NOTE: Kate is offering a free electronic copy of A Vintage Year to someone who comments. Be sure to leave your contact information to be considered in the drawing. Also, Kate is seeking folks interested in reviewing the book. If you are interested in that, please make a note in your comment, and she'll be in touch.
AUTHOR: Kate Preston
BOOK TITLE: A Vintage Year
GENRE: Contemporary Women's
PUBLISHER: Book Baby
Please tell us about yourself:
I am an environmental policy consultant by day and fiction writer by night (well, actually, by day too -- 10pm is usually my bedtime). I live in Montreal with my husband, our three teenagers, and an agoraphobic cat. My work can be pretty stressful and intense so writing light-hearted escape stories is a therapy for me.
Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I write part-time. I have thought about writing full-time, but I'm not sure I have the attention span to do that. I enjoy my day job, it pays the bills and I get to meet really interesting people and see interesting technologies. In fact, I get a lot of inspiration from my day job. I'm fortunate that because I'm a consultant, I rarely work a typical 9-5 Monday to Friday job. Instead, I can usually find time two days a week to write fiction. I also write for a few hours on weekend mornings before the kids are up -- not that that's an issue anymore as they're teenagers and lead independent lives. I also take a pen and notepad with me and use the 50 minute public transit ride to work to hash out ideas I might have. My brain can't handle writing for more than four hours in a day anyway so short spurts of time work best for me.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing fiction as I was finishing up a Master's in Political Science and Environmental Studies. I had to write a lot of papers for that program and I kept wanting the real, historical figures to do things other than what they were doing. I would say, "What if he had done this instead of that? How would the world be different today?" I promised myself that once I'd finished my degree I'd start writing fiction. So I did.
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
I am always coming up with new ideas even when I am not actually working on something. If I'm organized, I will even write the ideas down, but that's not always the case. I love being outdoors, so when I am not at my desk I play tennis, go for a bike ride, a walk, a hike with my husband or friends. In the winter I play squash and we ski as long as it isn't too cold (I draw the line at -20C). Writing is a solitary experience, your characters can only keep you company for so long, so socializing and doing exercise at the same time is a good way to keep fit and connect with the real world.
Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?
I have always had a romantic notion that I would like to own a vineyard. While doing the research for this book hasn't changed that idea, the idea of having farm animals did. They need a lot of work and you can't just up and leave them to go on holiday somewhere. At least with grapes -- or any crop for that matter -- you have a defined period of rest during the winter months. I also made the vineyard in my book biodynamic. After researching it, I am skeptical of the need to going to that level of farming to produce great fruit. It is a lot of work and, while wineries that use the method swear by it, (and what do I really know versus a real farmer), I would definitely be more inclined to stick to organic farming which seems a bit more straightforward.
What are your current projects?
I am in creative mode at the moment, which can be wonderful and frustrating and depressing all at the same time. I come up with tons of ideas, write them down, explore them and see if they can go anywhere. I potentially have about five different plot ideas at the moment -- the key question is, are any of them viable -- and I don't know the answer to that yet.
How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?
What genre do you write in and why?
I write contemporary fiction, primarily targeted at women. Basically, I like to write works that I would like to read. I like suspense and comedy with a bit of romance woven in, with a great plot and complex characters.
Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
A Vintage Year is about a retired former number one tennis player, Harris Tucker. Harris is eight years into his retirement and on the brink of running out of money -- but he's still living like he's the center of the universe with no clear direction other than having a lot of fun.
He ends up working on a vineyard in the hills of Santa Barbara, CA, as a farmhand where he tends the vines and looks after the animals. I wanted to test his resolve and see how he would do going from King to lowly farmhand. I also put a love interest, Laura Walters, in there for him -- not his typical female companion (she's not a social climber, nor does she think a lot about her appearance since she works on the farm all day). She has issues of her own and comes with two sweet children. It is through his interactions with her, her children and the rest of her family, as well as the good old-fashioned physical labour of working on a farm that show Harris what life for "normal" people is like. The question is, once he is finished his little stint on the farm, will he go back to his partying ways, or will he pull up his socks and start developing a life for himself?
What gave you the idea for this particular book?
I had had this question sitting in the back of my mind for a few years: What happens to professional athletes after they retire? Most retire fairly young because of the brutal beating the sport they play takes on the their bodies. Unless they become a commentator, you don't really hear about them much.
Then, when I was out in California visiting my sister a few years ago, we were exploring Santa Barbara and wine country. It was February so there were few tourists and the landscape was brown, but it was still beautiful. While we were winding our way through the vineyards we started discussing a book I was working on and I came to the conclusion that it was boring. But there were elements of it that had potential. My old question, What happens to professional athletes after they retire? came back into my head. Suddenly, I had my story. I kept the two main characters, but changed their jobs, lifestyles and where they lived and plopped them onto a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, and let the story run from there.
Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?
I absolutely outline before I write. I read several books before I start writing a new work to remind me of how to write again. My writing bible is The First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner. For me, this book is an amazing resource. It breaks a story into essential parts with all the technical reasons why certain elements are necessary for a good story. I also read Hooked, by Les Edgerton, The First Five Pages, and The Plot Thickens both by Noah Lukeman. While I'm rereading all these books, I also start thinking of what my story will look like, who my characters are, what are their strengths and weaknesses, etc.
What comes first: the plot or characters?
Plot.... No, characters!, No, plot!....for me they develop together. I like a good plot, but it's the characters who make the plot come alive. The characters need to be interesting and well-developed, using their special talents and flaws to drive the plot forward.
Which of your characters do you love/hate/fear/pity the most and why?
Definitely Harris. He is charming and naive, and sweet when he wants to be. He doesn't understand how the real world works because he's been coddled, bossed, and protected all his life. But he has so much potential once he's out of the clutches of his mother and able to think about what is really important to him. Out of all the characters he changes the most during the book and he becomes so much more emotionally mature by the end. Plus, he was so much fun to write!
What are your current books out right now, and what are the books coming up for release?
A Vintage Year is my first published novel. I have 5 or 6 "drawer novels" (ie., sitting in my drawer because they're not good enough for prime time) that I might revisit, but I am also developing a new one -- an environmental suspense thriller, loosely based on technologies I've come into contact with during my day job.
What advice would you give a new writer starting out?
If you love writing keep at it. It is one of the most difficult skills I have ever learned. When you read good writing, it fools you into thinking it is easy to do. Believe me when I say it is not. So, write as often as you can, preferably every day. On the days when you don't feel like it, cut yourself some slack and sit at your writing place for ten minutes. If you haven't put anything on the paper, leave and try again the next day. You will have days when the creative well is dry. It's normal, just accept it and move on.
What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun?
It depends on my mood. I usually want to read something with a strong main character who is intelligent, but stuck in some kind of situation or problem and works hard to overcome it and succeed in the end.
Describe your writing space.
I don't just have one writing space because I often need a change of scenery. Sometimes I will steal away to the living room and sit on the couch with my laptop beside the fire with some great background music going. Other times I'll be business-like and sit at my desk in our "catch all" room (spare bedroom-den-office). That's usually when I've given myself a deadline to get through a certain element of a new story. I have post-its all over the office with magazine cut-outs of places where I think my characters might live or work.
What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite?
I love to create new stories so having the freedom to invent anything I want is as much fun as it is a challenge. I love the idea of living in new and interesting places and working in different jobs (like on a vineyard in Santa Barbara County). It's not likely I will ever get the chance to do that in real life so experiencing it through my characters is the next best thing.
The least favourite thing about being an author is usually finding the initial thread of the story that is interesting enough to hold my and readers' attention. It's a challenge that can be easy to give up on. Once you have it though, it's incredibly gratifying to follow it to the end (with a few more starts and stops along the way).
EXCERPT CHAPTER ONE:
Harris Tucker had finished his warm-up half an hour before game time. Now, in the privacy of his locker room, out of the way of the nosy crowd and paparazzi, he took four yellow pills to help dull the pain that was already seeping into his knees and lower back. In hindsight, he should have stopped by Dr. Morton’s office for the steroid shots he’d suggested. It was too late now, so he hoped the yellow pills would take effect in time for the match.
Once again he was kicking himself for agreeing to this event. “ButHarris,” his mother had pouted, “it’s for the children. They need you.” More like she needed him, he grumbled to himself. He knew perfectly well that the event was as much about his mother announcing her candidacy for state senator as it was about his raising money for the Santa Barbara Children’s Hospital.
He didn’t play tennis anymore, his knees and lower back protested every time he demanded they do anything more than a brisk walk, while his right rotator cuff wouldn’t even allow him to have a friendly game of golf without a complaint. So when his mother had approached him to star in this event, against none other than his former rival, Win Sommers, he’d immediately declined. “There is no possible amount of money that could get me out on the court against him again,” he claimed. He had watched his mother’s expression go from glee to tears in less than ten seconds. He had to give her credit, she was a fine actress. It took her a solid twenty days of badgering, and she’d had no qualms about enlisting the help of his girlfriend and her publicist, Lindsay, to finally convince him to play.
Now, sitting in the locker room of the Santa Barbara Municipal Tennis Center, he changed into his new Lacoste tennis outfit. The weather in January was generally mild and today, although still early in the month, was no exception. A pleasant 65°F with a cloudless blue sky and sunshine, he couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. It made for decent tennis weather and it would be comfortable for the fans. His mother had told him that the event had sold out, as if that was a justification for her asking him to play, never mind his aching joints. He could already feel the yellow pills starting to work their magic.
Doubling the dose had been a good idea, he decided, given how quickly the pain was receding. He could put his T-shirt on over his head without wincing from rotator cuff pain – always a positive sign. He put on his new shorts and sat down to change his socks and shoes. Huh, he thought as he looked down at his feet, when did he grow a second set of legs? He lifted his right leg and watched two right legs rise in tandem. Then he lifted his left leg and saw the same thing. Amazing. He stood up and felt the extra stability from having not one but two sets of legs. Everyone should have four legs, he decided – it’s just so much better for stability.