The Interviews
Catching Up with
Kathryn Shay
by Cathy Sova
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Author Kathryn Shay has built a strong career writing for Harlequin Superromance. Her first single-title novel is now available from Berkley. We talked with Kathryn about making the leap to larger books, and what it's like to write for two different publishers.

Kathryn, welcome back to TRR! Your first single-title, PROMISES TO KEEP, is on the shelf. Tell us about it.

PROMISES TO KEEP is a book very close to my heart. As you know, I've been a teacher for a long time, and this book is about violence in todayıs secondary schools. For a long time, I've thought the government should be more involved in helping schools cope with violence. So I wrote a book where they do. The premise of my story is that the Secret Service has set up a task force to monitor high schools across the nation, keep a data base for red flags which would indicate the probability of violence erupting, and move in when they believe an incident is imminent. This part is all fictional. The Secret Service did do research with the school shooters and produced a document called The Safe School Initiative, but I took it a step further.

Fairholm High School is tagged by the task force, and two agents go undercover: Joe Stonehouse as a crisis counselor, and Luke Ludzecky, a twenty-six year old who can pass for nineteen, as a student. In the course of the story, they do indeed ferret out the violence. Each of them falls in love along the way, Joe with Suzanna, the high school principal, and Luke with (gasp!) his teacher. But since their identity is unknown, and since as soon as an assignment is completed, they must move on and never have contact with anyone in the school again, both love interests are doomed. Of course, it is a romance, so...

You've been a successful author for Harlequin Superromance, with several well-received series under your belt. What made you decide to try a single-title?

Basically, I decided to try my hand at single title because I was always having to limit myself in the complexity of the story lines and in the development of secondary characters for an 85,000 word book. I also wanted to write more flawed characters. In a mainstream market, both those needs were met.

You also changed publishers. How did you get Berkley interested in PROMISES?

I'd written a complete mainstream manuscript and had been trying to sell it for about a year and half to all the big publishers. It was soundly rejected. The book, which for some reason Berkley never did read, is still unpublished (though my editor at Berkley is now reading it.) So, just as I did when I was trying to sell category, and my first novel didn't sell, I wrote another one, which my agent sent to Berkley and Cindy Hwang bought it. That book is TRUST IN ME and will be out in February 2003. Since I wanted a two-book contract, I wrote a bit of PROMISES TO KEEP. They also bought that and decided to put it out first. Then I had to write that one!

Was it difficult to write a book of much longer length, as PROMISES is, after working in series romance?

No, it wasn't difficult at all. As I said earlier, itıs been hard for me to write shorter books because I want to develop things more. My Harlequins are always on the longer side anyway. And now, of course, my Berkley's are on the long side too. I absolutely love the longer length, though I still get two thirds of the way through the book and say to myself, "Oh, no, Iıll never be able to finish it in just that many pages. I need more space."

Is it a challenge to work for two different publishers and editors?

What's a challenge is writing and teaching full time. When I took on a second publisher, it got even more of a challenge to find the time to do both jobs. I am lucky in that I have a very supportive family and hire out a lot of things--cleaning, laundry, cutting the grass--and my husband is always there to take up any slack. Add to that two wonderful editors and it's doable. Both Zilla Soriano at Harlequin and Cindy Hwang at Berkley were extremely cooperative in working with me on balancing all this. They've agreed not to release books in the same month, and both are very solicitous of my well-being when setting deadlines. I will probably be teaching only one more year. I love that profession, but it's become too difficult to do both, so I'm going to turn my hand full time to writing. My son is also a senior in the high school where I teach, and I wanted to stay his last year. And for some reason, he wanted his mom there, too! Actually, we share many interests and he's going to college for Creative Writing, Literature and Music.

Many of your books feature heroes who are in some sort of law enforcement or public service (you're renowned for your firefighters and police officers, and PROMISES has two Secret Service agents). Are you particularly drawn to that type of character?

I am drawn to that type of man. There's something that really appeals to me about the strong, macho hero who turns to mush over a woman he falls for. Firefighters and police officers are perfect to cast in that role because they have to be tough to see what they see and do what they do every single day. And they are built in heroes because they put their lives on the line for others. I must say it's really fun to bring out their sensitive side. In PROMISES, Joe Stonehouse is so closed off because he has to be and it pains him to open up to Suzanna. But he can't help it. And as you said in your review, it's harder for him to end the relationship than for her. I just love that dynamic. And as you know, I've spent a lot of time with firefighters to do my research, so I think I really got to understand them. And like them.

Will you continue to write for Harlequin Superromance?

I love writing for Harlequin and have no intention of stopping. I hope the feeling's mutual. Some storylines I come up with are more suited to a shorter format, and some include more romance, so they're better suited to Harlequin. Harlequin has also allowed me to write some pretty risky books, and they've done well I think. My editor there continues to take chances with me (see below about the Serenity House series) and I like that. I want to keep writing about different professions and different kinds of people for them, and so far, it's worked quite well.

However, I've found I enjoy writing for Berkley equally as much. It's given my creativity free reign, and to be honest, they've accepted story lines Harlequin would definitely reject. I love writing darker heroes and heroines, darker, more complicated storylines, and yes, again, I get to write longer more involved books. It's the best of both worlds.

Tell us about your upcoming releases.

I'm currently doing a three books series for Harlequin where each of the heroines, as a teenager, spent time in a group home called Serenity House. The stories all open up fifteen years later and trace the lives of each girl. One woman is a pediatrician, (PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT, June 02) one woman runs a day care (A PLACE TO BELONG, Oct. 02) and one woman is a cop (AGAINST THE ODDS, April 03). I was pleased to see Harlequin put just the women on each cover, as they are all heroine-oriented books. I hope to finish the series with the last three girls someday. However, next on tap for Harlequin are two stand-alone books, titles and plot lines to be determined. (Iım just working them out for the contract). Interestingly HQ has done an online serial (one chapter a week) to kick off the SH series. My story is entitled, "Caught Off Guard." It was so popular, Iım going to do another one in conjunction with the April book.

For Berkley, I have the release mentioned earlier, TRUST IN ME. This is a very emotional, moving story of six childhood friends who come together to help one of their sons who is trouble--years ago, they were in trouble too, having formed a gang, The Outlaws. The book involves three equally weighted love stories, about a minister and a woman who hates religion; a diner own who falls for the race car driver everybody blames for the death of her husband ten years ago; and a divorced couple who have a very embittered past. It's sad in places, and I cried as I wrote sections of the book. I've just signed another contract with Berkley for books to be released Nov. 2003 and July 2004. And guess what they're about? Firefighters! I was happy to return to my favorite guys and women on the line, particularly after the events of 9/11. These books have given me a chance to further explore the nature of such wonderful people. Since the books are longer, there are solid secondary story lines and, as I mentioned earlier, flawed characters. I think youıll find them edgier and grittier than the America's Bravest series I did previously, yet just as heroic and appealing.

As a side note to Berkley, they will be releasing two anthologies with a story in each from me in Oct. 2003 and April 2004. These novellas were originally written by five authors for publication online, and Berkley bought the rights to them. I think they'll be out in trade paperback. They concern an online greeting card company which is being sought after by venture capitalists. I did the first and last story, (entitled "Men at Work" and "Taking Care of Business") and got to create the entire company, set it up (with help from my real life hero businessman) then go through the whole buyout process. It was fascinating to write about something so different and it takes place in Washington, DC, one of my favorite cities. The original title of the series is THE LIPSTICK CHRONICLES.

Kathryn, best of luck with your upcoming releases, and thanks for joining us!

September 8, 2002


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