Meet Debut Novelist Catherine West

Catherine West writes romance and women’s fiction. Her debut novel, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, is a romance set during the Vietnam War. The book, contracted by Oak Tara, has a projected release date of March 2011.

Cathy is blessed to live on the beautiful island of Bermuda, a British colony located about 700 miles east of the coast of North Carolina, in the Atlantic. She shares her home with her pediatrician husband Stephen, their seventeen year-old son, Chris, who is off to college in September to study music, and a two year-old Border Collie, Noah. Their soon-to-be twenty-one year old daughter, Sarah, is at college in Canada. Cathy is surrounded by males most of the year—but only one of them obeys her without question. She graduated from the University of Toronto “some decades ago” with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Through the years, Cathy has tried her hand at a number of things, including crocheting, stained glass, scrapbooking, and dried wreath making. She says she completed a few blankets and a cool scrapbook that she gave to her sister, “but that’s about it.” Cathy enjoys gardening, has a passion for roses and orchids, and spends a lot of time training her border collie. She loves to sing and is on the worship team at her church, serving alongside her worship leader hubby. And Cathy has volunteered with Riding for the Disabled in Bermuda the past four years working with children from five to eighteen years of age.

When I asked Cathy to name her favorite treat, she had this to say . . .

Ooo! Let’s see…cheese. Yep, I love all cheeses, with crackers or homemade bread and dipping oil, a bowl of olives, and a lovely red wine to wash it all down with!

In Cathy’s honor, I’ve got a tray of cyber cheeses and crackers—along with some olives. Grab a plate of goodies, sit back, and enjoy getting to know more about this talented author and her journey to publication.

Cathy’s Journey Begins

•When did you fall in love with romance novels and decide to write your own?

I have always been an avid reader. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart. I think my first real ‘romance’ novel was Gone With The Wind. I was fourteen and at a horrible boarding school in England at the time. I remember our librarian was staggered that I wanted to attempt such a book, and probably even more shocked when I returned a few weeks later having completed it! I remember a year after that, the school showed it on a movie night. I was absolutely entranced, and I think it’s safe to say that Rhett and Scarlett are to blame for my endless hours in front of the computer weaving my own romantic tales.

I began writing with the goal of publication, probably about sixteen years ago! There were a few years in between that I quit and didn’t write at all. I got back into it again about seven years ago, and this time I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing.

•Wow! I admire your dedication and determination, Cathy. How many manuscripts did you complete in those sixteen years? Of those, are there any you consider practice and wouldn’t show anyone?

I have about seven complete manuscripts, but only two of which I would consider worthy of publication! I may go back and resurrect some of the story ideas from those old manuscripts, but honestly, they’re just good for a laugh now. And if we ever run out of firewood in the winter…

•Since you began writing in the mid-90s, things have changed greatly. What have you done to keep pace with technology and the shifting demands in the publishing world that have resulted from those advances?

I’d have to say my life as a writer really began in earnest with the introduction of the Internet. It was only then that I was able to join writer’s groups, find a critique group and really start to hone my craft. I try to keep up with what’s being published from who, and have narrowed down my list of go-to websites considerably since those early days. I think we’d all be lost without the Internet!

Cathy’s Squee-worthy Successes

•In March 2008, you received an offer of representation from Rachelle Gardner. How did you react to her invitation to join the WordServe Literary family? Did you squeal so loudly those in the States could hear you all the way from Bermuda? :-)

Yes, I certainly did!

My relationship with Rachelle actually began a few years prior, before she was an agent, when she was just blogging about life in general. I wasn’t aware of her position (as a freelance editor) in the publishing world for some time. When we did finally talk writing, she was the first person to hear my ideas for Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and gave me some wonderful advice on the story.

By the time I finished the book, she was getting ready to put on her literary agent hat, and asked to see the manuscript. At the time I don’t think I realized the enormity of that request. Now of course, I thank God for that initial connection made through her first blog. She is a fabulous agent!

•We often hear that having an agent isn’t a guarantee of a sale. They send out submissions and receive rejections just as we writers do. Eighteen l-o-n-g months went by as you waited for a sale. And then it came! On Tuesday, October 26, you opened your email and found a message that changed your life. An editor from Oak Tara wanted to purchase your story. What led to this momentous event? How did you respond to the BIG news?

Wow. Eighteen months? LOL. When you put it that way – yes, it was a L-O-N-G time coming.

But Yesterday’s Tomorrow was one of those ‘heart’ stories. It grabbed me from the start, even after several revisions and multiple rejections, there was just something about this story that said, “Wait. It’ll happen.” I think I probably took a risk writing about Vietnam, but I believe it was something I was supposed to do.

I didn’t give up on the book, and began sending it out to some smaller publishers last year, Oak Tara being one of them. I knew they liked the story from the first email reply when they asked to see the full, but you know, after years of rejection, you have to be realistic. I didn’t let myself believe that Yesterday’s Tomorrow might actually be given a chance, until I did receive that email saying that they wanted to publish it. I probably still won’t believe it until I’m holding the book in my hands. Then I’ll probably cry. Or pass out.

How did I respond? Well, I have to say Ramona Tucker (my editor), sent me an extremely long and fabulously detailed email listing all the things she loved about the book – which was wonderful, but I wanted the bottom line! The whole time I was like, “Please, God…” LOL.

I admit I scanned all the way down to the end until I found what I was looking for. Then I screamed and immediately called my husband. Sat down and read the email in its entirety, and then I thanked God. It’s an exciting moment for sure, but also extremely humbling.

Cathy’s Perseverance

•Sixteen years passed between the time you began writing and your First Sale. What kept you going despite bouts of doubts and a growing rejection collection?

Because I have been at this for SO long, I know all about perseverance. And it really does pay off. :-)

I surrounded myself with other writers who were going through the pain of rejection, and we provided moral support for one another. I did actually quit writing for a while due to some personal matters, but when I got back into it, I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing. I think that’s the key. When you know you’re following your dream, you’re willing to keep going in spite of everything.

I was also fortunate in that I made some great connections through American Christian Fiction Writers, and was given a lot of wonderful advice, and also received invaluable encouragement about my writing from several published authors. This boosted my self-esteem and pushed me to learn even more and not to give up.

What advice would you have for others who have been writing for a number of years and have yet to receive their first contract?

Believe in yourself. Join a good writer’s group and a critique group. Learn all you can. Listen. Ask questions, even if you think they’re dumb. Have patience and then some. But don’t give up. Ever.

Cathy’s Sources of Inspiration

•What sparked the idea for Yesterday’s Tomorrow? Did you begin with a place? Did scenes begin to play in your mind? Or perhaps your characters began chatting?

I honestly have no idea. The original idea came to me back in the eighties, when I was a very novice writer and had no idea what I was doing! It was my second completed manuscript, written for the secular market, and it was horrible!! But the notion of writing about a female journalist who goes to Vietnam to report on the war stayed with me for some reason.

When I was ready to write the story again, my two central characters were the same, but it was an entirely different story. A better one. So yes, I began with the characters. Kristin and Luke have pretty much written their own story. I did the research and put it all down, but they’re pretty good at giving orders. Not so great at taking them. :-)

Partners on Cathy’s Journey

•Many writers have a critique partner, plotting partner, mentors, and cheerleaders. Who are some of yours, and how have they helped you?

Oh, my goodness, what a wonderful question! I have so many people on that list.

My best bud and critique partner Jenness Walker has been there since we met online just before going to our first ACFW conference together. Since then our friendship has grown and I’m sure at times she wishes we’d never met, but she’s a wonderful sounding board, encourager and she knows how to smack me around when I need it! She got published before I did, but I never held it against her. :-)

Rachelle Gardner of course, is just a wonderful source of encouragement and she often has to administer a hefty dose of reality – I rank at about zero on the Patience scale, but somehow she puts up with me.

Others that have encouraged me with this particular story – my first critique group, Betsy St. Amant, Jennifer Hudson Taylor, Lynda Schaab, Angie Breidenbach, Becky Yauger, Audra Silver – some wonderful authors and mentors – Deborah Raney, Susan May Warren, Patti Lacy, Trish Perry and most recently, Meredith Efken. I probably would have given up on this book a long time ago without them.

Cathy’s Debut Novel

•Please tell us about Yesterday’s Tomorrow.

It’s 1967 and Kristin Taylor wants to go to Vietnam to report on the war, and honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning journalist like he was. But no editor will send her. So she strikes out on her own and steps into a world more terrifying than she’d imagined.

As she encounters the horrors of war, Kristin struggles to report the truth while desperately trying to keep tabs on her only brother who enlisted some time ago, but both tasks seem impossible.

When she meets photographer Luke Maddox, Kristin knows she’s found a story. The mystery beneath his brooding eyes triggers her curiosity. She’s convinced he’s hiding something and determines to discover his secrets. The only trouble is, he won’t let her within three feet of him.

In an unexpected twist, Kristin and Luke are forced to work together. With war raging all around them, they engage in their own tumultuous battle of emotions. Headstrong and willing to risk it all for what they believe in, they’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill their own private agendas. Kristin is after a story that might get her the Pulitzer. Luke wants retribution from the enemy that took away his family. In the face of death, Kristin and Luke must decide if they’re willing to set aside selfish ambition for the love that seems to have ambushed them and captured their hearts.

Cathy’s Journey Continues

•Oak Tara purchased one of your stories. Is there a possibility they might be interested in more of your work?

It’s a possibility, yes. :-)

•You have another manuscript you consider marketable, and there’s a special story behind it. Please share it with us.

The manuscript is called Hidden in the Heart, (women’s fiction), and the story is loosely based on the journey I embarked on several years ago – the search for my birth family. In the story, Claire, like me, always knew she was adopted. After her mother dies and she suffers a miscarriage, she decides that she really needs to find out where she came from. Like many adoptees, her initial reasons for searching were to get medical information – I said that too – but as one quickly discovers, there is an inherent need-to-know that cannot be denied.

Like Claire, I discovered a sister I never knew I had, as well as eventually being able to connect with my birth mother before she passed away a few months after we met. Hidden in the Heart also follows the journey of Claire’s birth parents, as they struggle to come to terms with their past, and are reunited after twenty-seven years, so there are some romantic elements to the story as well!

A Few Fun Questions for Cathy . . .

•If you could have anyplace in the world entirely to yourself for one day, which place would you choose, and why?

Ooo. I had to really think about this! Of course my first instinct was to say The Mall of America! But no. I would say The Louvre in Paris. I love art but I detest crowds. The only time I was there was during the month of August and it was jam packed with people. I would love to have that place all to myself to truly appreciate all the great works of art inside it.

•If you could have 50 lbs of anything other than money, what would you choose?

LOL! Hmm. Another toughie. I would probably get a bronze statue. There is a sculptor here on the island whose work is absolutely delightful but completely unaffordable. So I’d find one of his statues that weighted fifty pounds and get it!

•In your opinion, what is the most beautiful man-made object in the world?

Gracious, I don’t know! Object? I would have to go with jewelry in that case – specifically I would say The Crown Jewels in The Tower of London.

•If you could open your own retail store, what type of merchandise would you sell?

Clothes. We definitely need more choice here in Bermuda!

•What do you like best about Bermuda, and which of the sites would you insist upon taking a visitor from another country to see?

The beauty of the turquoise ocean and the pink sand. There are actual bits of pink coral in our sand, which give it that pink hue in all the photographs. We have many historic sights, forts, the Lighthouse, the old town of St. George’s, the Royal Naval Dockyard – the island is so small that I would probably take you everywhere. And of course all visitors want to hang out on the beach!

Cathy’s Question for You

When I got the idea for Yesterday’s Tomorrow, I really knew nothing about the Vietnam War and had no idea, really, of the impact it had on an entire generation. What do you know about it, and how did that era impact you or your family?

Cathy’s Drawing

Cathy has generously offered to give away a Bermuda Colours calendar.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Cathy by midnight December 7th (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)

On December 8th, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well as in a comment and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)

Congratulations to Rebecca Booth, winner of the Bermuda Colours calendar!

Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

Learn More About Cathy

Visit her website ~ http://www.catherinejwest.com

Visit her personal blog ~ http://catherinewestblog.blogspot.com

Visit her group blog ~ International Christian Fiction Writers

Friend her on Facebook ~ Cathy West and Catherine West – Author

Follow her on Twitter ~ cathwest

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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22 Responses to Meet Debut Novelist Catherine West

  1. Jillian Kent says:

    Hi Cathy! Hi Keli!
    Great interview. I’m so jealous. You live some place warm!:) I think it’s 29 degrees here so far tonight in Cincinnati, Ohio and getting colder the rest of the week. Brrr…
    I’m so glad you got a book published that is set in Vietnam. I’m surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but did you have trouble finding a home for it?

    In 1978 or maybe it was 1979, while working on my graduate degree, I had an internship working with veterans that came home from Vietnam. Beyond heart-breaking to horrific stories. I think I’ve repressed most of it because it was so awful. One thing that stands out in my mind is the day I went to the zoo with maybe eight Vietnam Vets. They needed a break. Just them and me. Awesome. I know they protected me a lot too from some things that they thought I shouldn’t hear.

    What was the hardest part about writing this book? I wish you much success.

    • Cathy West says:

      Hi Jillian!
      Well, I can appreciate your surprise – the Vietnam was a very hard sell. Even though the story is not specifically about the war per se, most publishers wouldn’t look at it because of the ‘Vietnam’ label. I’m so grateful to Oak Tara and editor Ramona Tucker, who saw the ‘real’ story here, and the potential for the book. That hardest part? The research. I didn’t know much about the Vietnam war. I’m not even American. However, once I began my research, I couldn’t stop. I ate, slept and breathed Vietnam for many months. I’m sure I can’t even imagine what it was like to really be there in person, but from a distance, through the books I read and the movies I watched and the newsreels I absorbed, somehow Vietnam inched it’s way into my heart. I will be forever changed because of it.
      Thanks for the question!

  2. Thanks once more Keli for a wonderful guest interview. Much of Cathy’s story touches me where I live, having waited so long to finally be able to find the time and place to write.

    Your question, Cathy also strikes a cord. I am a baby boomer, a strong minded dove who was opposed to the war, not the soldiers who gave their lives for all of us. My husband’s first cousin was fresh out of high school and wanted to “make a difference.” Not longer after being in country, an incoming hit where he and three others were sleeping and he was killed instantly.

    It was the sight of the coffin drapped in the American flag, his picture on an easel in front of it and his mother keening, holding a smaller version of the same picture. A young boy in his uniform the day he graduated basic training. The sounds that came from his mother have never left me and several years ago I wrote a short story about the experience.

    I know that some day I will publish my novel and hear or read those lovely words that say “we want you.”

    When that day comes, I will wait for the right moment and finally tell his story, visit the wall and touch his name and remember a sweet innocent who was taken from us too soon.

    I love the subjects and the tone of your work and look forward to reading you.

    • Cathy West says:

      Thanks so much! You know, one of the hardest parts about working all this out was that I didn’t want to ‘take a side’. My main character, Kristin, being a journalist, wanted to remain neutral but report the truth. At the end of the day, I realized there was no right or wrong, not really. War is hell. There will always be those who are opposed to it, and those who are willing to die for its cause, whatever that may be. I like to sum it up in the words of my protagonist, Luke, who’s working in Vietnam as a photo-journalist (or so Kristin thinks!)
      “You’ll pick a side eventually. It’s human nature. Otherwise you walk through life
      ambivalent. And I can’t see you being happy with mediocrity.”

  3. T. Anne says:

    Hi Cathy! *waves* Keli, the cheese is fabulous!

    Congrats on the sale of your novel Cathy! I can’t wait to read it in book form! Regarding Vietnam, I had an uncle who served two tours. Outside of that I don’t know much personally. Great interview ladies!!

  4. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Cathy! It’s great to have you here and have this opportunity to learn more about you and your journey to publication.

    It was wonderful to meet you in person at ACFW and have the privilege of sitting next to you at the Awards Ceremony. You’re a warmhearted person with a genuine smile and a gift for putting others at ease.

    My memories of the Vietnam War are of my uncle who served as a military photographer and my aunt who was expecting their first child when her husband was sent overseas. I saw what the separation did to her and how he was changed by the horrible things he had to document on film. I was in my early teens, but I remember the protests shown on T.V. and a classmate wearing an M.I.A. bracelet. Sad times.

  5. Love this interview Cathy! So excited for you girl!

  6. there is this war is hell picture of an asian child bloodied by other people’s blood shivering, alone and cold on a street littered with bodies. It was truly harrowing.

  7. Great interview, ladies! I enjoyed learning more about you, Cathy, and I’m actually headed to the Louvre soon so hopefully it won’t be quite as busy as it was for you. :)

  8. Cathy, I’m so excited to know Yesterday’s Tomorrow is being published. It’s a wonderful for story and I’m so thankful to be part of its journey with you!

    Blessings my friend,

  9. Cathy, it’s so great to learn more about you and congratulations on the contract with Oak Tara!

    I’ve been to the Louvre before and it was busy when I went, too. I’d love to visit again with more time and less people :)

    As far as Vietnam, I visited there on a mission trip about two years ago. We toured a war memorial and spoke with many people, also saw and crawled through the tunnels the Vietnamese people built underground in the jungle. It was a sobering experience but one I don’t regret having.

  10. Rebecca Booth says:

    Cathy, congrads on the contract with Oak Tara. I lost a best friend who served in the Veitnam War and the day he came home he was killed in a car wreck. Very Sad!
    Thanks Keli for a wonderful interview!
    Happy Holidays to everyone!
    God Bless Everyone!

  11. Susan Mason says:

    Cathy,

    Thanks for sharing your story! You went to the University of Toronto! That’s in my neck of the woods, I live just outside Toronto. It snowed here yesterday :( Bet you don’t miss that!

    Best of luck with your writing!

    Sue

    • Cathy West says:

      Hi Susan,
      Nope I do not miss the snow at all! We were just in Toronto over the weekend, so we did get to experience a bit of winter, which is just enough for me!

  12. barbjan10 says:

    Hi Cathy, We have just become friends on Facebook and I’m happy that you are following my blog. Vietnam affected my family and myself twice, because my husband was a military career officer in Vietnam twice. It was like being a single mother, we had 3 children then and it was a dangerous time for the men there. The separation was diffucult to say the least. We had moved to be near my parents each year that he was gone. I was so thankful to be near my family. I might write about it one day in story form…waiting to see how the Lord directs me. Thank God, my husband returned home safely each time. We never knew if he would be called back again during the time he’d be home. Thank you for the giveaway and the chance to win it. I hope I do.

    Blessings of Hope,
    Barb Shelton
    barbjan10 at tx dot rr dot com

  13. Christa says:

    Great interview you two! Cathy is such an encourager and I’ve always admired her honesty and enthusiasm. Cheers on your debut novel. Can’t wait to read it!

  14. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by and to those who left comments for Cathy.

    I’ve held the drawing for the beautiful Bermuda Colours calendar Cathy so generously offered as a prize, and the winner is Rebecca Booth.

    Congratulations, Rebecca! I’ll be in touch.

    • Cathy West says:

      Congratulations, Rebecca! And thank you everyone for the comments! I hope you enjoy reading Yesterday’s Tomorrow as much as I enjoyed writing it.
      Wishing you all a very blessed Christmas and many good things to come in the New Year!

  15. territiffany says:

    I just realized that Cathy was interviewed here and wanted to say how much I enjoyed learning more about you Cathy.
    Her book is fantastic as I had the blessing of reading it a few months ago. I rarely cry over a book but choked up in more than one place. I can’t wait to see the final result! Congrats!!

    • Cathy West says:

      Thanks, Terri!
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the first time, and I hope you’ll want to get the real thing and read it again!! And then tell all your friends – haha! Thanks for stopping by to read the interview.

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