If you’ve been a fan of Josha books for any length of time, you may know that I, Olivia Castetter, have a special relationship with author Katherine Turner. We met in late 2019 when Katherine was looking for a proofreader for her first book, Finding Annie, the first in the Life Imperfect series. She contacted me and thus began our professional relationship, though it’s certainly one that has transformed both our lives in unique ways; it was in editing Finding Annie that my healing journey from a lifetime of complex, myriad trauma really began. You can read more about how we met in the foreword Katherine wrote for my first book, Me, Too: Voicing My Story. That history, as well as her incredible writing, is why I am so excited about today’s post… because today marks the release of book three of the Life Imperfect series, Wildflower Promise!
To celebrate, I sat down with Katherine and asked her some questions about her journey, both as a writer who didn’t write for a long time to someone whose debut work of autofiction won an award, and as a mentor to other authors.
You’ve told me before, and written in your essay collection, moments of extraordinary courage, how you didn’t write for most of your life. That all changed one day when, with the support of your husband and a few friends, you decided to try again; eight months later, you’d written seven novels with many notes for others! What was that experience, from not writing at all to writing so many books in less than a year, like for you?
It was a bit of a blur, really. I started and I couldn’t stop—writing was all I could think about from the moment I said aloud that I was planning to return to my love of the written word and start writing again. When I woke up, I wrote, when I was working or exercising or carting my kids to their activities, I was thinking about writing. When I was asleep, I dreamed about the stories in my head. It was really a frenzied period, much like when you shake a can of soda or other carbonated beverage and then open it immediately. I think it was from holding back on writing for so many years of my life when it’s what I’m really passionate about.
Of course, I’m familiar with the prevalence of writer’s block and it was something I was afraid of as I started drafting my first story. I had a starting point and an ending point, but I had no real idea how I was going to get there, and that was a bit terrifying. What if I typed a few pages and then just drew a blank? What if I couldn’t finish the story and discovered I’m not really a writer after all? What if I wrote it and it was terrible and no one else wanted to read it? That’s when I decided to do a few things. First, I was going to toss planning out the window and just let my intuition guide me each morning when I sat down at my computer. Second, I got rid of the idea that anyone else would have to read or like what I was writing—the only thing that mattered was that I did. And then I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote and discovered that my novel turned into a series.
It was exhilarating. I’d never felt more alive—in fact, I still feel the most alive when I’m drafting a new story—or more like me. And it was healing, both because I was being true to myself for the first time in decades and because of the story I was writing: a story centered around a woman who’s raped as a teen by her boyfriend’s brother and then believed about it. You see, this was my story, but with the ending I wish I’d had.
How did the premise of Life Imperfect come to you? Did you see the story all at once, or did it come to you in flashes?
When I decided to start writing again, I was reading Writing Ourselves Whole by Jen Cross, which talks about using writing as a tool in healing sexual trauma. One of the ways she suggests using writing is by writing what happened to you with different outcomes. I was raped when I was thirteen years old by my then-boyfriend’s two brothers, and when I told my boyfriend and my close friend, neither of them believed me… and no one else who heard about it did, either. That disbelief was in some ways as devastating as what happened to me. The story I decided to write was about a woman who was raped as a teenager by her boyfriend’s brother, but when she finally told people, I wanted her to be believed. Finding Annie is also my most autobiographical fiction novel, so there’s a lot of me in Annie, from tidbits about her childhood to her habits of self-harm and intense struggle with anxiety disorders.
Originally I had a fairly contentious mental debate about how to classify my book, before I’d even drafted it, because I’d read a lot about the requirements for certain genres and what I had in mind wouldn’t fit into any specific genre. As a result, I decided I was going to avoid the romance portion of the story because my book wouldn’t fit neatly into women’s fiction or romance if I didn’t. But that wasn’t what the story wanted to do and when I decided to follow my intuition, it evolved into what it is today: a story of platonic, familial, and romantic love, personal growth and healing, and forgiveness. Of course, it takes the course of the series to achieve all this; Finding Annie is just the beginning of the broader story. Each day when I sat down, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen beyond the few thousand words I was going to type, but by the next day when I sat down, I would.
How did the main characters of Life Imperfect—Annie, Lucas, and Rob—come to you? How did you develop your characters?
Annie and Rob were the first characters to come to me because they were the basis for the storyline since it’s Rob’s brother who rapes Annie. Lucas surprised me as much as he surprised Annie when he appeared in the story. For the most part, I just wrote every day. There was a point partway through the second book in the series that I sat down and wrote out character sheets for each of the main characters to make sure I didn’t mix up any personality traits by accident, and the wrote out a timeline of events so I wouldn’t become confused as I continued in the series, but by and large, the characters just came to me as fully-fledged unique characters, just like people you meet. They had their own voices and mannerisms in my mind, and I was simply transcribing what they were telling me.
Over the years, both as we’ve edited your manuscripts and as you’ve mentored me as I’ve toiled through my own, we’ve talked a bit about our unique processes as writers—how we get in the groove to write, work through writer’s block, and perform our self-edits. Has your process evolved at all from five years ago to now?
Not much about my process itself has changed because it works—really well—for me. I’m an intuitive writer, so I write what comes to me as it comes to me and work on projects as they come to me. As a result, I don’t struggle with writer’s block. At least I haven’t yet. The only time I run into that problem is when I’m trying to dictate to myself what I have to write and then my mind goes blank. But if I let my intuition take over, the words start flowing again. I’ve learned to just trust that process and it means I write more and that what I write is better as a result.
I do tend to spend weeks or months at a time writing, then go back and spend weeks or months at a time editing. I find this more effective because my brain works differently for editing than for writing and it’s difficult to jump back and forth, so I try to minimize that to the extent possible. If I have two or three book ideas, I’ll write them all before I do any editing. Then I’ll go back and methodically edit all of them before working on any new book ideas that start cropping up.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed isn’t the process itself, but how many iterations of the process I must go through. When I wrote Finding Annie, it went through over forty unique end-to-end rounds of editing, both self-editing as well as passes by a professional editor, before it was ready for final proofreading. And of course, I can see today many ways in which I could improve the manuscript further. But with every editing pass I do on any manuscript, I pay attention to what’s needing to be done and tuck that information away for the next time I’m drafting and the result is that my manuscripts now need significantly fewer passes, and each manuscript is better than the last once it’s complete. Instead of over forty passes, they generally need fewer than ten now.
It’s been five years since you originally drafted the Life Imperfect series. How does it feel now, watching the fruits of that creative flow unfold over time?
It’s pretty exciting. I’m not sure anything can rival the excitement of holding that first printed proof of the very first book ever, but this is pretty close. For many reasons, this series will always hold a special place in my heart, and it feels that parts of me are pieced back together as I watch the series slowly releasing over time. So much heart and effort and time has gone into the series, and seeing the books published is just incredibly rewarding.
Speaking generally (and including myself in this), writers sometimes get so focused on writing their manuscript and getting it published that they don’t stop to realize that it can take years—or even a decade or more—for a series to reach readers’ hands. Do you have any words of wisdom to help us with our eagerness?
It’s definitely hard, but you have to remind yourself that it is better to make sure it’s right—that it’s telling the story you want it to tell and in the way you want it told—than to get it out there quickly. Patience isn’t easy, but if you want your book to truly resonate with readers, you have to find a way to be patient. It’s like watching something grow, whether a plant or a child. It takes time and you don’t want to rush it because then it won’t have the foundation and development it needs. It’s the same with your books. Not to say that all books will take years to publish, but some might, and that’s okay if they do.
Let’s talk about what the stages of writing have been like for you, from drafting to editing to release. When you first started writing a few years ago and drafted the Life Imperfect series, how did that feel to “see” your characters come to life and their stories unfold?
It was an adventure! I was learning about my characters as I was writing them and they often had minds of their own—they didn’t care that I thought ahead of time that the story should be a certain way. It was entertaining when they did things unexpected and when I learned things about them I didn’t know. I feel in that way a bit like a reader does when reading the book after it’s published. You didn’t know the characters before you started reading, but learned about them as you turned the pages. Likewise, I learned about them as I typed the words.
From what you’ve told me and all we’ve been through together, editing these drafts over the years, how does it feel to revisit the drafts you wrote years ago and work on editing them now as you prep for their publication?
It’s a mixed bag. There’s the excitement to be continuing to work on this series—I’ll be sad when they’re all published and there’s no more of these characters. They’re like my friends, my family to me. And then there are moments I’m cringing because my first drafts five years ago need so much more work than my first drafts now do. I feel a little embarrassed sometimes, but then I try to remember that we all start somewhere, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter how messy that first draft is because that’s not what you’re publishing anyway.
How does it feel, editorially, to still be working on them?
Honestly, there are moments I want to be working on other projects. I adore this series, but I also love the drafting process and this series is drafted for the most part, so all the work is editing at this point. That can feel daunting—especially with such a long series. At the same time, I don’t want to rush the books. There’s a different consideration needed with a series than with a standalone, and that’s because in a series, the story isn’t completed until the end of the series. You have multiple different development arcs for the characters that need to be completed, but they don’t all happen at the same time. There’s a deeper development of the characters, more that we learn about them and their backstories. There are dependencies between the books, and it can skip around, so something in book two comes back in book four or five. There are things that you can’t do or change in the later parts of the story once you’ve published a book, so you need to be sure that’s how you are ultimately going to want things to unfold.
I think it’s absolutely necessary to take more time working through each book in a series than you would for a standalone to make sure you get it right. When the reader turns the last page in the last book, you want them to be thinking, “Ah, that was good. Everything makes sense.” You don’t want them turning the page back and forth wondering if they missed something because they have questions and things that were unresolved or didn’t make sense.
Have you learned anything about yourself as a writer though this series?
In a way, I’ve learned everything I know about myself as a writer through this series since this series is what started it all. I learned that I have the creativity to write a story; I have the skills to let the words flow. I learned I have the perseverance to stick with the story wherever it takes me and however long it takes, and to edit as many times as I need to instead of giving in to impatience and excitement. All the skills I have now, all the skills I’ve honed, began with this series.
The creative flow in which you originally drafted this series is the stuff of legends. Have you experienced anything like that since?
I have, actually. I hit a creative spurt in the fall of 2022 and drafted four complete novels in about three months. It was a wild ride and one I hope to have again.
What’s next for you? Do you have any other books hitting shelves in the next year?
I’m working through editing on a couple of new novels and have several more waiting to be written. I also have two standalone novels coming soon, Madly Deeply Wildly, which will be available in June and The End of Interludes, which will be available in September. Both will be available for pre-order soon, and you can sign up for my newsletter or the Josha Publishing newsletter to be notified when they’re available.
Katherine, who once described herself as “a writer who doesn’t write,” is living proof that when we follow our dreams and our passions, we can experience tremendous change, both in ourselves and the lives of others. Make sure you check out her Life Imperfect series, beginning with Finding Annie, followed by Willow Wishes, and continuing with Wildflower Promise, available today everywhere books are sold. And stay tuned—there are still more books to come in the series, and from Katherine through Josha Publishing later this year!
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