Today on Mysteristas, it is a pleasure to interview USA Today Bestselling author, Catherine Holahan. In a former life, she was an award-winning journalist that wrote for The Record, The Boston Globe, and BusinessWeek. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and food-obsessed dog, and, by her own admission, spends a disturbing amount of time highly-caffeinated, mining her own anxieties for material.
KO: Welcome Catherine. I’m excited to talk to you about your new novel, One Little Secret. But first, the opening of The Widower’s Wife is one of my very favorite crime fiction beginnings. What’s your secret to writing those first sentences?
CH: Rewriting! I wish I could say that those lines come to me as a fully formed melody, but I get an idea and a few notes only. I have to tune it for awhile before I get it the way I want.
Often, it’s not until I finish the first draft and have the characters voices clearly in my head that I write a first line that makes it through to publication.
KO: With your last two novels, Lies She Told and One Little Secret, you start with a prologue. Your latest pulled me in like a “riptide,” as one of your characters might say. Your use of prologues has a very noir feel and reminds me of some of my favorite classic films. How did you decide to use prologues to set the stage and then work backwards from there?
CH: I think of psychological thrillers and domestic thrillers as slower burn kind of stories. You have to get to know the characters, see past the veneer, before you start to realize the bad stuff that they are capable off. I do want to tip the reader off to the drama coming so that they have that sense of anticipation as the layers of the characters fall away.
KO: Reading your new novel One Little Secret, I was struck by some of your metaphors. A writing teacher once told me to use metaphors like weapons 😉 How do you decide where and when to use metaphors? And is there a trick to creating such memorable ones?
CH: Thanks! I think metaphor is a main way to show without telling the reader. I spend a lot of time thinking about the way people do things and the associations that I have with those actions, and then try to create a metaphor that doesn’t sound trite and fits with the tone of the novel.
KO: I love the cover! In the acknowledgments of One Little Secret, you say characters either come to you full blown or elude you. You describe it as your controlling them or them controlling you. Which was it with your stunning cast of characters in One Little Secret? I especially love the detective, Gabby Watkins. How did she come to you?
CH: Gabby Watkins was inspired, in part, by a female detective whom I interviewed for the book. The detective I dedicate the book to was kind enough to show me around a police station and speak with me for a couple hours about her job and the way she has reacted to some facts that may have differed from her male colleagues. I wanted a female detective to unravel some of the issues of sexual consent and domestic violence in the book because I wanted my law enforcement character to see things through the eyes of a mother, wife, and woman, as well as those of a police officer. I thought that would create a nice contrast with the other female POV characters in the book.
KO: Describe your writing process. Do you outline or wing it? After writing four novels, including USA Today bestseller The Widower’s Wife, and One Little Secret, which is bound to be a big hit, what have you learned that you might share with other writers?
CH: About the big hit part—from your lips to God’s ears, as my mom would say. 🙂 I am an obsessive plotter. I create elaborate Excel spread sheets with my plot points and character arcs and graphs of how plot points intersect. But then one of my characters evolves in a way that doesn’t jive with my carefully laid plan, and I tear it up, re-plot and rewrite.
KO: One Little Secret is an interesting cross between a closed-door mystery ala Agatha Christie and a psychological thriller ala Paula Hawkins. Have you ever considered writing something other than domestic thrillers?
CH: I am most drawn to domestic thrillers because I think the biggest secrets many people keep are secrets from those closest to them. However, I am working on a women’s fiction novel where the mystery is secondary to the emotional development of my female character. I am really proud of the writing in it.
KO: There’s a lot of water in your novels. One Little Secret is set on a beach in the Hamptons. How do you decide on your settings? How do your settings affect your plots and characters?
CH: I think water is such a key part of human existence and, as a result, imbued with a lot of symbolism. It’s clear but it covers. It gives life but it’s deadly. Also, I just love looking at the water and swimming and the sea. My mom is Jamaican and some of my earliest memories are being at the beach with my mom on the island. So, perhaps there is some psychological tie there.
KO: What are you working on now? Is there another novel in the qeue?
CH: Yes! My agent is selling two more novels. One involves technology, privacy, and paranoia. The other is a story about a young woman coming to terms with an old family betrayal and involves surfing. Got to work in water, I guess.
KO: Again, I loved your new novel. THANKS, Cate!
CH: Thanks so much for the interview and for taking the time to include One Little Secret
. I am happy that you enjoyed it and hopeful that readers will like it too!
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