Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett) Sets the Record Straight by Vicki Doudera

Kathy Lynn Emerson grew up in New York State. In 1965, she came to Maine to attend Bates College and decided to stay. Here are ten questions for this talented and very prolific writer.

VICKI: You write in several different genres, with two historical mystery series, plus the Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, set in Maine.  My first question to you, Kathy, is — how the heck do you keep them all straight? 
KATHY: Easy—I only work on one thing at a time. And I’ve been writing for a LONG time! And I’m not currently writing under my own name at all. That leaves only two projects a year, one contemporary mystery (as Kaitlyn Dunnett) and one non-mystery historical (as Kate Emerson). When I’m in need of inspiration for one, I simply go and work on the other for a few weeks, or do research, and by the time I’m ready to come back to the first project, I’m raring to go and full of new ideas. They only thing I have to be sure to do is allow myself plenty of lead time on both projects. 

VICKI: I know that some of your historicals are not mysteries. Which of your series would you classify as crime fiction? 
KATHY: The Face Down Mysteries and the Diana Spaulding Mystery Quartet are historical cozies and the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mysteries are contemporary cozies. I wouldn’t actually use the term “crime fiction” for any of them myself, but that’s just a personal preference. I write mysteries in the Agatha Christie/Ellis Peters tradition, with a touch of humor (think Joan Hess or Dorothy Cannell) thrown in.
VICKI: You are married to a retired police officer. Does he “weigh in” regarding the authenticity of your manuscripts? 
KATHY: Oh, yes. At least on the contemporary series. He keeps me from making stupid mistakes about things like guns and police procedure. He worked for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department for thirteen years and the Maine State Department of Corrections as a Probation/Parole Officer for twenty-one years, so he’s got a pretty good handle on law enforcement. Of course, since I’m writing humorous mysteries, I sometimes take a few liberties, but not with any of the important stuff.
VICKI: The Liss MacCrimmon mysteries are set in Moosetookalook, Maine. Does this fictional town bear any resemblance to any REAL Maine towns?
KATHY: Yes and no. It’s a lot like many small rural towns in that people know each other’s business, and I’ve used bits and pieces of several real Maine town squares in creating the physical appearance of the one Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium and Liss’s house face. Then I added the municipal building from my old home town in New York state, as it was when I was a kid. I think that’s the key. Moosetookalook’s reality is colored by my memories and impressions of real places. I deliberately avoided modeling Moosetookalook on any single place. And, of course, all the events, both the murders and the zany behavior of local eccentrics, are imaginary.   
VICKI: What are the advantages of writing under three names? Are pseudonyms something you’d recommend to other writers? 
KATHY: Different names help readers identify what sort of book they are buying. My historical voice and my contemporary mystery voice are quite different, as is the subject matter. If readers who like my Liss MacCrimmon novels pick up one of my Secrets of the Tudor Court books, or even one of my historical mysteries, they may well be disappointed, and perhaps angry to have wasted their money on a book that’s not to their taste. So, yes, I’d recommend a pseudonym for anyone switching to a radically different genre. 
VICKI: In 2008 your HOW TO WRITE KILLER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES was published. Did writing the book teach you anything new? 
KATHY: The how to book is my take on the subject plus input from about fifty other historical mystery writers and other professionals in the genre (editors, reviewers, fans), so I picked up some tips from them, right along with our readers. Pulling the whole thing together was also a good refresher course for me in the basics of writing any kind of mystery fiction. Sad to say, however, since the book was published, I’ve written very little historical mystery fiction myself. Only two short stories, although both were published. Other writing opportunities opened up, and I just haven’t had time to get back to writing more historical mystery novels.

VICKI: What do you like best about being a writer?  What do you like least?
KATHY: I like being my own boss, especially since that means I can set my own schedule and work shoeless and wearing sweats (or shorts and tee-shirts in summer). My least favorite part is the need to do self-promotion. It’s a big relief to me that most of that can now be done online. I’m a hermit at heart, happy to stay at home and spend most of my time holed up in my office with my books and my computer.

VICKI: If you could fit in one more series….what would it be?
KATHY: I’d still like to write more novels in the Face Down series, especially now that Lady Appleton’s foster daughter, Rosamond, is grown up and doing some sleuthing on her own. With committments to the non-mystery historicals and the Liss MacCrimmon series through 2013, however, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. And I have no idea if there will be a market for more books in the series after such a long hiatus. FACE DOWN O’ER THE BORDER came out in 2007.

VICKI: What would surprise us to know about you?
KATHY: I don’t know if this would surprise people or not, since he’s such a great writer, but I’m a huge fan of anything Joss Whedon has had a hand in, especially BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and FIREFLY. 

VICKI: Tell us about your latest book, due out any day now….
KATHY: Ah, well, about that book. A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from my editor at Gallery Books, a division of Simon and Schuster. SECRETS OF THE TUDOR COURT: AT THE KING’S PLEASURE, originally scheduled to hit stores on August 23rd, has been rescheduled for January 2012. This was a marketing department decision and is actually a good thing, as the later launch will mean more publisher-genrated publicity, but I know Kate Emerson fans who won’t be happy about the delay. In the meantime, though, for Kaitlyn Dunnett fans, the paperback of last year’s Liss MacCrimmon mystery, THE CORPSE WORE TARTAN will be out in early October, followed at the end of that month by the newest addition to the series, SCOTCHED, which takes place at a small mystery fan convention, the First Annual Maine-ly Cozy Con, held at (where else?) Moosetookalook, Maine’s elegant old hotel, The Spruces.

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4 Responses to Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett) Sets the Record Straight by Vicki Doudera

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Really enjoyed this interview, Kathy/Kaitlyn. (Wondering if using a pseudonym is one way to try on a new name?). Especially found comfort, as another who likes being a hermit, in your comment that the new forms of social media let us do it from home. Nice to have this a positive, instead of the overwhelming thing it so often seems.

    Still in awe of those who can write two or more books a year.

  2. Pj Schott says:

    Thank you. New author for me. Will be checking out the Tudor Court series.

  3. Paul Doiron says:

    I am just in awe at your productivity. I come from the MFA background (meaning I studied creative writing in grad school before entering the alternate reality of professional journalism), and this career lifestyle of multiple books per year under multiple pseudonyms always seemed exotic to me. The counter example would be someone like Jonathan Franzen who releases a book every half decade or so and seizes the limelight. Your career seems to harken back to a different time — I’m thinking of the days of Jim Thompson and a young Elmore Leonard — when professional novelists wrote often and well and moved quickly from book to book. Even in my own publishing life I don’t get pressure from my agents or editors to branch out the way you do. I guess this is a long-winded way of asking how your career developed along these lines. I’m also curious about the number of other authors you know who work the way you do (Charlaine Harris seems a famous example), and how you and your agent work together to decide what and how much to write.

  4. Paul, and others who have asked—the answer is pretty simple. Writing more than one book a year is the only way I’ve been able to make a living as a writer. I’m not a bestselling author. I’m in what they call the mid-list. So, no big advances for any one book. Once, back when I was writing romance, I had five books come out in the same year. They weren’t all written in that year, but they were published that way. I ALMOST made enough to live on that year. As for deciding what to write, I’ve been fortunate in being able to write what I enjoy and even more fortunate in that I enjoy writing in more than one genre. My current agent came on board at the same time I started using the pseudonyms Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson and had a hand in crafting the initial proposals that sold the series ideas to publishers. I was unagented when I wrote for young readers and again when I wrote for small presses after my Face Down series was dropped by St. Martin’s Press after seven books. I wrote nine books for various small presses for very little money but that kept the “Kathy Lynn Emerson” alive for a few more years and allowed me to do three more Face Downs, the entire Diana Spaulding 1888 Quartet, and the how-to book, plus a collection of Lady Appleton short stories. Whew. No such thing as a short answer from me, I guess. But keep in mind that I started writing for publication way back in 1976.

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