When we began MCW, a decade ago, we featured periodic interviews with our authors. It’s time to do that again–both to catch up with some of our originals, and to provide insight into our newer bloggers. Today we begin with Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett
When did you start writing? What sorts of books were you writing at first?
My first serious fiction writing, with publication in mind, started in 1976, after I realized I was not cut out to reach language arts to seventh and eighth graders. I wrote five great long historical novels, none of which sold. My first sale was “How Chester Greenwood Invented Earmuffs”—to Highlights for Children. After that, I switched to writing mysteries for 8-12 year-old readers.
Did you have a career other than writing?
I had a rather hit and miss career teaching at various levels from first grade to community college, and after the first few years of full-time writing and failing to sell the novels and short stories I wrote, I took a job working part time as a library assistant at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Mantor Library. That eventually went to full time and continued until after I’d finally started selling.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Pretty much. As a kid, I wrote newspapers for my dolls.
How many books have you published?
Sixty-four titles have been traditionally published and since becoming semi-retired at about the same time the pandemic got going, I’ve independently published seven more.
Do you feel as though over the course of your career you have had to keep reinventing yourself, writing in different corners of the big mystery tent? If yes, for the benefit of other writers, what has that been like?
Actually, I’ve reinvented myself by switching genres as well as subgenres of mystery. That’s been an economic decision for the most part. If one sort of book didn’t sell, I was game to try another. I’ve also been stubborn enough not to give up on a book that initially had difficulty finding a home. Commercial publishers pay the bills but small presses are great. So is independent publishing.
The obvious question…how do you come up with ideas/plots for so many stories?
I have no idea. I will admit, however, to drawing on family stories on more than one occasion.
Talk a little about research. Are you one of those writers who love it? How do you balance research time with writing time?
I do love research. When I was writing historical novels, I researched first, mostly by acquiring my own copies of reference books and making lots of notes. Then there were always details to be checked as the writing progressed. My contemporary novels required considerably less research, especially when they were set in locations I know well, but there were always some new areas to explore with each book—Scottish festivals, for example, or who would handle a murder investigation in a small village (as opposed to a town) in New York State and how that department is set up. Some of that research was done through interviews, some online, and some by going “in the field.”
Do you have a favorite series or, like a parent, you aren’t allowed to have favorites?
My favorite has usually been the one I’m working on at the moment.
What about characters. Do you have a favorite character?
I’m rather partial to Mikki Lincoln, from my Deadly Edits series, mostly because (yes, I admit it) she has so much of me in her.
Do you still have books in the drawer?
I did until recently. Since I’ve been independently publishing both novels and nonfiction, I’ve cleared out everything that existed in a complete or nearly complete form. What’s left are some proposals that never had more than a few chapters written. To be honest, I doubt I’ll do anything more with any of them. If I’d really been enthusiastic about those ideas, I’d have gone ahead and written them, years ago, on spec.
What is next for you? What are your current projects?
When the last book in my last contract with a traditional publisher was completed and that publisher wasn’t interested in any more mysteries by Kaitlyn Dunnett, I had the choice of going ahead with the idea for a new series, already rejected by that same publisher, or coming up with an entirely new idea to float to other houses. After sixty-four traditionally published books, I realized I was tired of trying to guess what someone would buy. Instead, I turned the plot from first book in my proposed new series into a short story and a novella, combined them with two previously published short stories featuring the same character (who also appeared in one book in each of my series written as Kaitlyn Dunnett) and self-published The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries in trade paperback and as an e-book. Currently I consider myself semi-retired (after all, I am seventy-four!) and am not writing anything new. Instead, I’m putting together e-book collections of my Face Down Mysteries (three volumes that will include all ten novels and all the short stories featuring characters from that world), revising slightly as I go and adding author notes. I’m enjoying the process. After that? Who knows, but it’s likely I’ll always be working on some writing-related project.
What advice would you give a beginning writer?
Don’t give up.
Have there been times when you considered giving up?
No. When people tell me there’s no hope of selling a project I’m enthusiastic about, I just become that much more determined to find it a home.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Definitely a pantster. I really wish I could plot an entire book in advance, but my brain just doesn’t function that way.
Have you ever passed a building or driven through a town and thought “I have to use that in a book?”
Not exactly, but I’ve certainly had occasions when I’ve said “What a great place to hide the body!”
A reminder that books make great gifts. Kathy says “Books I’m plugging”
for ages 8-12 (written as Kathy Lynn Emerson):
Shalla, the story of a Colonial New England Girl
Katie’s Way (set in 1920s New York State)
mystery (written as “Kathy Lynn Emerson writing as Kaitlyn Dunnett”):
The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (three short stories and a novella)
nonfiction (written as Kathy Lynn Emerson):
I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries
Great interview. I cannot thank you enough for all of the happy hours of reading you have brought me. Here’s hoping you reconsider your semi-retired status!
Thanks, Kait. I never say never, but I AM enjoying not having deadlines, even self-imposed ones.
Great interview! But writers never retire, not even semi-retire. Write on.
Thanks, Matt. Still writing blogs, at the very least.
I enjoyed this very much. I’m glad to hear that Mikki has a lot of your personality. I’m partial to her too.