Monday, October 10, 2016

Meet the Member -- A Chat with Margo Catts

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

This month, in Meet the Member, I have the pleasure of talking with Margo Catts. On September 1, 2016 she had the nervous pleasure of typing those two little words, The End. Her novel, Among Lesser Gods, is now in the hands of her editor. Margo and I recently had coffee and she told me her story about the inspiration behind this book.

~~Give us a quick overview about Among Lesser Gods.

PPW Member Margo Catts
After starting a deadly fire as a child, Elena Alvarez is now paralyzed by fear, unable to face adult decisions and consequences. To put adulthood off longer, she agrees to spend the summer in Leadville caring for two children whose mother has recently died. In the damaged children, the intertwined community, and her own family's history, she finds echoes of her own troubles, which help her discover the truth of the terrible burdens we take upon ourselves, and the way tragedy and redemption are inevitably connected.

~~What inspired you to write this book?

A few unrelated things went into the stew that came together as this story. Many years ago I saw a newspaper story about a wildfire that said in a single sentence in the final paragraph, “The fire is believed to have been started by children playing.” I started to wonder, what happens to those children? They will spend the rest of their lives knowing that their actions were responsible for people losing their homes, for the destruction of landscape, and possibly, the loss of lives. Their interpretation of what that means will change as they grow, so they may process the experience over and over in the years ahead. This formed the backbone of the story.

On a separate track, I’ve always been struck by the way people tend to judge their child selves through their current adult eyes. Any other child gets an indulgent eye roll, or perhaps a laugh, for the same thing over which we call ourselves stupid. Perhaps our own growth is so incremental that we never achieve the separation from our child selves that we apply to the way we look at other children. Particularly in cases of abuse or horrific accidents, adults have a hard time forgiving their child selves for behaving as children, rather than doing what an adult might have done—and what they, therefore, wish they had done—to overcome the situation. What does it take to lay aside the burden for what can’t be changed, and to see yourself as innocent rather than undeserving?

And finally, a mystery book I’d read as a child included something about a missing horse, and finding the remains contributed to solving the mystery. I can’t remember the story any longer, but the poignancy of a tragedy unwound decades later stayed with me. As an adult I fused that concept with my own parent-fears of losing a child, imagining how horrible it would be to have a lost child go unfound, the wound that would never close. How could or would someone ever move on from that? What would the parent’s life look like years later, through the eyes of someone in the present who stepped backwards into the story? 

I had already started work on the story about the lost child when I realized that the story on the back burner—about the child who set the fire and couldn’t forgive herself—was connected. They shared themes of loss, regret, and the role of blame, and what it takes to make a life after tragedy. I could see the protagonists of the two stories had things to give each other. The child who set the fire—now an adult—moved to the front, and unwrapping the separate tragedy of the lost child became key to helping her let go of blame and fear.

~~When will this be released?

The book is scheduled for release in May, 2017.

~~Who is your editor and how have they been helping?

My editor is Chelsey Emmelhainz at Skyhorse Publishing. When she purchased the manuscript she wanted to cut down the length, and suggested a few general areas that might benefit from tightening. In each case, I wound up much happier with the new version. I’d known there was more to do, but my agent and I were too close to the project to see anything further. Chelsey’s fresh eyes and clear vision of what the book could and should be have been invaluable.

~~How did you find her?

I first found my agent, Sandra Bond, at a conference, where I learned when I checked in that I had a pitch appointment I didn’t recall signing up for. My manuscript was less than half done at the time, but I heard others suggest using pitch appointments as practice, so I went for it. Sandra was interested, and after I finished she offered to represent me. When she felt the book was ready to send to publishers, she identified Chelsey as one of her top picks. At the time, Chelsey was at Harper Collins and said she loved the book, but it wasn’t right for their list. Three months later, she had made the move to Skyhorse and called my agent to ask if the book was still available. 

Are you a member of Pikes Peak Writers? We would love to learn more about you and your writing experiences. Contact Kathie Scrimgeour at ppwsweetsuccess@gmail.com

About the Interviewer: Kathie Scrimgeour writes under the name K.J. Scrim and has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers since 2013. She has volunteered at the last two PPW conferences and coordinates the Sweet Success column. Kathie is a self-taught writer who delves into fantasy, fiction, and historical fiction. Her debut fantasy novel,The Manx, is scheduled to release later in 2017. She lives outside of Denver with her family, two dogs, and a crazy cat.

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