about katherine

interview with Success Diaries

IMG_1187[1]

 

What does “success” mean in Katherine Center´s world?

Success is doing the right thing for who you are.  It’s living a life that matches and supports you.

Do you feel you´ve made it as an author? As a woman? As a mom? What do you feel (if anything) you still need to do in life?

I always try to be careful with my definitions of success—because if success is too far out on the horizon, you’ll never get there.  Our culture often defines success with things like big mansions.  But I don’t think that’s right.  I think the stress of getting those things cancels out the pleasures.

My goal is to try to be as happy as I can going through every day just as it is.

Do I get to do work that I love and that makes me feel proud?  Every day.   Do I have amazing kids who crack me up?  Yep!  Does my husband have a fantastic mustache?  Yes, he does!  That’s how I think about success: using internal measures more than external ones.  I know who I am and what matters to me, and I stay close to those things.  I have people in my life who make me laugh all the time.  I get to do the work I love.  It’s better than I ever could have hoped for.

But it’s not perfect.  The cat wakes me up in the middle of the night. Our upstairs bathub overflowed and now there’s a water stain on the living room ceiling.  I never have enough hours in the day.  It’s a normal life with ups and downs.  But it’s the perfect life for me.

What did you feel when you saw (and felt) your first book in print? Do you get the same feeling with every book since?

Seeing my first book in print was bliss.  It blew my mind.  I didn’t even know what to do with all the excitement.  We found a box from the publisher on the doorstep one evening, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading!  I was like, “This thing’s a page-turner!”

It’s not exactly the same feeling with later books. It’s a good feeling—a very good one—like, “Oh, hello, little book!  I’ve been waiting to see you!”  But it’s not quite as mind-blowing once you’ve done it before.  Because after the first one, it’s not a surprise anymore.  But it’s still totally awesome.

What would you tell aspiring authors who do not believe they can make it? And what would you tell those who believe it is all a question of luck?

I would say that if you like to write stories and you’re finding a way to do that in your life, then you’ve already made it.  And it took me a long time to figure that out.  Just write them.  Write them and show them to your mom or your best friend.  Write them, and put together a writing group to read each other’s work.  Publishing, marketing—those things have their charms.  But they cannot touch the joy of just bringing the stories to life on the page.  That’s what makes everything worth it.

As for the question of luck, I often think luck is all about how you see things.  If you feel lucky, then you are.  I’m not trying to be coy about this.  The vast majority of people never get rich or famous off their writing.  But what they do get, if they really do love to write, is the euphoria that comes from telling the stories themselves.

Why do you write? (Ha, not very original of course) Do you see yourself ever NOT writing?

I write because I love it.  I write because doing it gives me a crazy thrill.  On days that I’ve written something, I walk around with butterflies.  I keep hearing this quote about how writers don’t like to write—they like to have written.  But I completely disagree.  The writing is the one thing about being a writer that’s pure joy.  Other things—the selling, the marketing, the schmoozing—come and go.  They can either make you happy or miserable, depending on the day.  But the writing should be a constant source of pleasure.  And if it’s not, then don’t do it.  Do something that is!

What was your toughest hurdle in life and how did you overcome it?

Seventh grade was the toughest, I think.  Though it’s a tough call.  But that year, my grandmother, who was like a second mom, died.  And my parents got divorced about 6 weeks later.  And my two best friends found other best friends right around that time.  I felt really alone, and I didn’t know who I was or how to live a good life, and let’s just say puberty was kicking me up and down the block.  So I started a journal.  And when I filled it up, I started another.  And did that for ten solid years—all the way through college.  It’s where I learned how to write.

Do you ever reread your books? Why or why not? Why should women read them?

I do re-read them!  Sometimes I’ll be looking for a passage, and I’ll just get caught up in it and have to go to the end.  Or sometimes I’ll hear a comment or read a review that makes me want to go back and take another look.  It is fun to go back and read them.

And why should women read them?  Well, they’re kind of heroine’s journeys.  They’re comic and bittersweet stories of women learning to rise above circumstances and become the best versions of themselves.  They have authentic, flawed, lovable characters who make mistakes and fumble around.  But the novels have wisdom in them, too.  They use comic situations to look at truths about women’s lives.

Your words of wisdom for other women … (one sentence)

One sentence!  Okay, here’s something I tell myself a lot:  Try to look for the beauty in your life and be as grateful as you can.

 

*This post originally appeared at Lorraine Ladish’s “Success Diaries” blog.

how to make a comfort list

DSC_0105

In Get Lucky, the main character makes a “comfort list” of things that are soothing.  Here it is:

“Things that are comforting:

Tea.

Warm water on your skin.

Thick socks.

Humming.

Laughter.

Fireplaces.

Having someone arrange your fruit in a smiley face.

Having someone refuse to examine your imaginary tumors.

Watching old movies with Mackie.”

And while I’ve never actually made a list like this, myself, I’ve been thinking lately that I maybe should.

Because having a book come out is exhilarating and thrilling and amazing.  And it has the dream-come-true quality that so many things do for me now that I make my living as a novelist.  But the truth is, having your dreams come true — though truly, indescribably awesome — can also, at times, be a little stressful.

DSC_0083

So here is my own comfort list for this month.  (And for the record, even just making the list is comforting.)

  • Reading to my kids. (About to start Harry Potter 7!)
  • Watering the garden.
  • Watching at the garden–and all its butterflies, bugs, bees, lizards, and caterpillars.
  • Cooking dinner.
  • Listening to NPR.  (Oh, NPR! I love you!)
  • Writing the next novel.
  • Daydreaming about the next novel.
  • Researching the next novel.
  • Taking a shower.
  • Curling up next to my sweetie at the end of the day.
  • Watching my kids do dance contests.
  • Watching 30 Rock.  (So good!! MMMPH!)
  • Reading.  (Right now it’s Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project–along with a book about whales.)
  • Napping.
  • Snuggling.
  • The sound of the dishwasher.
  • Gabbing on the phone.
  • Cracking jokes in the kitchen with my husband while he makes tea.
  • Making coffee.  (Even if I never get a chance to drink it.)
  • Boogieing to 70s stations on our WiFi radio.
  • Imagining how I’d like to redecorate the house.
  • Date night.  (Eating Ethiopian food until we’re so full we can barely walk and then going to the movies.)

So: There’s a start.  Actually, the more comforts I think of, the more I think of.  Which is, of course, comforting in itself.

DSC_0068

interview: a day in the life

(This is a post from 2010.  Glad to say I’m getting MUCH more rest nowadays!)

•  •  •

Kristina at the blog Owning Kristina just sent an email and asked me to describe a day in my writing life for her.  She wants to know what it’s like to spend your days doing what you love (and doing things to support doing what you love).

DSC_0060

Here’s a typical day for me:

6:30

Haul myself* out of sleep like some abandoned wreck pulled from the bottom of the sea.

*Sweet husband has pointed out that he does most of the hauling.

6:35-8:15

Wake kids, gather up their school clothes, make breakfast, make lunches, deposit kids in carpool cars.

8:15-8:30

Make coffee.*  Call my mom and make her chat with me while it’s brewing.

*I usually forget to drink it.

8:30-11:00

Back in bed.  To work on laptop, or, if the coffee’s not working and I am beyond all possible human exhaustion, take a nap.  Usually, I work.  Because this is it!  Once I pick up my 4 year old from preschool, my working day is over.  The pressure’s on! The clock is ticking!*  I do a blog post, or answer emails.  I Tweet a little bit, maybe.  Sometimes I go to coffee with somebody.  Sometimes I take a walk if I’m feeling super-ambitious.

*I never feel like I’ve made proper use of this time.

11:30-2:45

Pick up son, make the carpool rounds, make lunch, build bridges and magical castles out of blocks, water garden, go to grocery store, and generally goof around.  Somewhere in there, I steal away for a shower.

3:00

Pick up carpool #2!

3:30

Come home, make snacks, read to kids, check email in front yard on laptop while kids ride scooters up and down sidewalk.  After a while, we go inside and dance around the living room.  Then they swing in the backyard while I fuss in the garden.

4:45

Daddy comes home from school.  (He’s a teacher.)  Much rejoicing all around.

5:00-6:00

I make dinner and listen to NPR–oh, how I love NPR!–while children wrestle their dad in the living room.

7:00-9:00

Lengthy, unweildy, and unbelievably prolonged bedtime routine for children involving bubble baths, requests for water and snacks, bed-jumping, picture books, subtraction flashcards, and reading Harry Potter aloud.*

*Reading Harry Potter aloud is one of my favorite things to do.

9:00-2:00 am*

Work. (Also: visit with husband, read a little, catch up on 30 Rock, and search for vintage Airstreams on Craigslist.)  On a good night, I write.  These days, most of my work relates to my new book that just came out. Or other stuff:  blogging, making videos, answering emails, answering questionnaires, writing essays for anthologies.

*“But that’s only 4.5 hours of sleep a night!?” Correct.

NOTES:

1. That’s a typical day–but not, actually, these days.  April and May are also full of book promotion activities–traveling, reading at bookstores, speaking at luncheons, visiting with book clubs, Skyping with far away book clubs.  It is, as we call it, my “busy season,” and my husband and mom are both working overtime to pick up my slack and make sure that everyone is taken care of.

Signing Get Lucky at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

2. Looking over this list, I feel a happy buzz of gratitude for all the fun things I get to do–especially playing with my kids.

3. It is worrisome that I’m not getting enough sleep.  I’m living on coffee right now, but it’s not really the same thing.  And if the circles under my eyes could talk, they’d agree.  I think when my little one’s in Kindergarten, I’ll be able to get more rest.  In the meantime, feel free to send me those articles about how lack of sleep turns you into apsychopath.

4.  You know how they say “Don’t quit your day job”?  I think of myself as having a “day job.” (Raising my kids–though they’re less a “job” than a “calling.”)  And I actually think it’s better for productivity if you DO have a day job.  In college and graduate school, when I didn’t have much to do, I was far less productive than I am today.  (Unless, of course, if your day job totally annihilates you and makes it impossible to do anything else.)  I’m not sure that wide stretches of nothingness are actually good for creativity.  I think creative people actually do BETTER with limitations.  Necessity is totally the mother of invention.

6. How do I get through moments of self-doubt?  By writing. No matter what, the writing is always a good thing.

And that is the upside to doing what you love.  The fact that you love it.

free LUCK for everybody

So we had the book launch party for Get Lucky on Saturday.

I really wasn’t sure how many people would show up, but I knew it would be a fun time.  Especially since I’d be reading the first chapter of the book, which is pretty feisty.

The opening paragraph is all about how the main character, who works for an ad agency and has just finished working on a bra campaign, stumbles on a website that gives her a crisis of consciousness.

In truth, the word “boobs” appears in the first chapter many times.  Many, many times.  More times than I’d really noticed before I was standing up reading it in front of a crowd of — I’m guessing — something like 100 people (my mom’s guessing 150, but she’s my mom).

A crowd that included one of my favorite six-year-olds.

Photo by her mama.

She didn’t seem to mind too much, though.

Photo by the brilliant Karen Walrond.

Photo by the brilliant Karen Walrond.

I had such a great time.  On Twitter, before the launch, I promised we’d give away free luck with every book to everyone who came to the party.  And I feel like we did.  Or, if not luck, at the very least: gratitude.  Which is really kind of not that different.

book trailer for Get Lucky

Get Lucky is a novel about many different things, but one of them is sisters.

I have two sisters, myself–I’m the middle one–and so I know a lot about the subject.

Here’s a book trailer I made using my mom’s Super 8 home movies of us as children.  The redhead who’s working so hard on her cartwheels is my big sister.  The blondie scampering all around is me.  And that sweet little baby with those gorgeous big eyes is my little sister.

I cannot watch this video without tears coming to my eyes.

[BlueTube]YVTCPNlvnwY[/BlueTube]

And I have written quite a bit about these videos–both in essays and fiction.  Here’s an excerpt from Everyone Is Beautiful when the main character’s mother sends her their old family home movies in the mail:

I was mesmerized by the movies, there in the living room.  Sam was still on my hip, and the boys were still in the kitchen.  I suspected they’d found the boxes of maxi-pads and panty liners that I’d bought at the store and were now sticking them to every surface in the kitchen.  But it was okay.  Wasteful, but okay.  Sometimes I was willing to shell out a box of maxi pads for a few minutes to myself.

I watched the DVDs for almost fifteen minutes.  I saw my parents bringing me home from the hospital, my mother cradling me in a yellow blanket, my father holding me on his lap and reading the paper.  I watched our first cat, Liberace—a pet I only remembered from pictures.  I hadn’t seen these movies in years.  When we were younger, back before the Super 8 projector broke, we used to make popcorn and watch them on the wall of my parents’ bedroom.  I don’t remember once ever feeling sad or melancholy or lost during those movie nights.  Back then, it was just fun. We’d tease each other and throw popcorn at our old selves.

Now, the movies had me in tears.  Of course, the timing wasn’t great.  And the company that had transferred the reels to the DVDs had added a wistful musical score that really emphasized the passage of time and how all things fade and die.  And the flickering, ethereal quality of the images made it my childhood seem so dated, so vintage—it was as if it existed in a past so distant that I’d never be able to reach it again.  Which, of course, was true.

–Katherine Center, Everyone Is Beautiful

It really is amazing how the past disappears.  I can remember what it felt like to be that little person, but I can’t, of course, be that person anymore.

And the tension between what you lose as you leave your childhood behind and what you gain as you grow up and become your own person really captures my imagination.


And as for my sisters, the close childhood I spent with them remains to this day the standard I use to judge all closeness.