This week's Friday Feature, come from Cathleen Dunn. Her book Chimera debuted last November and has received an all around 5 star rating.
Author Cathleen Dunn has lived in Seattle for the last 20 years after growing up all over the United States. She's lived in Texas, California, Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, and truly likes variety: she attended college both in Washington and Arizona, has a day job at an engineering company, loves rescuing greyhounds, has been onstage with Seattle Opera, and has been known to paint faux finishes and murals inside homes for her friends. She also goes hunting and fishing with her husband occasionally, watches way too many old movies and educational television, and listens to both Baroque and Metal music.
Cathleen is the author of The Witches Trilogy series of full-length novels. She published the first installment, Chimera, in November of 2013 and is currently writing the second novel, Blue/Black, set for release in December 2014. She sets her stories here in Seattle, where the dark and rain create the witches' stories in her head. She just writes them down.
Cathleen not only is here to promote her series, but to delve into her writing process. Welcome Cathleen Dunn!
I've gotten so many questions about my writing process that I thought I should answer those for you. I've been really busy on book #2 in the Witches Trilogy - Blue/Black - but to be honest, I'm half way through and just need a BREAK. Funny how taking a break translates into more writing, but it's different when I’m talking to all of you. As for the questions about how in the world I go from idea to published novel, here you are. Enjoy!
1) How does your writing process work?
At first there's a lot of living inside my head – you know, the stuff that everyone does when they think about writing a book. Coming up with ideas, visualizing scenes, deciding on names and such, and those cool ideas that wake you up in the middle of the night. For those middle of the night ones, I be sure and write down right then because I won't remember them in the morning. After about a month I take those notes and everything I have inside my head and just start typing it all into a Word document as fast as I can. I don't worry about what order it's in – I just set the doc to bullet points and type in everything from my notes and what's in my head. Separate thoughts, scenes or ideas all each get their own bullet. I usually end up with 10-12 pages of bullet points.
Then I arrange those in the order in which they should happen in the story. If there's a gap in the story line I'll stick a bullet point with XXXXXXXX's in there and keep on putting the rest in order. After that's done I should have the outline of my story, and I read it through as fast as I can (ignoring typos and idea-generating) to see how it flows, and to see if there's any little tricks, questions, logic gaps, magical 'fails' or any other fails that I need to fix until I have a solid storyline that makes sense, is exciting, has a good arc and tension in it, and no gaps in logic or any other ‘escapements’.
When that's done, I take those bullet points and start typing the whole story bullet by bullet, expanding each bullet until it's completely fleshed out and I'm ready to go to the next bullet point and fill it in. I read and reread each section as I go along to gauge content, flow, errors, better word usage, delete repetitive fragments, etc… Then I delete the bullet notes I just finished and go on to the next one until I've done them all.
After that, I read the manuscript through completely to see if it's awkward or cheesy anywhere and fix those sections. THEN I put it away for a few months while I work on my next project or take a break so that I can get some distance away from my story and come back a few months later and read it through with a fresh eye. THAT'S where I catch some errors or passages that I was in love with when I wrote them but look stupid by light of day. You know, kind of like that person you saw at the party when you were drunk and just loved, who looks far different in the daytime after you’re sober. After all, that's how a new reader would come into a book, not already dazed and in love with it, right? I need that distance to really look objectively at my work.
At that point I cut, add, polish, and recraft the story until it's done and then send it to my group of Beta readers with a questionnaire to fill out after they're done. That way I can get some stats on how many people had the same problem with it or the same perception. At that point it's up to me whether or not I will make the changes.
After that, I send it to a professional copy editor and incorporate their edits – getting another professional, unbiased view is essential for a novel.
Then… I send it to several proofreaders to make sure there are no typos, gaps, hanging sentences, or anything else.
And finally, I have a professional format and upload it for printing – they will catch any formatting and other errors that anyone else has missed along the way. I want the final product to be as smooth and error-free for my readers, so you can see all these professional additional looks at the manuscript are essential.
2) What am I currently working on?
Right now I'm in the middle of writing The Witches Trilogy, which follows an international coterie of witches with a wealthy and lavish lifestyle - and of course, supernatural dangers like demonic possession and a power struggle that pits vicious dark witches against the light ones. Since the light witches aren't supposed to harm with their magic, it takes some serious trickery and mind-games to overcome their dark counterparts. Additionally, what if a witch has both dark and light in them? Whose side are they on? And how do we know? There's a few humans who get mixed up in this as well - and end up on the wrong side of magic.
The overarching story includes TWT: Chimera, where Dantin - a very dark witch with a deeply psychotic crush on Olivia, one of the light witches, stalks and torments her because she doesn't love him back, but she can't use her powers to get rid of him. After he's killed her lover and apprentice, she can't take it anymore and might have to give up everything she loves to save everyone she loves. And not everyone gets out of Chimera alive. In book #2 TWT: Blue/Black, one of the light witches is turning dark – and another named Malila is trying to help her, but is Malila dark or is she light? Maybe she's not as evil as she appears, but there's no way to know which side of her will prevail. In the third and final book, tentatively titled TWT: Step, some forgotten villains find a way to take revenge on the witches with some help from a human.
The first installment is called The Witches Trilogy: Chimera, the second is The Witches Trilogy: Blue/Black, and as for the final title to The Witches Trilogy: Book #3, I'm going to let my readers decide what it will be called. Right now the working title is The Witches Trilogy: Step, but in January 2015 I'll put up a few more titles on my website and let people vote their choice at http://cathleendunn.com/
Last year I had the readers vote on which cover art I should use and they selected the beautiful liquid covers you see here by a 75% majority. It was so much fun for everybody to have their say in the cover art!
3) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My witches have familiars called chimera (like guy-mere-uh) that are spirits who live in the realm of magic. But they're not all good – some chimera are perfidious, cruel, power-hungry, and can possess and enslave a witch if they can find their way in. They will use a witch to experience all the carnal pleasures and sensations of a human body. Another kind will protect a witch while they're tapping into all that power out there, and help them enhance their powers - if they follow the rules.
And then there's the glitz! These witches are rich – I mean like Beyonce/Jay-Z rich, and they jet to all the chi-chi places around the world and live lavish lives. Everyone I talk to when writing these books tells me "Yeah, make them wealthy – if I had powers like that I'd live a rock-star life! Why do other stories make witches and wizards live such ordinary lives?"
4) Why do I write what I do?
I love describing the magic, whether it's something beautiful, or decrepit and hideous. Fantasy allows me to tell how it feels to have magical power rush through you make up anything and what it looks like or. I also like the discipline of putting the magical world so close to the real world, where nobody knows these witches exist, and making it believable. And of course writing how it feels to be pampered and cosseted and fly in a private jet and go to all these wonderful places that they do is so fabulous and enjoyable to write.
I want to make readers feel they're the ones that are doing the magic, or that they've been in the private jet, or been to Paris and Seattle and Monte Carlo and Dubai, and stayed in the most luxurious suites, and actually attended red-carpet events and lavish parties. I'd like them to experience having a private fitting of a designers new line tailored just to them in one of Paris's finest haute couture salons. But of course there's always a price for the luxury – nothing is ever given for free.
5) You have a full-time job; when do you find time to write?
Some people can write a couple hours every day, but I can't switch from my day job where I have to be logical and sensible to my fantasy world very easily, so I write on Saturday and Sunday, and maybe an occasional Friday or Monday for ten to thirteen hours a day. I just stay in my world and write a bunch of pages and then go back to work during the week. My characters are never far away though; I think about them constantly and formulate the next weekend's work with my right brain while I'm using my left brain at my day job.
6) Where do you get your ideas?
Ever since I was little I loved superstition and ghost stories and magic. I remember getting a book of superstitions from the library and thinking about them all the way to school when I was in first grade. Things like: "If you see the full moon through the trees it is considered bad luck", or "if you walk through a spot of cold air, you have just walked through a ghost", or "never let a broom touch your head; it is bad luck". I also see stories in music; the feeling a particular song gives me might start a story there. For example, my niece gave me a CD by "Evanescence" - their "Fallen" album - and while listening to it I started to see Olivia and her problems, and how she was feeling about being hounded and isolated by what had happened in her past. Interestingly enough, her decision on how to handle Dantin came off a "Transformers" album. Go figure.
7) What kind of music do you listen to?
Almost anything, but I especially love harpsichord concertos from the Baroque era, and rock. Some of my favorite bands are Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, Godhead, Nickelback, Rammstein, AC/DC, a little Alice Cooper, Evanescence, and almost anything from the Eighties. I also love big band - Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, the Andrews Sisters, almost anything from the Thirties and Forties.
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who comes to see me, or to my blog or my FB, and of course, to everyone who has bought my book and tells me how much they enjoyed living the magical and wealthy life with Olivia, Alejo, Taylor, JaneAnn, and all the other witches in these stories. I will keep them coming for you!
Here's what they say about her work:
" ...extraordinary debut novel...move over Stephenie Meyer, there's a new girl in town!" -Reader, Ann S.
"Just when you think you've seen everything, something new comes along, and Cathleen Dunn has certainly brought that! Chimera creates an unusual world of magic... Do not miss it."-Lee Witt, author of Become Unstoppable
Enjoy the following excerpt from book of The Witches Trilogy: Chimera
Olivia touched the petals of the iris in the outdoor market. So fragile – and beautiful. Their plum color faded to violet, then pale lavender at the very tips. These would be wonderful in the dining room on the old table, the only thing she had taken from the plantation house when it had burned over a century ago. She’d even posed her own death in the fire and had left the house to herself under another name…but she had never rebuilt. The charred bits were still there, overgrown and anonymous. She stuffed the thought, pushing away the feelings that came with it. She lived in Seattle now, not Louisiana.
She was paying for the flowers when she felt a tightness on the back of her legs, a tingling feeling that moved up her spine and made her scalp prickle with a rush of adrenaline. Another witch was close by and could be a strong one, but the feeling was not at all disciplined – usually a dangerous sign.
She looked around, careful not to focus anywhere. Don’t think about it, just feel. There was a pair of Northwesters in fleece, several well-groomed couples in jeans and button-down shirts, a well-dressed young professional… Olivia didn’t sense anything from them. Who is it? Why can’t I tell? An older couple browsed in the kiosk next to her. Ah! The gooseflesh still – could this be them? No… then a ratty group passed her, probably runaways, and she felt the tightness even more strongly down her thighs. It was one of them – a girl with dark brown hair and green eyes. The girl stepped around Olivia trailing a haze of magic, but nothing definite, no structure, no training. As a test, Olivia looked hard at the girl and directed a thought toward her: Turn around – look at me. No change. She doesn’t know; she has no idea. The brunette was now on the sidewalk with her group, who were laughing. The girl smiled languidly, not interacting. Classic born to the caul witch, Olivia thought. Always feeling a little separate from everyone else. She was positive; either this girl had no idea about her abilities, or she was unaware how to use them and of the hazards that came with the power.
She browsed her way down the street, following unnoticed as the girl and her friends went into Ruby’s Diner, a well-worn place that served strong coffee and large platters of greasy, old-fashioned breakfast. The food was so cheap and voluminous it was a favorite hangout in the Broadway district, especially for runaways.
There were so many runaways here on Capitol Hill, finding awkward acceptance amongst the residents. Some in the neighborhood had even pulled together to create the Home Alive program after punk singer Mia Zapata had been murdered there in 1993. Mia hadn’t been homeless, but like the street kids she had been out at two a.m. one morning and had ended up dead only minutes after her last contact with anyone. Olivia gave thousands to Home Alive even now. Still, that was just money, easy enough to donate. It was a whole different level of intimacy to take on an apprentice… Goddammit. The last thing she wanted was an apprentice, but she didn’t want this uncontrolled element in her neighborhood, either. She didn’t know anything about this girl and realized she would need to and very soon – before someone or something else got to her.
A few nights later Olivia sat atop the stone wall that edged the community pool and listened to its waterfall as she watched Taylor with her companions. She leaned back to look at the moonlight on her burgundy leather pants. Clouds intermittently trapped the glow in shadow, then released it again to paint a sheen on everything. The bluish haze and the dark sapped vibrancy from colors and made it the perfect setting to be invisible. Olivia loved being invisible and did it often. She could observe in solitude while people around acted without presumption. Being invisible also meant that people could pass through her, which was always revealing: for a moment they blended and Olivia could feel their memories, hopes, emotions, loneliness… A passing couple walked through her legs and gave Olivia a rush of their anticipation and sexual energy. Feeling their emotions was deeply personal, and she mentally looked away as they passed through but smiled at experiencing their mutual crush on each other.
Now she watched Taylor and her friends at the end of the Ave while they in turn watched a pair of feral cats hunting in the alley behind a restaurant. Occasionally the scruffy malkins stood immobile to bluff something living that came their way—other times quickly gulping down anything vile they found. Scraps or wildlife, either was fine when not much was around. They came out to where Taylor and company were standing, and one tried to lure the cats with kissing sounds and calls of “kitty, kitty, kitty.” Olivia laughed at that – why would an alley cat know the word “kitty”? The brown cat left immediately, crouching backward under a hedge and could be heard brushing its way off through the leaves. The other stood his ground and hissed, baring very long, sharp teeth. Then he turned glowering and strode into the bushes, tail straight up except for a kink at the very tip. After a minute more of talking Taylor and her friends turned and made off down the sidewalk. As Olivia crossed the street after them she saw both cats come out of hiding. Apparently one of them had snagged a treasure in the hedge – a pliable, drooping mouse was tucked into kinktail’s furry mouth. They trotted down the alley together, the brown cat trying to get her face close for a bite of the mouse and the other turning his face away right and then left, keeping it just out of reach. She smiled, watching as the duo zigzagged down the alley, then followed Taylor’s group receding down the sidewalk.
Several blocks later, Taylor split off from her friends onto a side street. It was thickly dark here, away from the streetlights on the Ave. Olivia was surprised to see the girl leave her group. Typically runaways sought the security of friends in the darkness when they were most vulnerable – helpless and sleeping. As they continued further Olivia alerted to a feeling of maliciousness. She saw a man in a hoodie, his hands in his sagging front pocket and his headpiece pulled down with his face in shadow, watching Taylor from a side street. The girl couldn’t see him standing next to a narrow juniper until she was a few yards away. He stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked toward her, passing innocuously as if uninterested, then turned once Taylor’s back was to him. As he moved toward her she turned and stared at him, her face expressionless except for baleful eyes. Stone cold still she stood and the man stopped, apparently unsure now of his intended prey. Taylor’s expression didn’t change as the hooded stranger took another step toward her and Olivia heard the distinct message emanating from her: “Don’t.” She watched the standoff, feeling intensity and anticipation. Both stood frozen, Taylor’s emotionless gaze fixed on him the whole time, and after three or four seconds the would-be assailant turned away. Olivia could tell the girl was not at all intimidated as she stared after the retreating figure before pivoting and continuing on her way. She never looked back. Good, Olivia thought. She’ll need to be tough. But which blood-tint did she have?
After another block Taylor stopped at an old craftsman-style house with a raised wraparound porch. In an earlier life it had been beautiful, built probably in the mid-1930’s. The porch was wide with thick stone columns at each corner and extended rafter beams that supported a broad, low-slung roof. Now, though, the porch was starting to sag and weeds filled the flowerbeds. Taylor stopped beside the corner column and looked through the window before slipping in the back door. Olivia crouched down and watched. The kinktail cat joined her as she observed, apparently winning the war for the mouse since he still had possession of it. He settled in next to Olivia to eat it, starting with the tender little mouse feet.
Olivia patted the cat on the head and sent her attention back to the porch. Narrowing her eyes and concentrating, she looked past the walls into the house and then relaxed to let the magic flow through her and give her what she desired. The wood seemed to disappear and the sight inside was visible to her as if in brilliant sunlight. Taylor paused alone in the kitchen, listening. In the living room Olivia could see a couple on the couch watching one of those cheap reality tv shows. The woman had overly processed blond hair and he had his filthy sock feet on a coffee table that was littered with junk, including long, brightly-colored fingernails the woman was gluing on. The man heard Taylor come in and yelled into the kitchen.
“Get in here – where the hell have you been?”
Taylor came just inside the living room. “With some friends.”
“Horseshit. You don’t have friends except those stupid street kids. Why do you do that anyway?”
Taylor stayed silent and he answered himself.
“Probably all you can get, you’re so goddamned dumb. Couldn’t even graduate high school.”
And whose fault is that? Taylor clenched her jaw to prevent a retort.
“Why don’t you go get a job? Oh, yeah…who’s going to hire a sorry stupid ass like you? You couldn’t keep the last one. Be more like your sister. She gets good grades and got into college – and as soon as she leaves next month your ass is out of here, too. Get out and find your mother, wherever the hell she is.”
Taylor stared at him. “As if you didn’t know – I’m sure you do.”
“I’d advise you not to go around saying that, you little bitch!” His threat was low, dark. Then he muttered: “I don’t know where she is.” He looked back at the television.
“Do you mind? I can’t hear my program.” Ms. Straw-for-Hair was now fanning her fingers to dry the glue.
He snarled at her. “Shut up.” While she looked mildly surprised he shouted toward the hallway opposite where Taylor stood.
“Karen! Get in here and clean the kitchen with your sister!” Apparently she didn’t appear fast enough because he got up and left the room, returning with a petite girl whom he held tightly by a handful of hair. She looked terrified and whimpered as he jerked her across the room.
Taylor was immediately between them grabbing his wrist, digging in her nails to try to make him let go. He did, but only to use that hand to slap her, the momentum bouncing her against the wall. She narrowed her eyes against the stinging tears, refusing to give him the satisfaction and pulled Karen into the kitchen away from him. He returned to the couch where the blonde sat in overt silence, still fanning her nails but with a little less gusto.
Olivia shook her head. What a piece of work he is… She watched Taylor comfort her sister then start to clean as they had been told. …and now there’s a sister to deal with, too.
In the kitchen Taylor smoldered. “I hate him. I hate him so much.” The sister tried to look at Taylor’s cheek, but she turned away.
Karen hugged her. “Come with me to school.”
“How? You have to live in the dorm the first two years; I can’t afford anything on my own.”
“We’ll find something for you.”
“And what about Mom? I can’t leave here yet.”
Karen was silent a moment. “Come on, let’s finish the kitchen.” She started picking up dishes.
Meanwhile, kinktail finished his mouse, putting the head under a bush for later, and came over to Olivia purring. She scritched him under the chin while she watched Taylor and Karen finish their cleaning and quietly pass back through the living room, careful not to wake the man now sleeping on the couch. When they were both in bed she let the picture in front of her fade until it was only the wraparound porch again. Then standing up, she willed herself home and was instantly there, leaving nothing behind her but a shimmer in the night air.
The Witches Trilogy Available @ Amazon
Here's the cover for Book 2