauce? Something else?
Oh, geez, I drink my coffee black, so I’m not very knowledgeable about coffee drinks, but Van would probably order a non-fat sugar-free drink with whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top. She’s a woman who tries to do the right thing, but she can’t resist indulgences—like syrup, or Bennie.
What projects are you working on right now?
I just finished a Christmas romance novella, Christmas Candy Crush. It’s my first attempt at a contemporary romance. I know I said I don’t read much contemporary romance, but I do read some, and I can’t resist a Christmas story. So I decided to write one. It should be out in November. Two other projects are now competing for my time. I’ve started a mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, but I’m also eager to start the next book in the RIP series. I really need to tell Patsy’s story. I’m in the very early stages of both projects, and I don’t know which will win.
Thank you for this very interesting interview, Kate! I look forward to your future works, and I will definitely read Tonie’s first book, too.
Have a great Sunday, everyone!