Our interview today is with Catherine Leggitt the author of Payne & Misery (4.8 stars, 12 reviews, mystery). Before we get to the interview a brief book description: All that glitters is not gold for Christine Sterling. The luster of her shiny Golden Years dream fades when Christine’s newly retired husband, Jesse, becomes obsessed with a hobby requiring extra time away from her. Mired in boredom, Christine develops a bad reputation for conjuring wild tales to explain ordinary occurrences. Then she meets someone who has true reason to complain, if anyone does.
Lila Payne’s life is the mirror opposite of ideal. The plight of this seemingly abused woman gnaws at Christine, but the authorities turn a deaf ear to Christine’s pleas for help on Lila’s behalf. Spurred into action when her beloved dog Molly and Lila both disappear on the same night, Christine dives into a scary pool swirling with muddy secrets and misery. Sensing God at work in the situation Christine continues to search and pray, but even with God’s help, can they save Lila and Molly before it’s too late?
Interview with Catherine Leggitt
Q: When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I started writing out of despair. When my husband retired, he moved us to his dream house—an incredible log lodge-like structure on fourteen wooded acres in northern California. The view out the kitchen windows was amazing and I soon fell in love with the town and our new church. I dug right into my new life, remodeling the kitchen and re-landscaping the yard. I got active with a women’s Bible study group and the prayer group at our church. But we were ten hours from children, grandchildren, and old friends and that was hard. Then, out of the blue, I spiraled white-knuckle style into menopause. Emotions went wacky! Every little situation took on huge negative proportions. I cried without knowing what I was crying about. My poor husband didn’t know what to do with me. My doctor refused hormone treatment. I had to get a handle on my life somehow and began to cry out to God.
One day in my beautiful upstairs home office, I looked out the window. Down the hill from us, sat a lonely little house. I had never seen the occupants. So I sat down at my computer and began to write a story about why these people never showed themselves. I had no idea where the story would go, no overall plan, no idea at all whether God even wanted me to do this or not. I was simply desperate to get my mind off myself. To my great amazement, a story poured out my fingers. Many times I would draw from real life events, such as my husband burning the oak leaves in the pasture, or something I’d just learned in my Bible study. Before long, I knew for certain that God wanted me to write, but I asked the other members of our prayer team to pray with me about how much “God” I should put in the story, and what He wanted me to do with the story when I finished. Gradually, it became very clear that God is part of every story. So I knew I must write Christian fiction.
I should also tell you, that this first book, Payne & Misery, which has just been published by Westbow Press, has been completely rewritten ten times, been professionally edited twice, and the whole process of getting this book in print has taken all of seven long years. During that time, I didn’t dare call myself a writer, because I wasn’t sure whether God gave me this task solely to bless my heart or whether He meant for others to be blessed through it as well. Finding a publisher has been very difficult. But several of my family members have read the book at various times along the way. God has been refining both my writing and my life during this time.
Q: Please tell us five random things we might not know about you.
This is fun!
1. I was adopted at age one week and rode to my new home in an airplane piloted by my new father.
2. For two years until they closed it, I attended the last one-room school in California, next door to beautiful Mission San Luis Rey. Grades one to eight were taught in one large room. I remember it as great fun listening to the older kids do their lessons.
3. When I was six years old, I appeared with 3 other children from our one-room school on the old TV program, Art Linkletter’s House Party. Art asked me if I knew what “matrimony” meant. I said it was something about a bull because I heard my daddy say so. (I don’t know why I said that. I had never heard the word before. My father thought it was particularly funny because we had cows but no bulls at our farm.) Art deadpanned to the audience and said, “Well, some men think that.”
4. I used to play a blue accordion with my name on it and also the flute.
5. I received a scholarship to study voice in college.
Q: Did you have storytellers when you were growing up that influenced you? Were you an avid reader as a child?
Both of my parents read to me from infancy. Dad’s favorites included Oz books by L Frank Baum and anything by HG Wells. Mother read poems, especially Christina Rossetti and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She knew many poems by heart. Mother read the Little House on the Prairie series, Little Women, and many other classics. In addition, every Saturday morning, we’d go to the library in town where the children’s librarian would read to a group of us at “Story Hour.” I read many books as a child. I also wrote and illustrated stories. My mother heartily encouraged this as if she had a budding genius on her hands. Dad was a great storyteller, as well.
Q: What do you love about writing?
I love the writing itself—getting ideas down on a page. When it works right, there is nothing quite like the feeling. After I’ve written a particularly wonderful sentence or paragraph, I can hardly contain the joy. I know it is not my creativity but God’s because I regularly ask Him for creativity. What a wonderful thing when He shares some with me. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever discovered that makes me forget about time and everything around me. I get completely focused. I could write without eating or sleeping. My husband requires me to have a life, however. This is probably a good thing.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
I had to really think about this. I do not think any part is the most difficult. I get stuck on every part of it at one time or another. Sometimes I procrastinate because a scene is not working right. Sometimes I realize that what I’ve written will not hold together and I have to delete large portions. That’s discouraging. Sometimes the planning is difficult. No doubt about it, writing is hard work, but, oh so rewarding.
Q: Tell us the story of PAYNE & MISERY
Christine Sterling’s loneliness reduces her to snooping on neighbors she’s never seen. When her newly-retired husband, Jesse, becomes obsessed with a hobby requiring long weekends away, Christine inserts herself into the wrong place at the wrong time—a sure recipe for disaster. Add Christine’s dubious “gift” of observation, a super-sized need to rescue, and a double dose of imagination. Sprinkle with peculiar circumstances lurking just down the hill and what do you get? Not the glittering paradise of togetherness Jesse promised their “Golden Years” would be. You get trouble. Big trouble.
Christine has already demonstrated a severe propensity for jumping to wrong conclusions. When she discovers an injured neighbor named Lila Payne withering away in the house next door, friends and family turn a deaf ear. Something about crying wolf once too often. Until Lila and Christine’s beloved border collie, Molly, both disappear the same night. Who’s crying wolf now? Christine’s best friend throws her a lifeline of prayer, but even with God’s help, can they save Lila and Molly in time?
Are there themes in Payne & Misery that you hope the reader sees? Are there themes that weren’t overt but developed as the story progressed.
Payne & Misery is written around several themes. I hope the reader will come away with new awareness concerning the pain that is inevitable in all of our lives. If we embrace pain, we will be miserable. If we choose to embrace life and joy instead, we are able to rise above the situation and find healing and restoration. In every case, pain will either destroy or cause growth. In addition, the question of whether God answers prayer is addressed. Christine does not believe God has time to answer prayer. She believes God has removed Himself from the lives of the humans He created. As she learns about prayer, she must choose between waiting for God to answer or being impulsive and taking matters into her own hands. There are always consequences for not waiting on God. Finally, Christine struggles with finding meaning and purpose in life. Is there one big purpose for our lives? Why did God create us? Somewhere along the third time I rewrote this book, the first theme of being miserable or joyful in pain came to mind, but the others developed along with Christine’s character. This is the only book I have written by the “seat of my pants.” After this one, I learned how to plan my writing.
Q: What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I have written two more books with the same setting and characters as Payne & Misery, These books make up the Christine Sterling Cozy Mystery Trilogy. The other two books are titled: The Dunn Deal and Parrish the Thought. I also wrote a children’s book titled: Sophia Sarah Madison Wright. This is a story I told my grandchildren about where happiness comes from. These three books are published with Ellechor Publishing House. Currently, I am writing a totally different type of book, a romantic suspense, titled: Dying to Be Noticed. I am a bit over halfway through writing the latest book.
Q: Tell us the story between finishing your first novel and finding a publisher.
As I mentioned, I rewrote Payne & Misery ten times. During the writing and rewriting, I attended several writers conferences at Mount Hermon (an excellent Christian conference each spring in California) and one held by the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). I tried to sell the book many times, both through personal contact and sending out queries. Instead, I learned more about writing with each workshop and that would necessitate rewriting. Then I entered Payne & Misery in a contest sponsored by Westbow Press. The winner would be announced at the 2010 Orange County Christian Writers Conference. I attended that conference and learned several more writing “secrets.” The kind judges awarded Payne & Misery second place in their contest. One of the judges told me I should self-publish with Westbow if I didn’t find a traditional publisher soon. I had not considered this before. Westbow books are publish-on-demand. It is the self-publishing arm of Thomas Nelson. I asked her many questions, and what she said made sense, but I did not have the funds to pay for publishing, even with the discount awarded for second place.
Before I returned home, I visited two of my relatives. When I stood to leave, in both cases, without my speaking one word about my lack of funds, my dear loved ones offered me an envelope of cash to “invest in my writing.” When I counted the money, the combined total was precisely the amount I needed for Westbow Press. I knew for certain that God had provided for publication, so that is what I did. Later the same year, Ellechor Publishing House became interested in the final book of the Trilogy, Parrish the Thought. They requested to review the other two and felt inspired to acquire the entire series!
Q: What is your most difficult problem with writing at this time in your career?
The entire publication process is difficult today and takes a certain personality to navigate it. With the economy as it is and so much wonderful competition out there, it is understandable that making your writing stand out above the others would be challenging. Finding an agent has been very difficult and I do not have one yet. I have met agents at writing conferences and sent off queries without success. I fear it is because I am shy and do not sell myself well. Marketing my book proves to be a huge challenge, as well. I would like to have someone take over the selling and marketing aspects and allow me to just do the writing.
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