Katherine Center’s second novel, Everyone Is Beautiful, is featured in this week’s People (calling it “charming”) Magazine and in this month’s issue of Redbook. Kirkus Reviews likens it to the 1950s motherhood classic Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and says, “Center’s breezy style invites the reader to commiserate, laughing all the way.” Booklist calls it “a superbly written novel filled with unique and resonant characters.”
Katherine’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, was featured in People Magazine, USA Today, Vanity Fair, the Houston Chronicle, and the Dallas Morning News, among others. BookPage named Katherine one of seven new writers to watch, and the paperback of Bright Side was a Breakout Title at Target.
Katherine recently published an essay in Real Simple Family and has another forthcoming in Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond this April. She has just turned in her third novel, Get Lucky, and is starting on a fourth. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at www.katherinecenter.com.
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Katherine. Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published? Can you give us the titles of your books?
Everyone Is Beautiful, my new book, is the second in a two-book deal with Random House. The first one was The Bright Side of Disaster. I now have another two-book deal with them and have just finished my third novel, Get Lucky.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
My first real book-length work (other than a novel I wrote in 6th grade about how Duran Duran fell in love with me) was a collection of short stories I wrote in graduate school called Peepshow. It was never published because I was not at all brave about sending it out. Though it was a finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
I was very lucky. I got an agent for my first novel quite by accident when I ran into a novelist at the park who offered to pass it on. Then that agent offered to represent me and then the book off to publishing houses and was able to get an auction going.
Though I did spend ten years getting rejected before that. And rejection is definitely horrible.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
The rejections made me feel like I shouldn’t be writing. What was the point? And so I’d quit writing. Forever. And I’d decide that wanting to be a writer was crazy and masochistic and I should move on with my life and get a real job.
But then I’d keep writing anyway. Because I couldn’t stop.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
Random House published my first book under their Ballantine Imprint—and they are still publishing my books. I didn’t really choose them, they chose me. For which I remain very grateful.
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
It felt great. It still feels great! Writing is the thing I’m best at. I can’t tell you what day of the week it is most of the time. But I can write stories. It’s amazing to know that people are reading them and thinking about them and being moved by them. When somebody sends an email saying they laughed and cried because of one of my books—it’s just mind-boggling.
Though it didn’t really change my life in all the ways you might expect. I’m still just me. Me with books at Barnes & Noble, but me just the same.
What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I set up a website—and found a great designer to make it pretty. I printed up business-size cards with the book cover on them, thinking I’d hand them out to people. Although it turned out I was way too shy to hand them out. My parents handed out a ton of them, though! And my husband! He’d take them to the pool and give them to moms who were there with their kids.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
No. Looking back, this was a great way for it to happen. I was very discouraged for a long time. But I also didn’t really know what I wanted to write about then. I think I wasn’t ready. I needed to mature.
Sometimes I think making a go of the writing life means just sticking with it long enough to stumble onto some good luck. Of course, this was a little bit before blogging. Now, if I were still wanting to write and not sure how to get published, I’d blog.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
Well, I have the three books under my belt (2 published, one in production) and one that I’m about to start writing. I’ve also had an essay in Real Simple magazine and another essay is forthcoming in an anthology called Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond.
And I have grown tremendously as an author. The more you do a thing, the better you get. That’s especially true of writing: Your sense of timing and structure and language gets better each time you do it.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice, I’d tell myself not to get so discouraged. But I know my younger self would never listen to my old self, anyway.
I think writing through those struggles—rejection, lack of free time, uncertainty that what you’re doing matters—is part of the process of becoming a writer. You have to believe in yourself, and believe that the stories you’re writing will mean something to the people who read them, but it doesn’t come easy. You have to struggle with yourself about it. You have to earn that faith.
I also think it’s easy to focus on the publishing part of it when what really matters is the writing. Especially nowadays, with blogging as an option, the great writing has a chance to get its own attention.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
There have been a lot of exciting moments in the past few years. Seeing my photo in People Magazine (this week!) has been pretty exciting.
But the biggest accomplishment is the writing. Whenever I put something on the page and it sounds as good as—or better than—it did in my head, I feel proud.
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A photographer. Or a maker of artists’ books. Or a sign maker. Or an organic gardener. Or a landscape architect. Or a house renovator. There are so many jobs I’ve been interested in over the years. The great thing now is that I can give them to my characters.
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I wouldn’t give up being an author for anything. I thank my lucky stars every single day that I get to write these stories and send them out into the world.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Still writing stories about the lives that interest me and getting them out there however I can.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Don’t dream about being published! Just dream about the stories! No one can keep you from writing the stories. Write them, and love them, and share them with the people in your lives who will love them too. That’s the meat and potatoes of being a writer. Getting to go inside the stories—that’s the best blessing you can wish for.