During her recent visit to Bend Oregon, I had an in-depth conversation with award-winning novelist, Kathryn Mattingly. As a creative writing teacher with four novels under her belt, Kathryn is one of the busiest writers I know, yet she finds time to mentor young writers and engage with organizations such as the Central Oregon Writers Guild, Northern Colorado Writer’s conference, and Pacific Northwest Writers, officiating as judge for their annual contests.
While in town to speak at the Central Oregon Writers Guild and conduct a workshop, Kathryn and I chatted over several cups of coffee. Kathryn is dark-haired with penetrating hazel eyes and a mischievous sense of humor. She is talkative, engaging, and exudes restless energy. It became quickly apparent that she has a sharp, creative mind, an unquenchable curiosity about life, and a deep passion for writing.
You’ve had a long history with writing. Tell us a little about your professional background.
My degree is actually in Fine Art, and my masters is in Education, but I’ve been writing my whole life. I attended the Maui Writer’s retreat and conferences from 1999 to 2005 where I studied under a different New York Times bestselling author each year. My mentors for the weeks I attended were Terry Brooks (Sword of Shannara fame), Elizabeth George (British mystery series), John Saul (thrillers), Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina) and Gail Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk). I have advanced writing certificates for various courses they taught each year during those five days. Additionally I have been a senior editor for a small publishing house and I have run my own editing service, aside from teaching numerous creative writing courses at four private colleges. You might say writing and writers are my life.
Mystery and complex love interactions are a recurring theme in your stories. In your newest release, Olivia’s Ghost, you also blend in a paranormal element. What was your inspiration for this story?
I pull all my novels from real life; from something I have read or heard on the news, perhaps information passed on by friends. If the subject piques my interest I begin a game of ‘what ifs’ and that usually leads to a short story. So far, all of my novels were birthed in short story form. Granted, the novel version is often unrecognizable from the short story, but the transition that takes place in my mind from a tiny three act play to a full blown complex book is an important nurturing process for me.
Your characters are finely crafted. How do they come to you?
You mentioned that I write about mystery and complex love interactions. To me, these are basic life components. What is life is not a mystery to be solved on nearly a daily basis? What is love if not the most complex of human emotions? We shrink or grow as people on a daily basis, and because of that we transform (for better or worse) continually throughout our lives. How could this not affect our already complex relationships built upon fragile foundations of trust, loyalty, commitment, and a host of other intricate, crucial factors for forming lasting bonds? My characters come to me from real life people I have met that struggle with all of these elements inherent in every one of our journeys.
Out of all your books, do you have a favorite, or characters that you can’t get out of your head?
I love all of my books and their characters much like I love each of my four children. They are, as individuals, uniquely special and different in their own way. Each one contributes an important part that is crucial to the whole picture of our lives and our journey on this earth, which is necessary toward ultimately understanding ourselves.
If someone unfamiliar with your work wanted to read your books, which ones would you recommend starting with?
It depends on where they are in life. Benjamin exudes psychotic drama (and also has a paranormal element), whereas Journey leans more toward the bittersweet and forlorn aspects of life. Olivia’s Ghost is both heart wrenching and poetic. My next release (The Tutor) will be intense albeit holistic.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your writing career?
I think firing my New York agent was a difficult time. We were friends and he is a lovely person- Tony Outhwaite at JCA Literary Agency (he has since retired). Tony had been my agent for two years, and I realized too late that I should have waited it out another year or two. It can take quite a long time to get published in the big leagues, but I believe he would have made it happen if I had just been a little less full of myself. At the time there was quite a buzz about my work and I didn’t understand why Tony wasn’t able to just automatically secure me a fat contract with a reputable house. What a silly, naive young woman I was.
But this is how we grow and learn isn’t it? This is how we build character (and I daresay humility). So, once the damage was done and I moved on I quickly realized the error of my hastiness. Long story short, I did eventually get traditionally published and it has been a great fit for me. Winter Goose is a very literary house with as many topnotch poets as fiction writers. I could not be happier with how they have helped me build my readership and public presence in a classy, successful way. Happy endings are always the best kind. (;
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
My mentor early on was Elizabeth Engstrom, who wrote the bestseller, Lizzie Borden. She always said to me, “Persistence is the key.” No truer words were ever written when it comes to traditional publishing and a career of longevity.
Excerpt From Olivia’s Ghost:
Neither of them spoke while drinking coffee at the table. Livy studied the shoreline below the cliff where a host of tiny fish had washed in with the morning tide. They flopped around on the sand like slivers of a fallen star until a flock of gulls swooped in and claimed their breakfast. Finally Jack picked up his bag from the floor beside him and opened the door to leave. “I’m going now. And you’re staying. Where does that leave us, Olivia? Because I’m confused.”
Livy observed her husband of almost fifteen years as he stood by the open door, his overnight bag in his hand. Specs of light danced in his blue eyes from the morning sun. He looked vulnerable and possibly defeated. His expression was quite solemn. Livy wanted to hold his face in her hands and kiss away the telltale frown lines by his lower lip – the same lower lip as Ava. “It leaves us very much in love and not able to be together… yet.”
“In other words, it leaves us right where we were before I came.”
“I love you, Jackson.”
“Well, apparently love isn’t enough, is it Olivia?”
She looked out the window so he wouldn’t see her tears, and then she heard the door shut, and he was gone. She sat at the table and cried harder than she had since the day of the memorial service, when the little girl in blue was not Ava. Livy watched clouds form shadows on the water, and thought about an uncertain future looming before her.
“Kathryn Mattingly has mastered the art of bringing complex characters to life and embedding them in a story that is hauntingly tragic, hopeful, and tinted with wisps of the supernatural. Add a stunning beach setting and historical lighthouse on the Oregon coast, two tormented men who compete for her love, and you have an emotional roller coaster ride that will leave you breathless. Linda Berry, author of HIDDEN, Part One, soon to be release in January, 2017
“Mattingly uses evocative imagery and stunningly beautiful prose to weave a deliciously tangled web of frustrated and conflicting desires.” Jesse Weiner, author of Uncommon Blood
“From the first pages, Olivia’s Ghost plunges the reader into a maelstrom of powerful emotions and a heart-rending mystery,” Rene Villard-Reed, author of Finding The Magic
“An intricate story of determination, Mattingly has woven a tale with complex, relatable characters that you can both love and agonize with.” Amy Rivers, author of Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters
Kathryn has taught writing at numerous private colleges. Aside from her literary suspense novels and short story collection with Winter Goose Publishing, her work can be found in a dozen small press anthologies and several print magazines. Kathryn has been fortunate enough to win five awards for her fiction. She coordinates the Top of the Mountain writing contest for the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference and is an annual judge for the Writer’s Guild Harvest Festival in Bend, Oregon. When not writing, she can be found reading or engaging with good friends and great wine. Her third literary suspense novel Olivia’s Ghost will be released in just a few short weeks.