Kathryn Shay has been a lifelong writer. Though she spent much of her adult life as a high school English teacher, she published her first book in 1995 for Harlequin Superromance. Since then, she’s written 25 Harlequins, eleven mainstream romances for the Berkley Publishing Group and several online reads.
Her first mainstream novel, The Perfect Family, has been released this month from Bold Strokes Books. One of her books was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine and she has been featured in People and The Wall Street Journal. She’s won five RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Awards, three Holt Medallions, four Desert Quill Awards, the Golden Leaf Award, and The Bookseller’s Best Award. Kathryn lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children.
Enjoy this interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?
I grew up in Corning, New York, the fourth daughter in an Italian family. I knew when I was in middle school that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote plays which the neighborhood kids performed and at fifteen, my first story was about a woman reporter who goes to New York City and butts heads with a male editor about the place of women in real news. Of course, they fall in love.
I went to a small Catholic college in upstate New York and took education classes at the insistence of my mother, but also every writing course available. I married my college sweetheart and still planned to be a professional writer—until I did my student teaching. Then I fell in love with the classroom experience and decided to teach. I never stopped writing, though. I had two kids, a daughter and son, and after that decided if I was ever going to write a book, I needed to do it then. I sold my first manuscript in 1995 and since then, 37 books to Harlequin, The Berkley Publishing Group and now, The Perfect Family to Bold Strokes Books. I taught and wrote full time for nine years. Now I’m retired and thankfully have only one job and time to do other things.
Tell us about The Perfect Family. What do you hope readers take away from it?
The Perfect Family follows the Davidsons who are an average American family with a good life. They consider themselves lucky to have each other. Then their seventeen year old son tells them he’s gay and their world shifts. They have no idea what they will go through after Jamie’s disclosure: Jamie’s father Mike can’t reconcile his religious beliefs with his son’s sexuality. His brother Brian is harassed by his jock buddies and angry at Jamie for complicating all their lives. Maggie, his mother, fears being able to protect her son while struggling to save her crumbling marriage. And Jamie feels guilty for the unhappiness his disclosure has caused. The story is full of both conflict and love, ending on a redeeming note.
I hope readers will understand that many things converge on a family when a child comes out gay. And even the most loving, supportive parents have difficulty adjusting. But the child who comes out needs their unconditional love during this time and despite their issues, they need to give that to him.
Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?
At this point in my career, I’d like to keep writing bigger books like The Perfect Family. I want to write stories with a gritty side to them, flawed characters and controversial plots. To this end, I’ve been working on new projects.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
Wow, that’s hard to say. Maybe Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Judith Guest’s Ordinary People; John Irving’s The World According to Garp; Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In genre fiction, my favorites are Nora Roberts, Linda Howard and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Book you’re currently reading?
Pat Conroy’s South of Broad for our September book club. (A little note: the whole book club is reading The Perfect Family for our October meeting.)
Any type of writing ritual you have?
I usually write new material in the morning then come back to it during the day. I write on a laptop either in my office or out on the glassed-in porch. No food or beverage needed, except coffee if it’s early. I do like to have quiet, no music or TV on.
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?
I believe in writer’s block but truthfully, I’ve never had it. I think that’s because when I was teaching full time and had a book deadline, I couldn’t afford to be stalemated. I only had short periods of time to write—an hour before school, maybe my lunch period, weekends, so I had to use the time wisely. Luckily, the trait has carried over to now.
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
Two qualities: a successful writer is someone who loves to write and has readers who follow her work.
Advice for other writers?
Be persistent. Don’t give up. You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. I have a folder full of rejections I received both before and after I got published and I had to learn to not let those get me down.
Where can we learn more about you?
Anything else you’d like to add?
The character of Jamie is patterned him after my own son, Ben, who is gay. And we have a gift for my readers. Ben is a singer/songwriter and made a CD in high school about “loving a boy” and other adolescent issues. We’re offering it free at the publisher’s website when you order a book from them and it will also be offered on my website while copies last.
I’d like to add here that many people ask about my backlist, I’m making plans to put nine previously published in print books up on Kindle and Smashwords by the time The Perfect Family is released.