Kathy Steffen, author interview

December 2, 2007 | Author Interviews

Kathy is one of my best and “real” friends–meaning we actually get together face-to-face and do fun things like lunch and whine. Her debut novel, First There is a River, came out this fall from Medallion Press and she agreed to stop by here and chat with us a bit.


Q.) First tell us about First, There is a River.

KS.) The story begins with a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. When her husband sends her kids away in a final move to isolate and control her, she is completely devestated and ends up on her uncle’s riverboat, where she takes a job as a cook. Through that job and the incredible people she meets on the river (river-rats as they were called) she learns that there is much more strength in her than she ever thought. In fact, she finds perhaps enough courage to face her husband and get her children back, which is the most important thing in her life and what she wants more than anything else.

Q.) Why riverboats? There’s a family connection, isn’t there?

KS.) Yes, my great-grandmother, who died way before I was born, worked as a cook on a riverboat. The book has nothing to do with her other than my original interest and idea about riverboats and cooks. In fact, I’m sure my great-grandfather was nothing like Jared! But my great-grandmother, during the depression, just got sick and tired of being so poor. When she was offered a job on a boat, although it meant being gone from home, she took it. Just that image, of a woman going to work on a boat on the river and living such an unusual life, has always interested me.

I love doing research and this book gave me the opportunity to learn about not only a different time and place, but an entire society that is pretty much non-existent in the modern world. It was a wonderful experience researching and writing this book! Not to mention great fun.

Q.) First, There is a River is offered under the Mainstream category. What other elements does it have…mystery, romance, etc.?

KS.) It is definitely a cross-genre book, and crosses categories. There is loads of action and suspense, elements of historical fiction and plenty of romance! I like to think of it as historical suspense, but it gets categorized all sorts of ways in bookstores, from mystery to romance to historical, which is why mainstream is good–it covers everything. I love to read romance, mysteries, women’s fiction, action/adventure, suspense, thrillers, you name it–and so I wrote a book that has many elements. `

Q.) As a debut author you go through a lot of emotional ups and downs. How have you found the trip so far? Have you learned anything new about yourself?

KS.)Oh boy, that’s quite a question and probably hits on the most incredible aspect about being published for the first time, it’s like holding a big fun-house mirror up and trying to figure out what is real, what is you, and what it all means. You hold your book inside for so long, and then you let a few chosen people read it. But once it’s out there, it’s out there!

I was surprised to find being so “out there” threw me, I’m pretty open and outgoing and I always thought I was extroverted. Turns out I’m actually an introvert and would rather keep it all in. But when the dream is to be published and write stories, you can’t have it both ways.

Talk about a roller-coaster. One day I’m so happy and excited that I can’t put a sentence together, the next day depressed and thinking I can’t write a decent word. As time goes on, my emotional responses are becoming more even, which probably means I’m learning and growing from the experience. Go figure! :o)

Q.) Medallion is your publisher. Can you tell us a bit about them?

KS.) Love them! They are an independent publisher who publishes many genres, from suspense/thriller, mystery, horror, historical, romance, and mainstream. I’m sure I’m forgetting one. But they are an author-friendly, young company that is growing by leaps and bounds. The biggest news is that they are now distributed by IPG (Independent Publishers Group) and have about 60 authors writing books for their lines.

Q.) I know you have at least two more books in the series planned. Can you tell us about them?

KS.) Jasper Mountain comes out in November of 2008 and actually is a prequel to First, There is a River. While writing FTIARiver I became interested in one of the main character’s mother. He talks about her and about her special “sight” and that she taught him to see and talk to mountain spirits. When I started delving into who she was as a young woman, I ended up in Jasper, Colorado, a fictional mining town in 1873. And wow, is that place rife with suffering, hardships, and everyone carries a gun! Yikes! And it’s haunted to boot!

The third is about Emma’s daughter, Sarah. Not too much on that one yet. I do know where it is set and what the gist of the story is, but until I start writing, I’m never sure where these stories are going to take me.

Q.) You also have an interest in writing screen plays and mysteries. Do you have anything in those or other areas in the works? What type of books do you enjoy reading?

KS.)I am working on a contemporary mystery. It’s a cozy with an amateur sleuth who is a psychic. After I turn Jasper Mountain in to Medallion, I’m going to spend some serious time working on it. Time always seems to be my big achilles heel.

Screenwriting has been an interest of mine since I took Chris DeSmet’s screenwriting class (at University of Wisconsin) to improve my dialogue. I find screenwriting especially difficult. Everything, when in script form, has to happen through the dialogue, and of course, some movement. But really, as a writer, the true power of the story and characterization is through dialogue.

I love reading all kinds of books. I like to read bestsellers just to see what is selling and I am seldom disappointed in any genre I decide to investigate. The one thing I never liked reading when I was younger was science fiction, so in college I took a course called “Science Fiction as Literature” and wouldn’t you know it, I got hooked! I can’t say there’s anything I don’t read. As a writer it’s important to keep an open mind (I think) and read as much as you can. Since becoming serious about writing, I don’t enjoy reading quite as much as I used to because I find myself analyzing what I’m reading to see what works and what doesn’t.

I love classics as well, and I like to alternate a “serious” book with a lighter one just to keep on my toes and entertained. But I have to admit, I find myself cheating and reaching for commercial and entertaining quite a bit more often than any others.

Q.) Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. Where can readers find you on the web? How about First, There is a River?

Absolutely my pleasure, and thanks for the opportunity to talk, Lori. You can find me at www.kathysteffen.com and FTIARiver is on Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble.com and in bookstores. If they don’t have it on the shelves (and believe me, I go shelf-sighting as often as I can), it can be ordered easily.

Thanks! This was great fun. I love to talk about writing!