Catherine Adel West was born and raised in Chicago, IL where she currently resides. She graduated with both her Bachelors and Masters of Science in Journalism from the University of Illinois – Urbana. Her work is published in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Five2One, Better than Starbucks, Doors Ajar, 805 Lit + Art, The Helix Magazine, Lunch Ticket and Gay Magazine. In between writing and traveling, Catherine works as an editor. Saving Ruby King is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @cawest329.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I can’t say I really knew or outright felt I was called to write. It was simply a hobby, something I enjoyed. Slowly I become obsessed with the story I was writing. “Saving Ruby King” is the first novel I ever wrote so I struggled to learn about those elusive ingredients needed to make your story stand out like pacing, character motivations, plot development, etc.
Also, as a black woman in the predominately white world of publishing, the lack of people of color resulted many times into me running into a wall though I eventually found the people meant to champion my book and make it better than I ever could’ve hoped. What’s fantastic about my journey, the good and bad, is seeing the final product on shelves, learning I am stronger than I imagined, and knowing I created a story that, in scope and craft, that has become meaningful for a lot of people.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
Saving Ruby King is a story about what happens when one girl, Layla, tries to help her friend Ruby when a murder upends their tight-knit church community on the South Side of Chicago.
My book can be bought at all traditional outlets (Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indie Bound, etc.) or your independent local bookstore. My website is http://www.catherineadelwest.com. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter under @cawest329
3) What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a prequel to Saving Ruby King focusing on one of the most interesting characters, Sara King, Ruby’s grandmother. I delve into what happens to Sara during her few years in Memphis, Tennessee. I explore what ultimately and permanently turns her into the toxic legend some of us love to hate or feel a deep sense of empathy for. Or in the case of some of my readers, both.
4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
So far I’d say my most significant achievement as a writer is taking the very first book I wrote, getting a literary agent and then having her sell the book. I hadn’t planned on writing a full novel. Saving Ruby King was supposed to be a short story but morphed into something I couldn’t anticipate. To, in the end, have a traditionally published book on my first try means I (with a TON of help) overcame long odds to accomplish a dream. In terms of my career, I’ll likely become a full-time writer soon, so I’ll just write my stories and have a voice lending itself to promoting equality in publishing and across other civil and social matters is something I enjoy doing and can’t wait to do so on a larger scale!
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
I have a wonderful tribe of family and friends who are there for me, helping me to overcome certain issues, be it rejection or anxiety or whatever. Sometimes it takes a person outside of you to recognize the actual scope of a situation and how to you can use it to better yourself. It’s okay to feel the dark things (e.g. jealousy, pity, sadness, etc.), but DO NOT wallow in those things or you’ll never emerge from whatever creative rut you’ve found yourself in. Discover who you are, craft and sharpen your voice, learn how to market yourself and your story and never, ever, ever give up!
6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I don’t have a schedule for when I write. I tend to create organically. In un-bougie terms, I write when I feel like it. That is the best way for me to create the most quality work. Some people can get up at 5:00 a.m. and write for two hours and take weekends off. I’m not that person. I will say the weekends provide the most time for me to write as I still work for now.
I didn’t outline Saving Ruby King. I tried but I’d have still be outlining if I did. I just dived in. I’ve outlined my latest book because I kinda have to if I want it to possibly be acquired, but outlining does have its benefits. So does pantsing or writing without aforethought of where you story is going or what will happen. That’s more exciting for me. I’ll probably do both throughout my career. I don’t have an average time for how long it takes me to complete a novel. I do hope to finish my second novel in a year or less.
7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
People find success at all different ages. Toni Morrison, I believe, didn’t publish her first book until she was 40. I’m 40 now and I’m just getting started. There’s no set time to figure out your dream, find the person you want to be with the rest of your life, go on your bucket list vacation. Honestly, it’ll make you feel younger. Not to toot my own horn (but to toot my own horn), I don’t look 40 and that has a lot to do with the way I enable freedom in my life: I don’t adhere to others’ ideas of success, love, art, etc. I’m not living my life in a box. Do what you want, start at whatever age and don’t lose your passion for what you do and success can find you much quicker that way.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
I’ve always loved to read but I don’t read a lot when writing my books as I don’t want to unintentionally take on someone else’s writing style or cadence as I’ve fought so hard to discover and craft my own. One way I learned to craft my voice was reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. That dude taught me what I true plot twist was! When I’m not writing, I love to read people like Hanya Yanagihara, Zora Neale Hurston, Leesa Cross Smith and many, many others. My favorite author, if I must pick one, is James Baldwin. Currently, I’m making my way through “Fledging” by Octavia Butler.
9) How has the current state of the world affected your writing? Because writing is an isolated practice, do you find it easier to deal with quarantine? Has it stifled your creativity or has it made you even more driven to get things done?
In terms of how I write, though the pandemic and ensuing civil unrest is monumentally disturbing and concerning, it hasn’t affected my writing. I’m okay with being alone but can call family and friends if I am feeling lonely. Also, with current technology, I can and do interact with my writing community. There I can advise and encourage and also be advised and encouraged.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
Publishing provides a great service to the world at large, but it is a place severely lacking diversity – from top to bottom. Once there is meaningful and lasting change on the diversity front, we will be able to access more stories written by and for a BIPOC audience, without having to write or pander to a white gaze.
For me, I’m a traditionally published author and prefer that route, but that doesn’t mean I’d completely rule out self-publishing, so many wonderful stories are those which are self-published. For me, being a hybrid author wouldn’t be something at this point in my career I’d pursue, but I always leave myself open to any and all possibilities.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
In terms of how I stand out, the characteristic and traits making me unique, I’d say the way I craft dialogue (which I used to hate doing) helps my stories to stand out. I watch a lot of television and movies and much of my dialogue has a similar flow. I picture each scene as if it was going to be shot for television or film (because one day it will be) and that helps me position each character and portion out the action in a way that will cause readers to turn the page. Telling stories the way I want, giving voice to the emotions felt not just by me but by a culture and race at large, motivate me to keep writing and show me there is true power within the written word.