Interview with KATHERINE LONGSHORE
I've always been a writer. I've been writing stories since I learned how to hold a pencil, asking my dad how to spell words while I worked under the bar stools at our kitchen counter. In the course of my life, I've worked as a dishwasher, lingerie seller, coffee barista, cake decorator, ship's steward, video rental clerk, freelance journalist, travel agent, waitress, contracts manager, bookseller, and Montessori preschool teacher.
But in writing for teens, I've finally found my calling. And through writing, I am able to encompass all my loves. Becoming a character made of words. Exploring new worlds. And living history.
ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry and THE OLD WAYS by Robert MacFarlane.
What first sparked your interest in writing?
Learning how to write! I can remember pestering my dad to spell words for me when I was in the first grade so I could write stories.
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
I love the surprises. The scenes where suddenly the character takes a right-hand turn when I was thinking I’d make her go left. The unexpected kisses and dialogue that seems to come from somewhere real and not from inside my head. And I absolutely love playing with words. What I like the least are the days my evil inner editor takes over and squelches all creativity. Those are the days I clean the bathroom.
Tell us a little about your writing process.
My process is different for every book. My first book I just wrote, sitting down every day and asking myself, “What happens next?” For three books, I’ve tried to outline, getting a sketchy synopsis together and mapping some stuff out on my story board. And then I ignore all of that and sit down to write every day and asking myself, “What happens next?” - usually coming up with something vastly different than what I outlined. For four out of the five books I’ve written, I’ve had to throw out the first fifty pages - it’s like I have to start with the backstory in order to start the story. And with MANOR OF SECRETS, I had a general outline and every day sketched the next scene on an index card so I could just get up and write it the next day. I tend to do a lot of plot work in revision - sometimes throwing out over half of the book in the process. It’s like I don’t know what the book is about until I’ve already written a draft. But I get there in the end.
What are your passions?
History, feminism, justice, love, honor, costumes, travel…
What inspires you?
The world around me. Real people. History. Love, honor, justice…
Why young adult?
A librarian friend once told me that when people come in wanting to know about life, she sends them to the YA section. All of human life is here: good and evil, friendship and betrayal, love and joy and hopelessness and despair. It’s heady stuff. But what I love most is the thrill of all those firsts - first kiss, first love, first adventure, first grief. There’s something tangible about it. Visceral. And I love that most YA forever looks forward instead of back. There is always - even in the darkest moments - a little bit of hope.
Why historical fiction?
When I decided to start writing fiction, my husband recited the old adage: write what you know. I know a lot about Henry VIII. My kids used to play a game with me where they would ask, “Who was Henry’s mother’s sister’s husband’s daughter?” To which I can answer, “Mary Howard.” (Not Henry’s niece, but Thomas Howard’s daughter from a second marriage and the narrator of BRAZEN, actually.)
But more than that, I write historical fiction because I feel that a good story is timeless. It wouldn’t matter if a story like Anne Boleyn’s rise and eventual fall was set in 16th Century England or modern China or a futuristic, post-Apocalyptic dystopia. It would still be an incredible journey of a girl who started with little and became queen (literally or figuratively) through the strength of her own personality. Great stuff.
How were GILT and TARNISH born?
GILT began with the question, “Why would a teenage girl marry a bitter, decrepit old man?” After some research, I added the big What if? As in: “What if Catherine Howard wasn’t the ignorant, promiscuous airhead the historians make her out to be?”
TARNISH began with similar questions: “What kind of teenager would become the Anne Boleyn we all know and love?” and: “What if her flaws and actions were misinterpreted by her contemporaries - and historians?”
What about your upcoming book MANOR OF SECRETS?
I was asked if I could write a “YA Downton Abbey” and became immediately obsessed with the two characters - one who lived upstairs, comfortably and restrained, and the other working downstairs,
Did the books require a lot of research? How much did you alter history for the story or fill-in-the-blanks?
All of my books have required a lot of research. I enjoy it - reading recently-published histories and visiting locations and digging into old manuscripts to find just a hint of something that could give me a clue to character, setting or story. For my Tudor books, I have been determined to be as historically accurate as possible. Because history is so rich, however, and because not all historical details help move the story forward, I have had to trim here and there (like the character of Henry Mannox, who had an affair with Catherine Howard before the action begins in GILT) and downplay certain elements (such as politics and religion, which were very important to the Tudors, but aren’t what my stories are about).
There are a lot of Tudor novels in historical fiction. Why did you decide to write some more?
Because there are so few written from a teenager’s perspective. By the age of sixteen (and sometimes earlier), Tudors were considered adults and treated as such. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t go through the same things teenagers do today - self-doubt and the desire to rebel and all the emotions stirred up by hormones. So many historical novels set in Tudor times are about how adults navigated the court. Imagine how much more difficult - and how much more fraught - it would be if you were a teenager? Like high school, only with the added threat of decapitation.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Keep writing and write what you love. Stories don’t get told if you don’t sit down to tell them, and books that suck people in are written by people who pour themselves into the story.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I read everything I can get my hands on. Contemporary, historical, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy. Anything that inspires someone to tell me, “This book is really good. You’ll like it.” I don’t want my own writing to be limited by the label of the historical fiction genre, so I try to break out of it with my reading as much as I can. As I said before, a good story surpasses genre, and good writing transcends it.